Shake that Pan, and Voilà, Beurre Rouge!

Five-spice-crusted Red Emperor, potato mash, sauce beurre rouge

‘As soon as those two, three cubes of butter went it, Louis shook it up real good, gentle yet vigorous all at once.’

FOR cooking enthusiasts who are constantly trying out some new dish, or some new technique or maneuver, a dinner party always offers an opportunity to show off that new accomplishment. You would have run a couple of experiments first, hone them to some semblance of perfection before presenting the fruit of your labor on dinner night.

But when you haven’t an army of children to eat your culinary experiments, as I do, I sometimes subject my guests to the whims of my test kitchen efforts. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, given my perfectionist streak. It teaches me not to be too hard on myself. After all, the friends whom I invite wouldn’t be, so why should I?

Besides, that Carly Fiorina ethic of “Perfect Enough” can be good for the soul, my kind especially. I’m famous for putting major endeavors on a moving deadline, always walking to some silly drumbeat of “Oh, not yet, not yet till it’s perfect,” only to find myself never executing that grand moment, never biting the fruit of accomplishment, just because I haven’t quite eliminated that little sting of imperfection.

And so this recent Wednesday, with friends familiar to my food, my home, my finicky ways, I go at that elusive sauce once again, sauce beurre rouge—essentially a reduction of red wine and red wine vinegar emulsified with butter. It was a success, it didn’t split as it had five out of the seven times I’ve made it—no, I had none of those weepy trails of oil that sit like a nasty oil slick in a pool of red. The reason could well be a simple one of delegation.

I handed the pot to Louis—my French friend from Lyon—who seems to have a magic touch around the table and the kitchen. He went to culinary school in Switzerland—the École Hôtelière de Thonon—and these days, he spends his time as a wine professional, organizing wine events, and sharing with wine enthusiasts the intricate art of training the nose and palate for wine appreciation.

No, no whisk, for this sauce, I tell him, as his eyes roved around my kitchen looking for one. It’s not like beurre blanc, I said. Just shake the pot, and so he did—shake it like how Eric Ripert does, until the sauce is “like a mirror,” he’d say, the Michelin-starred maestro whose red snapper dish I was trying to emulate on this night.

As soon as those two, three cubes of butter went it, Louis shook it up real good, gentle yet vigorous all at once. Then it was on to Sauce Pan Number Two. That’s Novice Me, who now has an extra pot to wash, when I could possibly have made all four portions with just one pot. But I decided to play safe, and do it restaurant style. 

Louis was the man at the stove, the grand saucier. All I did was to tell him, “Shake it!” He was also the expert offering all the answers to my ex-banker friend, H., who pattered on with a string of questions on table setting, every single one that I myself longed to ask.

Can we use a wine glass for water? was one of her questions. He’d rather not just because water is just water, less luxe than wine, so it doesn’t quite deserve a wine glass. Then she enquired about the correct placement of the white wine glass vis-a-vis the red wine glass. Here, Louis lines up the wine glasses at a stylish 45-degree angle to the left—the Riedel Chardonnay closest to his plate, followed by the Cabernet, then the stemless Chardonnay (for the water). The idea is that his glasses would form a perfect line with those of the guest diagonally opposite him in a setting like the one at my home, on a rectangular table.

H. was also curious why Louis stood up, walked round to her side of the table to pour wine. Couldn’t he well have poured it from across the table, she suggested?

“It’s just in his DNA,” I offered, though Louis’s take on this was really simple. If he were to reach across the table, he would have blocked the conversation flow between me and G., my journalist friend, who sat diagonally across. I suppose, to put an oriental spin to it, it would be that reaching over and across the table blocks out conversation fengshui.

Not only that! It encourages a feeling that is intime, a touch of intimacy and closeness when you get up to pour wine for your fellow guests around the table, particularly meaningful if the table were three times longer than mine, and you had to walk a mile to a guest at the other end. Soon enough, G. himself would put the hospitality tip to action. He too, gets up, as dinner winds down, to pour us water, coming first to H., then me, then Louis.

