A Whirlwind Work Trip: My First Michelin Star Experience

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We were very fortunate to be treated to a good dinner, my first Michelin star experience at the one-star Tano Passami L’Olio. The name literally meant “Tano, pass me the olive oil.” Chef Gaetano is very big on olive oils and treats it almost like wine in how he pairs each carefully, selecting carefully which oil he uses to finish each dish. We went for a tasting menu of sorts, starting with this amuse bouche.

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Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Wow! moment, more of a “hmm this is rather good.” It was interesting how the mousse was finished of with olive oil but I don’t remember a great deal more than that.

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The next dish was quite interesting – raw prawns Milanese-style marinated in citrus and anise, accompanied by pink grapefruit and cheese mousse and graced with caramelised peas. I wasn’t sure about the peas as they were semi-dry, with texture reminding me a bit of wasabi peas, just not as crunchy. I liked the fresh, fresh! prawns that were singing with the zing of the sea (go figure that out, I’m taking things up a notch – it’s a Michelin-starred place yo) and the grapefruit and cheese mousse was nice, though it tasted a bit like it was meant for baby food, but what lovely fine dining baby food it was!

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Now it was the next dish that really brought things up a notch. The caramelised quail eggs on tuna mousse was a revelation. The first one after going in the mouth went crackle! pop! and there were surprised looks all round the table. Then understanding dawned and we gleefully went with the second one. First, the sensation of caramel on the tongue, as it was an egg-shaped creme brulee with crackly crust all round. Just a little pressure with the teeth and tongue and the delicately cooked quail egg burst, coating the tongue with runny yolk. The tuna mousse made for a savoury counterpoint to it all. And the raw tuna in minted olive oil? Gilding the lily with its freshness.

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Our expectations went a little higher with the pasta course and we were not disappointed. We were presented with lemon risotto cooked in vegetable and milk and finished off with chocolate. I was a bit wary of this as I wasn’t sure how dessert-like a lemon and chocolate rice dish would taste. But no, this was deeply savoury, rich and wonderfully al dente. At the same time, the lemon flavour sang through and the bitterness of the chocolate balanced out the flavours. It was another eye-opener. Next time I’m in Milan, I’m coming back just for this dish.

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We were surprised by how full we were getting at this stage, we really hadn’t eaten a great deal, but it shows how satisfying the food was. We were very glad that the main course came in small portions. Small though the portion was, it was somehow the perfect portion. The roe dear saddle glazed with basil and wild berries and again finished off with chocolate was excellent. It was done very rare, the way I like it, yet wasn’t bloody (which the rest of my table seemed to like more). I think the meat must have been well hung because it was the tenderest deer I’ve had. Again, Chef Gaetano had a way with traditionally sweet foods, turning them into savoury wonders. The chocolate he personally grated over each portion at the table made all the difference again in balancing out the sweetness of the sauce and tempered the deep game flavour of the venison. Wonderful.

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What really won the rest of the table over (I was head over heels by then, no need for further wooing) was Chef Gaetano’s impeccable and very sensible wine pairings. He recommended two reds, only one of which I managed to get a photo of. This Humar Rogoves from the Friuli region was very reasonably priced at about €30 and was just right for the deer. In the words of the chef, it was a “sweety wine, very nice.” And indeed it was! Nicely balanced, sweet yet not overly so, it went better than expected with our deer in berry sauce.

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Then came the usual sorbet palate cleanser.

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And finally dessert. The almond cannoli filled with almond mousse, candy lemon, citrus cream and almond marmalade was lovely. The pastry was crisp and light as air and the mousse filling also light and sweetly lemony. It was a lovely contrast to the dark chocolate blob (I never found out what it really was), but the mousse and chocolate sauce was a deep, delicious contrast. It was a sly way of crowd pleasing, not particularly inventive but just the right to end a good dinner.

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Tano passami l’olio
via Villoresi, 16 ang. via Pastorelli, Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8394139
Email: tano@tanopassamilolio.it

A Very Alcoholic Cherry Almond Cake

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I’d recently discovered some really nice dried cherries in Carrefour that don’t quite cost the sky (just an arm and a leg). It allowed me to finally try out Nigella’s recipe for a cherry cake. Her version involved natural glace cherries. I haven’t seen natural glace cherries anywhere in this corner of the world before and I thoroughly detest the typical bright scarlet ones, so I upped the decadence level by soaking the dried cherries for some hours in a mixture of kirsch and rum. It worked out beautifully, tasting a little like christmas fruit cake. It gets even better the next morning as the alcohol from the cherries infuses the cake. I’d imagine it’ll do wonderfully with extra dark rum scattered over the cake and left to age for a week before serving.

Before we get to the recipe, a few tips on prep work. First, soak the cherries overnight in a mixture of kirsch and rum. I ran out of kirsch, so topped up the alcohol with dark rum to cover the cherries in a bowl. Use brandy, whisky or vodka if you don’t have either the above. Next, halve your cherries or chop them very roughly  as I think the cherried alcohol infuses better in the cake that way. Last word on flour: I don’t really like the hassle of stocking both plain and self-raising flour and also keeping track of my baking powder to make sure that it’s not expired yet. What I do instead is to make up my own baking powder by using cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda. If you’d like to tailor your own recipes, halve the amount of baking powder to find out how much cream of tartar to use, and halve the amount of cream of tartar for how much bicarbonate of soda to add.

