31.3.14

Canele and the Art of Dinner Party Etiquette

I love hosting dinner parties. Feeding my friends with homecooked food makes me happy. Many a time, I'm asked by my dinner guests if they can bring along anything, and while I tell them to just bring an empty tummy and healthy appetite, I do, on occasion, get gifted with stuff.

At a recent dinner party with my MG-girls, Yuwee brought macarons from Canele! I love Canele macarons, so I truly appreciated the generous gesture. The macarons are just so perfectly balanced and nuanced that polishing 10 of them off in just 1 sitting doesn't feel quite as sinfully decadent as it should.

Top from left to right: My ultimate fave, Rose (butter cream perfumed with rose extract); Cookies & Cream, my second favourite; Chocolate Noir (70% Valrhona with Guanaja chocolate cream)
Bottom from left to right: Yuzu & Yoghurt, loved the fruity zesty undertones; Feuilletine (66% Valrhona with Caraibe chocolate cream and hazelnut praline); Fleur de Sel Caramel (artisanal salt with caramel), a little too sweet, methinks.


But, for people that aren't quite in-tune with my peculiar preferences (and inspired by my friend, Wey's post), I'm gonna sidetrack and espound on my personal take on the Do's and Don'ts to bring for a dinner party.

Do's

RSVP
Please do this early. It's only polite to do so. Especially if it's a small party. The hostess will need to know how many guests are coming and consequently, how much food to prepare. And please do turn up if you've indicated that you're turning up. You don't want to leave your hostess hanging.

Allergies & Religious Dietary Restrictions
Please do inform your hostess, when you RSVP (on time), of any allergies or religious dietary restrictions.  This will avoid any faux pas when you turn up for dinner, and realize you can only eat the salad.


A Helping Hand
This is so very appreciated especially if your hostess doesn't have a live-in cleaner. Not helping doesn't necessarily make you a bad guest, but helping in even the smallest way, like an offer to put away the dishes, is always appreciated. The most endearing guests I always have over are my MG-girls, they never fail to help wash up after dinner, I hardly have anything cleaning to do after they've left!


Food
While foodstuff is welcome, it is particularly contingent on whether you know how many dinner guests there are going to be and whether you know the rest of the dinner guests.. Of course, my particular food preferences are easy for my friends, who've known me for ages. It's incredibly helpful when my friends coordinate to bring desserts and fruits to finish off the dinner. Mok once brought a beautiful platter of fresh fruits for dinner, which were wonderful with the fruity jellies Lainey brought; another time, Emmy made her awesome fruit tarts, which went hand-in-hand with the ice-cream and brownies Leech brought; and our resident fromager Addie, who can't cook or bake to save her life, brought along a bunch of cheese to pair with the wine Aiwei brought. The key here is to coordinate; check with the hostess whether your foodstuff will mesh with the dinner itself, the rest of the dinner guests' preferences and whether what you're bringing is enough for everyone.

Alcohol
A lot of dinner guests love to bring alcohol, but it can be a little tricky, especially if the hostess isn't much of a drinker (unless it's a BYO and you're prepared to finish the bottle at the dinner itself, which solves the problem!). I'll let you in on a little secret: I love moscato and the Hubs loves his single malts. But, because I sometimes cook with wine, the mid-range, new-world chardonnays and cabernet savignons also make useful additions to my pantry collection. Better yet if they are the half-bottle types because we find it a chore to have to finish up the rest of the bottle! The key here is also to check, if in doubt, with your hostess.
Update Jan 2016: having just fallen in love with wine, we appreciate our big bold full-bodied reds, so Margaret River cab savs, Barossa Valley Shirazs, Argentinian Malbecs are always welcome in our home!

Grocery Store Vouchers
I'm myself a practical gift-giver, so I appreciate most the practical ones. The best of the lot are grocery store vouchers because everyone will always need to do groceries.

Kitchenware store vouchers
Vouchers from local specialty kitchenware stores like Tott and Sia Huat are a great idea IF the hostess is a regular cook or baker. But get one that's valid for at least a year, as your hostess may not be in need of any kitchenware. Or have the extra space to store anything else in her kitchen. But, give it a year, and there's bound to be something in her kitchen that needs replacing.

