Saturday 31 August 2013

Nyonya Purple Sweet Potato Kueh Talam

Purple sweet potato or sometime known as Okinawan sweet potato is a thing of beauty. It has a similar flavour and sweetness as the ubiquitous orange variety but once cut into it, revealed an intoxicatingly vivid purple hues. 

Do not confuse it with Ube/Ubi (purple yam). Although both has similarly coloured flesh and both are frequently found in many puddings and sweets across Asia. Ube is more commonly used in the Philippines where this purple tuber are transformed into many of their nation favourite treats. It has a slight darker and rougher looking skin and is harvested above ground. Okinawan sweet potato on the other hand, is grown underground. 

I'm a huge fan of this purple variety as growing up, there would often be many wonderful treats made using this, like  Bubor Cha Cha and all sorts of Nyonya Kueh(cakes) such as these Kueh Talam.

Traditionally, these sticky cakes would be made using pandan leaves and coconut milk, yielding its signature emerald green and white layers. My nan however, being a purple sweet potato fan herself, would often give these kueh a beautiful purple twist which is just as attractive to look at and more importantly, equally delightful to eat. The sweetness of the potatoes and the fragrant coconut milk makes this chewy little cakes all the more enjoyable.

The purple sweet potatoes are not that common but can be easily found in most good Chinese supermarket. I usually get mine from Chinatown. 

I have faithfully stuck to the dainty version that my nan would make, using tiny Chinese teacups which has been painstakingly oiled before each steaming process. However, you can use a cake tin for this and cut into small bites with a well oiled knife instead. Just make sure you increase the steaming time appropriately and to test, stick a chopstick or skewer into the middle of the cake and it should come out clean when done.

Ingredients (Makes about 28-30 small cakes or fills a 8-in square cake tin)

For the bottom layer:
300g purple sweet potatoes
350ml coconut milk
150g tapioca flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
150g caster sugar

For the top layer:
450ml coconut milk
100g tapioca flour
2 tbsp rice flour
1 tsp salt

sunflower oil, for greasing


Peeled the sweet potatoes and cut into thick slices. Place in a prepared steamer and steam for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through.

Put the cooked sweet potatoes into a large bowl and mashed till smooth before adding the coconut milk and mix well. Add the tapioca flour, salt and sugar and stir to combine. 

Pour the batter into a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until just warm through so that the sugar will dissolve.

Lightly greased the small cups (or a cake time if you are using) with the oil before filling them with the batter until just slightly over the halfway mark. 

Prepare the steamer and steam for 3 minutes until the batter is firm and turns a darker, translucent shade. (Increase the cooking time if you are making this in a cake tin to 20-25 minutes)

While the bottom layer is in the steamer, prepare the top layer batter. Combine the coconut milk, tapioca flour, rice flour and salt in a large bowl and mix well. 

Spoon this over the steamed purple layer and steam for another 3-4 minutes until the white layer is cooked through and set. (Again increase this to 20-25 minutes if using a cake tin)

Allow the kueh/cake to cool completely before turning them out. If using cake tin, cut into bite sizes to serve. 

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Janetira Thai, Soho

There is a general misconception of Thai food around the world. Aren't they all supposed to be spicy and blow-your-head-off hot? Well, the answer, I have discovered recently is simply... No!

Contrary to what many believe, Thai food is all about the balancing of sweet, sour, spicy, salty in equal measures. Of course, there are a few dishes that will make you reach for your glass of ice water but not always necessary so. 

And this is where Janetira Thai comes in. It is not a new restaurant opening and in fact, it has been quietly sitting on Brewer Street from the past year or so. Up till now, this place has simply gone under my radar but of late, you would have no doubt see this little restaurant cropping up all over you instagram feed and twitter timeline. So what changed? You might ask. 

After realising that by serving the ubiquitous Thai green curry, and Pad Thai , is not bringing in the customers they thought it would. And if you ask me, that is precisely the reason why even though I have walked past this venue many times, have never been tempted to walk in. There are more stereotypical Thai restaurant around than I can shake a stick at, all serving so-called Thai food.