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Ingredients:

200g dried cherries, soaked overnight in alcohol mix and then halved
250g flour
1½tsp cream of tartar
¾tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g butter
120g sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 drops almond essence
100g ground almonds
about 3 tbsp milk

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Butter and line a loaf cake tin.
  2. Drain the cherries, reserving the soaking liquid
  3. Cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy, then add eggs and almond essence.
  4. Fold in flour and ground almonds.
  5. Make up the cherry soaking liquid to 6 tbsp with the milk and fold into the cake mixture.
  6. Fold in the cherries and scrape out into tin.
  7. Bake for 1 hour or so until a satay stick comes out clean.
  8. Let cool completely before removing from tin.

Makes about 12 slices.

Quick Eats: Temple Street Desserts

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Mei Heong Yuen is famous for its excellent desserts. The standards are still high despite its popularity and the sheer volume of people and corresponding desserts passing through. I went for the tang yuan in ginger soup. The glutinous rice balls were soft and chewy and came in black sesame and peanut flavours. I liked the peanut one more as the filling had bits of crunch while being just the right sweetness. It contrasted nicely with the spicy ginger soup. Such traditional comfort food for me.

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Slightly less traditional was the shaved ice that was new to the menu. I like how they took a new-fangled idea and made it their own with the almond snow ice. It’s basically a block of their signature almond cream frozen and shaved into delicate layers. Same familiar flavour, quite a different and incredibly novel texture. I liked how the very slightly grainy almond layers melted in the mouth.

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I’ll definitely be there again soon, sooner if it’s a hot day!


Mei Heong Yuen Dessert
65-67 Temple Street
Tel: 6221 1156

Special Oat Cookies

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I made these oat cookies as a birthday present for someone special. Not only did it have to have less sugar, it also needed unique flavours to distinguish it from store-bought or other quotidian home-baked stuff. Oat cookies can be boring as it seems so healthy, but fiddling around with the flavours gave the old-fashioned recipe a nice lift. The verdict? She liked it!

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Ingredients:

250g rolled oats
130g plain flour
130g sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½tsp salt
200g butter, melted
1 egg

cherry and chocolate
1 small handful dried cherries, chopped
20g dark chocolate, chopped

pistachio and orange flower
1 handful of shelled pistachios, chopped
1 tsp orange flower water

apricot and almond
5 dried apricots, chopped
1 small handful almonds, chopped

crystallised ginger and walnut
6 cubes crystallised ginger, chopped
5 walnut halves, chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Line 2 cookie trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly, then stir in the egg and butter. Feel free to use your fingers to mix thoroughly.
  3. Divide into 4 lots and mix in the flavourings separately.
  4. Using your hands, roll the mixture into tight balls and space out about 2 inches apart on the lined trays.
  5. Bake for 20 to 30 mins or until golden brown. Remove immediately and cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 40 cookies.

Quick Eats: Sugee Custard

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It was the Ramadan period. DC and I were driving to our favourite dive shop when we saw sugee custard being sold by the side of the road. It was the one next to Zam Zam (good for murtabak, not for biriyani), I suspect it’s New Victory Restaurant. In another one of our fits of greed, we slowed down and did one of those clandestine drug deal-type swaps. Except that it was just money for custard.

Luckily the car park was just the next block away. If not I don’t know how we’d be fighting over it and driving (DC though, not me) at the same time. I only just managed to snap this shot in the dimly lit car park before we wolfed it all down. The custard was just the right sweetness and was smooth and silky, studded with soft little beads of sugee (semolina). Having had poor renditions of raisin and almond in the past, this version restored my faith in the combination.

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Exactly how good was it? After our visit to the dive shop, DC promptly dragged me back across the road and bought two more tubs for his parents. Now that Ramadan is over, I hope for your sake that they’re still selling it.

New Victory Restaurant
No. 701 & 703 North Bridge Road (Opp. to Sultan Mosque)
Singapore 198677
Tel: 62986955 / 62983502

[edit: DC confirmed that it’s indeed New Victory!]

Easy Apple Cake

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I was tired of bringing my usual cupcakes to a gathering, so I flipped through my cookbooks and came up with this variation on a Danish apple cake. I have no idea why it’s Danish, but after I’m through with the modifications, this is pretty much my special creation. It’s very moist and reheats very well in an oven toaster.

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Serve it as is or with some cream poured over. Yummy.

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Ingredients:
100 g butter
100 g sugar
125 g ground almonds
3 drops almond extract
2 eggs
100 g plain flour
¾ tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground clove
125 ml milk
3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbsp crushed meringue, or sugar

Method:

  1. Grease and line a 20 cm spring-form tin and preheat the oven to 180 °C.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the ground almond and almond extract, followed by the eggs.
  3. Fold in the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate and ground spice, then gently fold in the milk. You should get a smooth, thick paste.
  4. Pour into the tin and scatter the apple slices on top. Press the apple slices gently into the cake mixture.
  5. Dust with the meringue powder or sugar and bake for 45 minutes until the apple slices are slightly brown at the edges and the cake is just about firm.
  6. Serve warm.

    Makes 8-10 slices.