Our night ends with G. giving a toast to my take on Ripert’s red snapper. Mine’s not a red snapper, but one belonging to the same snapper family—a next-best recommendation from Sam, my fishmonger—a Red Emperor, an Ang Sai, in Hokkien, which should technically be called Red Lion, if we go by the exact translation.

“Godspeed You, Red Emperor!” he says. “That should be the name of your dish.”

It’s a little twist on a band called Godspeed You, Black Emperor, but I guess I don’t need to remember it. All I need to commit to my mind are Louis’s lessons at the table, the adroit tricks at playing bus boy (two plates on his arm, sometimes more!), and those Hokkien names Sam always rattles away over his parade of fish that sit, snug and cold, on a bed of ice as he points towards this-a-one, that-a-one, and that-other-one.

. . .

Dinner:
1. Ratatouille
2. “Godspeed You, Red Emperor” ~ Five-spice-crusted Red Emperor, potato mash, sauce beurre rouge 

Dessert: Soufflé au chocolat

White: Dominique Laurent | Gevrey-Chambertin, Côte-d’Or, Bourgogne | Chardonnay, 2011

Red: Alain Graillot | Crozes-Hermitage, Les Chênes Verts, Pont de L’Isère, Rhone Valley | Syrah, 2014

Red: Jean Foillard | Morgon, Beaujolais | “Cuvée Corcelette” | Gamay, 2014

For the Beurre Rouge: François Chidaine | Touraine, Loire Valley | Côt, Cabernet, Pineau D’Aunis, 2015 + Maille Red Wine Vinegar + President Butter

Après Dinner Beverage: Rooibos Vanilla

On the Jukebox: David Benoit, Rick Braun, Fourplay

On the Night of: December 6, 2017

Ratatouille

Godspeed You, Red Emperor! My take on Eric Ripert’s Red Snapper and Cepes in Port Reduction

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Soufflé au Chocolat

Our “Dinner With …” series features in a bolder, sleeker, sexier format on Instagram. I invite you to find me there: @vivienneyeo

Dîner Chez Viv /dee-nay shay viv/ : Dinner at Viv’s

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A Girl’s Gotta Have Her Chocolate, Her Burger, and Her Gyoza

Salmon burger in the style of Harumi Kurihara

IT’S not often that I invite kids to my home, other than my youngest nephew Christian, who used to visit almost every week when he was five or six. Kids can be fussy eaters—no greens (that’s Christian with certain greens, especially spinach), no tofu (that’s my niece, Jen), no eggs with yolks that glisten, no crustaceans (that’s Christian too), and not even rainbow-colored veggies.

The challenge can easily be solved by going the fried route. Deep-fry, pan-fry, if not that, at least a little sear here or a little char there. And go with something safe, like chicken, for instance. But when the cook can’t bear to eat yet another morsel of chicken, let alone cook it, there’s yet an easier way around the kiddie food challenge: just ask Mom what they like.

Which was exactly what I did when I invited a dear friend from 33 years ago, my Secondary Three classmate, Cindy. Is there anything you and KC don’t eat or can’t eat—a question I always put to every single one of my guests.

No shellfish for KC—her eyes got puffy after a foray into soft-shelled crabs—though she seemed fine with prawns, she tells me. And then, she offers: KC loves tamago sushi and gyoza. Can eat five gyozas at a go.

A mini gyoza kingdom

There was a lovely ring to the last line because I always love hungry guests, and I happen to be crazy about gyoza too. There was an even lovelier ring when I read the line, Ooh, chocolate can be her mains.

Mmmm, this could have been my main …

Guests who show up poking a little here and there—either because they are pretending to be eating daintily or blessed with a small stomach—always leave me with that lousy, sinking feeling in the heart. And then you wished you had scooped them a mouse’s serving of rice or served up a doll-sized bowl of soup.

Saying a prayer of contrition just as you’re tossing out anything from the table that had merely been prodded at feels like a desecration of the very prayer itself. It’s the same kind of heartache I get when I myself toss things out either from being the silly greedy girl buying too much, or simply being careless with my meal planning, so that vegetables wilt and fruits go weird and strange.

