Category Archives: Food

To Learn Something New

201406 Dark chocolate and sea salt caramel tart

I know, I know. I have gone way off the baking and cooking radar for the longest time, since late 2011, I reckon. You know my excuses. I’ve moved across three countries. I got pregnant. And before I know it, my hands were full with a newborn, then a baby, and now a toddler. These days, I write less about my culinary adventures (or rather, lack thereof) and more about the ups and downs in motherhood. Some of you have left, some of you have stuck around to see what I’m up to, some of you have joined me in this new and permanent part of my journey. But I am still here, and I suspect that I might always be.

You see, this blog is not just another website. Not to me, at least. It chronicles my everything, and everything about me (well, almost). It documents challenges I have faced in life, be it  graduate school a few couple of years ago, my new then-life in a foreign land, and yes, food too. I remember the first time I bought my very own set of baking equipment. We had just moved to London in 2007, and I was keen to pick up baking again since the kitchen was all ours. I bagged the cheapest of the basics I could find, including a very noisy handheld mixer from Tesco which cost me only £3.99. It served me well, taking me from basic cupcakes, to layered cakes, chiffon and even macarons.

Each time I learnt something new, I was absolutely delighted, but not without feeling utterly deflated at my failed first attempts. I was amazed at how basic ingredients could yield all sorts of tasty morsels, and how every quantity, step and trick made the world of a difference. It was particularly rewarding, when I stumbled upon random tricks on my own; baking is almost magical to me, save for the fact that its roots actually lie in the heart of science.

201406 Lemon curd tartAfter leaving London, I barely had the opportunity to learn new recipes. My repertoire was old and tired, and it was mostly executed to feed my husband and daughter, or for special occasions. I have very, very loyal fans though. Most people are always happy to have a slice of my signature chiffon cake or that soft cookie or the grand old dame of a red velvet cake, and I am truly thankful that they still appreciate what I do. But that isn’t enough for me. Soon, I got bored of my own creations. Sad, but true.

I have been pushing myself to try out new recipes, to conquer new pastries and master new dishes. It’s not working out too well, as all this takes far too much time, something that I am in desperate need of. But I’ve stolen pockets of it, when F sleeps (thank goodness we insisted on early bedtime), when M is finally free from crazy shifts to help me with her. A month or two ago, I was really happy to have nailed the tart (the pastry, not a person), and filled them with lemon curd (also a first in my culinary adventure, I know…I’m real slow), or dark chocolate ganache and sea salted caramel. They were, IMHO, absolutely spot-on! I was on cloud nine when I learnt that the tarts were well-received…that buzzzzz, that joy I get when I know my bakes have made someone very happy…

I wish I have more opportunities at some point to challenge myself. I could use with feeling a little more accomplished than just doing what I have been doing thus far. I miss dreaming up exciting flavours in my sleep, and jumping out of bed to get cracking in the kitchen. I miss scribbling ideas on random scraps of paper, and hopping into the pantry in the middle of the night to whip something up. Those days were absolutely glorious, utterly inspired and undeniably pleasurable…and those days couldn’t come sooner.

Bali Eats: Merah Putih. GO. NOW.

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The beauty that is Merah Putih, its excellent food and warm service, left us completely blissed out and floored. Suffice to say that it is THE best meal I have had in a long time, one that sits so well on the palette and the soul, that I dream of it day after day, two months on since we travelled to Bali for our family vacation. The last time I felt this grand about a meal, was after being taken through the most whimsical, molecular gastronomical treat at The Fat Duck. And that IS saying something because we dined at Merah Putih with our toddler in tow; any parent would know that dining with children tends to take away the luxury of eating in peace, and that often means that mastication of food doesn’t take place long enough for us to appreciate the nuances of flavours in even the most delightful mouthfuls. Long story short, we tend to shove food down as quickly as we can before the kid insists that LUNCH IS OVER, MAMA, and the truth is, we would be thankful to simply finish our main course, let alone fully appreciate what we eat because meals are often over in a jiffy. It is with a tiny stroke of luck and stunningly good food that kept our toddler, and us, glued to the table for the entire meal.
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Soto Ayam

