Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I finally understand what High Tea is all about

Time flies. It has been a year (!!) since our ROM. Only a while ago, I invited all of you to re-live my ROM with me, and now I am blogging about our ROM anniversary. I think it's brilliant that this year has passed in a flash, because it just means that I am loving every minute of being married to Li Li (I hope she does too).

To make this a memorable day, I decided to bring her 25km away from my home (think living in Jurong West and going to Changi) just to drink some tea. For all who are interested, this place is called the Author's Lounge in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok, which is also the very first luxury hotel in Siam.

It's a classy old-style British-colonial type lounge that has the garden setting as they illuminate the place fully by sunlight. We were the first to arrive, but before we knew it, people from all over the world (including Thais of course) have filled every seat, turning the lounge into a bustling indoor garden with waitresses zipping around balancing pots of tea and three-tiered snack trays. It is interesting to note that there was an international crowd who came specially to have this authentic afternoon tea experience. Which tourist would spend half a day in their short vacation soaking in a lounge on a Sunday afternoon when they have 1001 other things to do in Bangkok unless this place is really famous?

Poor pianist was almost banging his fingers in vain in amidst noise produced by the chatty crowd

High tea is, in my humble opinion, the defining relaxing activity of taitais, especially after a tiring dose of retail therapy. I am trying to convince my wife that she can become a taitai here, and what better way to start?

Relaxing like a true Thai-Tai
 Of course, no high tea is complete without tea. We chose the most expensive tea on the menu and it did taste very refined. But to be honest, I would prefer a cup of icy cocoa from the shop opposite my office any day.

So finally, to the food. There's nothing much to say here, as I am going to show you the full menu of our traditional high tea set followed by a montage of the actual spread.

The place was great, service was excellent, ambience was fantastic, but was the food great? Errr..... it was ok, but probably forgettable is the apt word to use. Everyone has a soft spot for warm buttery scones with a dollop of clotted cream/jam followed by a sip of hot tea, but assorted sandwiches, cookies plus a single mouthful of panna cotta and a similar serving of creme brulee did not leave any note in my head that I should come back in the future for more of the same food.

Back for more pictures? Maybe. Haha...

At the end of the day, I think both of us felt that it wasn't too steeply priced considering the entire package, and it did give us an actual feel of what the Duchess(es) in Europe do in their afternoons while waiting for their husbands to come home for dinner.

Oh ya, we were under a palm tree too!
Moral of the story? High tea is NOT about the food, it's more about the company, and about how you sit back and relax over a book and some decent snacks. The Author's Lounge sure made it happen.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Deliciously yummy slab of pork collar on caramelized onions topped with spicy Thai green chilli salsa

There's actually a lot to blog about. My mom's trip, my company (currently spending more than earning in optimistic preparation for booming growth in the next couple of years) and the nitty gritty details of my wedding (which I have not finished organising ridiculous number of photos), but for now, it's the season of cooking, and I am very honoured to be sharing with all of you the self-created dishes which I am personally very proud of. The thing is, all of you should try these dishes, as they are simple -- requiring only fresh ingredients and an oven.

This time, I made a deliciously yummy thick slab of pork collar over caramelized onions and topped with a spicy thai chilli salsa. I chose pork collar because meat tends to dry up really quickly in the oven, and too many of my trials have resulted in my chop literally taking on the texture of a shoe (really!), so I realised pork collar would do the trick, as it is marbled with nice but not-obscene dollops of fat, which keeps it tender and moist. Directions below serves 2:

For the pork:
  1. 2 thick pieces of pork collar, preferably ard an inch thick, 250g each
  2. 1 big french onion, dice a quarter in to small cubes to marinate the pork, slice the rest for baking
  3. 3 cloves of garlic, diced for marinating
  4. Dried rosemary
  5. Paprika powder
  6. Salt, black pepper and olive oil, the mainstays of almost every dish
  7. A small drizzle of balsamic vinegar
It's important to flavour the pork way before you cook, preferably overnight, and it's dead simple. Put some olive oil in a bowl and at your preference, put in all the ingredients above and mix until it gives a thick red marinate. Slam the pieces of pork many times with the back of a knife to tenderize them before massaging them in the marinate.

