Monday, December 13, 2010

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Ice Cream!

I got myself an ice cream machine. The final choices were the cuisinart ice-50bc and the venetto classic. I read somewhere that the cuisinart production has been discontinued (indicating a possbile lack of spare parts in the future) and when I tested the machine at the shop, it was really noisy. Those reasons and the $700 price tag made me go with the venetto.

First thing I made was an apple blackberry sorbet. I used my own standard recipe which gives pretty decent results as a frozen block blended with a hand blender before a JAM service. The results were pretty good, except that I didn't churn the mix long enough so after ripening in the freezer, the texture wasn't as smooth as it could have been due to the formation of larger ice crystals.

After that pretty successful run, I decided to try my hand at ice cream. There was no other way but the vanilla way. I'm not a big fan but I do believe that the best way to judge the quality of an ice cream label is by tasting it's vanilla flavour. I made a standard creme anglais custard I learned at the coriander leaf and churned it. I didn't have vanilla pods so I used extract. The texture was amazing but the lack of real pods really showed in the flavour of the ice cream, it was also a little too rich. Probably too much heavy cream.

I had anticipated this though and only churned half the custard. I loaded up the other half with a copious amount of Irish cream and churned it, curious to see just how the alcohol content would affect the texture. The results were stunning. The alcohol lowered the freezing point even further and after ripening overnight, the ice cream was incredibly smooth. The liqueur had tempered out the richness of the custard and because of the amount I added, putting a spoonful into your mouth immediately released a bold but pleasant alcohol 'cloud'. Unlike the alcoholic ice creams from Skinny Pizza which were a little overpowering, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Irish Ice Cream & Chocolate Fondant

The next day I decided to try something a little more exciting and prepared some salted caramel. I increased the proportion of whole milk to heavy cream and at the last minute decided to go gelato style as a further experiment so corn flour instead of egg yolks were used to thicken the custard. The custard tasted awesome after being cooled down in the fridge but after churning, the caramel flavour became too prominent. I must have burned it a bit too much. The texture though was really nice and I think the gelato style works best for me. The egg yolks in Singapore have a really eggy smell even when they're fresh from the market and this flavour becomes detectable in the ice cream, something I personally don't like. Gelato it is.

In the churner right now, I'm trying out a barley gelato. No corn flour here, just really thick barley water sweetened with melon sugar. Adding some lemon juice to make lemon barley might make it a nice local flavour palate cleanser. Next up is a water chestnut sorbet :)

Will post a recipe for gelato once I get the proportions right.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sous Vide @ Home - Part 1

So it's my birthday in 2 days and instead of studying thin films and quality control, I spent the day online, reading up on sous vide functional principles, looking for equipment online and getting in touch with my inner geek :) damn the things people do when they have too much time..

Because a thermomix is just too expensive right now ($2500, but if you think that's bad, a pacojet costs $6000), I decided that one last birthday treat was in order but couldn't decide on whether to get a high power food processor, an ice cream machine or a sousvide supreme. Getting any of them would contribute a lot in the kitchen and getting all would be swell but at an average price of $700 each, it wasn't going to happen.

The food processor was last on the wish list and while the sousvide supreme is a really nice toy, $800 for the set up, EXCLUDING the vacuum sealer, was just too much. So, I decided to buy the ice cream machine and a low end vacuum sealer and build my own sous vide rig. I am studying to be an engineer after all, may as well put all that tuition to some use :)

A sous vide set up requires 3 basic components. Something to hold the conducting liquid(water bath), something to heat the conducting liquid (incandescent light bulb or heating element from an old electric kettle) and most importantly something that makes sure the temperature stays the same by switching the heating element on and off (equipment with a feedback loop to control the heater). I studied the product reviews and as much online literature about sous vide machines and decided to use the sousvide supreme, convection circulated design as opposed to the open top, thermal immersion circulators I used at the brewery which cost abt US$1200 for just that small box (PID controller) at the top left of the picture below. Wish I had this now :(

Beer kept overnight at 19°C for daily testing

The convection design costs less because it requires less equipment, you depend on convection currents as opposed to pumps to circulate the water in your bath. My own rig will use an old school mechanical rice cooker as the bath and heating element. The heat coming from the bottom should also create good convection circulation of the conducting liquid. The rice cooker is well insulated and has a fitted cover that will help maintain the higher than ambient temperatures with less energy. On the flip side, cooling it down will also be harder.

