Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Back from Bali

I just came back from a weekend retreat in Bali. Now I understand why Bali is one of the most popular holiday destinations.

We stayed in Pan Pacific Tanah Lot resort and didn't venture out of the area yet we had so much to do in 4 days, we couldn't ask for more.

We were treated to stunning views all day long.

We cycled through villages and rice fields.

We jogged through the golf course early in the morning to avoid the golfers.

And swam in the pool to stay cool in the afternoon.

And listened to the sounds of waves crashing all through the day.

We savoured the sunset every single day.

We found time to admire the works of art at the village too.

And of course, we pretty much lazed around the rest of the day.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Aloo Gobi

From this... this.

I seldom buy cauliflower because they don't keep well in the fridge. A pristine white head will start to develop black spots in a matter of days. Cooking cauliflower can be quite a challenge due to its bland taste. It's funny though, how my kids would happily snack on plain steamed cauliflower when they were little.

When I saw this gorgeous cauliflower at the market on Sunday, I couldn't resist bringing it home even though I had no idea what to do with it.

Then I had an inspiration on Monday. I remember eating a nice cauliflower dish in Mumbai where the florets were battered, fried and cooked in a curry. I decided to make a healthier version called the Aloo gobi which is just as delicious. It was a hit! We polished off an entire pot of cauliflower and potato. If you're interested to try, here's the recipe.

1 whole cauliflower
4 potatoes
1 onion
2 tomatoes (chopped)
2 green or red chilli (sliced)
1 tablespoon each of mustard seed and cumin
1 teaspoon each of ground coriander seed, tumeric powder, curry powder, ground fresh ginger, chilli powder and water - mix into a paste
2 tablespoon tumeric powder
2 tablespoon cooking oil

1. Cut cauliflower into small florets. Toss in 1 tablespoon of tumeric powder and pinch of salt.
2. Cut potatoes into small chunks. Toss in 1 tablespoon of tumeric powder and pinch of salt.
3. Chop onion into small pieces
4. Heat up oil in cooking pan. Fry potato for few minutes until lightly browned. Remove.
5. Fry cauliflower until lightly browned. Remove.
6. Fry mustard seeds and cumin until they sizzle and pop. Next add in onion and fry till fragrant.
7. Add chilli paste and fry for a minute. Add chilli slices and tomato. Fry until the tomato is cooked.
8. Add in potato and just enough water to cover the potato. Cover pot and simmer until soft, around 15 minutes.
9. Stir in cauliflower and cover the pot. Add more water if necessary and simmer until cooked.
10. Season to taste. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve hot.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Dinner at Quentin's

I always look forward to dinners on Friday especially when we're out eating with good friends. Last Friday's dinner at a Peranakan restaurant in Esplanade was such a disappointment. We had an opera to catch at 8pm, so we decided to dine in the building.

Our original plan to eat at My Humble House, an upmarket and artistic restaurant in the Esplanade, was thwarted because CH was denied entry in his kilt. When the waitress offered him a pair of pants, we thought it was disrespectful and walked away. It sort of ruined our night because we ended up with a poor alternative.

I had never thought anyone could serve bad Peranakan food until we sampled the food at this eatery. We should have seen heard the warning bells when we saw large tour groups streaming into the restaurant. What they had was from a standard menu that was part of their Singapore tour.

We probably ended up eating the same food cooked in huge vats in the kitchen. The chap chye dish was bland and tasted like leftovers. The buah keluak tasted nothing like the real deal. Compared to what we ate at True Blue Cuisine, the dishes here failed miserably. We felt quite cheated. If only you could see our disappointed faces!

Luckily the opera, Strauss Salome, saved the night.

We had better luck three weeks earlier at Quentin's, the Eurasian Restaurant situated in the Eurasian Connunity House. The first time CH and I ate at Quentin's was several years ago, when they had just opened in East Coast Road. That night, the restaurant was empty except for us and they were still grappling with teething problems.

In a short span of time, they have won accolades and the hearts of many fans, so much so that they've moved to this better location and recently opened a new branch in the city.

We arrived early at the Eurasian Community House and managed to secure a good table and learn a bit of Eurasian culture from the exhibits outside the restaurant.

