Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spain for foodies


Spanish restaurants dominate world’s top 10 list, so is it time for a tasting?

090423-SpainBasqueCountry The Basque Country (above) is famed for its cuisine. Munoz (below) fuses Spanish with Chinese flavours.

It used to be that when one thinks of Spain, it’s flamenco, tapas, bullfighting and Gaudi’s dripping La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona that comes to mind. Soon, one can add fine food to the list of associations, if it hasn’t been already. On Monday, it was reported that Spain’s El Bulli had topped S Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the fourth year in row. More importantly, three of the top five restaurants were from Spain. Mugaritz and El Celler de Can Roca took fourth and fifth place after Britain’s The Fat Duck and Denmark’s Noma.

So, is it time for foodies here to loosen their belts and pack their bags for a tour of Spain? Today sat down with up-and-coming chef from Madrid David Munoz — who is in town for the World Gourmet Summit this week — and his wife Angela Montero for their take on the culinary revolution in Spain and tips for travelling gourmands.

090423-SpainMunoz Indeed, Munoz, who co-owns Madrid’s award winning DiverXO restaurant with Montero, is very much part of Spain’s new wave of innovative cooks, fusing Spanish with Chinese ingredients to produce startling flavours. His potato omelette looks like a tiny Chinese dumpling, to be enjoyed with a sip of jasmine tea.

Why do you think Spanish restaurants are so highly rated now?

There’s been a burst of culinary innovation that started with Ferran Adria from El Bulli. He opened the way for chefs to experiment with their cooking. Also, there’s been a liberalisation of thinking in the past 10 to 12 years. The Spanish had been oppressed under the Franco government, but now people are experimenting with things — in food, in fashion. The young make an effort to learn English. It’s a new way of thinking.

Where should travellers go for a culinary tour?

Madrid has a lot of places now. Catalonia and the Basque Country are also good regions for food.

The Basque has incredible cuisine. Even in the a pub, they eat very well. They have a way of cooking, they do a lot of stews. They have very good gastronomy and now, they have very good restaurants. Mugaritz and Arzak, the fourth and eighth top restaurants in the world, are from this area. Travellers should try the cod. It’s salted then cleaned with water. When cooked, the flavours are very different. A lot of people like it this way.

Any tips for finding the best places to eat?

When you see a country, you take a guide but you only see what the guide shows you. To know what’s going on, talk to the people. Ask where they eat. You have to interact with them to find out what’s best.

What must visitors try?

Iberico ham. It’s what distinguishes Spain from other countries. In Catalonia, they eat espardenta. It’s a small animal found inside a sea cucumber. Chinese people would eat the outside and throw away the inside. In Spain, we eat it. It’s very expensive — one kilogramme costs €150 ($293). It tastes a bit like baby squid. Very nice. Jennifer Chen

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 23-April-2009

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Eating out is out for me

I’ve learnt my lesson: Home is where the safe food is

HONG Kong starlet Ella Koon was recently nicknamed “hell’s chef” after the dishes she whipped up in celebrity food show Beautiful Cooking caused the guest judges to throw up. Later, when challenged to defend her lack of culinary success, she retorted: “Living in Hong Kong, eating out is never a problem, is it?”

Yes, living in Hong Kong — or for that matter, most parts of Asia — eating out is never a problem. Walk onto a street and you’ll be sure to see a hawker stall around one corner or a restaurant around another.

There’s no call to have to cook at all. Why should you when there are others who can conjure up something far tastier than any of your humble efforts for just a dollar or two more than the cost of the ingredients themselves?

That’s probably why Hong Kong kitchens are so tiny. Mine has just enough space for a sink, fridge and two-burner cooker. The toaster has to be stacked on top of the microwave oven and my Kenwood mixer has been banished to the dining room.

Recently, after I posted some food photos on Facebook, my friends from Europe remarked: “You guys seem to eat out a lot, huh?” What was perfectly normal to me was strange to them.

For them, “outside food” (whether dining out or getting a Chinese takeaway) is so expensive that every meal not cooked at home is an occasion. They thought we are extremely wealthy to be able to do that every day.

