Cauliflower Cheese Gratin

Cauliflower Cheese Gratin is another one of those vegetarian dishes that's so delicious, I'd be happy turning vegetarian for. I suppose it's the cheese...it always makes everything better! To lower the calorie content of this decadent dish, switch out the cream with milk instead.

Ingredients (makes a 5-layered lasagna tray 12" x 8" and feeds approx 6):
1 large head (1kg) cauliflower, cut into 1" cube florets
4 tbsp unsalted butter
6 tbsp plain flour
2 cups milk (adjusted to room temp)
2 cups cream (adjusted to room temp)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated parmesan
1 cup grated gruyere
1/2 cup grated cheddar (mozzarella is fine in a pinch)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1) Blanch cauliflower in salted boiling water, about 5 minutes.

2) Drain and set aside. It should be still firm.

3) Melt butter in pan.

4) Turn down heat to very low, and whisk in flour.

5) Whisk in milk and cream, till softly bubbling.

6) Whisk in 1 cup gruyere and 1 cup parmesan till smooth and thick.

7) Add dash of pepper, pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp nutmeg, and whisk.

8) Pre-heat oven to 200 degree celsius with fan on. If without fan, 220 degree celsius. Spread about 4 tbsp sauce onto a 12" x 8" baking dish.

9) Place cauliflower on top.

10) Pour remainder of sauce all over the cauliflower.

11) Top off with a layer of 1/2 cup grated cheddar and breadcrumbs. Pop in for about 15 minutes until browned.

12) Rest for 5 minutes before serving.


Binomio Spanish Restaurante

Binomio, a chic Spanish bar and restaurant along the gentrified Craig Road, marries the sleek modernity of a fine-dining restaurant service with the casual conviviality of family-style sharing food. Serving up traditional classics with an innovative spin, I found Binomio's food nice, but somewhat flashy and a smidge pompous, when the food should have been full of soul and done with flair. In this regard, I have to say that Catalunya reigns supreme.

Although service was a tad distracted and choppy, I still thought the service was great. They'd let us yak away till midnight although they could have closed up an hour earlier.

The adjoining bar is popular with yuppies and expats alike, so Friday and Saturday nights will find this place bustling. Therefore, be sure to make reservations.

The Fideua Negra ($70) was an atypical noodle paella, heady with smoky squid ink, and studded with chewy squid dice and creamy aioli.

The Huevos con Chorizo ($24) was a couple of slow cooked eggs seasoned with chorizo crumble complemented by a mellow potato puree. 

The Chipirones Rellenos ($29) was a medley of softly grilled squid ringlets stuffed with a hearty oxtail ragout, thick squash chips, drizzled with a mildly spiced rotena sauce.

The Papada con Navajas ($32) of char-grilled pork belly and chewy razor clams was pooled in a silky cauliflower puree.

The Croquetas Binomio ($14 for 4 pcs) of ham, chicken & egg croquettes and Croquetas de Setas ($10 for 4 pcs) of mushroom croquettes were truly fantastic. Crunchy breaded crust bursting with creamy mash and flavourful stuffings, these oval morsels were quite addictive.

The wine list was indeed extensive, and we got a 2012 Jorge Ordonez Moscatel from Malaga, Spain ($16 per glass) and a 2010 Dolc Mataro from Alella, Spain ($18). Spanish vintages paired with Spanish food. While light, sweet and very drinkable, the wines were pathetically portioned. I've had wines portioned at tasting tours more generous than these. 

A must try, the Churros con Chocolate ($14) was the quintessential Spanish dessert of fried dough sticks swathed in cinnamon sugar and dipped in luscious chocolate

The Tarta Helada al Whisky ($14) was a lovely and potent whisky cake slathered with a vanilla-tinged toasted egg yolk sauce, and a coat of shaved almonds. Strictly for alcoholics, the whisky was overwhelming.