Our friend Chris loves Eurasian food, so he went the whole hog and ordered just about everything he fancied. The food was good. In fact, it must have been one of our most satisfying meals this year!

Keropok (fish crackers) with sambal belachan dip.

Prawns in curry sauce.

Fried chicken wings.

Prawn in pineapple curry.

Spicy eggplant.

Beef stew (I think).


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Lunch in the countryside

One of our favourite lunch locations is situated in a far-flung corner of Singapore where the Malaysian coastline is visible even on a hazy day.

The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves boasts of wide diversity of wildlife and migratory birds. There is another attraction that many are not aware of - the small cafe on stilts that overlooks a large pond.

While the menu is not extensive, the ambience is fantastic. There is always something fascinating to watch while eating - from huge monitor lizards basking in the sun to water hen (below) wandering around begging for scraps.

Our all-time favourite is the Nasi Lemak. The recipe has not changed since we ate there 10 years ago. The chicken wing is well marinated and pressure cooked until tender and the coconut rice is fragrant and fluffy.

We had the fish & chips for the first time and it was quite good, better than many restaurants in town.

If you happen to be hungry in Kranji, do give this little cafe a try.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Home-cooked Korean food

After our Korean friend EY treated us to a fabulous home-cooked dinner one day, I was so impressed that I went to the Korean supermarket the next morning to get the essential ingredients, namely chilli paste, mirin and vinegar.

The recipes arrived just as quickly via email and there's no turning back now. My first attempt at making the seaweed appetiser wasn't too successful because I used too much vinegar of the wrong kind (apple vinegar).

Seaweed appetiser made by EY.

China garlic stem seasoned in chilli paste by EY.

EY's version of Dakbokkeumtang.

What impressed me most about EY's recipes is the ease of cooking. There is no frying involved. For the chicken stew, just toss everything in a pot and simmer for an hour or so. EY used Le Creuset French Oven to do the job. I simply used a WMF heavy based pot which can tolerate long hours of cooking. The chicken pieces turned out succulent and the root vegetables were so full of flavour. It is a really healthy yet delicious dish.

The best thing was, my kitchen was clean and oil-free.

My version of chicken stew.

When I first ate the garlic stems at her house, I was blown away by the lovely taste of such a humble dish. When you blanch the stems in salt water, they become crunchy and sweet. After tossing them in the chilli paste mixture, they become even tastier.

Messy but tasty.

EY's recipes came at the right time, just when I have run out of ideas of what to cook for dinner. I've reproduced them here so you can make your own Korean dishes at home too.

1. seasoned seaweed with cucumber
-Vinegar 3 Tbs
-Sugar 1.5 Tbs
-Salt 0.3 Tbs
-Spring onion (chopped) 1Tbs
-Red chili 1 ea
** after soaking the seaweed in water, you can also blanch in boiling water to have softer seaweed.

2. China garlic stem
-Chili paste 2Tbs
-Soy sauce 1Tbs
-Corn Syrup 1Tbs
-Sugar 0.5 Tbs
-Garlic(chopped) 0.5 Tbs
-Sesame oil 0.5 Tbs
-Sesame seed 0.5 Tbs
** cut into 4~5cm length for the stem and blanch about 1~2 mins in salt water and drain the water, cool down before you mix with seasoning.

3. Chiken stew/Braised Chicken ( Dakbokkeumtang in Korean)
-chicken pieces, skin removed
-chili paste 3Tbs
-Chili powder 3 Tbs
-Soy sauce 5Tbs
-Mirin 2Tbs
-Syrup 1Tbs
-Sugar 1Tbs
-Garlic (chopped) 1Tbs
-Ginger powder 0.3 Tbs
-Sesame oil 1Tbs
**marinate chicken with salt,ground pepper, rice wine (or mirin) and 1 hour later add water and boil first & add seasoning & vege (potato or carrot, onion, chilli etc )and simmer until cooked. The above ingredients are for 1 chicken but you can also adjust the taste by adding more chili powder or more salt etc.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Lentil & barley curry

It rained all day, on a Monday! When the weather is wet and cool, I crave for a bowl of hearty soup. Suddenly I remembered Terri's lentil & barley soup. Luckily, I have both the ingredients and the essential spices in the fridge.