Merah Putih is located in a surprisingly quiet stretch along the long and winding Jalan Petitenget, segments of which are home to popular bars, restaurants, luxury hotels and chic boutiques. We took a cab straight to the restaurant after a mid-morning coffee break at Revolver Espresso (more to come on this hidden gem of a café), after realising that unit numbers don’t run in order for addresses in Bali. It was a wise decision because we would have gotten completely lost on foot, and it helps that Bluebird taxis are pretty safe to go with and fares are very, VERY easy on the pocket.
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Chargrilled Squid & Octopus
Banana blossom, chilli, tamarind, peanuts

Walking up the flight of stairs to the entrance of Merah Putih and into the bar, I cursed under my breath as I took in the swanky interiors; I was in a shabby tank top that has seen better days a decade ago, shorts and sandals and we were definitely under-dressed. I had expected some snooty wait staff to throw us glances of disapproval but there was absolutely none of that, and all we received were ooohs and aaaahs generously doled out to Faith, the littlest patron in the restaurant that afternoon. *phew* As we were led through the dark corridor to our table, both M and I let out gasps of delight at the gorgeous interiors. It was as if we had emerged from under layers and layers of foliage into a clearing. With lush greenery, fish ‘ponds’ skirting the perimeter and ample light coming through windows and the glass canopy above, it felt like we were walking into the most beautiful greenhouse (for all you annoying people, like me, who love to keep people from digging in by taking photos of the food, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful, naturally lit, restaurant to photograph your subjects). The only downside was the restaurant doesn’t provide high chairs for children, so we had to fashion a booster seat out of cushions that the staff provided and secured F to the chair with the buckle of our baby carrier.

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Jangkang
Fried soft shell crab salad, chilli, pickles

Merah Putih offers set lunches for only S$10 per person, but we ditched that and shared a few dishes over the signature Red (merah) & White (putih) Rice instead. Each course was about S$6-10, and the bill came up to about S$45+ for a very sumptuous lunch, including two mocktails (about S$3 each) and three individual servings of desserts (about S$4 each). Now, this may be rather expensive as compared to other meals we have had in Bali, but the quality of the food is unsurpassed, whether in Bali or other parts of the world.

To start off, we were served two complimentary portions of Soto Ayam; the warm, savoury broth was packed full of flavour from the chicken, shallots and herbs, and went perfectly with the fragrant Red & White rice. This was such a hit with Faith that we grudgingly gave up our portions for her. The waitress very thoughtfully gave us another on seeing this and Faith was much too happy to have an extra serving!

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Tahu Isi Jamur
Vegetable filled organic tofu fritters, oyster mushrooms

The Chargrilled Squid & Octopus proved to be one of the best versions I have ever had (the other stunner was an unforgettable octopus stew that our friend’s father whipped up when we visited them in Porto). The morsels were superbly tender, far from the chewy, rubbery nonsense that many others have served up, and boasted big flavours that were perfectly balanced – the dish was tangy, savoury and ever so slightly spicy for that tropical kick. It was absolutely mouthwatering, literally, in the best way possible!

Even though it was our least favourite dish in the repertoire that afternoon, Jangkang, the fried soft shell crab salad, was delightfully crispy and it came in very generous servings. This meant that M and I did not have to fight to the death for the last piece of crunchy goodness!
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Iga Sapi Bakar
Chargrilled beef shortribs, lalapan, sambal hijau

An underdog that made our hearts flutter, Tahu Isi Jamur, which consists of vegetable filled organic tofu fritters served with oyster mushrooms, was recommended to us by the waitress. We thought nothing of it when we first saw it on the menu and were not even close to ordering it as it didn’t sound all that interesting, but boy, were we glad to have trusted the waitress on this one. The perfectly deep-fried slivers of tofu, crispy, and quiveringly tender on the inside, were stuffed with well-seasoned sautéed oyster mushrooms, which tasted almost like chunks of very juicy and flavoursome meat!