But KC, she was a star, our petite, ultra-bendy eight-year-old gymnast who showed up with fire in her belly and a gourmand’s appetite! It’s probably because she had arrived from an arduous three-hour session at the gym, or simply this: her host was just a great cook.

We’re not sure, but this same cook bungled her prep planning. With a late start at slightly past two that began with coffee pastry cream for her choux puffs, how could she possibly have breathed a moelleux au chocolat to life in time for dinner, especially with all the chopping, all that dicing and mixing and molding and wrapping? She forgot she had no sous chef that day, no Christian to fetch this or that, or peel ginger and garlic, or wash and cook the rice. Why didn’t I invite him, my ten-year-old kitchen star?

And so, there was chocolate in another guise, as a dip for our choux puffs. It worked beautifully. Everyone was happy, and the happiest part of it all was this: there were no leftovers, just seconds.

. . .

Dinner:
1. Salmon burger, garlic butter rice, baby Shanghai greens
2. Vegetarian gyoza stuffed with beancurd, cabbage, chives, bamboo shoot, garlic, ginger, served with homemade ponzu sauce
3. Red-white miso with beancurd and seaweed, garnished with scallions aplenty (even in KC’s soup, can you believe that?)

Dessert: Choux puff with coffee cream and a chocolate dip of 55% dark chocolate

Wine: Weingut Gunderloch | Rothenburg, Rheinhessen | Riesling Spätlese, 2012

On the Jukebox: Soundtracks from Being Julia, De-Lovely, Sabrina

On the Night of: November 19, 2017

Salmon burger, garlic butter rice, baby Shanghai greens, with red-white miso soup of beancurd and nori

Gyoza, sear side up

Gyoza, served to show off the pleated seam, as arranged by our creative guest

Shine, chocolate, shine!

… and a little class on prepping the choux with a gentle poke in the bum

Our “Dinner With …” series features in a bolder, sleeker, sexier format on Instagram. I invite you to find me there: @vivienneyeo

Dîner Chez Viv /dee-nay shay viv/ : Dinner at Viv’s

all photos by viv, except the last one by Cindy H.,
with post-edit advice and lessons in light and composition from food photographer, Todd Beltz

Rise, Soufflé, Teach Me Perfection

DINNER with … a gifted storyteller who also happens to be a travel show host, model, producer, writer, yoga instructor, and perhaps the most fearless girl I know. She’s a dream dinner date, the quintessential wit about town, the girl who speaks as many languages as I do, and the conversationalist who could dive you into worlds as far and colorful as the Silk Road, or offer insights as sound as a sage on the nebulous emotional landscape of the heart.

Our soirée began exactly at 7.30PM—so precise and punctual in the style of Audrey Hepburn, whose one fine point of etiquette was that you never arrived late, or even early. But no, Hepburn had nothing to do with her punctuality or punctiliousness—though she seemed to have styled herself to Hepburn perfection in this one shot of herself she recently posted on her Instagram. It’s something else she just can’t shake off: “It’s the German in me.”

Punctual is always good because it takes away the anticipation, the useless, senseless puttering, the clucking and fussing. Besides, the host is usually hungry by now, after four, five hours of deep prep and deep focus in the kitchen. All she wants is a glass of wine, food, and conversation, pronto.

My guest, D., does the honor with the bottle this night, a champagne—I’ve only opened two in my lifetime, and I just fear them. They’re too excited, always bubbling over. This evening, our bottle didn’t just bubble over, it behaved like a mini geyser—how fun!—though not as exuberant as the sort Lewis Hamilton could excite at the F1 podium.

Over our rosé, we snacked on fried tempeh and curry leaves, musing on Maldives, which she had recently visited. How do you pronounce that, I asked: Mall-deevz or Mall-dives. The latter is the American way, the former the correct way. Then, there was the whole tongue-twisting bluest of blue island where her sojourn took her to: Gili Lankanfushi. I didn’t bother to get a tutorial on that one, and decided Chawanmushi was good enough for me.

The night’s menu was vegetarian, a devious challenge because of my profound dependence on meat. But I survived after several iterations and ideas all morning into the afternoon about how the menu should look like—a silly kind of indecision I always lapse into whenever I have a dinner guest. I’m too greedy, too ambitious, too enthusiastic, always wanting to do this, this, and that, and oh, that one too!

