dinner_is_served

Jac: *sings* “All by myself….”

This is a simple one-dish meal for the singletons dinner that’s quick and easy to prepare.

Recipe for Stir Fry Beef with Chinese Wine

Marinade for 1/2 hr to and hour:
Thin slices of beef strips
Thick Soy Sauce
Light Soy Sauce
Chinese Wine

Crushed garlic
Asparagus peeled and sliced- or substitute with any vegetable of your choice
Cornstarch dissolved in water

1. Heat oil in wok, drain marinated beef (set aside the marinade liquid) and quickly fry till just cooked. This should take about less than a minute for thin slices.
2. Remove and set aside beef. Sautee crushed garlic, add the asparagus and the marinade liquid. stir fry asparagus till cooked.
3. Add the beef back to the wok and stir to heat through. Then add dissolved cornstarch to thicken the sauce and give a glossy effect.
4. Serve on steaming fluffy white rice and I highly recommend a saucer of sambal belacan to give it a little kick!

I’ve been making sambal belacan since I was a kid. Not surprising since I love my chillies. If you’re interested, here’s how to make your own:

Sambal Belacan

Big red chillies (1 or 2 will do)
Cili padi (lots of it!)
Belacan (roast over the stove – tastes better)
salt to taste
Limau nipis

Pound ingredients together with a pestle and mortar. Squeeze in the juice of the limau nipis before serving.
Some people also add shallots but I find it makes the sambal belacan too sweet for my liking. I need mine to make the eyes water and the nose run. Oh, and the sambal belacan in the photo looks green because I didn’t have any big red chillies. So aesthetics wise: zero, taste wise: OMG! NEED-MORE-WATER-IT BURNSSSSS!

PS: Sorry for the poor quality photo, this was taken with my 1.3 Megapixel cameraphone. The digital camera has gone overseas for a holiday. Heh.

Max! Kitchen and Wines

Max! Kitchen and Wines

Jac:  The month of September heralds the arrival of many important birthdays, the celebration of which is an involved affair. But I enjoy celebrations anyway despite all the moaning and groaning I do; any reason to eat and drink is always a great one! Bran had pronounced that western cuisine was his choice and Max! Kitchen and Wines was a natural choice as I’d been reading so much about this place for the longest time. Being a weekday, we were one of only 3 tables that night. Chef Max wasn’t in attendance that day as I overheard the waiter saying that he was on leave.

Bran: September 11th, it was, and it was my 32nd year residing on planet earth.  My spiritual birthday has always been on 1st January, seeing as how September is so long in the coming – but since that’s already a celebration on its own, the actual day is always worth celebrating.  Jac had wanted to come to Max! for a while and so it was decided.

Yabbies!

Yabbies!

More yabbies!

More yabbies!

Jac: There was no need to mull over my starter, I’d decided even before arriving that Yabby Lobters it would be. But I was taken aback by the sheer size of the platter! Oh but who am I to complain in the face of such shellfish goodness? The yabbies were very fresh, grilled just right, firm flesh succulent and sweet.

Bran: I’ve never had baby lobsters before but they were good – reminding me of the huge prawns from Sabah that we’d once cooked.  The one I had, donated graciously by Jac, may have been slightly undercooked though.  It must be hard to get these delicacies barbecued just right.

Scallops

Scallops

Jac: Bran’s scallops while certainly ample enough couldn’t compare to my yabbies 🙂

Bran: They were unfortunately texture-less and had the same consistency as Japanese tofu.  I didn’t really enjoy the combination and felt that the dish wasn’t seasoned well enough, even though the green olives were frightfully salty.

A bottle of French Burgundy

A bottle of French Burgundy

Jac: The wine list was firmly in the high end range, and as usual wine selection duties was relegated to the more critical between the two of us. I must say that he did a good job, the French Burgundy he chose was deliciously smooth and subtle. It was a light fruity wine that should suit most palates; highly recommended.

Bran: I’d actually wanted a decently priced Bordeaux but they were out of that and so I decided on something that we hadn’t tried before.  The medium bodied wine was wonderfully floral, subtle and smooth.  It was a great accompaniment to the overall dinner, not overpowering but suitably supplemental.

Smoked Duck Breasts

Smoked Duck Breasts

Jac: My entree was quite delicious. The portion was a little smaller than I’d expected but the medium well duck breasts were very tender and flavourful. The sauce was sweetish made with some berries I believe and underneath the meat and mushrooms was a bed of mash and bok choy. The only thing I was hesitant about was the use of bok choy as the greens as it signals fusion cuisine which I tend to stay away from. But still the duck was a winner for me.