My favourite dish has got to be Iga Sapi Bakar, which is a meltingly soft slab of chargrilled beef short rib that has just about lost all of its integrity, in terms of texture and morality because it made me gasp much too audibly. It was shockingly tender, I was most definitely too loud when I exclaimed, ‘OH-EM-GEE, THIS FEELS LIKE TOFU!’ when I cut into it with a fork, with nary a Newton exerted. Thankfully, the restaurant was rather empty and I only drew an embarrassed glance from the husband. Or maybe two glances, because I rolled my eyes and went, ‘OH MY…..’ after I popped a generous chunk of shortrib that was smothered in the rich peanut gravy (not unlike the best satay sauce you would have had) into my mouth. The shortrib came with a green sambal, which delivered the perfect spicy hit to cut the richness, almost unctuousness of the meat. I was annoyed when M took the last bite (‘I KNOW I SAID IT’S OKAY BUT NO, IT’S NOT OKAY’).

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Dessert board with our three picks

We were stuffed at this point but given the merits of the dishes before, we couldn’t leave without having some sweets. After all, we don’t know when we would be back in Bali again (although I have sworn the husband to making this an annual family pilgrimage…we have been to Bali four times and love it more and more each time we visit). M and I often talk about how meals are never quite perfect, with the starters and mains impressing us, and desserts letting us down, or vice versa, so we were very eager to test this theory out with Merah Putih, especially when it is touted to be one of the rising stars in Bali.

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Coklat
Spiced chocolate tart, hibiscus jelly, cashew praline, vanilla ice cream

We were more than happy to have our theory proven wrong. The spiced chocolate tart was rich, lusciously smooth and subtly laced with cinnamon (I believe), and it went swimmingly well with the slightly tart, yet sweet, hibiscus jelly and crunchy, sweet praline. Of course, good quality vanilla ice cream couldn’t hurt!

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Kelapa Tart
Young coconut pannacotta, mango, palm sugar crumble

The coconut pannacotta was such a refreshing change from the usual English renditions I’ve had. It had the perfect wobble, and the mildly sweet coconut flavour was the perfect backdrop for the rich, smooth and tangy mango puree. The palm sugar crumble lent good crunch for a well-balanced contrast in textures.

201405 Bali Eats Merah Putih 9Kue Lapis
Calamansi lime brulee, spiced layer cake, nashi pear

M didn’t enjoy the Kue Lapis as much. To be fair, he has never liked the spiced layer cake. But I thought the spices in the cubes of kueh lapis went really well with the calamansi lime brulee. It’s a surprisingly good combination that works! My only complaint was the cream in the brulee has somewhat masked the tangy and citrusy fragrance of calamansi lime a little too much. Nonethless, I’d be happy to pay for this again!

201405 Bali Eats Merah Putih 10Faith absolutely working on the lychee and kemangi mocktail and her signature wave

You can probably tell by now that we had a whole lot of food and spent a fair bit of time at Merah Putih. We were pleasantly surprised by how amazing the food was, and we could eat in peace only because Faith thoroughly enjoyed the food too. Whenever she got impatient, waiting for the food to arrive or for the check to be signed, we took her to the sides to peer at the fishes in the ‘ponds’ and she was thrilled! The staff obviously love children too, so it made the lunch, which was tops to begin with, even better. Both M and I utterly regretted not having dinner at Merah Putih on our last day in Bali – we wound up at this tourist trap known as Warung Taulan, no thanks to touters, and had the worst food we have ever sank our teeth into in Bali. Well, there is only one thing left to do…I shall count down to our next trip to Bali and this time, I’d be sure to head to Merah Putih again. And I think you should too.