In the end, I returned to the quiet space of simplicity. D. approved, D. enjoyed, D. finished her first course and donburi faster than I did. She beat me at dessert too, the demon of a soufflé, which is still a work-in-progress. This night, I shared that I had made a new maneuver. And what would that be, she asked. Oh, it’s coupling yolks with the white, versus yolks with the chocolat like the last time. Her eyes twinkled, those sage eyes. She understood—totally, perfectly.

I, on the other hand, am still mulling over this new maneuver. I like it, for sure, I do.

But what I like best is the whole soufflé experience, how it breathes on me—which is what soufflé means—how it breathes the heaving, warm lessons of searching, seeking, going after that perfect rise, the perfect texture, the perfect taste, and that magical place called perfection.

. . .

Pre-Dinner Snack: Fried tempeh and curry leaves dusted with coriander powder

Dinner: 1. Mushroom two ways: porcini with garlic chips, Shaoxing-sautéed wood ear with fried julienned ginger, served on seared beancurd / 2. Sautéed asparagus and shiitake / 3. Onsen tamago-don with katsudon onion sauce and fried beancurd and tempeh

Dessert: Soufflé au chocolat

Champagne: Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé

Red Wine: François Chidaine | Touraine | Côt, Cabernet, Pineau D’Aunis, 2015

Après Dinner Beverage: Cumin tea

On the Jukebox: David Benoit | Fourplay | Buena Vista Social Club

On the Night of: November 1, 2017

Mushroom two ways: porcini with garlic chips, Shaoxing-sautéed wood ear with fried julienned ginger, served on seared beancurd

Sautéed asparagus and shiitake

Onsen tamago-don on Koshihikari rice with katsudon onion sauce and fried beancurd and tempeh

“Ooh, I love this sous vide egg!” says D.

Soufflé au chocolat: Breathe unto me your lessons on rising well and rising tall

Our “Dinner With …” series features in a bolder, sleeker, sexier format on Instagram. I invite you to find me there: @vivienneyeo

Dîner Chez Viv /dee-nay shay viv/ : Dinner at Viv’s

~ all photos by viv ~

Blue Eyes, Burgers, and an Unforgettable Tofu Stew

DINNER with … two charming French boys, or should I be calling them messieurs? But I’m just a girl, a girl host, so my guests should rightly be called boys, n’est-ce pas? The evening was too hot to handle, two pairs of translucent blue-gray eyes gazing at me across the table. Petit Louis, to the right, he’s a Lyonnais, an absolute live wire, but Eric Double-Vay, a Marseille native and right across me, he was just so calm, so tranquil, always speaking at Volume Level 1, at most 1.5, in slow, measured cadences.

Our soirée was as long as the night, filled with bons blagues, bons vins, bons conversations. I learned a Provençal phrase, Oh, fan de chichoune! (“Oh, my goodness!”). But Eric warns: You can’t just say it to anyone from Provence just to impress them, you shall only save it for the one person you truly wish to flirt with.

At the start of our evening, I can’t remember what I said, but Petit Louis gave me a kind compliment: You make a good joke, an awkward little phrase in English, but perfectly translated from the French, Tu fais une bon blague

Perhaps the greatest compliment that had swooned all over the table was the endless gesture Petit Louis made—from the stewed tofu, to the Japanese hamburger, to our two desserts—the gesture the French are wont to lapse into when they wish to express extreme approval.

His right hand, limp and pivoting only at the wrist, would flick back and forth, signifying that the first taste of whatever he was tasting was just killing him—and rightly so, for the tip of his fingers came close to suggesting a sawing action against an imagined neck just above his platter, all this while he’s letting out an irresistible sigh, head shaking away, as if the room were hot, hot, hot, chaud, chaud, chaud. But who was hot? Them or me?

I was so flattered, so charmed I couldn’t even curtsey, but I returned everything in kind with my own quiet swoons over the wines they had brought from their wine cellar: an exquisite Bourgogne Pinot Noir by Dominique Laurent, with whom I would love to meet again, and some obscure label from Piedmont made from a single white varietal, a grape I’ve never heard of, but which sounds like a jewel I’d love to suck in the mouth. Say it: Cortese.

