07 April 2012

New website!

Hello folks, in case you stumble across this website by accident, I am now over at: www.vivianpei.com.
Hope to see you there!

26 March 2008

And the winner is...

Okay, I normally don't toot my own horn, but as this isn't exactly my horn to toot, I am going for it. What am I going on about you ask? Well, a while back I worked on a cookbook by Anne Willan called The Country Cooking of France. That book was published end of last year and has now been nominated for 3 awards, I'm so excited ;-) !!!

The awards are:

“Deemed “the Oscars of the food world,” by Time magazine, The James Beard Foundation Awards are the USA’s most coveted honour for chefs; food and beverage professionals; broadcast media, journalists, and authors working on food; and restaurant architects and designers. “ The awards ceremony will be in NYC in June.

IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) awards for BEST INTERNATIONAL COOKBOOK. The winner will be announced at the 2008 IACP Awards Ceremony in New Orleans in April.

I did research, editing and recipe testing for the book and if you pull out your magnifying glass, you can find my name somewhere on the acknowledgement page. I'm teeny tiny, but there!

Yes, I did work on it for over a year and yes, it is near and dear to my heart, but it's a great cookbook nevertheless. Great recipes (which I know work as they have all been tested countless times!) and beautiful photography/design. I think it is set to become THE resource for regional French cuisine so check it out for yourself...

23 March 2008

Happy Bunny Day!

Ah, springtime is nigh (for those of you who live in places with seasons that is) and the Easter Bunny has come bearing goodies. As we ended up not going away as originally planned, we decided to have an Easter lunch for a few friends. Which then turned into about 20 friends, not including kiddies! Ah well, what's a few more mouths to feed eh?

I decided to make my own ham (okay I must confess I didn't brine it myself, but I did cook it from raw), a leg of lamb and other suitable accompanying comestibles. The menu as follows:

- White trash ham (in case the party turned out to be too highbrow, this would bring it down a few notches) with cranberry relish
- Roast leg of lamb with Salsa Verde
- Gratin dauphinois
- Orzo salad with basil, feta and cherry tomatoes
- Buttered peas (a token gesture for those worried about getting their quota of greens)
- Tart au citron
- Gâteau CocoFramboise
- Cheese platter (chèvre, St Nectaire, Gorgonzola, triple cream Brie)
- Homemade hot cross buns

Chubby Hubby and his missus, S, were gracious enough to accept our invitation and they wanted to do a post on the luncheon. As they are infinitely better equipped to do this, I have the honour of gracing their fab blog in all my glorious, post-cooking marathon gorgeousness (NOT!).

Lessons learned from this party:
- 500g of orzo is plenty for 20 people if there is other food. As "never knowingly under-cater" is my motto, 1kg of orzo went in the pot and I think we shall be eating it till summer, ahem.
- Yeast dough takes twice as long to rise here contrary to what I thought. The humidity must win out over the heat and delay everything as I found out at 2am the night before, ugh.
- Putting the gratin dauphinois under the grill and then going out to greet guests/have a drink is not recommended (see photo on CH's site, a tad beyond golden brown)
- Don't pull faces at the camera, you never know where it might appear!

Lots of eating and drinking happened regardless of course and we got some lovely Easter chocolates to boot (look at the hand decorated chocolate egg above that was hand carried by a friend in from London that morning!). It's worth all the work in the end, just going to put my feet up now, zzzzz....

22 March 2008

I'm baaaack... and beefy!

It's been so long since I posted that I feel like a born again virgi.. I mean blogger. But I have a REALLY good excuse this time. Not only did I move to Singapore, I had baby! I've been having a great time with her, but she's been keeping me extremely busy. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it ;-).

I've still been eating and cooking lots though. I've had some great experiences in the past year or so and I'll do some posts on them later. But for some immediate gratification, I'll share a recent Wagyu indulgence. I'm sure most of you know about this most luscious food stuff, but for those who have been in a coma, here's a brief blurb.

Wagyu literally means "Japanese (Wa) cow (Gyu)". Also called Kobe beef, this type of meat refers to certain breeds of cattle that are predisposed to having highly marbled flesh (their diet and reputed frequent massages are also helpful to this end). Yup, they're extremely fatty. And we all know that fat = flavour. However, we also know that not all fat is bad (think avocados, olive oil). Wagyu beef has a higher percentage of unsaturated fat than any other breed of cattle known in the world so eating this God's gift to carnivores need not be guilt-stricken. I'm not going to get any more technical than that, there are other sites more knowledgeable than mine by a long shot. Instead, I'll just show you my goodies...