Merah Putih is located at:

Jl.Petitenget No.100x, Kerobokan
Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia 80361
Tel: (0361) 8465950

GIVEAWAY! Nigella Fresh Cookbook from The Groovy Giraffe + Review

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***GIVEAWAY CLOSED*** 

Thank you all for taking part in the giveaway! Congratulations to Kway Chap (we**********ap@yahoo.com.sg)! You have won a copy of the Nigella Fresh Cookbook. The Groovy Giraffe will be in touch with you shortly.

[SPONSORED POST*]These days, I’m all about cooking with ease. Any recipe that yields a healthy, delicious meal with minimal preparation is a winner in my books, as I am often running against time, and well, running after a toddler. That, or said toddler would most definitely be tugging on my clothes and koala-ing my legs when I’m cooking. Long gone are the days when I can move around the kitchen with the fluidity and grace of a skilled ballerina; tripping around a small person is more like it. Long gone are the days when I actually relish in the therapeutic benefits of whipping up a lovely meal; my aim is to get the meals out RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Years ago, moving to London had me acquainted with a slew of celebrity chefs, and a whole variety of ingredients and cooking techniques that I was not familiar with when I was living in Singapore. Till this day, two of these chefs, Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, remain my favourite, simply because these two Brits make cooking look ridiculously easy and infinitely enjoyable. I’ve bought a couple of their cookbooks and I can attest to how right they are in the philosophy of cooking; it doesn’t help that their recipes are, well, recipes for success! I love Nigella, in particular, for her shortcuts that yield beautiful results. One of my favourite recipes has got to be for her Puff Pastry, which gives gorgeous, flaky, golden layers of buttery goodness using a…food processor (I used this to make the pastry for my Portuguese egg tarts)! I’ve not looked back since.

Sure, Nigella isn’t shy with ingredients that would make the health buff cringe, but her cookbooks burst with a large repertoire of healthy, wholesome dishes too! I love the recipes in Nigella Fresh; as I pored through the ingredient lists, my tastebuds were tingling with the freshness of spring and summer. All the herbs, vegetables and different cuts of meats used, sat with me very well. And then, we have the delectable desserts, what’s not to like? That woman knows her desserts pretty well!

To review the cookbook gifted to me by The Groovy Giraffe, I put two recipes to the test. I whipped this up while Faith was in preschool during a weekday morning, and voila, they were much too easy and too delicious, and healthy to boot! I’ve got to be honest though, that I didn’t follow the recipes to a T. I used to be a stickler for recipes and proportions, having been trained as a scientist for many years, but being married to a man who is a superbly easygoing cook has somewhat reduced my anal retentiveness. These days, I look up recipes, more for inspiration on flavour and textural combinations, to learn about new cooking techniques and ingredients, than to grapple with what it means to add ‘a handful of coriander leaves’. So for the purpose of this review, I took the flavour suggestions onboard (roasted eggplant and feta cheese with chilli is YUM), and improvised the recipes with whatever ingredients I could find at home. The proportions were tweaked according to my personal preferences for saltiness, etc.

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Here’s what I cooked up. Saffron-scented Chicken Pilaf and Grilled Eggplant with Feta, Mint and Chilli. I replaced basmati rice in the former with quinoa, which is a staple in my pantry, and used olive oil in place of peanut oil as that’s what I have at home. I left out the cardamom pods as I didn’t have that in the kitchen, and omitted cashews and pistachios because M is mildly sensitive to them. For the grilled eggplant, I seared the slices on a stove-top griddle for the beautiful markings, and threw them in the oven till they were deliciously golden and caramelised. The proportions of feta, chill and mint used for the filling were ‘guess-timated’.