We bid the night good-night late, so late that after the clean-up, I had chosen to do my pre-dawn meditation at 2.30AM instead of having to wake up in less than two hours at 4AM. Meditation and prayer with wine in the head and the heart is as heady and giddy as it can get, I wasn’t sure if any of the poetry from my Holy Book got digested the way our dinner had steeped so beautifully through the hours.
~

Dinner: 1. Japanese shiso hamburger with butter-seared Nai Bai / 2. Stewed salted-fish tofu with wood ear, shiitake, gluten balls, strewn with coriander, roasted garlic, julienned red chili / 3. Lemongrass-infused Niigata Koshihikari rice

Dessert: Moelleux au chocolat, chouquette (with just a little sugar nibs, please)

White Wine: Oltretorrente | Colli Tortonesi | Cortese, 2015

Red Wine: Dominique Laurent | Bourgogne | Cuvée Numero 1, “De Luxe,” 2013

Après Dinner Beverage: Chamomile 

On the Jukebox: Francis Cabrel

On the Night of: October 27, 2017

Japanese shiso hamburger in the style of Nozaki Hiromitsu with butter-seared Nai Bai

Stewed salted-fish tofu with wood ear, shiitake, gluten balls, strewn with coriander, roasted garlic, julienned red chili—the last meal I’d like to have before I go

Moelleux au chocolat with a secret taste, a mystery ingredient | Soft, warm chocolate cake

Moelleux au chocolat | So moelleux, so mystérieux, so soft, so warm …

Chouquette (with just a little sugar nibs, please)

Oltretorrente | Colli Tortonesi | Cortese, 2015

Dominique Laurent | Bourgogne | Cuvée Numero 1, “De Luxe,” 2013

Our “Dinner With …” series features in a bolder, sleeker, sexier format on Instagram. I invite you to find me there: @vivienneyeo

Dîner Chez Viv /dee-nay shay viv/ : Dinner at Viv’s

~ all photos by viv, except moelleux au chocolat #1, by louis d. ~

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Related:
Moelleux au chocolat /mwah-loh oh sho-ko-lah/
Hot off the oven, 14 happy chouquettes

Find them on Instagram
@vivienneyeo

Fire Up the Stove Early, and Fire It Up Quickly

DINNER with … an old friend from Raffles Girls’ School. Both of us go way back to those silly, giddy teen years 35 years ago. 

I never serve dinner at 6.30PM, but when mothers visit, the stove must fire up earlier. Mothers like to get home early enough to put their children to bed. The host-and-cook, however, doesn’t have to worry about this, though she would love to put herself to bed, ideally, at 9.30PM, good enough to rise at 4AM. The 4AM is doable, though not a piece of cake, but the 9.30PM? When that ever happens, I’ll cook a feast, I’ll celebrate, I’ll go buy 4D.
~

Dinner: 1. Onsen tamago in dashi / 2. Pinched mozzarella with Holland cherry tomatoes, and sweet basil / 3. Enoki mushroom seared in clarified butter / 4. Buri shioyaki, salted in the style of Chef Nozaki Hiromitsu / 5. Italian baby spinach sautéed with garlic / 6. Shiitake and fuu ball in red miso soup / 7. Lemongrass-infused Niigata Koshihikari rice

Dessert: Soufflé au chocolat

Wine: Viña del Cura Rioja Reserva, 2012

On the Jukebox: David Benoit

On the Night of: October 23, 2017

Onsen tamago in dashi, dusted with piment d’Espelette

Pinched mozzarella with Holland cherry tomatoes, and sweet basil

Buri shioyaki, salted in the style of Chef Nozaki Hiromitsu | Italian baby spinach sautéed with garlic

Shiitake and fuu ball in red miso soup | Lemongrass-infused Niigata Koshihikari rice

Soufflé au chocolat

Our “Dinner With …” series features in a bolder, sleeker, sexier format on Instagram. I invite you to find me there: @vivienneyeo

Dîner Chez Viv /dee-nay shay viv/ : Dinner at Viv’s

~ all photos by viv ~