I study materials science and not electrical engineering so all the circuit diagrams for the amplifiers and other feedback units we study are truncated to black boxes on our diagrams. In any case, Singapore doesn't have a 'radio shack' analogue and sourcing all the individual parts seemed like too much work to complete my home sous vide machine. Instead, I got a PID controller unit online and 2 sets of platinum resistive thermal device probes. I chose to use RTD probes because sous vide is a process that can take a long time, up to 72 hours in some recipes and this requires high long term accuracy. After a bit of research, I found the appropriate circuit diagrams and process codes here. Now all the GPA hammering shit from first and second year engineering, like C++ programming and electrical circuitry is reaping returns.

According to wikipedia, A proportional–integral–derivative controller (PID controller) is a generic control loop feedback mechanism (controller) widely used in industrial control systems – a PID is the most commonly used feedback controller. A PID controller calculates an "error" value as the difference between a measured process variable and a desired set point. The controller attempts to minimize the error by adjusting the process control inputs.

In essence, Proportional calculations set an initial or present platform to achieve the desired outcome. These are supplemented by the Integral calculations which using previous data, calculate feedback based on previous data and Derivative feedback are predictions worked out from current rates of change to ensure that the temperature stays constant to within 0.1°C with proper calibration. Compare this with a simple thermostat in an oven that switches on and off within a sinusoidal range of about 15°C peak amplitude.

I HATE math so I'm glad there're pre-written formulas from the circuit diagram site and that's why Man invented the computer, to do all that calculus :) $300, 4 hours and programming software courtesy of NTU later, I'm ready to rock and roll. This works out so much better than buying a sousvide supreme. By changing the size of the rice cooker, which costs less than $100, I can easily adjust the set up to sous vide items for 2 or 25 people in a snap. All this for less than half the price that the sousvide supreme is being sold at. I can already see myself cooking a 4kg ribeye sous vide and then searing the outside on the cooking plate I bought today.

Will update when I can, probably when the PID controller arrives. I hope this works! In the meantime, I will be reading up on this great free resource for sous vide cooking data.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bún Chả Singapore

I spent almost 7 months in Vietnam last year on Industrial Attachment at a brewery. Most of that time was spent in Hanoi, where I made some lifelong friends and had some seriously amazing adventures. Many involving copious amounts of bia hơi and occasionally, thịt chó.

Good doggy..

Vietnam has so much more to offer than phở and nem tươi and one of my favourite things to eat for about a dollar is bún chả Hà Nội. My favourite bún chả street stall sits at the junction of Phan Chu Trinh and Trần Xuân Soạn in Quận Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội. In addition to the standard fan aspirated charcoal grill that pumps out insanely wicked grilled pork, this stall also serves really good nem rán cua. Which on second thought, is pretty much de rigueur.. Haha!

keep 'em coming auntie...

After coming back home, I kept having cravings for bún chả and when my godmother asked me to cook a dinner for her, I decided it was time to get the charcoal fire going. I tried capturing every detail I could remember to make an authentic bún chả, even using wire mesh meat holders I brought back from Hanoi. I even considered setting up the grill next to my car's exhaust pipe to capture the real street food flavour.

I didn't know where to fit in my stand fan :(

I made Ming hand chop a 50-50 mix of pork belly and pork shoulder with garlic, shallots, Thai basil, and coriander because it was too much work for me. Then I mixed in some water, sugar, nước mắm from Phú Quốc, salt and pepper. This mixture was shaped into mini burger sized patties. I also marinated slices of pork belly with sugar, more nước mắm, minced garlic, salt and pepper. I can't find good Vietnamese nước mắm here so I have to bring back several bottles each time I make a trip there. I also didn't look very hard for bún and used thick bee hoon instead. So much for authenticity...

Are bean sprouts used in bún chả? My memory fails me.. Oops..

The bowl looked kinda empty, because obviously I couldn't find any other herbs besides,Thai basil, coriander and mint so I decided to toss in some bean sprouts. Least I got the nước chấm right. Can't go wrong with that when you have great fish sauce on hand.

It tasted gooood....

Then Ming and I were so busy serving that I didn't get photos of the final layout. The dish was well received, probably cos I didn't tell anyone how much sugar went into the dipping sauce... I think it's about time I headed back north for some real bún chả. Where's a xe ôm when you need one?

This post also appears on the 8th edition of the Delicious Vietnam series hosted by Bear Head Soup and initiated by Anh and the Ravenous Couple to celebrate the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I have a test tomorrow, and another one the day after. Also, final exams are about a month away. What better way is there to pass the time than writing an entry here? :) I thought I'd talk a little about the private dining outfit I run with my friends Alroy and Ming.

The 3 of us met during NS where we played rugby for armour. Some time between choreographing the best looking offense/defense drills and dancing to music on the field, we discovered each others inclination toward the kitchen. Soon, we were organising massive meat bbqs for our friends. Once in a while, friends and family would ask us to cook for dinner parties and we started roping in each other to help. It occurred to us that we could increase the quality of what we were making by planning and charging for better ingredients instead of just churning out whatever the person wanted. This was the start of things to come.