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Both dishes were such a tease on the palette. The pilaf was very more-ish and the yogurt-marinated chicken cubes were very tender! The grilled eggplant (one of my fave dishes ever) is beautifully caramelised, tastes almost like (very flavourful!) meat, and went well with the salty, yet refreshing feta, mint and chilli filling. It was all very Mediterrenean and very summer-ish, which I love! Perfect for a delightful, nourishing, yet quick, lunch!

If you are responsible for feeding the family, and are time-starved, I would strongly recommend you to get hold of a copy of the Nigella Fresh cookbook. The recipes are simple and perfect for noobs and seasoned cooks alike, and the dishes are guaranteed to be bursting with flavours from the different ingredients (some pairings are more unusual than others in our part of the world, but I reckon they work, based on similar flavour combinations I have sampled in restaurants in London). The Groovy Giraffe sells this (only S$14.90!), and other cookbooks, at a fraction of the retail price, go get them before they run out! Alternatively, you could enter the giveaway (open to those in Singapore) below!

GIVEAWAY: One copy of the Nigella Fresh Cookbook from The Groovy Giraffe

Click HERE to enter the giveaway!
You can earn extra entries by repeating certain steps on another day, so don’t forget to check back to get more lots in the draw!

Terms & Conditions: The winner is to collect the prize at The Groovy Giraffe office (Everton Park) or pay S$5.00 for shipping. There will be no exchange of books or conversion to store credits. The winner will be contacted by The Groovy Giraffe.

*I was gifted one copy of Nigella Fresh cookbook for my personal use and another copy will be given to a lucky reader after the giveaway ends. No additional monetary compensation has been received. All opinions expressed are entirely my own and written according to my experience in using the products/services. Sponsors have been notified that I am not obliged to write a review upon receipt of sponsored service/items, should I find the products/services unsuitable.

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The Way I Say I Love You

201404 Toasted Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Italian Meringue Buttercream 1

I am not one who tends to be all loving and gregarious and warm in person, mostly because I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. Often, I fumble for words and end up not telling someone how I feel because I spend too much time thinking about whether I would overwhelm people, or hurt someone, or generally freak people out with my weirdness. So if you have met me in person, you would know that I hardly initiate conversations and I mostly respond to people only when asked to, well, respond. I prefer to sit back and listen, than to fire away and be the life of the party. Yes, I am usually that quiet, aloof oddball, especially in a group of people. (But I have improved substantially since I got to know M, because his confidence in speaking up has rubbed off a little on me, which explains why I am a little less awkward these days, especially when I meet people one-on-one.)

201404 Toasted Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Italian Meringue Buttercream 2

I do, however, love to write. Feelings can take the form of handwritten letters, emails, post-its, messages, even blog posts, and I word and offer them more freely and unabashedly, than if I were to communicate them in person. I love that I can write my thoughts down without having people scrutinise my facial expressions or my tightly wrung hands. The time alone with my pen and paper, or even the phone, is void of distraction, and that allows me to be…free.

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There are, however, certain things that can, and should only be said to someone when you look at him or her in the eye. A heartfelt letter, or a simple note by the lunch bag works, but shouldn’t we all try to tell that special people in our lives that we love them, in person? I know that I don’t tell people that I love them as often as I should. I don’t say it to my parents, or my siblings, whom I love with all my life. I sneak it in, when my husband and I are all tucked into bed, after we turn out the lights, because I’m too shy to look at him in the eye. I sneak it in, when I gaze at his profile as he watches the telly, because I know in the split second of words tumbling out of my mouth, he would be too distracted to glance at me before I hastily look away in embarrassment. The only person whom I consistently say it to has got to be Faith, who is far too young to be all weirded out by her Mama’s profuse declaration of love for her.