No Pulitzer winning photo here, but you get the idea. This folly happened when, in preparation for my Easter feast, I picked up some meat from Huber's Butchery at the NTUC Fairprice Finest, Bukit Timah Plaza. They were having a promo on Wagyu and as I am one bargain-loving gal, I let them twist my rubber arm. I've had Wagyu before in restaurants, but this is my first home effort and I can recommend it highly.

Like when cooking any good piece of meat, the rule of thumb is “less is more”. In this case, all I did was rub the steaks with a bit of vegetable oil, season them with salt and pepper, heated my pan till smoking and threw the meat in. I wanted a nice seared, crusty exterior quickly as these weren’t very thick steaks (all my budget would allow) and I didn’t want all that lovely fat to melt away. A few minutes on each side did the trick, I removed them to a plate, left them to rest a bit, and served up with some fleur de sel and a wedge of lemon. I did try it first as is, but I think the the salt crystals boosted the whole umaminess of it all and the lemon added a nice twang and helped to cut through the fat a bit, not that I minded it. The meat did all but melt in the mouth and not one scrap went to waste, yes I actually ate every last bit of fat. In fact, I had to slow myself down and was so greedy, I didn’t remember to take a picture of the finished product until I had already had a few satiating bites. Sorry! How did it taste? Think of a cross between meat and butter, a beefy savoury butter, yum.

While this is not an everyday indulgence, I do think we will do it on a semi-regular basis. Yes it is significantly more expensive than a regular steak at home, but not that much more than if you have a mediocre steak in a restaurant. I think it’s worth it and it’s hardly difficult. Try it and I think you’ll agree…

01 October 2006

Meet Thelma

Finally! After almost 5 months of squatting in (very generous and tolerant) friends' places, serviced apartments, etc., S. and I have found a home. And what a place it is! For someone who loves to eat and cook as much as I do, the kitchen is truly a manna from heaven. Not huge, but very well equipped. You can tell the owner is a chef...

The star of the show though is Thelma, the Viking Pro range that rules this roost. She is powerful, sleek and positively humming with BTUs. Though not as eloquent as David Leite's ode to his Viking, I feel just as strongly, be still my beating heart. I have been getting used to her power; a few burnt dishes are justifiable sacrifices to the shrine of Thelma. Success stories? Beautiful evenly cooked cakes, slow braised lamb shank, wok-fried anything, the list goes on.

Here's to the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

04 August 2006

"Healthy" eats

Okay, okay. I know what you all must be thinking after my last few sporadic posts. All I've been talking about it pig, pig, pig and then some. And I've never been shy of my use of fats, animal or otherwise. Here's the thing though, working on Anne Willan's new cookbook in Burgundy has quietly and subtly been expanding my waistline and backside more than I realised. And in the few months since I moved to Singapore, I found that I can no longer hide all the flab under jumpers and such as I could in the UK. Major problem. Plus, I've forgotten how hot and sweaty this place is on a daily basis. And fat people must sweat more right? (I may not be exactly fat, but I sure rank high on the sweat-o-meter!). So I have been on something of a health kick.

Hard-to-believe, but I joined a gym and have been going pretty faithfully 5-6 times a week. I even got a personal trainer for chrissakes! The hardest thing has been eating though. When I knew I was going to move to Singapore, I dreamt of all the delicious delights I would soon be savouring; Hainanese chicken rice, char kway teow, Hokkien prawn mee, the list went on. But when my trainer handed me a list of things to avoid in my diet, these dishes I had been looking forward to were all banned. That's right, all on the Top Ten List of Do Not Eats. Eating out in Singapore is cheap and tasty, when you are NOT on a diet. But in my situation, I resort on a regular basis to Yong Tau Fu and Fish soup. When I'm splurging I may go for sushi, but that's it.

Let me get one thing clear however. I actually like those "healthy" foods. Even in my quest for a fitter bod, I refuse to sacrifice flavour. Happily, it seems to be working, the flab is diminishing bit by bit. Though you won't be seeing a bikini shot here anytime soon, I can fit into my trousers again hoorah. Long may the effort continue!

20 June 2006

Asia-Pacific Best Restaurants 2006

Okay, I know. This is late, but that is sort of my trademark, no? And I have a couple of good excuses, really I do. The main one being that I had not yet eaten at Iggy's and didn't feel like I could fairly participate without having done so as I am now a resident of Singapore...

Anyway, what am I going on about? Well, after many debates about Restaurant magazine's somewhat contentious list for "Best Restaurants in the World" , Chubby Hubby came up with an Asia-centric survey to see what other goodies would turn up.

Well here is my Asia Pacific Best Restaurants List, read 'em and weep!