Bran: I was surprised to see the duck sliced, stir fry style, but it was prepared so well that I initially had trouble identifying it as duck.

Wagyu Beef Tenderloin and Braised Beef Cheeks

Wagyu Beef Tenderloin and Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks

Jac: Once you’ve eaten Wagyu beef, is there any way to return to other kinds of beef? The Wagyu beef tenderloin was absolutely exquisite, impossibly tender with a full rich beef flavour. Ah, I’m in love! The beef cheeks were a bit too gelatinous for my liking probably because of my strong ‘jelak’ reflex, but Bran seemed to really like it though. At RM 120 this is not a dish the average Joe could afford to eat everyday, but as a special treat and as a gourmet, you should try it if you get the chance.

Bran: This was the first time that I’d had a whole Wagyu beef steak, instead of the usual Wagyu beef slices that go in shabu shabu or yakitori and mind you, this may have been the best beef steak that I’ve ever had. (I haven’t had a Kobe beef steak yet, so maybe I am yet to taste the best beef steak ever)  Juicy, succulent, tender, moist and buttery – I was hard-pressed not to wolf it all down in a few bites.

The steak was accompanied by braised Wagyu beef cheek which was absolutely divine.  Think of the best  long and slowly braised beef you’ve had – soft, melt in your mouth beef – and concentrate all those experiences into a marvellously marbled beef meat that’s retained its beefy goodness despite the long cooking time.

What you don’t see in the picture are a few slices of duck liver terrine, mashed potato and bak choy that were a perfect accompaniment to this ascendant symphony of beef.  My only complaint, apologetically so, is that the portions weren’t as substantial as I’d hoped but had I ordered a bigger starter it might have been the perfect size.

Warm Valrhona Chocolate Souffle

Warm Valrhona Chocolate Souffle

Jac: I wished I had more of the Valrhona Chocolate Souffle, it had just the right degree of bittersweet-ness that I enjoy.

Kataifi Pastry with Cocunut Ice-cream

Kataifi Pastry with Coconut Ice-cream

Bran: The coconut ice cream was a bit of a let down and the strawberries…pfbbt.  Don’t get me started on local Malaysian grown strawberries…

Jac: I enjoyed the food at Max! though I’d be a bit hard-pressed to return seeing as it’s rather pricey and I am the epitome of Ordinary Jane-ness. Still my curiosity about this restaurant has been satiated and hopefully my other half enjoyed our little culinary experience as well. Happy Birthday hun XOXO.

Bran: Luckily, a less than ordinary desert does not bring down a not-so-much-of-a-desert person like me.  I thoroughly enjoyed the entree and wine experience, and I fully absorbed what the real fuss about gourmet beef is all about.  It was a wonderful birthday present and well, well appreciated.  Thank you sweetie!

Bran: Having just gotten a bonus at work, I was scheming different ways to spend all that hard earned money – one of those schemes was a nice dinner, or two, maybe three. 😉 What better way to start enjoying things than a lobster dinner?

Jac: Despite having only just that evening developed a running fever and sore throat, my mind (and stomach) was set on having lobster after waiting impatiently the whole week. So after reassuring Bran that my greedy spirit would make up for my sickly flesh, we trundled off joyfully to Lobsterman in SS2.

We’d been here there only once before a long time ago, so it was about time to find some excuse to return.

The menu showing the weight of the lobsters and the different preparations available

This came in handy: “How to eat your lobster”

Scallop and Clam appetizer

Jac: The appetizer menu had said “Scallops and Clams”. Notice the plural? It turns out there was ONE scallop and ONE clam, so as delicious as it was, I can’t help thinking we were ripped off, further solidifying Bran’s and my conclusion that the only thing worth having at Lobsterman is Lobsters!

Bran: It was pitifully small – we were thinking that we could share an appetizer, and we did but it was hardly satisfying. I’m not quite sure if it was tasty because there was so little and we were ravenous and fighting over it, or if it was genuinely nice. We were definitely left wanting for more.

‘Course, we’d downsized our order this time around because we still had memories of ordering too much the last time and getting ridiculously full as a result. It would turn out to be the right strategy…

Can you see the roe and the tomalley in the lobster head cavity?

Jac: Skipping all the fancier preparations in an attempt to savour the natural sweetness of lobster, we decided to have it charbroiled, garnished with nothing other than a cup of melted butter on the side. The lobster head constituting almost half the entire length of the whole lobster had the tastiest morsels of flesh including the roe and liver which is called tomalley. It was rare seeing Bran take the time and effort to empty out the lobster cavities for every edible last bit. Quite something as he’s not even fond of crabs as it involves too much work J.