Specialty Foodstore vouchers
Think specialty foodstores, and names like Jones the Grocer or Dean & Deluca will inevitably be thrown up. While they sure stock the most tempting of premium luxury foodstuffs, they are a little overpriced, and more affordable (i.e. value-for-money) options are Toque Gourmet Store at Sime Darby Centre, or The Providore Warehouse at Outram.




Don'ts

Picky appetite or fusspot attitude
Unless the hostess is your BFF, please don't expect her to be your personal chef. She didn't invite you to her home to cater to your every whim or current trending fad diet. Live a little, and let loose the dietary shackles. The aforementioned are, of course, not applicable to religious dietary restrictions or allergies.

Be late
Acceptably late is 15-20 minutes, and even so, be prepared with a legitimate reason and please do inform your hostess (at least 5 minutes before the scheduled party time) that you're gonna be late. It's no longer fashionable to make everyone else wait for your highness to grace them with your presence before they can begin dinner.

Kids
It is only courtesy to always check with your hostess if children are allowed at the dinner party. Unless specifically stated that children are invited, or if the hostess has children herself, always err on the side of caution and assume that children aren't invited. Your hostess may be your bestest friend in the whole wide world and love you to bits, but she's not obliged to love your child. And, if your home is like mine, totally child-unfriendly because it's entirely decked out in shades of cream (i.e. extremely stainable), bring your child along at the risk of having to repair/clean/refund/pay for any damage to your friend's home. Ditto for your other half as well.

Decorative items
Everyone's style is different, and what may seem a beautiful heritage piece to you may look totally dated to another. Unless your hostess has mentioned that she was considering purchasing the very same item, please keep the receipt and ensure that the store has a returns policy. Ditto for vouchers from notable homeware furniture stores like Macy's, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware: they each have polarising styles that may not gel with the hostess' home.


I understand that everyone's got their own set of dinner party etiquette, and some of you may have a different take on what to bring to a dinner party...what's yours?

Canele
Website: www.canele.com.sg

27.3.14

Baked Parmesan Zucchini Crisps

This is yet another no-fuss appetizer that I actually whipped up in minutes when a couple of guests came over to hang out. They needed to kill time before heading to a wedding in town, and I thought I'd feed them a little; tide them over until the wedding dinner, seeing as local Chinese wedding dinners start real late.

Ingredients:
Zucchini, cut to 1cm-thick (plan for 1 zucchini to serve 2-3 persons as an amuse bouche)
Half cup breadcrumbs
Half cup freshly grated Parmesan (pair 1-part breadcrumbs to 1-part Parmesan)
4 tbsp olive oil (I mix this with some of my chicken fat to lend a subtle richness)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (can use white or pre-ground pepper as a viable alternative)


Directions:
1) Heat oven to 230 degrees celsius. Mix the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a bowl. Put the olive oil in a separate bowl.

2) Dip the zucchini in olive oil.

3) Then coat them evenly in the breadcrumb-Parmesan mixture.

4) Spread them out evenly on a baking tray.

4) Pop them into the oven for 15 minutes, taking them out to turn them over before popping them back in for another 5 minutes, until both sides achieve a golden brown hue. Serve piping hot.


26.3.14

Penang Seafood Restaurant, Geylang Lor 25A

I'm a creature of habit, and do, frequently, find myself going back to my regular haunts over and over again. So to expand my foodosphere, I constantly ask my friends, especially the picky foodies, where their favourite food places are.

Like with the recent discovery of Penang Seafood Restaurant at Geylang, credit must be given to my foodlover of a friend E who introduced us to the best cze char I've had in a while.

Penang Seafood Restaurant serves up just about the most extensive menu I've seen in quite some time. And inspite of its name, they don't just serve up Penang cuisine. They do a wide array of local cze char fare too. Everything we had was excellent, and the fact that we got seconds of almost every dish speaks for itself.

Service here is brisk and efficient, despite the restaurant's full capacity on a Friday night, but what really sets apart Penang Seafood Restaurant from the usual dour-faced service standards at most cze char eateries is how the staff here manage an upbeat, positive attitude that's so refreshing.

A word of warning though, parking is a real pain (it is Geylang afterall); the very-law-abiding Kimchi took about half an hour looking for a proper lot. If you're, like us, more flexible, you may consider slotting your car in anywhere that doesn't block traffic and turn on the SummonsAunt app (this shall not constitute an advice to commit any traffic offence).