For baking, pre-heat the oven to 200degC, lay your baking tray with the sliced onions and put the pork on top. Bake for approximately 40minutes until onions are deliciously caramelized and pork is cooked through.

The thai chilli salsa is simply a twist from the sweet pepper salsa on my earlier post (you can just scroll down to view it). Instead of using sweet pepper, I used green and yellow thai chillis (think Nam Phrik Num from Northern Thailand, just more Western style) because they are more fragrant and pack a spicy punch. I also used lemon juice as the acid instead of balsamic vinegar for added freshness.

Put all the elements together with a smash of salad greens of your choice (rocket again for me) with some lemon olive oil dressing and enjoy this wholesome meal which will cost you a bomb in the restaurant.

My latest masterpiece

There are so many elements and layers of flavour to this dish. The freshness of the greens, sweetness of the caramelized onions, moist-ness of the collar and spiciness of the chilli salsa, it tastes fantastic and different in every bite!
PS. Thank you Li Li for helping me with the greens!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The BEST Baked Potato Salad

Li Li is here, and it just means that every week we will spend some time creating good home-made meals using our loyal salad spinner and mini-oven. This also means that I have a chance to turn ideas into reality, like this warm pumpkin salad and this easiest cherry tomato salad.

This wonderful baked potato salad is another result of a multitude of concepts in my mind after watching an obscene amount of food-related shows on telly these days (most current craze being Top Chef). To make things less complicated for all of you, I am essentially breaking this recipe down into 3 simple mini dishes, and at the end of the day you just have to put them altogether and tuck in! The stated ingredients feed 2 hungry people.

1. The base of this salad is of course, baked potatoes, to make this, you need:
  • 4 large potatoes, washed, cut into cubes and seasoned with
  • dried rosemary
  • paprika powder
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a dash of balsamic vinegar (which is another backbone of this dish)
  • medium-grade olive oil (do not use extra virgin for baking!)
You need to bake the potatoes at approximately 200degC for 40minutes until nice and soft.

2. I like my salads to have a non-veg element, a carb and of course, greens. I believe you can use any salad leaf, but I recommend rocket, basil or watercress, which in this case, I again chose my favourite- rocket:
  • 100g of wild rocket, washed and then dried with a salad spinner
  • a dressing of 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 9 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (1 part acid 3 parts oil), plus some salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Just toss the rocket with the dressing and it is good to go.

3. This is what I have been wanting to do for a long time, a very nice and sweet salsa-like baked sweet pepper salad. This is what I consider as the X-factor for the dish, and it's not very convenient to make, but here goes:
  • 3 bell peppers or ora, preferably with different colours so that the salsa turns out pretty, kept whole
  • medium-grade olive oil to sprinkle over the peppers before baking
  • for dressing at the end, you will need a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, some salt and black pepper plus a good tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
The key to this dish is to literally burn the peppers in the oven until they are wilted, hence forcing out all the natural sweetness in them. They also become really soft and fluffy, like over-ripe peaches. After baking them for about half an hour (or more if you find them not soft enough) at 200degC, remove their skins and seeds, leaving only the flesh. Tear the flesh into nice 7mm (approximately) strips and dress them, you're ready!

Before I proceed to plating, which is the easiest thing if you have taken the trouble to complete all of the above, I'd like to introduce the non-veg element of this dish.

Smoked Salmon! I added 2 large pcs per serving, however, you can go vegan and do without this, or you can go the sinful indulgence way of frying some steaky bacon/pancetta to complete the meal.

Finally, plate the salad with all the goodies you have already prepared.

The Best Potato Salad!

With a final cracking of black peppercorns, here's the final result.

Spear your fork through a tiny bit of everything and enjoy yourself.

This is my proudest creation yet, do try this at home and I am sure you will not regret!
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