Then it all changes with the resident chef's decision to introduce a new special menu. What caught my eyes and tickled my fancy was the unusual dishes that has been listed. And so during the introductory month, I popped in a few times to try out some of the dishes, at a 30% off promotion.

Some of the highlights include the salt and pepper calamari bites (£6.50), light and crispy but it's the crunchy garnishes of red chillies, garlic flakes and fresh green onion combination that really topped it off. 

The deep fried eggs in tamarind syrup (£6) was another great dish. Sweet and tangy sauce blanketed the deep-fried crispy eggs. Perfect when eaten with some of their chilli oil from their condiment selection. 

The JFC or  Janetira fried chicken (£5.50) could perhaps do with more flavours infused into the chicken and crispier texture, but nonetheless, was enjoyable when paired with the sweet sticky coating sauce.

The Crispy pork belly and Thai broccoli stir fry (£7) was simple but delicious. Copious of pork belly pieces to go with the crunchy fresh vegetables, all bathed in a sweet, spicy and salty sauce.

The daily special that I had on one of my visit was a beautifully cooked scallop in a fresh, tangy dressing. Just enough chilli to give it a kick without being overwhelmingly spicy.

Khoi Soi - northern-style chicken curry noodle (£8.50) - were a delicious bowl of noodles in a rich, slightly sweet, curry broth. It came with a side of chopped red onions, pickles and lime wedges and topped with some crispy fried noodles. What surprised me was the chicken wings on the bones and not pre-chopped boneless bites....hurrah! The flat egg noodles was bouncy, the broth was flavoursome and the chicken pieces was generous.

A favourite of mine was the Kuay Jaap - Pork and offal noodles in five-spice soup (£8.50). We have a similar dish in Singapore and this reminded me of that. The mixture of crispy pork belly and the selections of offal gave this an interesting textures. The broth tasted like it had endured hours of simmering, packed full of flavours and the rolled rice noodle soaked up the delicious broth and you simply eat the whole dish with the use of a spoon. Bit of crunchy pork belly, chewy offal, spice-riched broth and soft, tender noodle, I just adore this!

But my ultimate favourite is the Mackeral curry with pickled bamboo shoots (£9). This dish came with a 'heat'mometer warning as the Bim (the lady who serve me) explained that even during staff meal, she can only eat a mouthful of this. This was definitely one of the hottest dish from the menu and one that pleases me the most. I love spicy food and this was perfect. Unusually, this curry contain fermented fish guts which enriched the flavours and gave its distinctive pungent aroma. This is an acquired taste but one that is worth venturing into if you are after something different to the normal humdrum Thai red or green curry.

I am rather glad that the chef has decided to go with her gut and launched this more adventurous menu. Quite a few other dishes that I would definitely go back to try such as the Pink noodle with fish balls (£7.50) and the Raad Naah - Noodles with sticky soy bean sauce and marinated pork (£7) etc. And those that I have had so far, did not disappoint.

From speaking to Bim, these are food that they served during staff meal and are actually more authentic than the usual menu that you get from a typical Thai restaurant. If you are in search for some authentic Thai food and to dispel the myth that all Thai cuisine are spicy, give this place a go.

* Disclaimer: On my third visit, my meal was free which I didn't anticipate till it was time to pay. However,  this did not swayed my judgement. My many numerous return is a validation of what I truly think of this restaurant and I'm planning to go back again *

Janetira on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 27 August 2013

The Ballz Brothers at Street Feast

After my last street food outing - a collaboration with Yum Bun, never did I thought the chance would present itself once again for me to experience the trial and tribulations of life as a street food trader. Last week, I was invited to attend #BloggerSaturday hosted by Street Feast in Dalston Yard, a special event where 6-8 bloggers were invited to set up stalls and put their culinary skills to the test.

I received the email on Tuesday morning and was told that I had to come up with an idea of what I'll be serving by the end of day. Throughout the day, I was filled with both excitements and nerves. I knew right away that I wanted to serve my signature Ox Cheek Rendang  and Assam Pork Belly and that I had to transform them into something that will lend itself well as street food. Just a plate of meat with rice on the side simply will not do. I wanted something fun and tactile, something that will stand out from the crowd and definitely something unique and yet doesn't strayed too far from my Singaporean and Nyonya roots. And so by the end of the day, after much deliberation and creative juices flowing, 'The Ballz Brothers' is born.