The name JAM comes from the first letters of our first names. In sequence, here's the crew.

I love the name. Alroy came up with it one day while we were at Ming's house messing around in the kitchen. Ming's mum was talking to us and asked what we would call ourselves in the future and Roy just spat it out. I was on the crapper at the time but I heard it loud and clear and loved it. That was more than 2 years ago and we've come a long way since. The logo was only finalised this year after a lot of struggle on Ming's part to get the design finished.

Simple, unassuming and yet elegant, quite like our food. I am sure I pissed Ming off quite a bit with all the hounding I did for him to get this done. It's irritating though, when people ask what JOM is. Once that was done, I got the email accounts and website set up, jackets embroidered and the calling cards embossed fairly quickly. Overnight, professionalism x 10,000.

Our charges are low, you will probably never see anything above $100 a person for an individually plated meal with up to 8 courses. Communal plating of 5 dishes goes as low as $50 a person for a large group. We made it this way for several reasons.
  1. We're not doing this for profit
  2. We don't want to over reach and go beyond our capabilities
  3. We don't believe that access to such services should burn a hole in your pockets
We've had more hits than misses, that's for sure. To date I can only think of 2 occasions where our clients were not impressed with our food. Most of the time, we totally exceed expectations and that's a great feeling.

Our cuisine is simple. We take the flavours we like and express them with the ingredients we're familiar with so expect to taste limau purut, lengkuas, gula melaka and tau cheo in our cooking. Having spent almost 7 months in Vietnam on my Industrial Attachment, I must admit that my cooking of late has been influenced by Vietnamese flavours. Some dishes are reinterpretations like this chả cá Thăng Long,

while others are original creations like this tomato, avocado & prawn salad.

Our plating is simple, to save on costs and to showcase the ingredients used.

Roast Leek & Asparagus Salad with Beetroot and Xiao Bai Cai Miao

Hei Mee Ta ( Dry Prawn Mee)

Mi Cuit Salmon with Watercress & Taragon Puree

Chick'n in a Bizkit

Each new client gets a customized menu to fit the theme and reflect the personal preferences that he/she has. After all, it's a meal in your own home, you should get whatever you want. Many people have told me that the JAM website needs to be spruced up but I designed it to be deliberately enigmatic. Before all the press coverage happened, all our clients were recommended to us via word of mouth. This suited us perfectly because we are weekend warriors in the kitchen and this method was just right for the amount of time we could commit to cooking. The site simply serves as a point of contact for those already in the know and as a shell for us to 'chope' the domain name.

So here's a little introduction to what I do at JAM :)

To contact us, drop me an email or visit the website.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Planning a Barbecue?

Barbecues are awesome. Nothing quite touches the heartstrings (of a man at least) like hunks of meat on an open fire. It's a primal thing, I think. Unfortunately, red meat is pretty expensive here and although I have great recipes for beef and lamb, this is going to focus on the bbq underdogs, fish, chicken and pork.

To have a better idea of the awesome barbecues I have with my friends, click here

I HATE going to barbecues and finding frozen sotong balls, fish sticks and chicken franks on the grill. It's as if we don't have anything better readily available at the markets for a decent barbecue. Personally, I also don't like to barbecue chicken wings because the edges always burn before the inside is properly cooked. My favourite items include stingray, salmon fillets, chicken legs and pork collar. Sausages are also excellent barbecue items that need to be poached in hot water before being set on the grill. This prevents the skin from splitting and also takes out the excess salt.

Strong marinades work best for barbecues because the smokiness imbued by the charcoal fire is intense so weak flavours will be drowned out. So bring out the ginger, garlic, sambal and all the other strong aromatics you can think of.

White meat and fish is cheaper than red meat but it's still expensive, so load up your guests with a tasty starch. Potatoes are evergreen favourites and go great with barbecued food mashed or roasted in an oven. Serve up vegetables too like bell peppers and corn. When barbecued, these vegetables become really sweet and tasty and most people will not say no when these are served up.

To cook, you need a fire and the best way to build one is to light up 2 or 3 firestarters and pile up a lot of charcoal over them. Fan it up and once half the coals are white, level out the pile, put on your grill and keep fanning for a good 5 minutes. Once the fire is hot enough that you can't leave your hand over it for 5 seconds without pulling away, you're good. Keep cooking while the heat is at this optimum level.

Here's a simple recipe to end this off.

Garlic & Kaffir Lime Marinade

The photo here shows oven roasted chicken but I originally came up with this killer recipe for a barbecue. The marinade also works really well with salmon.