The Penang Fried Kway Teow ($5) is a must-try. Heck, all of the Penang-style noodles here are must-tries. This lightly-spiced rice noodles, interspersed with crunchy beansprouts, crispy pork lard, scrambled eggs and sliced lup cheong, was beautifully imbued with a smoky fragrance.

The Penang Assam Laksa ($4.80) was a myriad of the sour, sweet and spicy flavours that blended seamlessly into a heady complex dish.

The Penang Prawn Mee ($4.80), with its robust but balanced prawn broth that never got cloying, was just sumptuous to the last drop.

The Salted Egg Sotong ($12) was insanely good. The squid was cooked perfectly, still soft with the barest of chew, and the salted egg coating was nicely contrasted against the subtle heat of the fried curry leaves and cut chillis.

The succulent Shrimp Paste Chicken ($10) was so thoroughly-marinated it was flavourful to the bone.

The deceptively plain Jane Fermented Pork ($10) was an explosion of pungent saltiness, set off by the moist and tender pork strips and crisp battered coat.

The Stir-Fried Hongkong Kailan ($10) was a simple dish elevated by incredible finesse in its execution. Toothsome, with a hint of smoky aura and garlicky essence, this was just awesome.


Penang Seafood Restaurant
76 Geylang Lorong 25A
Tel: 6841 3002
Open daily from 11am to 12midnight
Website: www.penangseafoodrestaurant.com.sg

25.3.14

Da Paolo Gastronomia, Great World City

We made a pitstop here to refuel while doing groceries at Great World City. While their ready-to-eat fare isn't the best of the lot, they generally garner a better-than-passing grade. Their pizzas may not inspire a mouth-watering response, but once heated up and all toasty, make for a relatively decent snack.

The Ham Pizza ($7.30), sliced into 4 easy-to-eat triangles, and choc-a-bloc with premium ham, reminded me of those homemade pizzas with those ultra-crunchy ready-made pizza crusts.


Da Paolo Gastronomia
1 Kim Seng Promenade
Great World City B1-03
Tel: 6333 6351
Open daily from 10am to 10pm
Website: www.dapaolo.com.sg

23.3.14

Pique Nique

It's been a while since I last ate at Pique Nique, the roughed-up, all-American diner to Antoinette's classed-up, dainty French cafe. Time has clearly had its ravages; the quality of the former's savouries, as well as the size of its dining crowd on a Thursday evening, seems to have gone down. Service has remained the same as before though; completely inattentive and unresponsive. We might as well have served ourselves the iced waters that only arrived at the very end of our meal.

The Sausage and Egg Gratin ($14.80) from the all-day breakfast selection caught our eye, mostly because we're so in love with Antoinette's awesome egg gratin. However, this turned out a lot more rustic than we'd expected. Grilled sausage bits and diced yellow peppers texturised the tomato sauce which was topped with 2 glaringly overdone fried eggs, and sided by a couple of plain white toasts and mesclun salad.

The Swiss Shrooms Burger ($13.80), with a moist-and-thick-but-not-juicy-enough beef patty, sauteed mushrooms, and melted gruyere, was decent, but lacked punch (read: greasebomb dripping with juices). Not the best burger we've had, but not the worst either. That said, the fries were pretty damn good; we actually finished them yummy babies up!


The side option of a Petit Mac & Cheese ($7.80), with a trio of gruyere, parmesan and mozzarella, while surprisingly substantive, was boringly one-dimensional and lacking that oomph factor.


Pique Nique
391A Orchard Road
Takashimaya #B1-01/02
Tel: 6238 6705
Open daily from 10am to 9.30pm

19.3.14

Chijmes Lei Garden Restaurant

This is the first time we've been to Lei Garden since Chijmes underwent major renovations. While the carpark still smells like pee, especially the area closest to the lifts, it's definitely less noticeable.

The outstanding Braised Beef with Homemade Sauce ($8) was chopstick-tender, highlighted by that mellow oyster sauce-based gravy. I particularly loved the daikon, braised till denture-soft.

The Deepfried Mushroom with Beancurd Skin ($6) was one of those addictive dishes that you can't stop at just one. The moist strips shitake crisps were blanketed in crisp beancurd skin and enlivened with the delicate spice of fried curry leaves.

A staple here, the Crisp Fried Silver Fish ($7) was toothsome and tasty.

The roasted meats here are a must-try, and the Barbecued Honey Pork ($16), meltingly tender and moist, was brushed with a beautiful honeyed marinade that complemented its smoky accents.