The idea is simple, I will roll the fillings in Nasi Kunyit, yellow turmeric-infused coconut sticky rice that we often served in traditional Nyonya household, shape these into round balls and serve with sweet tamarind sauce and crushed roasted peanuts.

Once the menu is set, I then had to get on with the cooking. Both the Rendang and the Assam will need at least 16 hours of slow braising to achieve that perfect tenderness so the prep  began on Wednesday evening and the meat then sit in the low heat oven overnight until the following evening. These were then left to rest in the fridge to intensified the flavours before rolling them into rice balls on Saturday morning.

To further embed the 'fun' factors of my stall, I have also made up some quirky signboard and menu board. They might not have the finesse of a professional finish but at least it represented what this was about - Fun. I have also enlisted my friend Oli (who took these photos) as my wonderful helper on the day.

Not knowing what the reaction on the day would be, or how many I would sell, I pre-rolled 80 rice balls thinking that 40 sets would surely last me till late afternoon. How wrong was I as these were all sold out by the time lunch service begun and I had to temporary stop service to roll more rice balls. And these too, were all sold out not long after we resumed our service so more balls rolling. By the end of the evening, a grand total of over 160 balls were gone.

Throughout the day, There were positive feedback on these balls and lots of hilarious banters and innuendo jokes with the customers. Despite the relentless rain and heavy downpour, leaking roof and flooding stalls, the atmosphere was great. We exchanged food with fellow bloggers and savoured each other delicious offerings. It was a fantastic day!

What truly made my day was finding out that one of my customer towards the end of the service was in fact the daughter of my first customer (the lady in the picture above). She loved my rendang so much that she urged her daughter that she must come and try it for herself. This was the best compliment ever. And the daughter too, gave me thumbs up!

Finally, I just want to say a massive thank you to all who brave the torrential rain to come down and say hi and supported me, to my fellow bloggers who were there braving the weather and soldering on with me.

Also want to mention a special thank you to my 'Ballz Brothers' Oli for his help in making this a success.

And last but not least, thank you to Adam, Tweat up for organising this wonderful day and for inviting me to be part of it  - Thanks for the Chilli Back Adam!

Sunday 18 August 2013

Itek Sio - Nyonya Braised Duck With Tamarind And Coriander

It has been a while since I last posted any recipes. For those who follow me on Instagram or Twitter would know, admist all my many restaurant dining, I have also been posting pictures of numerous BBQ endeavour such as this whole sambal belacan-rubbed chicken or grilled turbot with a sweet and spicy Sambal kecap. But with 2 week of nightshifts just gone and the sudden additional responsibilities in work due to my career development, things has just been a bit crazy of late to actually sit down and write out any recipes. Now that's all done and dusted and having just received the good news of a promotion. I can now finally get my blogging life back on track. So expect load of more recipes to come thanks to the added extra pennies in the pocket *wink* and more dining experiences to share too.

Just to get me back into the swing of things, I thought this Nyonya classic will be a great one to start off with. Duck is revered in Peranakan cuisine as much as any other other Asian culture and this traditional dish frequently make appearances in many Nyonya household during Chinese New Year celebration.

Deceptively simple and on the face of it, does not contain many exotic ingredients. But do not let that lull you into thinking this is a just another bland, insipid braised duck concoction. It is any but that. The unusual copious amount of ground coriander used here is what give this delicious dish its signature aroma and the tamarind and asam gelugor (sour fruit slices - see picture below) added a tangy sourness that cut through the richness. The trick here is to make sure you take your time to cook the duck slowly so that it is melting tender and thoroughly coated with these thick and glossy, tangy sauce.

My nan would often make this days in advance and allowed the dish to sit quietly in the fridge to mature and develop even richer flavours. She would of course use a whole duck and make a big batch of these which otherwise, would seriously struggle to even make it to the dining table days later. There's nothing better than to sneak a bite at some of these additive duck pieces, all dredged in their tangy aromatic sauce every now and then.

