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Tenth Masterchef Winner: Congrats Ping

 

 

 

I’ve finally gotten around to watching the finals of the tenth – TENTH??? – series of Masterchef. This has been a great series with tons of amazing contestants who really gave it their all. I’m still disappointed however, that Alex, the rock n’ rolling wrestler was knocked out early on in the competition (gotta support my fellow rockers!) and I would have loved for Rani to have gone further as she did make me laugh but I think it’s fair to say that the best woman won.

 

All three of the finalists – Jack Lucas, Ping Coombs, and Luke Owen – were nothing short of awesome and really cooked for their lives (not to mention the Masterchef title!)

 

At an age where most people’s culinary skills extend no further than opening a tin of rice pudding, twenty one year old Jack amazed everyone with his flair and skills, and very rarely put a foot wrong. And Luke was a huge fan of daring flavour combinations and experimenting with food. His experiments weren’t always majorly successful but his boldness in the kitchen impressed Masterchef Judges John Torode and Greg Wallace.

 

 

But it was Malaysian-born Ping who really stood out from the moment she entered the competition. The very first dish she made – a curried chicken dish – just made me want to stick my hands through the television screen and grab a mammoth bowlful for myself. Even though Malaysian cuisine appeared to be her signature style, Ping showed her ability as a versatile cook by successfully cooking an array of non-Malaysian dishes. There was no doubting that Ping really put her heart and soul into everything that she was cooking, and her dedication, organization, talent, and the super-fast pace at which she worked were just extraordinary. As the finals approached I was so sure I knew who’d win – and I was right!

 

 

Ping says it’s her goal to introduce more people to Malaysian cuisine – she has ambitions to bring out a cook book and open a Malaysian style café – and I truly hope she achieves this. As someone who has family who hails from this part of the world, I can honestly say that Malaysian food is one of my most favourites. It’s just a shame most people don’t really know about it. The main that Ping created for the finals – nasi lemak – is the dish I always choose when I go to my fave Malaysian restaurant. There are many different variations of this dish but it basically consists of coconut rice with a variety of different side dishes. I always say that the restaurant I often frequent serves the best nasi lemak ever, and their version contains coconut rice; a spicy squid sambal; crispy fried chicken wings; deep fried anchovies and peanuts; a cucumber salad and a fried egg. This would most definitely be my last meal!

I’m so passionate about this dish that I’ve included a recipe for anyone who might want to attempt it. But be warned – it might be addictive!

 

 

I’m disappointed that this series of Masterchef has come to an end and I have to wait for another year. This has been an amazing series and I cannot wait for the next one to begin. Mr. D on the other hand, can’t wait for Masterchef USA to begin it’s fifth season as he much prefers that to our home-grown version. I like both of them and appreciate each of them for what they are but I’ve noticed that if you’re more interested in food than contestants’ dramas, then Masterchef UK it is. And of course we have the delightful John and Greg!

 

Ping hard at work

Ping hard at work

 

So congrats to Jack and Luke for doing so well to get to the finals. They seem like really cool guys who have a real passion for food and I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of them. And of course congrats to Ping. I just hope she hurries up and opens that café. Nasi lemak, mee goreng, chilli crab… bring it on!

 

NASI LEMAK
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:
•Oil, for deep frying
•Cucumber slices, for garnish
•Sambal chilli (recipe above)

Ingredients for the SAMBAL CHILLI:

40 gram dried red chilli

100 gram onion

25 gram garlic

5 tablespoon cooking oil

80 gram ikan bilis (anchovy)

25 gram sugar (to taste)

250 ml water 

 

Ingredients for the rice:
•250 gram rice
•275 ml water
•225 ml coconut milk (I used lite coconut milk)
•1 onion (about 125 gram), cut into chunks
•1 star anise
•1 large cinnamon stick
•Pandan leaves, tied in a knot (optional)
•½ teaspoon salt
•2 teaspoon sugar

Ingredients for the chicken wings:
•500 gram chicken wings (about 8 pieces)
•3 eggs
•½ tablespoon turmeric powder
•½ tablespoon salt
•½ tablespoon white pepper powder
•2 inch ginger, pounded
•3 tablespoon corn flour
•6 tablespoon rice flour

Ingredients for the ikan bilis and peanuts:
•50 gram peanuts
•20 gram dried anchovies

1 fried or boiled egg per serving

METHOD:

  1. To make the sambal chilli , rinse anchovies with water and allow to dry completely.
  2. Place dried anchovies in a food processor and grind into fine powder.
  3. With a pair of scissors, cut the dried chilli halfway to remove most of the seeds.
  4. Soak dried chilli in water to soften, then drain the water.
  5. Blend dried chilli, onion and garlic to form a smooth paste.
  6. To a heated wok, add cooking oil and stir-fry the ground ikan bilis for about 2 minutes till fragrant.
  7. Add the ground chilli paste and sugar and stir-fry over low heat for 10 minutes, adding water as you fry to avoid burning the paste.
  8. The resulting sambal chilli should be moist and pasty.
  9. For the rice: Put all the ingredients for the rice in a rice cooker.
  10. Leave to cook and remove onion, star anise and cinnamon stick when done.
  11. For the chicken wings: Mix all ingredients to form marinade and batter, and allow to settle for about 10 minutes. 
  12. Dip the chicken wings in mixture, and fry until golden brown and crispy over medium heat for about 2 minutes each side.
  13. For the anchovies and peanuts: Deep-fry the peanuts and ikan bilis separately before mixing together.
  14. To assemble: Serve a bowl of coconut rice with the chicken wings, egg, anchovy and peanut mix, and garnish with 2-3 slices of cucumber topped with sambal and  chillies.

 

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Cinnamon Island: A Taste Of The Exotic

 

Mr. D and I were very lucky to spend the weekend with Mr. D’s uncle who had flown over on business. Eager to show him some of this fantastic country, we took a trip to Dover – a place I hadn’t been to since childhood. As expected, it was a huge hit with Uncle P. but the problems began when we were looking for somewhere to have dinner before hitting the road. Maybe we were just unlucky but it seemed as though Dover is full of recently shut-down restaurants! Plenty of take-away places but nowhere for a proper sit-down meal.

And then we stumbled across Cinnamon Island, a restaurant which specialises in cuisine from the Indian subcontinent. The honest truth was that I was desperate for a tiramisu and a hot chocolate so Italian was my preferred choice that night but we weren’t having a great deal of luck with restaurants. In any case, Cinnamon island didn’t look too bad from the outside so we went in.

So glad we did…

LOCATION: Cinnamon Island is situated in the heart of Dover in a Grade II listed building, not far from the cliffs, pier, Dover Castle and Dover Museum.

INTERIOR: Spread over two floors, the first thing that hits you is the striking décor. Tastefully decorated in a hot, spicy combination of colours including red, mustard and gold, it sounds horribly clashing and could have been very overwhelming and in your face but it actually works. Far from feeling like you’re in an Indian restaurant, you feel as though you’re sat in someone’s home – a sentiment shared by both Mr. D and Uncle P which proves that the overall atmosphere is cosy, intimate and inviting. The two dining areas are not massive but unlike some places where they try to cram in as many tables as possible, they tables are adequately spaced out so diners don’t feel hemmed in.

 

SERVICE: From the moment we set foot in the house, I mean restaurant, we were greeted by friendly staff and made to feel very welcome. We were the first people there that evening so we were able to sit wherever we wished. We ordered poppadums and condiments, and staff were very helpful in explaining what each of the little dishes contained: sweet and spicy tamarind sauce; yogurt with mint; chopped salad; lime pickle; mango chutney and Cinnamon Island’s very own sweet red sauce whose ingredients are a closely guarded secret!

As the menu was quite extensive and the dishes all sounded quite delicious, we couldn’t make up our minds and really took our time deciding. If the waiting staff were annoyed by this, they didn’t show. We didn’t have to wait too long for our food which was a good job as we were famished! Any requests we had were catered for and we were looked after very well. After our meal, we were served with cut orange slices, little glasses of cream liqueurs and After Eight mints. A delightful and unique touch.

FOOD:

Starters

3 plain poppadums

3 spicy poppadoms

condiments

Mains:

Lamb balti with plain white rice (Mr. D.)

Tandoori salmon served on a bed of spiced potatoes with a side order of  mushroom and garlic rice (me)

Flambed salmon bhaja with lemon and ginger rice (Uncle P. )

Garlic and cheese naan bread

Cheese and coriander naan bread

Drinks:

Salty lassi (Uncle P.)

Sweet lassi (Mr. D.)

Mango lassi (me)

After mains:

Calypso coffee (me)

Regular coffee (Uncle P.)

I was torn between the salmon dish and the lamb biryani but eventually chose the tandoori salmon because it sounded unsual and I felt I was unlikely to sample that dish in most other Indian restaurants. Uncle P. chose the highly inventive salmon flambé and we couldn’t wait to check that out.