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But I can say it with cake. And I love to say it with cake. It starts with what I know about the likes and dislikes of that special someone, and branches out into ideas on flavours and textures that he or she would love. It then grows with days of labouring over the stove and the oven, hunching over the cake as I try my best to make it look nice, battling with the humidity and often, my daughter who pleads for my attention every two seconds. And then the moment comes, when the birthday song is sung, the candles are blown out and the cake is cut. My special someone tucks in and exclaims, ‘This is amazing!’ and I pretend to be busy with brushing non-existent crumbs from the table. That moment is perfect because I have said I love you in the biggest and smallest way possible, and no one gets weirded out. I get to retreat to my little oddball corner and feel like I have gone all out to say I love you with a slice of homemade cake.

And this was the case for my husband’s birthday this year. I don’t earn a salary, and I don’t do much other than take care of my family’s needs. I didn’t and couldn’t get him a present (it would really come out of his pocket, rather than my own…), and the only thing that I could do was to really think about what he loves, come up with flavours to surprise him, and get down to making him a cake that I hope he would adore. I don’t know if he was just trying to make me happy by saying that he loved the cake, but I was glad that he appreciated my efforts. I was glad that I made it, a Toasted Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Italian Meringue Buttercream. I was glad that he knows that I love him…and that’s all that matters.

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I love you, darling.

 

It’s Not Immoral to Pimp Your Pancakes

We thought it would be weird. We went ‘EWWWWWWW’ when we caught wind of how the Americans love doing it. Well, we thought wrong, when my morning-sickness-ed-out palette couldn’t get enough of it at a diner in New York City.

And then, Nassim Hill Bakery & Bistro does a superb waffle version, which karate-chops-no-shadow-kicks my brains out so much that even though I don’t have a waffle-maker, I settled for making this instead.

201311 Pimp Your Pancakes

THIS. Warm, tender, fluffy, incredibly light buttermilk pancakes, topped with generous slivers of crispy smoked bacon, tart blueberries and a good drizzle of maple syrup.

Shame on you if you still think that pimping your pancakes is immoral.

Check out what’s cooking in my kitchen!

Also check out my other food adventures.

Burgers, Just For Me

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I love burgers. Well, I didn’t used to give two hoots about them until I started dating M; I fell deeper in love with him when he made me a Grilled Mushroom Swiss burger. Embarrassing, and very telling of my gluttony nature, but heck, it is a true story.

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Our relationship obviously blossomed after THAT burger (I mean, how could it not?!); then, we got married in 2009 and M whisked me off to New York City for our honeymoon. I became very well-acquainted with the juicy, succulent burgers from Shake Shack and never looked back. Unfortunately, I was pregnant when we visited NYC again in late 2011 and boy, did morning sickness (more like, all-day sickness) do me in! M had gone out to get some burgers for us to nom on but I could barely take a bite. I was absolutely gutted because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to return to the States for a Shack anytime soon.

I refused to have any burgers after that, as I was certain that none could match up. I sulked in my damn-I-want-my-Shake-Shack-burger-NOW corner when I learnt that the burger joint has opened in a branch in London (my second home) AFTER I moved back to Singapore. But the gods were kind and heard my cries because Omakase Burger showed up on the island; I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I sunk my teeth into the uber moist burgers, which are not unlike the ones from Shake Shack. They are rather expensive though, as the burgs are annoyingly small for my huge appetite.

201310 M's burger 3

A few weeks ago, M and I were vegging out in front of the telly, letting our guts hang out after a rather unpleasant dinner while we sought solace in a food documentary on (you guessed it) burgers. M kinda came out of the documentary with a spookily crazed look and declared that he was going to NAIL THAT DAMN BURGER. And I kinda did a WWF-flex-mah-muscles thing and growled YESSSSS.

That’s how this burger came about. Incredibly juicy in spite of using lean minced beef, slathered with gooey cheese, fresh tomatoes and lettuce, topped with crispy bacon, and smothered in homemade aioli. NOW, THAT’S WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT.

Sigh. I love my husband. I think you do too, huh? Excuse me, while I go bat my eyelashes at him for a burger.

Check out what’s cooking in my kitchen!

Also check out my other food adventures.