Sunday, September 17, 2006

In A Blood Orange Mood

I was so excited to see blood oranges on our neighbourhood supermarket shelf that I completely forget my doctor's orders to stay well away from citrus fruit. Blood oranges are exceptionally uncommon in this part of the world, the closest country to grow them being Australia. Named for their red specked flesh and deep red juice, blood oranges are lower in acidity than regular oranges and tend to be sweeter. The "blood" in these oranges come courtesy of a pigment called antocyanin, not typically found in citrus, but more common in other red fruit and flowers like pomegranate. Their colour alone endears them to cocktails and all kinds of pretty dishes with the added benefit of being antioxidant rich.

Alas, despite all the good stuff it packs, a glass of its vibrant vermillion juice later and my esophagus retaliated with a vengence. The good doc's orders echoed in my mind like a flashback in a bad movie. No pills could save me now. I would have to ride through the night gagging away uncontrollably like an unwitting porn-flick newbie.

Anyways, with a whole bag full of blood oranges still waiting in the fridge, I had to do something with them. Inspired by J's amazing Orange Conserve, the last of the precious portion she so kindly gave us dwindling fast, I decided to try something I had never done before: make jam. Following her recipe to the letter, but with blood oranges instead of regular oranges, I emerged with a beautiful coral-red conserve that was as delicious as it was gorgeous.

With the rest of the blood oranges, Claudia Roden's fool-proof and always-a-hit Middle Eastern Orange Cake, gussied up with a dollop of whipped thickened cream, strewn with chopped pistachios for that extra Middle Eastern touch and of course a teensy wedge of conserved orange like a sparkling garnet crown.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Most Versatile Cakes of All

Who doesn't love crabs or crab cakes? Luscious fresh crabmeat packed in a crispy crumbed skin. But fresh crab meat can be such a pain, involving as it does picking miniscule bits of the precious flaky meat from the smallest crevices of the crab's limbs. Hard work indeed, but often more than worth the effort.

I recently chanced upon an extremely versatile recipe that has quickly become a favourite in our household. It is from a book which I've owned for some time now but haven't really delved into until a few months ago. The New York Restaurant Cookbook packs 115 recipes, all of which are signature dishes from New York's most famous restaurants. Nobu's Black Cod with Miso is in there, as is Le Perigord's Rack of Lamb with White Beans and WD 50's Cherry Clafouti. I don't know why I waited so long to discover the gems within these pages, but I'm currently working my way through the flurry of post-in with which I've marked the recipes I'm gunning to try.

The famed '21' Club's Lobster Cake recipe is so versatile I've made them with all manner of shellfish. Delightfully piquant and spicy, they are extremely easy to make, even for a dinner party of more than 4 (have you tried picking crabs for 6?). I sometimes omit or use alternative ingredients since things like jalapeno peppers and flat leaf parsley aren't readily available at the average suburban supermarket here (I replace the jalepeno peppers with green chillis and sometimes do without the flat leaf parsley). I've used crabmeat, crayfish and prawns and in every variation, they've been wonderfully delicious. The book also provides a cucumber salad recipe to accompany the cakes, but both C and I aren't cucumber fans, so instead I make a citrus and fennel or rocket salad to go along with it.

Lobster Cakes
(Serves 4)

1/2 jalapeno chilli or 1 green chilli (seeded if you don't want the heat)
1/2 cup minced red bell pepper
1/2 cup minced onion
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp hot sauce (tabasco)
2 tbsp lime juice
5 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp minced chives (I sometimes replace these with the white part of a spring onion)
1/2 tbsp minced flat leaf parsley
2 tsp coriander leaves
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 pound fresh cooked lobster/crayfish/prawn meat (cut into 1/2 inch pieces) or flaked crabmeat
1/2 cup soft fresh breadcrumbs
1 1/4 cups panko (Japanese white bread crumbs)
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Heat a tbsp of oil in a saute pan and add the jalapeno, red bell pepper and onion. Season with salt and pepper and saute over low heat until the vegetables are soft and not brown. Remove the vegetables to a bowl and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine egg yolks, hot sauce and lime juice. Blend in the mayonnaise, mustard, the herbs, and the cayenne pepper. Now the soft bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of the panko, the shellfish meat, and the reserved sauteed vegetables.

Now spread the remaning panko on a deep plate or a pan and shape the cakes (you can use your hands or shape them in a circular mould or in tuna cans with the tops removed). Place the cakes on the panko and then sprinkle more panko on top to coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and then saute over medium heat till golden brown.

To make the salad, segment an orange or ruby grapefruit, mix with rocket leaves or thinly sliced fennel and some fresh mint leaves. Dress with balsamic vinegar, some of the fruits' juices and olive oil.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Five Things To Eat Before You Die

'Tis the meme of memes that seems to be doing the rounds, started by the über flogger Melissa from The Traveler's Lunchbox. Since I've been tagged not only by my friend and Singapore's most famous flogger, Chubby Hubby, but also by Jared of Alaska Cooks, I am of course more than glad to participate.

So here goes:

1) Baba Ganoush at Naguib Mahfouz Cafe in Cairo
Before I entered this bustling eatery in Cairo's Khan al-Kahlili bazaar, I was a baba ganoush virgin. But one taste of this creamy, tangy eggplant dip and I was hooked. Alas, throughout the rest of the trip, no other baba ganoush — from Cairo to Istanbul — lived up to our first encounter. None other to date has, in fact. Perhaps, as the saying goes, the first time is the best. But if you're ever, ever in that vicinity, you simply must give it a try. Incidentally, the cafe is named after Egypt's (and the Middle East's) most famous writer and the first Arab to win the Nobel Prize in literature. Mahfouz passed away last week on 30 August, at the age of 94. The cafe is open daily from noon to midnight. 5 Sekket al-Badistan, Khan al-Khalili, phone 590-3788 or 593-2262.

2) Cheok Kee Braised Duck Rice
So wonderful is this dish that I enjoy it no matter how I'm feeling—gluttonous, sad, sick or happy. Served in the traditional Cantonese style, a robust, thick dark sauce is poured over the tender duck meat and is accompanied with either yam rice (when gluttonous or in need of comfort food), rice noodles (for happy slurping) or rice porridge (for sick, sad or cold days). It helps that the guy at the stall always serves it up with a smile and is very generous with the gravy and two types of chilli—in sambal and a vinegar sauce. Stall 29, East Coast Lagoon, Singapore

3) Thai street noodles
I don't know what these noodles are really called, but you see them sold on every street side in Thailand. It's essentially egg noodles served with fishballs, porkballs, minced pork, or sliced chicken meat, in a seriously tasty broth. Whenever I'm in Thailand, I make it a point to eat a bowl (or two) for breakfast every day I'm there.

4) Oysters
I once tasted a poached oyster at some restaurant as a child, but it was so vile I spat it out right at the moment the manager came over to ask us if we were enjoying our meal, casting immense shame on our family's name. That put me off oysters for a long, long time and until I met my partner C almost seven years ago, I had never tasted a fresh oyster. I am pleased to report that I have since more than made up for lost time.

5) Cocoa Nibs
Right now, at this very point in my very greedy life, I am obsessed with experiencing the cocoa nib. I've never tasted a cocoa nib in my life and were I to die today, I would be really pissed that I haven't gotten down to putting one of those things in my mouth. I recently found a place in Singapore to buy them, but I can only buy them in a one-kilogram bag. Which I will — I've already placed my order. So, soon. Soon there will be cocoa nib ice cream and other confections. There are recipes flagged with lime-coloured post-its in numerous cookbooks, waiting for my nibs when they arrive.

I better be alive this weekend.