Try this with chicken for a great alternative if you are not that keen on duck.

Ingredients (Serve 2 )

2 duck legs 
vegetable or sunflower oil  

For the marinade: 
300g shallots, peeled and finely chopped (or alternatively use 3 medium onion)
3 tbsp ground coriander 
50g gula Melaka, finely chopped (or alternatively use 3 tbsp soft brown sugar) 
1 tbsp dark soy sauce 
30g tamarind pulp soaked in 400ml water or 2tbsp concentrated tamarind mixed with 400ml water 
1 tbsp white vinegar
3 asam gelugor (dried sour fruit slices)  
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste  


Combine all the ingredients for the marinade i a large bowl and add the duck legs. Rubbed well to cover ad leave to marinade for at least 2-4 hours or preferable overnight  

When ready to cook, put the legs along with the marinade in a saucepan and simmer gently over low heat for 2 hours, or even longer until the duck is tender. Top up with more water if it starts to dry up too quickly.  

Once tender, remove the duck and set aside. Turn up the heat and continue to simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Return the duck to the thicken sauce to heat through before serving.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Casse-Croûte, Bermondsey

Few new openings excite me these days, but then few places are like Casse-Croûte. Opened just a little less than a month ago is this petit Gallic bistro in Bermondsey. Own and run by the general manager of the Tapas bar, José just across the road. Sitting only about 20-covers, this charming bistro serves authentic, classic French dishes alongside with an all-French wine list. 

Much thoughts have been placed in the interior as once stepped through the doors, you can't help but feels like you have been transported to a typical rustic French restaurant. The intimate red leather banquette seatings, the red and white gingham tablecloths, pastiche posters and hanging copper pans. Even the chalk scribbled menu board that changes daily and the charcuterie board are in French as were the background music playlist (French radio station no less). The odd let slips of french phrases from the waiting staff and of course, the owner himself, further contributed to this gallic fantasy. Oh là là

Just like the ambience, the price too, were carefully considered and reasonably priced, offering some cracking value for money delicious grub. Grab a stool by the cosy bar or squeeze yourself into the intimate dining seating, either way, this is a great place to dine in and has already made it onto my favourite restaurant list.

Of the few times I have been, I had some stonkinly good charcuterie and rillette de Porc (potted pork). Salade Niçoise - a classic that was ruined by many but not here, fresh, clean tasting with enough vinaigrette to coat the salad and not drown it. 

Ragoût D'escargot, crêpe vonnassiene, a dish of snail ragout with lardon on potato pancakes, so good that I have made a point to order it again next time it reappears on the menu. 

Coppa Corse (£4.50) Rosette de Lyon (£4.50) :

Salade Niçoise (£7.50) : 

Ragoût D'escargot, crêpe vonnassiene (£7.50) : 

Provençale Razor Clams (£7) :

Provençale razor clams served tender with sweet chopped tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs. Coq au Vin, another much misinterpreted French classic came with rich, unctuous sauceThe chicken was just that bit off the mark and verged on the fine line between dry and moist but without a doubt, one the better Coq au Vin that I have had.  

Mignon de porc, ventréche Alsacienne, Comté was excellent. Pork fillet, stuffed with salty bacon served with creamy cheesy mash, thanks to the magnificent Comté. What made this stood out was the pork fillet, moist and juicy and exceedingly well cooked. And a dish of skate, which was boned and stuffed with roasted tomatoes and spinach, too was utterly delightful. Tangy and salty capers cut through the sweet fleshy fish. 

Coq au vin (£13.50) : 

Mignon de porc, ventréche Alsacienne, Comté (£12.50) : 

Raie Poêlée, Ecrasée de P.D.T. (£12.50) :

Paris-Brest and the Strawberries tart (tarte aux fraises) were my favourite out of all the puddings I've tried so far. The former has the creamiest hazelnut praline cream sandwich between light choux pastry, although crunchier than expected, actually yield a pretty delicious combination. The strawberry tart was simply divine - fresh, vibrant and original.