Our lassis were delicious but I was surprised at how pale my mango one was as when I have ordered it in other restaurants, it had always been a deep orangey-gold colour. It was however, still very tasty but I think I preferred Mr. D’s sweet lassi – something I have never tried before.

On the whole, the food was delicious. Mr. D. loved the lamb balti although it may have needed to be slightly milder for him (he’s still getting used to spicy food!) However,  Uncle P. and I were a little disappointed that our salmon was extremely dry due to it being overcooked. However the flavours were all there so we were still able to eat it – we just wished that it had been a little more moist. I also think that my tandoori salmon needed to come with a separate quantity of sauce as the salmon along with the potatoes needed it to break down the dry texture.

The naan breads were cooked to perfection and we loved our rice dishes which were full of flavour and tasted as delightful as they looked. Our only complaint there was that the quantities of rice were far too small – although the portions of the rest of the food were just right. The food was very neatly presented but I commented to Mr. D. that I didn’t think that Gordon Ramsay would have been too impressed with the abundance of cut vegetables used in the presentation of the dishes which could have come straight out of the 1980s ( we know from being avid Masterchef fans that Gordon is not a fan of such methods) but it added to the kitsch vibe that Cinnamon Island has going on and there was something strangely comforting in seeing that presented on a plate.

 

We had just enough room for dessert which is mine and Uncle P’s favourite course so we took a look at the dessert menu. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a great deal of variety as far as desserts were concerned as the majority of the sweets on offer tended to be ice-cream or sorbets which we didn’t fancy. I understand that most people will be too full but dessert lovers like me would still want something to satisfy the cravings of their sweet-tooth. Exotic fruit salad (not your bog-standard apples, oranges and bananas) or bananas cooked in spiced coconut milk would have been light enough and delish enough to have gone down a treat. Cinnamon Island prides themselves on the fusion elements of their cuisine. Perhaps an eastern twist on a classic panna cotta containing cardamom and served with mango would have won me over… We may not have ordered dessert but  I absolutely loved my calypso coffee which contained just the right amount of rum.

Despite minor problems, we were not at all disappointed with the food. Many Indian restaurants we have frequented have served up food that was too salty; way too spicy to be palatable, and saturated in oil. I am thrilled to say this was not the case at Cinnamon Island. The food was delicately flavoured with just the right amount of spices, seasoning and herbs. Definitely one of the more healthier menus I’ve encountered in a restaurant.

PRICE:

Actually very reasonable and a lot lower than we expected. As we were happy with the food (for the most part!) and extremely happy with the service, we thought it was well worth the money.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE:

I don’t know how soon or how often we’ll go to Dover but if we do, we’ll most definitely be paying a visit to Cinnamon Island. We don’t have to think twice about that. Friendly staff; great food; and fantastic ambience… what’s not to like? From the moment we set foot in Cinnamon island we knew that we were in for a dining experience like no other – and we were right! Other diners who arrived after us seemed equally happy and judging by part of a conversation that I overheard, it appears that one set of diners were regulars. If Cinnamon Island was closer to London, we would be happy regulars too! However, I would advise the waiting staff to issue a word of warner to diners at the table to keep back a little – the flames just whooshed up in front of us and Mr. D and I very nearly went home without our eyebrows!

HIGH POINTS:

  • Helpful and friendly service with a smile!
  • Clean interior with elegant décor.
  • Enough space to move around without bumping into other diners.
  • Delicious well-spiced, well seasoned food with no ‘nasties’ (i.e.- huge amounts of fat, oil, salt etc.)
  • Good size portions.
  • Wonderful ambience.
  • Didn’t have to wait long for the food.
  • Reasonably priced.
  • Good choice of drinks.
  • Liqueur coffee was to die for!
  • Unique special touches (i.e.- serving cut fruit and liqueurs at the end of the meal)

LOW POINTS:

  • Salmon was overcooked and dry.
  • Need more variety for the dessert menu.
  • We needed to be warned to lean back a little when salmon was being flambéed.
  • Would have liked the portions of rice to be a little bigger as it was extremely tasty.

Cinnamon Island Dover

1 Cambridge Terrace

Dover, Kent

CT16 1JT

Tel. 01304 241688 / 240185

Mobile: 07894 523142

Open everyday including bank holidays

Lunch 12 noon – 2.30pm

Evening 5PM – 11.30PM

 

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