The Roasted Pork ($16.80), with its perfect ratio of cracking skin, decadent fat slivers and meaty layers, never disappoints here.

A seasonal dish, the Beef Porridge ($10.80) wasn't quite well-received. The beef, while tender, was very full-bodied; a jarring contrast against the delicate rice gruel.

We much preferred our usual order of Rainbow Egg with Shredded Pork Porridge ($4.80), light, smooth, and so comforting in the current rainy weather.

The Steamed Rice Roll with Shrimp ($5.20), also a mainstay, was stuffed generously with sparkling fresh prawns.

Another seasonal option, the Steamed Crystal Dumpling ($4.80) with hairy melon, mushrooms and pork was light, clear and flavoursome. Too bad it was laced with coriander bits.


Ditto for the Steamed Dumpling with Chicken & Mushroom ($4.80), although this consisted the added whammy of diced celery.


The fluffy, airy Steamed Buns with Barbecued Pork ($4.80), yet another must-try with its perfect balance between the plain bun and the sweet pork, was superb as well.

Lei Garden does the best rendition of Steamed Custard Buns with Salted Egg Yolk ($4.30), primarily because of that sweet chocolate swirl.

No dim sum is ever complete without the ubiquitous duo of har gow and siew mai. Here at Lei Garden, the Steamed Pork Dumpling ($4.80) with mushrooms is impossibly fresh, with a delightful bouncy texture and delectably juicy.

The Steamed Shrimp Dumpling ($5.20) was outstanding as well, thin chewy translucent skin enveloping a whole fresh prawn.


Chijmes Lei Garden Restaurant
Chijmes #01-24
30 Victoria Street
Tel: 6339 3822
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch and from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website: www.leigarden.hk/eng/

17.3.14

Kwong Satay, Geylang Lor 29

The coffeeshop where Swee Guan Hokkien Mee is situated must have the best fengshui ever. Apparently, the duck rice, and bak chor mee stalls also play their roles in drawing in the crowds, AND, there's yet another notable hawker legend here: Kwong Satay, a Chinese-style satay grill-master with his very own die-hard fans.

I've heard that some "dabao" their raw satays and otah for barbecue parties. A quick check online revealed that they've capitalized on their popularity and started a delivery service to cater for barbecue parties.

I love Chinese-style satay, primarily because of pork satay! We ordered both the Chicken ($0.50 each) and Pork ($0.50 each), well-marinated, imbued with a smoky char and dripping with juices. The pork, leaner than the chicken, was balanced out with layers of artery-clogging fat slivers. These were all so good, I actually didn't quite realize I wasn't dipping them in the rather generic satay gravy. If I had to choose, and it's a difficult one, my vote would go to the chicken satay: more succulent, sans the guilt-inducing stark fat slivers.

This is the one time that the food actually lives up to the hype; I'm glad we decided to try this despite our misgivings having seen the numerous TV-show and newspaper endorsements plastered all over the stall facade. 


Kwong Satay
549 Geylang Lor 29
Sing Lian Eating House
Tel: 65650002
Open daily from 5pm to 11pm; Closed alternate Wednesdays
Website: www.kwongsatay.com.sg

16.3.14

Swee Guan Hokkien Mee, Geylang Lor 29

Google Hokkien mee in Singapore, and Geylang's Swee Guan Hokkien Mee will inevitably pop up. The hawker legend, frying up a storm since the 60's, is one of those heritage hawkers that still cooks with a traditional charcoal fire. Todate, Swee Guan has spawned a few cousins but loyalists will swear by this Geylang outpost as the original.

What hits you immediately about the haphazard mess of noodles is the distinct charcoal accents. This truly epitomizes "wok hei". Every mouthful guarantees a heady char.

Tantalizing smoky fragrance aside, the noodles, an assortment of thin rice vermicelli, thick rice noodles and yellow egg noodles, have been allowed to thoroughly bathe in all of that potently rich prawn stock, making the infusion so flavourful the toasty sweetish sambal served alongside is rendered quite redundant.

Three-for-three, the sparkling fresh squid and prawns are cooked perfectly. Soft with a slight chew. These are all what makes Swee Guan Hokkien Mee such a master in its class.

This $10 plate should be sufficient to feed 2, but if you're famished, get the upsized $20 plate, which usually feeds 3-4.