Bran: This time we got a 900gm beast of a North American lobster presented to us live before cooking, which looked exactly like those you see the lobstermen catch on Discovery Channel.

Minimalistic preparation allowed for the natural fresh flavours of the lobster to shine through. I’d never had lobster this way before and it seems like it’s the best way to truly enjoy it, as it is with most seafood. The innards were a lot tastier than I thought they would be and the flesh was just lovely. My only complaint was that some parts of the big claws were actually quite a bit undercooked, possibly due to overcrowding on the grill. Or claws going where they shouldn’t have gone…

Overall, it was good to have lobster again. There isn’t much else that’s notably good about the place though. The prices don’t match the standard of the restaurant and its food – the corn on the cob that you see in the picture was decidedly off, for example – and I would feel hard-pressed recommending the place to anyone. But if you love your seafood, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy a meal that consists entirely of lobster and nothing else.

Next time we crave lobster though, I think we’ll try going some place else. (Jac: Like maybe King Crab? *hint* *hint* :p)

The ingredients ready and raring to go!

500g medium to large prawns (de-veined)

3 stalks of lemongrass (smashed to smithereens!)

Finely slice:

3 slices of ginger
3 stalks of lemongrass
3 pips of garlic
5 bird’s eye chili

Mix together:

5 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp tomato sauce

Steps:

  1. Deep fry prawns until cooked, remove and set aside
  2. Fry 3 stalks of lemongrass in some oil until fragrant, then remove.
  3. Fry sliced ingredients until crispy and fragrant
  4. Add prawns, sauce and stir fry till prawns are heated through and evenly coated.
  5. Enjoy!

Nampak sedap tak?
It’s not an optical illusion, those were huge prawns I tell you…

I like this recipe, the tastes go very well together; the sweet, the savoury and the spicy. Try it! 🙂

Bran: It was wonderful – like what a well reputed Chinese restaurant would serve. If only there were more of the sauce…

“A decidedly non-halal post

Jac: Calling it a ‘treat’ on account of the yearly company bonus was just an excuse on my part to indulge ourselves in a new dining experience. And here’s where voracious reading of food blogs had me in good stead, so I narrowed the choices down based on glowing reviews from foodies and we mutually agreed on El-Cerdo in Changkat Bukit Bintang. I made the booking for 7pm but my over-eagerness had us at their doorstep by 6.40! It was a good call anyway to go early as we had the full attention of the restaurant owner who spent a considerable amount of time with us tailoring our dinner menu.

Bran: The host and owner seemed a bit dodgy in recommending or swerving us away from certain dishes we were trying to order – I suppose they were probably a little low on stock on some things but in the end he was gracious enough to give us a compromise. Ultimately, we would be thankful for him offering us the right amount of food and not too much of it….

Tomato soup – does being complimentary make it tastier?

Jac: We started of with a complimentary tomato soup that was nice and chunky (certainly not from a can) but a tad bland for my taste.

Bran: A nice tomato soup, for lack of anything else to describe it by. Might have lacked a bit of seasoning but it was alright.

Jamón Serrano from Spain

Jac: We wanted to try as many dishes as possible in one sitting (can you spell k-i-a-s-u ?) and so our waiter/owner very graciously offered to send us half portions of the Spanish ham platter above and the pork shoulder steak below (which is actually a main dish) as our starters. The salty Jamon Serrano ham was nicely balanced of with the sweetness of the rock melon. The steak was nice and tender and after some scrutiny and hesitant tasting, the straw-like garnish on top was found to be crispy slivers of onion! And I also really like the mash which I think had bits of bacon in it, ooh so yummy!

Bran: One thing I noticed about the ham was how incredibly thin the strips were – much too thin in my opinion. I was left wondering if they were running out of it or just keeping the rest for the bigger tables yet to fill up for the night. Otherwise, it was exquisite and the salted meat was complemented wonderfully by the melon.

Marinated Pork Shoulder Steak

Bran: The pork was tender and well marinated but I was left doubting the claim on the menu that it was a 48 hour marinade. Unverified claims aside, it was well worth having, especially as an ensemble with the interesting mash and julienned fried onions.

ROASTED SUCKLING PIG “COCHINILLO AL ESTILO SEGOVIANO”

Jac: In no-time our starters were whisked away and our main course arrived on a wooden board: Roast suckling piglet! According the owner this dish is a traditional dish from Spain and is prepared by slow-roasting the piglet for 4 hours. (Bran – I think it was a good thing that we were early, the place was bustling by the time we were having the piglet)

Jac: As testament to its tenderness, a plate is used to cut the piglet into sections. I did the honours and later broke the plate on a stone anvil enclosed in a wooden bucket. All the drama surrounding the little piglet is probably one of the reasons El-Cerdo is so popular aside from the fact that it is also impossibly divine to eat! The piglet meat is succulent and delicately flavoured and its skin crackles and crunches delightfully. Only one tiny problem, eventhough the menu says that half a piglet is for 2 persons, I’d think 3 persons is more practical as there is only so much fat one can consume without feeling a little sick!

