Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Plusixfive Cookbook– YES! OUT NOW!

Sorry for being slow on the blog front again. There have been some massive distractions in my life the 
past couple of weeks, mainly in the form of cardboard boxes and bubble wraps.

I am now back in Singapore, desperately hugging a fan, lying awake at 2am and scratching at mosquito bites on my legs. This will be the case for the next couple of months at least– the Singapore bit, (hopefully) not the melting jetlagged bug-bitten bit. One thing that’s brought me back is the launch of the plusixfive cookbook. For those of you who have been following for a while now, you probably know all about this. I’ve been moaning about layouts and deadlines for the past year, and yes it is finally out.

Plusixfive, a Singaporean supperclub cookbook. Or, how to subvert Singaporean culinary misconceptions, avert stir-fry calamities, make your Nonya grandmother weep with joy, and other badass kitchen skills. Available in Kinokuniya, Popular and all major bookstores and some other cool stores if you're in Singapore; in Bookazine from mid-Nov if you're in Hong Kong; online on Waterstones if you're in London; and on Book Depository if you're anywhere else. We had some limited edition ones on the plusixfive shop, come ruined with extra scribbles and doodles of dead pigs by me and Goz, but I think they are sold out now*.

It’s been a joy and a pain art directing the book and shutting Goz up. Thank you to all those who have helped– chefs, writers, or just greedy friends; photos, recipes or a willing stomach. Thanks especially to the best editor in the world Wei Ling (Epigram books). The official launch happened last Friday. Thank you to Marcus and the rest of Blue Ginger for doing all the dirty work, to our publishers Epigram for getting loved ones together, to everyone who turned up and got a book signed and covered with ugly Sharpie marks by us.

There are recipes by all of us from plusixfive, me included, and if you (like my mum) still don't really believe I can cook, there are also guest recipes from some people who have eaten our food before and definitely can cook– Lizzie (Hollow Legs), Ben (Momofuku Sydney), James (Young Turks), Dave (Burnt Ends), Goz's mama and papa... Foreword by Hsueh, Singapore's top food writer (still the most terrifying person I've cooked for), and James and Sandia from Bubbledogs.

I don't know how to describe this book, but Goz sort of summed it up last summer when we first toyed with the idea: 'In a nutshell, the Asian cookbook scene in London and in Singapore seems to be dominated by Asian celebrities cashing in on the food scene or books written by aging geriatrics and grannies which no hipster would want to be seen reading. I want this book to close that gap'. This book is not your usual pretty cookbook; it's loud and fun and exciting and dotted with messy half-finished food– much like what you get at a plusixfive dinner.

I don't know what else to say but I’ve got a few spreads thrown in to tempt you, and will blog one of the recipes I contributed (with permission) in a couple of weeks’ time. Stay tuned for one of the most requested recipes ever (BAK CHOR MEE!) , or just get the book already.

*Follow me or goz to find out when (if) we might put some more autographed/ vandalized books up for sale. We (I, at least) try not to post too much nonsense.

#plusixfivecookbook #yeahwehaveahashtag

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Roast Whole Cauliflower and Homemade Mint Sweet Chilli Sauce

I love cooking, and even more so if it's for a big group of friends. My friend says I'm mad (while happily munching away seated at my table).

It's not that mad, see. A lot of the cooking I do don't actually involve me doing anything physical or vaguely complicated. Sometimes I do try; I go all out pounding rempah and slamming fish paste and julienning cucumbers– but most times, I just don't work very hard at all. I think the problem with most people is that they try really hard (good on you!) and freak out at all the work involved (not so good) and thereafter swear never to cook for anyone but themselves again. It's a pity because I think cooking for a crowd is fun, so long as you remember that the meal really is about them (having a good time) and not you (trying to wow them).

This is why I love a Sunday roast.  It's a concept that came relatively late into my life, only after I moved to London, but don't worry, I've been making up for all the years of Sunday roasts I've missed. I love it because it's a classic example of no-effort cooking, of simply having a good time with good friends. You do need to get the (teeny tiny) details like timing right, and you might want to skip out on making yorkshire puddings if you're as lazy as me (horrors), but it is essentially chucking things into the oven and perhaps doing a bit of extra pottering about in the kitchen to feel busy. 

That Sunday, roast pork belly was on the menu. There is no work involved; my wonderful butcher scores the skin for me, I take it home, scald it, let it dry overnight, do a bit of salt-massaging, and pretty much chuck it into the oven and leave it there for 3 hours. At the last hour, I chuck a cauliflower in too, whole. Yes, this is one of my greatest delicious shortcuts– roast whole cauliflower. It not only saves me the trouble of chopping and wiping up the annoying little caulibits covering my chopping board and counter, it looks mighty impressive and gives the vegetarians the joy of carving into a roast-something.

In line with keeping everything simple, there is nothing but salt on the pork, and salt and pepper on the cauliflower. I use white pepper because of my mum, who always uses white pepper with a heavy hand, to delicious results– and because I'm anal and it will kill me to have black flecks on white cauliflower. Both the crispy roast pork and roast cauliflower are fab dipped into the sweet chilli sauce. Because I feel like I need to justify my skills in the kitchen, this is made from scratch, but again, this is easy as peanuts and I even pimped it up with cool fresh mint (because to be honest, I went a bit over-excited with the chillies and it's mad hot).

serves 2 vegetarians or 4 non
1 head large-ish (800g) cauliflower
1 tsp ground white pepper
generous pinch of sea salt
groundnut oil

To serve 
squeeze of lime
sweet chilli sauce (below)

1. Pre-heat oven to 190 degrees celsius. If you already have a pork belly slow-roasting inside, it should be at that temperature anyway.
2. Peel outer green leaves off cauliflower, and remove the stem and the tougher part of the core. Place on a baking tray, drizzle liberally with oil, and sprinkle sea salt and white pepper over.
3. Roast for about an hour, or till golden brown on the outside and you can insert a skewer inside without resistance. If it gets too dark too quickly, turn the temperature down a little. When ready to serve, add a squeeze of lime and a last tiny sprinkle of coarse sea salt over.


1 cup unrefined cane sugar*
1 cup water
2 jalepeno red chillies
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp tapioca starch (can also use cornflour), mixed with 2 tbsp cool water

To pimp up (please do it, it's so good)
small handful of chopped fresh mint leaves

*If you want a clear thai sweet chilli sauce, use white sugar. If you want to feel slightly healthier dipping your fatty pork belly into a bowl of sweet sticky sauce, use unrefined cane sugar. 

1. Chop the chillies and garlic. I left the seeds in and the chillies in quite rough large-ish pieces because I like the bite and sadistic kick of chilli heat.
2. Combine the sugar, water, vinegar, chillies and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer on a high heat for 10 minutes.
3. Lower the heat till it's just barely simmering, then add the starch slurry, stirring the mixture constantly till it thickens. Remove from the stove and it cool down and thicken even more.
4. When cool, add the chopped mint to the sweet chilli sauce and let the flavour infuse for at least half an hour (which is when your cauli and pork is done anyway).

Some final instructions for a great Sunday:
Bring the roast cauliflower out with the pork belly, let your friends help themselves, and make sure to pour the mint sweet chilli sauce into a bigger saucer so everyone can get messy dunking pork/ cauliflower into the sauce. Lastly, and most importantly, make your friends do the washing up while you lie on the couch eating pudding since you spent so much time slaving away in the kitchen. Ah, don't you just love cooking for people.