The stall facade for reference, but you don't really need it. Because it's self-serviced, you can't miss its signature long queue of customers waiting patiently, eyes glued to their smartphones.


Swee Guan Hokkien Mee
549 Geylang Lor 29
Sing Lian Eating House
Tel: 98175652
Open daily from 5pm to 11pm

15.3.14

Restaurant Ember

We managed to snag L.A. Lunch reservations at Restaurant Ember before Chef de cuisine Sebastian hands the reins to this wildly successful modern European fusion restaurant over to new blood next month. It's truly the end of an era, but the end (of Ember) isn't nigh, so no need to wail and flail. The new chef boasts fairly impressive pedigree, he's helmed the kitchen of the lauded Iggy's and perfected his craft at Waku Ghin and L'entrepot Bistro, so while I'll miss Chef Sebastian's midas-touch at Ember, I'm pretty excited to see the new direction, if any, Ember will take.

Because we were a group of 25, we placed our Set Lunch ($42++ per person for a satisfying-but-not-food-coma-inducing 3-course meal) orders a week in advance to facilitate the smooth and timely churning out of food. This resulted in service that was efficient and swift, such that we managed return to the office in very good time. My gratitude and thanks go out to the staff at Ember! 

Food-wise, it was telling that there were zero complaints from my compatriots. Even the nit-picky ones had nothing but praise for the lunch here. I suppose, that's to be expected. Ember's success has largely been supported by the twin pillars of consistency and attention to detail.

Ember's foie gras are quite legendary, and you'd do well to order them at least once. The Pan-Seared Foie Gras (+$6 supplement) was nicely countered with crisp-fried orange segments, and a zesty orange and passionfruit reduction.

The Japanese-inspired Roasted & Poached Foie Gras (+$6 supplement) was tempered with mirin and shoyu, served atop a bed of succulent sauteed shitake.

A vegetarian appetizer option, the Homemade Crispy Tofu with Mushrooms was sweetened by a tangy tomato chutney and sided by shimeiji tempura and a mesclun salad.

The other vegetarian starter option, a refreshingly light Cold Tofu Salad was loaded with avocado, cherry tomatoes and slathered with a savoury sesame dressing.

My all-time favourite starter here, Pan Roasted Scallops, plump and fat, and lovingly swaddled with parma ham didn't disappoint. Mesclun dressed with citrus and tarragon vinaigrette, and a few orange wedges served as as accompaniments.

The 12-Hour Pork Belly is a popular main course here. This possessed the perfect fat-to-meat ratio, with a beautiful crackling skin and melty meaty texture. A bacon-flavoured stewed savoy cabbage was a pretty damn good way of getting the folks to eat their veggies, while apple puree was smeared for posterity. I found the plating of the spiced calvados sauce in the test tube particularly kitschy.

The only vegetarian option for the mains, Angel Hair Pasta with Mushroom, Broccoli, and Chilli, was just about the only main that was a let-down. We found it a tad dry; it would have been more well-received if it was more saucey.

My favourite main course here, and my personal recommendation to all first-timers here, the perfectly cooked, ultra fleshy Pan-Seared Chilean Seabass (+$3 supplement) with an addictively delicious mushroom and smoked bacon ragout and aromatic truffle yuzu butter sauce was just pure ecstasy on a plate. More than half my colleagues ordered this, and they ALL loved it.

The Marinated Cod with Black Miso is another signature here, and if you're the type to prefer oily cod over seabass, then swim right up! Crunchy sugar snap peas and roasted herbed potatoes rode alongside.

For dessert, I had the Assorted French Farm Cheeses. We particularly took to the marmalade and practically licked off the cheese board.

By far their most popular dessert, the Warm Varlhona Chocolate Fondant with vanilla bean ice-cream was just heavenly, and oozing with dark molten cocoa goodness.

The dessert of the day, a super moist Tiramisu was served in a mason jar that the kleptomaniac in me wanted to take home. For the record, I didn't. 

A shout-out must be given to Ember's awesome Herbed Bread, complimentary of course. This was always served fresh out of the oven and piping hot, with a crusty exterior and a soft fragrant fluffy interior.


Restaurant Ember
50 Keong Siak Road
Hotel 1929
Tel: 6347 1928
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 2pm for lunch
Mondays to Saturdays from 6.30pm to 10pm for dinner
Closed on Sundays
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