Paris-Brest (£4.50) : 

Creme caramel (£4.50) :

Raspberries Soufflé glacé (£4.50) : 

Tarte aux fraises (£4.50) :

This place is like a little Paris tucked in the backyard of one of the finest dining corners in London. A perfect addition to this side of town and one that made no fanfare or hype to get its diners to return. All they relied on are some quirky Gallic charm and great food. Perhaps it might be too French and twee for some and in all honesty, I have never been to a restaurant in Paris as 'French' as this but trust the Francophile in me to fall head over heels with the Gallic dream

Tres bon. 

La fin. 

Casse Croute on Urbanspoon
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Saturday 3 August 2013

One Leicester Street (formerly St John Hotel)

It is impossible for me to talk about One Leicester Street without bringing up St. John Hotel, not least because the latter have been a firm favourite and none mourned its demise more so than I did. But all is not lost as it was soon announced that the troubled establishment was bought over by the team behind the successful Viajante and Corner Room, my other go-to restaurant. And just like that, a few months after the closing of St John Hotel, a brand spangling new phoenix rises from the yet-to-settled ashes, and what a fine beautiful bird this turned out to be.

Even though the kitchen team remains the same and head chef Tom Harris remain the heart and soul behind the whole enterprise, gone are the white neutral walls and replace by the muted grey paint and a dash of sophisticated settings. The beautifully illustrated menu retain the same simplicity wordings of its former self but the food that arrived are definitely dolled up cousins. Stripped of the restraints of the St John's umbrella, these dishes showed signs of a chef making a personal stamp.

Artichoke, brown shrimp and pheasant egg ( £9)

Crab, fennel and chervil (£9)

We started off with some fresh rock oysters (Dorset £2.50 each ; Jersey £3 each) served with lemon, Tabasco and light shallot vinaigrette. The artichoke dish featured great combination of nutty earthiness, beautiful sweet brown shrimps and oozy pheasant egg. Although I'm not so keen on the purée as it's far too heavy.

The crab salad did not disappoint. A great example of how simple ingredients that complemented each other done right. Crunchy slices of fennel provided a light refreshing contrast to the sea fresh crab meat. Thin crisp Melba toast smothered with punchy brown crab meat added an interesting texture and umami richness.

Asparagus came draped with thin slivers of pigs cheek ham and topped with just set egg yolk and grated walnut. Not a bad dish but promises more than what it actually delivers. Although I do like the lardo-like cheek ham but admist all the strong flavours around it, the ham seemed to lose its existence. All I can taste was the asparagus and nutty walnut. A few more slices of this delicate ham might have been a better proportion.

Grilled onion were sweet and the caramelised edges, along with the salty childwickbury goat cheese, were divine.

Asparagus, pigs cheek ham, egg and walnut (£9.50)

Grilled onion, childwickbury and wild fennel (£6.80)

The Aylesbury duck was truly sensational. Slabs of moist, pink ruby meat resting on vibrant and sweet peas. The duck was tender and flavoursome and quite frankly, one of the best duck dish I have had in a long while.

The puddings that followed too did not disappoint. The chocolate mousse were light and airy; the honeycomb crumbs gave a nice texture and the unusual perfumed punch of the dried violet made this a rather delightful sweets.

The salted caramel and apple pudding was just as superb. Fruity, sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy, it has all the components that yield a decadent pudding that deserves all the 'oooos' and the 'aaaaahhs'.

Aylesbury duck, peas and green onion (£16)

Chocolate, honeycomb and violet (£8.50)

Salt caramel, apple and hazelnut (£8)

Although I don't think I will ever forget St John Hotel and their oh-so-simple and yet-so-delicious Welsh Rarebits and many of their fantastic puddings which I have always been a great fan of, I think One Leicester Street is doing a cracking job at filling this gap. Of course, I don't think for a minute I have ever doubted the team behind one of my favourite, Corner Room, will do a bad job but this is truly something really great. The standard of cooking, under Chef Tom Harris, still has that honest, humble feel and emphasis is still on the great British seasonal produce. I have to say, I am a fan of this current reincarnation.

One Leicester Street on Urbanspoon
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