2 best restaurants in Singapore

Surprise, surprise... it was worth the wait. I took hubby there for his birthday and he was damned please. Then again, so was I. I'll try and post a more specific review of it later, but just a few words here to say that the food was creative without being too fussy, innovative without being over the top and most importantly, just pretty damn delicious. After an apéritif of Jacquesson champagne, we went for (of course) the full tasting menu. I pretty much licked every plate and wished I had some more. Service was impeccable (something I have such a problem with in so many restaurants and especially in Singapore), the restaurant itself was charming. I preferred this version of "counter service" much more than at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. There, the stools weren't that comfortable and a VERY open kitchen meant that the girl prepping the cold plates was making me nervous with her constant head scratching and pushing up of the eyeglasses, yuk. I digress, anyway, 2 enthusiastic thumbs up!

While CH put this down as his favourite restaurant, I'm putting it in for my second best. Hu Cui is the restaurant I would go back to time and time again. Their xiaolongbao easily betters those from Din Tai Fung and I just love all the other dishes there as well. The setting and service aren't too shabby either making for an all around winner.

Favourite restaurant in Singapore

You gotta give it to those guys at Crystal Jade, they know how to open restaurants that offer good quality and good value meals. That's why my favourite is divided between either the Crystal Jade Golden Palace in the Paragon or the Crystal Jade Palace at Takashimaya. I have dimsum at either one or the other almost every Sunday and pretty much always come away happy. Their main menus are also very well executed and the dining rooms are really lovely.

3 best in Asia-Pacific (excluding Singapore)

KAZAHANA, Tokyo, Japan
I like Japanese, in all it's guises, heck, I'll even go to a Sushi Tei from time to time. But Kazahana really shows you where it's at; this is Japanese cuisine at its finest. From the earthy maitake to velvety Wagyu, you get the finest ingredients and the most beautiful techniques. Located at the Conrad Hotel in the Ginza, this is a really elegant and dare I say, glamorous combination of the traditional and the modern (so very Tokyo in fact). Go for the chef's kaiseki dinner. While pricey, is the only way to go if food nirvana is what you're looking for. And we are talking about some serious food here...

TETSUYA'S, Sydney, Australia
This Franco-Nippo-Ozzie master has made it into the legion of the single-name wonders: Madonna, Cher, Tetsuya! There is no mistaking him, or his food, for anyone else's. His food is clean, with ingredients the star of the show. The confit of of ocean trout is a must-have and all the food is as good as it looks. In fact, Tetsuya has reached such an outstanding balance with his fish and crustacean dishes, truly genius. And the restaurant itself, a Japanese-style oasis in the middle of the city with traditional gardens to boot are a very nice bonus to the whole package. (P.S. Met him here with Justin Quek, and despite being severely jetlagged, came and had a drink with us, what a trooper!)

WHAMPOA CLUB, Shanghai, China
Jereme Leung was recently invited as one of the few Asian chefs (along with Tetsuya and Justin) at the recent inaugural “A Feast of World Gastronomy” in Toulouse. And for good reason. This man can cook! His reinterpretations of the classics are clever, bold and revelatory. Shaoshing Ice with Drunken Chicken, Su Dong Po Braised Pork, Pi Pa Gao Ice? Fantastic! This is Chinese cuisine refined, modernised without having lost anything in the translation.

(BTW, based on what I've tasted of Justin Quek's cuisine here, I would love to add La Petite Cuisine to my list, but as I haven't actually eaten in that restaurant, cannot lah!)

2 favourite in Asia-Pacific (excluding Singapore)

Having spent 3 years in Tokyo, eating my way through this highly gastronomic city, I managed to sample so many bowls of ramen that I certainly don't have enough digits to count on. But this is my favourite. I can't say it is the best, ramen is a very personal matter and anyone who has seen Juzo Itami's "Tampopo" would know how important it is, "Caress the pork..." But for me this is the ultimate ramen, springy noodles, delectable broth. I always get the Negi Chasu Ramen, with extra spring onions and pork. And I drink down ALL the broth, after which I wipe the sweat from my very happy face, ureshii neeee!

A refined venue this is not, boisterous family style restaurant is more like it. However, that is exactly the atmosphere I expect to have fantastic dimsum in; high turnover, ultra-fresh food. This restaurant never disappoints, especially with its saliva-inducing, Shanghai-style hairy crab dumplings. They're so fragile that the waiter actually has to help each little bun from the steaming basket to your waiting bowl. Top it with a bit of ginger vinegar and slurp it down, ahhhh... All the other dimsum are also extremely well-executed, not a wrong foot anywhere that I've tasted yet.

So that's it then. Please take all this in with a grain of salt. The Singapore restaurant list in particular is based on me being back in the country only a couple of months after a seven and a half year absence. There are so many restaurants I haven't been to yet: Il Lido, Le Papillon, Majestic, Xi Yan, etc. All that sound promising but there's only little 'ol me and so little time. One restaurant at a time, I will persevere. I look forward to compiling next year's favourites!