20 Craig Road
#01-02 Craig Place
Tel: 6557 0547
Open weekday lunches from 12noon to 1.45pm;
Mondays to Saturdays for dinner from 6pm to 10.30pm;
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.binomio.sg


Chicken Provencal

A hearty, plucky dish from the Provence countryside, this is the French answer to Italy's chicken cacciatore. Olives, Provence herbs like rosemary and thyme, and tomatoes are key to the bold punchy flavours of this classic stew. While it may be tempting to use pitted olives, try to resist. Olives, once seeded, lose their potency.

And, as with all stews, this is infinitely more flavoursome when kept overnight to allow all the flavours to thoroughly infuse into the meat. So, if prepping for a large dinner party, this is one dish that can be done the night before, so you can free up time to cook the other dishes.

Ingredients (feeds 4-5):
5 chicken thighs (portion about 1 thigh per pax)
1 medium yellow onion, diced to 1cm cubes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow capsicum, diced to 1" cubes
10 olives (I used Liguria olives of the purple and green varieties for maximum flavour)
1/2 cup red/wine/rose wine (leave this out if catering from the alcohol-intolerant)
1 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes, with juice
1 tsp dried rosemary
8 sprigs fresh thyme, plucked (dried thyme is usable in a pinch)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup marinara sauce
salt and pepper to taste

1) Brown chicken in pan, about 10 minutes. Salt liberally. Work in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan. Set aside.

2) Using 2 tbsp of chicken fat renderings, fry onion and garlic on medium heat till fragrant, about 2 minutes.

3) Add wine till almost reduced completely, about 2 minutes.I used a chardonnay; I already had an opened bottle in the fridge and wanted to finish it up.

4) Add tomatoes and marinara sauce.

5) Add chicken stock, rosemary and thyme.

6) Return chicken to pan. Bring to boil, then lower the heat to simmer for 40 minutes, till fall-off-the-bone tender.

7) In last 10 minutes, add olives.

8) And add capsicums.

9) Salt and pepper to taste before serving.


Les Amis

Back in the 90's, where fine-dining French restaurants were a rarity, Les Amisthe pre-eminent trailblazer in the local F&B arena, brought a certain je ne sais quoi with its slick, polished approach to French cuisine. Since then, the grandfather of French fine-dining has had an illustrious 20-year history. Like a fine vintage that ages beautifully, Les Amis has managed to stay on top of the game, even with heavy competition from the many Michelin-starred chef-led restaurants. 

We recently had the 5-course Menu Découverte ($95) and the 6-course Menu Épicurien ($125) for lunch, and found the Japanese-influenced food absolutely smashing. There was such a refined symmetry and harmonized composition in the flavours.

Fantastic food aside, the service was terribly disappointing. Thing is, I used to love the service at Les Amis. Maybe it was because I was always with towkay-type regulars. This time, though, it was different. While the junior waitstaff were all smiles and exuded genuine warmth, the senior ones hid their snobbery beneath a stiff veneer of chilly professionalism. I know they're capable of warmth; they were talking up a couple of middle aged-types like old chums, but, in stark contrast to us and other customers, emanated frost, so the blatant favouritism was acutely felt. It seemed, to me, that the Les Amis service protocol has different standards for ostensibly different classes of patrons. To exacerbate matters, my coffee never arrived! The waiter had asked me for my preference for coffee or tea, but neglected to return with my coffee. This, for one of the bastions of fine dining in Singapore, is unpardonable. Sushi Ichi, where we dined that very same night, was so much more personable. 

Menu Épicurien, Pour Le Déjeuner (Lunch Epicurean Menu)

The Le Caviar en duo avec des cheveux d’anges glacées au vinaigre de Xérès; a gorgeous bundle of refreshingly chilled angel hair dressed in truffle oil and sherry vinegar, was finished with Osciétra caviar for a burst of intense brininess.  

The Le Foie Gras de Canard glacé au sésame japonais; a custardy smooth pan-seared foie gras was glazed with toasted Japanese sesame seeds, drizzled with Goma sauce and sided by a bold grapefruit apple compote. This was accompanied by a wonderfully delicate dashi broth.