When I was working in Singapore, we’d eat out or pack food home every weekday. After all, the coffeeshop was just around the corner and by the time I reached home at 7.30pm, I was just too tired to chop, slice, fry and clean up afterwards.

But now I am thinking of heading back to the kitchen again. The catalyst has been my back-to-back bouts of stomach flu — most likely triggered, according to my doctor, by bacteria in some food I’d eaten.

I’m not talking days. My two episodes lasted two weeks each with a gap of only a week between. One was caused by undercooked chicken rice and the other by some dodgy curry rice.

I had them for dinner at different “dai pai dongs” (coffeeshops) in different areas but the result was the same: Diarrhoea, a stomach ache and vomiting so bad that I had to live on plain porridge, crackers and Pocari Sweat for days on end.

“This would never have happened to me in Singapore, where the food is so clean,” I remember telling my husband.

Famous last words, of course, seeing as a few days later, the Indian rojak food poisoning broke out, killing two people and causing one woman to suffer a miscarriage. It was almost unheard of. Yes, you knew that bad food could cause you great discomfort but for it to kill...

And then, just this weekend, another dozen people or so came down with food poisoning from eating steamboat. What is going on? You hear of such things happening elsewhere, but not in Singapore.

That’s why I think our mothers were right. Home-cooked food is the best. You know where it has come from and has been prepared.

It’s a pity really that a lot of us have become like Ella Koon. We have become so used to others cooking for us that we don’t even know how to boil an egg.

I know of many working women who wear their lack of culinary skills almost as a badge of pride. They seem to think that they’re so important they’re above such housewifely pursuits.

Why be proud of a lack of ability? I can’t assemble an Ikea bookcase or pilot a plane but you don’t see me crowing about that.

Maybe it’s time we brought back cooking as a skill to be proud of. Maybe we should make home economics compulsory for all — for boys too, because why should they expect others to do for them what they can do themselves?

Then we can stop being so reliant on outside food. And for those who love to boast: “I can’t cook to save my life”, maybe it’s time you learnt. Because one day, it just might save your life.

Tabitha Wang is on the lookout for a good recipe for homemade Indian rojak. Can anyone help?

From TODAY, Voices – Friday, 17-April-2009

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai)

Photos: Jason Ho

FairPrice’s White Sesame Oil adds a wonderful depth of flavour to all manner of Asian dishes


Sesame seed oil has a long history as a condiment, remedy and beautifier. In ancient times, the Babylonians used it to make exotic perfumes, while the Arabs used it for medicinal purposes.

These days, sesame seed oil is mostly used in the Asian kitchen to add a nutty, well-rounded flavour to all manner of dishes from soups to stir-fries.

FairPrice’s White Sesame Oil is a great option for your kitchen as it is 100 per cent pure. That means no additives or artificial flavouring. It is also certified Halal and cholesterol free.

I used it to make this week’s dish of Prawn Paste Chicken, that quintessential zi char dish that is so easy to replicate at home.

As in most dishes, it only uses a tiny amount of sesame seed oil. But it makes a world of difference to the taste, adding a wonderful depth that turns this humble dish into something special.

FairPrice White Sesame Oil ($3.55 for a 360ml bottle, above) is available at all FairPrice supermarkets.


Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai)
Serves 2-4

2 tbsp prawn paste
1 tsp Chinese cooking wine
1/2 tsp FairPrice White Sesame Oil
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
Oil for deep-frying
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup corn flour, for coating

1. In a large bowl, mix together the prawn paste, cooking wine, sesame oil and pepper.
2. Marinate the chicken pieces in this paste for at least 30 minutes or up to three hours.
3. Before frying, heat oil in a wok till it starts to shimmer.
4. To test if the oil is hot enough, place a small piece of bread in it. If it immediately bubbles and floats to the top, the oil is at just the right temperature.
5. Place the beaten egg in a shallow bowl and the corn flour in a saucer.
6. Dip the chicken pieces, one piece at a time, in the beaten egg, then in the corn flour and into the wok.
7. Fry till golden brown and remove to a plate lined with kitchen paper.
8. Serve hot.