Since I already have a pot of chicken cabbage soup simmering away on the stove, I decided to turn this into a lentil & barley curry instead. This seemingly simple dish is really tasty, and I can guarantee you that it'll make a cold day a lot more enjoyable.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Nakhon Kitchen

After our last failed attempt to eat at Nakhon Kitchen, we finally succeeded in getting a table at the Bedok Branch yesterday. Even then, at 6.20pm, the restaurant was already quite crowded.

We ordered several dishes and were satisfied with our choices. Service here is so fast and efficient, we finished eating and paid up within less than 30 minutes. It's the perfect place for a good and quick meal. Prices are reasonable too. The four dishes and drinks (CH had Coke, I had lemon grass) cost only S$30.

Tender, well marinated chicken wrapped in fragrant pandan leaves.

The green beef curry was really good. The meat was chunky yet tender and curry was thick and delicious.

The olive fried rice with minced chicken was good too.

The papaya salad was a tad salty but still yummy.

They serve miniature glass bottles of Coke and Fanta drinks here. These are imported from Thailand.

Nice banana cake

I bought a bunch of super ripe bananas from the store today to make a banana cake.

I had so much bananas, I ended up with 2 loafs. I used OKC's recipe and they turned out to be the moist and fluffy. No wonder OKC calls it an almost perfect banana cake!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bye Bye Mumbai

I've just returned from a whirlwind business trip to Mumbai and to be honest, I've never been so happy to be home. Don't get me wrong. The trip was very fruitful and all the people I met were very hospitable but the traffic jams and potholes drove me crazy.

Not knowing what to expect, I packed too many appointments into 1.5 days and ended up rushing from meeting to meeting and getting stuck in traffic. Every cab journey was a stomach churning and nerve wrecking one. There are no traffic rules. You just need lots of skill and courage to drive in Mumbai.

It seems that you're allowed to drive anyway you please, at the fastest speed possible while dodging huge potholes, people, errant drivers, dogs and cattle along the way. It's completely normal to honk incessantly and weave in and out of traffic and stop just inches away from the next car. Strangely, after spending hours on the road, I've not seen a driver lose his temper, even when another car almost comes crashing into his or when a pedestrain saunters across the road, causing him to slam his brake. They're simply the world's calmest drivers!

I was so amused to see "HONK OK PLEASE" or "BLOW OK HORN" painted behind every truck. Even my clients who live there are unable to explain the meaning behind these signs.

It's not easy being a passenger. I always end up feeling nauseous and had to look away from the traffic to keep myself sane. At the traffic junctions, I'm often confronted by little kids knocking at the window, asking for money or plying their craft. It's sad, yet I had to avoid eye contact especially after hearing my friend's story of how he ended up with a horde of beggars following him after he handed money to one.

Now, I've traveled to some backward countries but by far, Mumbai's situation is the most depressing. The image of a skinny woman holding her naked son with a large bloated tummy still lingers in my mind. And the slums that I saw in the movie The Slumdog Millionare are real. They're scattered all over (old) Mumbai city. Many improvished Indians do not live in proper homes. A shed is almost a luxury considering many sleep under a torn canvas sheet held up by 4 sticks.

Maybe it has something to do with the Monsoon season because almost everything, from the roads to buildings and surroundings are dark, dirty and gloomy.

And the dogs... they are everywhere, coexisting happily with the residents, minding their own business and never getting in people's way.

Luckily the place that we stayed in, Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai) is a planned city developed to relieve congestion in Mumbai. It's a more civilised and urban city, and definitely less chaotic and dirty. The 5-star hotel that we stayed in exceeded my expectations and provided me with a comfortable bed after a hard day's work.

There's still room for improvement in Navi Mumbai. While walking under an office building one day, a large metal beam came crashing down from the construction work above, landing just metres away from me. Nobody appeared shocked except me. From the way they drive and cross the roads, they do not seem to have any regard for safety nor do they value their lives. I find that rather strange.

We traveled out of the city more than once to visit the container depots. While the journey was long and tiring, the sight of the lush countryside and hills in the distance made the trip worthwhile.

Then I came across this poster at the factory. Isn't it so retro?