Bran: This was actually the first time I’d ever had suckling pig that wasn’t prepared in the traditional Chinese way – and when I had my first bite, I knew I’d been having it the wrong way all along. The skin was wonderfully crisp, the meat slid off the bone – it was so tender, and the herbs and seasoning were subtly perfect. I tend to disagree with Jac though, I could have any amount of that piglet!

Piglet served with side-salad and a bowl of roast potatoes

Jac: Ah, and now for the wine we had. Bran made a great choice to go for a red wine from France: Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2002 Graves. If the first sip makes you go “Wow!”, it’s definitely a winner. It was very elegant and slipped-slid effortlessly down the throat. I really enjoyed it and will be on the lookout for it in case the wine shops stock it.

Bran: It was a lovely, smooth and refined wine. Exquisitely delicate and yet still maintaining body – it was a shame that we didn’t finish the wine before desert (blame the waiter for not giving us the bottle once the table was cleared before dessert) , as the sugar in the terrine took all that away.

Chocolate Terrine with Custard Sauce and Pistachio Ice Cream

Jac: Dessert was my choice, and therefore naturally chocolate-based. Unfortunately I found it to be only so-so. (Bran – I think it wasn’t half bad really 😉

Jägermeister (German for Hunter Master) 35% Liqueur

Jac: Bran’s after-dinner digestive drink packed quite the punch though, 35% liquer! Don’t be fooled by the size of the picture above though, that’s a shot glass.

Bran: It reminded me of that tonic wine called Wincarnis, which my mum used to drink – but with oomph. Sweet and surprisingly a good end to the meal.

Jac: El-Cerdo is a place you go to in a group, with friends and family, to share a hearty meal together. This was pretty obvious as Bran and I seemed to be one of only 2 couples in the whole restaurant. Reservations are also a must, the place was packed to the brim! And one more thing on the tiny details that matter; have you heard of a handbag stool? Well I hadn’t but it exists! And what a brilliant little idea, women everywhere will attest to the fact that there’s never a suitable or comfortable place for our cumbersome handbags at restaurants. The stool is low and fits nicely beside you or even under your chair, leaving you free to lean back or sit forward to reach out and hold his hand whenever you feel like it 🙂 (Bran – I’ve seen that before, forget where though)

Bran: I wouldn’t mind going there again with just the two of us as company, but there is some merit to enjoying suckling piglet with other people. You could have one piglet in the middle as an appetiser and everyone would still be able to have their own main courses. If only the place weren’t on the pricy side – we’d definitely find more excuses to go there more often.

(Gosh it’s been so long! If you were waiting, our apologies to you. Bran – not as bad as if you were reading my blog or Jac’s though 😛 )

Jac: Bran loves moussaka (eyes glaze over at the mere mention, you get the picture?) and I’d volunteered to cook for Valentine’s this year during an unguarded starry-eyed moment at last year ‘s Valentine’s dinner, so this is the result.

Bran: Moussaka! Ooooh, yummy cheesy goodness – it brings me back to my childhood in the UK, where school dinners involved moussaka and other delicious cheese dishes. Admittedly, you don’t usually associate school canteen fare with yummilicity, but there must’ve been something to it, to have had an effect on me down the years… But anyway, it’s the greek wonder that is moussaka!

This time I used a recipe, er, more like a mish-mash of a few moussaka recipes I found off the net. But in general I stuck to this one http://greekfood.about.com/od/maindishes/ss/moussaka.htm.

Making moussaka is a rather time consuming affair and if done in one sitting can take up to 2.5 hours and as such I decided to make the meat filling the day before. It’s a doubly good idea as well because letting the meat sauce sit overnight (in the fridge of course) intensifies its taste. And I must say that the sauce made up of minced beef, onions, tomatoes, all-spice, cinnamon, nutmeg and wine was heavenly. Bran had to admonish me many a time as I kept dipping in to ‘taste’ the sauce ;p. I could have it on its own or on top of pasta or with rice or bread or..sigh, the possibilities are endless! (Bran – The stars know if I hadn’t stopped her from pecking at the meat…. :P)

The meat sauce dried up beautifully after an hour of simmering gently

The next day I started by making the cheese Bechamel sauce that was to be the sinfully decadent topping to the moussaka. Bechamel is a white sauce made with milk, butter, flour, egg yolks and for this recipe cheese was also added. It was fascinating how the sauce thickened just as prescribed by the recipe!