For enough to marinate 10 legs, blend together:
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 5 daun limau purut (kaffir lime leaves)
  • 1 chilli padi
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp light soy
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper
After that, mix this with 50g of softened butter and marinate your choice of meat in it for at least an hour before grilling.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Salad Dressing

I planned to write a post on salad dressings over 2 years ago and am only actually doing it now because I will be conducting a class on it in November at ToTT. Kinda apprehensive about being called 'chef' cos I know I'm no way near there yet. Then again, I will be head of that kitchen when I demonstrate *shrugs*...

Personally, I like a good mellow mediterranean dressing lightly coating a mesclun mix heavy on the frisee and arugula. Topped with semi dried tomatoes, marinated feta and a good sized piece of sliced skirt steak with the pan drippings from the steak thrown in. *yums*

My focus for the class will be a comparison between split and emulsified sauces. Vinaigrettes as the name implies, usually involves vinegar but it's not unheard of for the vinegar to be replaced by other acidic liquids like orange or lemon juice.

A simple vinaigrette is essentially a heterogeneous mixture of 2 immiscible liquids that will eventually split into their constituent parts, given enough time. Many factors affect this rate, which is linked to viscosity, like temperature and the presence of ingredients (like blue cheese or mustard) that act as surfactants. The bottled stuff in the supermarkets have tons of surfactants added, stabilizing the mixture.

Mayonnaise can be thought of as a vinaigrette of lemon juice and vegetable oil fully emulsified by the lecithin found in egg yolks. Freshly made mayo is great on eggs and is very commonly used as a base for other dressings. Think thousand island, caesar and tartare.

The method of preparing mayonnaise can be varied to produce a whole host of other sauces not usually used in salads. Like bearnaise, hollandaise, gribiche and the like, all derivatives of the mayo mother sauce.

I'm thinking of showcasing these 2 sauces and then letting the class make variations from the base sauce. Hmmm.. can I really make this into a 2 hour class that's entertaining and fun? I'll let you know..

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

well.. so much for that...

it's october. where did all tht time go?

time's fun when you're having flies
-kermit the frog

there isn't quite much to say, been really busy in the kitchen but haven't been taking photos as usual. had a fantastic morning at the appetite-de dietrich kitchen showcase with zt.

latest BT article was a nice boost to business.

here's the other one too, just for reference..

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

This blog has been dormant for over 2 years. Why bother with it now?

Well why the hell not? This blog was never intended to be a place for me to write forced reviews of restaurants. I detest taking pictures of food during a meal anyway. This was a personal project I started to see if I could successfully integrate science and art, eastern and western flavours.

Things have come a long way. My private dining outfit has taken off rather well and the amount of experience and exposure I've gained in the last 2 years has been incredible. I'm currently writing for the Miele Guide as a vacation job and learning a lot about the restaurant business, from outside the kitchen.

Let's see if I can manage to average one post a month till graduation.

For those of you who are interested, feel free to visit my site

How it should be done in the kitchen

Pride is not a negative thing. Conceit and arrogance are. Pride is a product of self confidence, which in itself is something one needs in order to feed a group of people well. Cooking comes from the very depths of your heart and soul and whatever is inside of you is expressed in your food through your posture as you whip the cream, the knife cuts you produce on your vegetables and the temperature of your hands as you knead the dough. Some occupations call for pride as a fundamental block for success and like many other art forms, cooking is one of them.

When you cook, envision the taste and texture of your food. The presentation will come naturally, like the final piece of a puzzle making a picture whole. Approach each step with acceptance and not apprehension. Take pride in what your hands will create and you will never mess up a dish. Maybe it will not come out how you initially expected it to, maybe it will turn out better.

The basics are important and are more or less applicable to everyone, which is why I am insistent on having formal culinary training. However, once you are equipped, do not try to emulate others. Mimicry is the highest form of flattery but the culinary arts is an expression of oneself. Try to make what others make and you are no better than an uninspired cog on an automated assembly line. Instead, work with what you know. Make what you grew up on, what you like. Chances are there are others out there who would like them too. Remember that no matter how hard you try, you can never make everyone happy.

A good service provider aims to make his patrons happy but never at the expense of his own happiness because doing that simply undermines the whole concept of good and proper service. The customer is not always right but neither is are you. Paradoxically, to cook well, you must be proud and yet humble at the same time. Always listen to criticism because it is often based on hard nuggets of truth which you can use to refine your craft.

When you enjoy the cooking process, your guests will enjoy the eating process. If perfection was attainable, then it would not be perfect. But that should not deter you from striving toward it. Be proud, be humble and cook well.

I am back. Let's get this show on the road.