From TODAY, Voices – Thursday, 09-April-2009

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Moroccan Chicken & Cous Cous Salad

Healthy Eating

Combine olive and canola oil with good quality chicken breast and you have a healthful meal that satisfies any time


Many people are divided on which oil is better: Olive or canola?

Both are great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels. This in turn reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

But why limit yourself to one or the other? In this case, can there be too much of a good thing? I say, hardly. Especially when you find yourself with a product that combines both in equal measure.

I use FairPrice’s Canola Olive Oil in just about everything — for stir-fries, roasting, pastas and salads. This popular product is the Trusted Brand 2008 Gold Winner and is naturally cholesterol-free and high in monounsaturated fats.

When it comes to eating well, this Moroccan Chicken with Cous Cous is my idea of healthy food. It combines good quality chicken breast (I use Chef Delights’ Halal boneless chicken breast from FairPrice), spiced and rubbed with the Canola Olive Oil, and served atop a wholesome bed of cous cous salad.

It is so easy to make and can be done in advance. It takes just five minutes to prep, while your oven does the rest.


Moroccan Chicken & Cous Cous Salad
Serves 2

1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp FairPrice Canola Olive Oil
2 pcs Chef Delights Chicken
Boneless Breast, thawed

For the cous cous salad:
1 cup cous cous
2 tbsp sultanas
2 cups hot water
1/2 tomato, chopped
1 tsp orange blossom water (optional)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Place the paprika, cumin, salt, pepper and oil in a bowl to mix.

2. Rub over the chicken breasts and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

3. Remove from the fridge 15 minutes before cooking in order to bring the chicken down to room temperature.

4. Preheat oven to 180°C.

5. Line a baking tin with foil and bake the chicken, skin-side up for 20 minutes. Set aside.

6. To make the salad, place the cous cous and sultanas in a large bowl and pour hot water over it. Leave for 5 to 7 minutes. The cous cous and sultanas will absorb all the water.

7. Rub the cous cous between your hands to loosen any lumps.

8. Mix the chopped tomatoes, orange blossom water, if using, salt and cinnamon into the cous cous. Be sure to blend well so all the flavours are evenly incorporated.

9. Serve by placing the cous cous salad on a plate and topping with the baked chicken.

Thursday, 02-April-2009

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Friday, April 3, 2009

My Cooking Blog's Template

Well, I think I have found the template that is most suitable (from all that I can select from) for my cooking blog. I can now concentrate on posting my recipes and cooking tips.

I will still be looking for ways to improve my blog every now and then. Till then, enjoy your life everyday, and stay healthy.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Been cooking lately, but not been posting

As already said, this is my first post. I have been busy cooking at home, even right after coming from my day work. With my wife pregnant, and progressively in the process of childbearing, she has a lot of physiological changes, not to mention emotional and mental, my home cooking is even more needed.

Well, she has developed a distaste of many things in the kitchen. She dislikes the smell of frying onion and garlic, and with most foods fried first with those two ingredients, that leaves most of the cooking to me!

Not a problem for me, since I also enjoy cooking. Ever since I was a child, being the last to grow up, I was with my mother. And with my mother spending most of her time in the kitchen (compared to my father, that is), then I got to learn a few things from the start, and try my own hands doing this and that while growing up. Needless to say, I had a hand in the kitchen. So that is why I don't have any problem being the man of the house, and the hand in the kitchen.

But, don't expect too much from me. Having grown in the provinces, all I know are very simple dishes. And quick ones to cook at that. At the least, these are very fresh foods. I've grown by the waters of the sea, the river and the fishpond. I've eaten "live seafoods", just fresh from the catch, and fresh fishes, just brought in from the fishpond. And, as in the days of old, we had our own backyard to pick fruits and vegetables from, or to pluck some shoots - all fresh from the tree or vine.

Lately, I've come to know a few (only a few) of those meat-based dishes, but I know that what I know will grow. As in all things, "doing is learning, and learning is doing."

Especially when you grow older, one of the pasttime you should have or revert to, is sports - but not watching; it should be doing.

And with cooking, doing is very important. It is the experience that counts.

May you not have boiling oil or piping hot soup spill or splatter on you.

Happy cooking!
(and eating)...

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