Nice and thick cheese Bechamel after vigorous stirring

The eggplants were sprinkled with salt and left for half an hour to draw out its bitter juices then sliced and deep fried until nicely browned.

Layering process underway!

Once all the main components were ready, the layering processes began, and this is how it went (from top to bottom):

Cheese Bechamel
Meat Filling
Eggplant
Meat Filling
Eggplant

The assembled moussaka ready to be popped into the oven

Then with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan and a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon on top, it was popped into the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

A beautifully browned cheese crust
Moussaka should be rested a little while before consumption as apparently it tastes better warm rather than bubbling hot. (Bran – I could hardly wait!)

The result was unfortunately a bit salty and we figure it’s because each component was seasoned with salt (and the egg plant was actually coated with liberal amounts of salt in the ‘de-bitter-ing’ process) and somehow the combination turned out to be over-seasoned. So next time I’ll under-season and maybe it’ll turn out perfect! We had the moussaka with a walnut loaf and an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip.

Bran – It might have been a bit salty, but it didn’t change my appreciation of the moussaka by much – after all, it was a labour of love! 🙂

A table for two

Obviously presents are not necessary but as a token we made a pact that the presents must be RM50 and below, and so the book was for me and the wooden pepper mill and coffee maker were for him. As of now the book’s half read, there’s peppercorns in the mill and the coffee maker has churned out steeped coffee for him and her 🙂

*A non-halal post

Bran: KK might be renowned for its good seafood, but unbeknownst to outsiders, the people of Sabah love their meat too. Love it. To bits. In fact, we have a love affair with all things buffalo – not beef, buffalo.

Bran: This lovely assortment of buffalo spare parts (intestines, tongue, liver and stomach) and meat is known locally as ngiu chap. It’s a very simple soup – which is usually buffalo meat stock and whatever else the specific proprietor adds in – and is served together with noodles or with noodles separately, in a dry soy sauce mix (which is most usually different from the make up of dry noodles in KL). Stalls that serve ngiu chap abound in coffee shops around KK but you’ll find that the best ngiu chap is to be had at shops that sell it exclusively. Jac and I had our ngiu chap at Lai Heng Baru in Foh Sang, Luyang (I think the original Lai Heng used to be in Donggongon. I could be wrong).

Jac: I’m not too fond of soupy noodles, but I do love my ‘spare parts’ because the variety of textures from the different organs is enough to keep me happily amused. If I were to compare the ngui chap we had with beef noodles, I wld say that it’s less gamey in smell and taste. The broth was light and fragrant and the addition of ham choy and ‘lada’, which I must say I’m quite in love with. Made from ground cili padi and vinegar, it’s a sure tear-jerker in the most magnificent way. (PS: I tah pau-ed a bottle of lada home too! :p) was a nice touch. Of course what made it all the more delicious was drowning each mouthful in the ubiquitous Sabah (er..air? – Bran)

Bran: ‘Course, the love of meat extends past buffalo to things like lamb. Try an entire lamb, barbecued on a spit for 3 hours, Chinese style. Lovely. ‘Course, not as lovely as Jac and I’s recent lamb escapade. This lamb and the following piglet were both had at my parents’ house in KK, in conjunction with my sister’s wedding – a dinner before the main dinner reception the next day.

Jac: I was quite captivated by the barbecuing process, and visited the ‘barbeque uncle’ in charge of the lamb every so often to check on the progress 🙂 But I found the lamb in the end did not live up to my anticipation, though it was pretty ok anyway.

Bran: The roast piglet proved enticing to human and ghostly entities alike. (Ghost-boy captured in frame to provide scale for the size of the pig/piglet – Jac)

Bran: Observant readers may notice the conspicuous shape of something that may be frowned upon by the authorities. But yeah, the piglet’s going to get it! (Bran’s uncle doesn’t seem very impressed by his show of chopping bravado. “Main-main kah?” :p – Jac)

Bran: The master barbecue uncle deftly applying the chopper to a roast piglet that seemed like it was gone in 60 seconds – there was a constant flurry of activity and a stream of people coming back and forth from the pork table.

Jac: The roast piglet was definitely the main attraction, drawing gawkers and saliva-tors like moths to a flame, and naturally bran and I were front and centre in the melee :). And for good reason too, the dissection process was engaging to say the least and the porker proved to be delicious with crispy, crackling skin and moist succulent meat.

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