The La Langoustine de Cornouaille, servit croustillante, salade folichonne; a plump cornouaille langoustine swaddled in a crisp pastry sheet was balanced with a folichonne side salad studded with seaweed and anchovies.

The Le Bar de Ligne des côtes bretonnes, sauce caviar; was a moist, flaky line-caught seabass from the Brittany coast crested with caviar, crispy leeks, and a luscious fish bone sauce.

The Le Boeuf du Filet de boeuf de Omi, maturé à point et grillé, aromates et asperge, jus de viande & léger voile de miso blanc; was a meltingly delicious grilled dry-aged Omi beef tenderloin with white asparagus, edible shiso flower, bitter herbs, capers, mixed bell peppers, shallots, garlic and onion chips, tempura chip, and an opulent miso emulsion. 

To finish, the Crumble de Pomme verte glacée, crème brûlée au calvados; an icy Granny Smith apple crumble was juxtaposed with a warm Calvados apple brandy crème brûlée.

Menu Découverte, Pour Le Déjeuner (Lunch Discovery Menu)

I don't like foie gras terrines, so I swopped out the Le Foie Gras option with a pair of succulent Garlic Butter Scallops, done teppanyaki-style, and adorned with a fried shiso flower.

The La Creme D’Huitres aux pointes d’asperge verte; was a velvety egg yolk cream emulsion freckled with fat Brittany oysters, ikura, and grilled green asparagus.

The Crabe de Mer épicée aux aromates; was a sweet Japanese snow crab spiced with an array of seasonal aromatic vegetables, asparagus and carrot confit, and pooled with an aromatic orange earl grey reduction.

The Sakura Ebi sur des cheveux d’anges, piments doux d’Espelette et touche de parmesan; al dente angel hair pasta dotted generously with lobster dice, crispy sakura ebi and parmesan shavings. 

The Le Fruit de la Passion dans un soufflé chaud, glace à la noix de coco; was a light-as-air purple passion fruit soufflé served with a young coconut milk sorbet.

To finish, we had a couple of complimentary Lemon Madeleines, gloriously buttery, perfectly dense and moist.

No French meal is complete without bread, and Les Amis' Bread Basket of Cranberry Walnut bread, Sourdough, Cheese Buns, and Mini Baguette was a home-run, totally awesome and a recommended must-eat (yes, I'm talking to you Atkin-dieters). These were lovely smeared with the famed Normandy Bordier butter and sea salt.

Les Amis
1 Scotts Road #01-16
Shaw Centre
Tel: 6733 2225
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 7pm to 10pm for dinner;
Closed Sundays
Website: lesamis.com.sg


Sesame Oil Chicken

Sesame Oil Chicken is one of my favourite dishes. It's fragrant because of the copious lashings of sesame oil, and warming because of the liberal additions of ginger, which makes it so comforting during this current rainy monsoon season.

It's also traditionally eaten by women, post-pregnancy during their "confinement period", to nourish their weakened constitutions and "dispel wind" from their weakened bodies from when they were "opened up" during childbirth. 

I've reduced the amount of Chinese wine, purely as a matter of preference, but feel free to increase the amounts as you like it.

1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
10 pieces ginger, 2" x 1" and 0.5cm thick
1 tbsp ginger juice
6 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp thick black soy
3 tbsp light soy
2 tbsp oyster sauce
3 tbsp Shaoxing wine
3 cups water

Optional: 10 dried Chinese black mushrooms (rehydrated by soaking in hot water, with 1 cup mushroom water reserved for use later)

1) Fry ginger in sesame oil until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

2) Add chicken and fry till no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

3) Add black and light soy, and oyster sauce.

4) Add mushrooms.

5) Add water, wine and ginger juice, and bring to a boil, before lowering to simmer to cook through, for a fall-off-the-bone texture, about 40 minutes.

6) For a thicker gravy, swirl in a tbsp of flour.

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