Thursday, October 1, 2015

Recipe of the month: Bread Pakoda

My in-laws were in town for about 3 weeks last month. They had a wonderful time with the kids while I caught a much needed break. We couldn't venture out as much as we would have liked to (courtesy the 'haze') save for another trip to Madame Tussaud's and a get together at a friend's place but it was a refreshing change nonetheless. On the bright of the things you can do when you are stuck at home is cook up a storm so that is exactly what we did!

My MIL makes this bread pakoda quite frequently when she is entertaining guests, on festive occasions or during her customary new year parties. Usually when you hear of bread pakodas, you expect deep-fried batter coated bread filled with a potato or a mixed vegetable filling. But my MIL's version is far less cumbersome, less heavy and I daresay equally delicious. Trust me when I say that it totally satisfies your fried food cravings.

A few guidelines while making this dish - use either white or wholemeal bread (I'm not sure multigrain will work as well), make sure it is the salted variety and not the sweet kind, try to get the largest loaf available, preferably use bread that has been refrigerated at least a day in advance and use fresh oil for deep-frying. The consistency of the dipping mixture is important too but you will get a hang of that by experience. My MIL typically uses finely chopped onions, garlic, green chillies and fresh coriander to flavour the dipping mixture but you could add in some fresh ginger and/or curry leaves if you like. Since the dipping mixture has plenty of bright fresh flavours incorporated into it, you really don't need any accompaniment to these pakodas. Just pick up a hot crispy pakoda and begin munching!

My trusty Canon DSLR conked off just as I was gearing up to prepare this post. As a result, I was forced to use my Sony cybershot to take the photos (which made me very grumpy indeed). I really wanted to feature this snack on my blog and I wasn't sure if I would be making it in the near future (with my upcoming India trip and all) so I decided to compromise. Bleh.

So, the next time you feel like indulging in the pleasures of the deep-fried variety, why not consider these yummy bread pakodas? It can be prepared in a jiffy, is something different from your usual run-of-the-mill Indian snacks and tastes pretty darn good!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gardens by the Bay - Singapore

This post has been on the cards for ages. Garden's by the Bay is a nature park located in central Singapore adjacent to the Marina Reservoir. The sprawling garden is an integral part of a strategy by the Singapore government to transform Singapore from a "Garden City" to a "City in a Garden". It is one of Singapore's premiere attractions and a place I highly recommend that you visit. I myself have been there half a dozen times. Over my numerous visits, I have amassed a huge collection of photographs which I was saving for a blog post (that never happened). The other day, I was combing through my albums looking for something in particular and found several folders containing photos of Gardens by the Bay. That jolted me out the procrastination mode I was in and is the reason you are reading this post right now!

I decided not to split this post into two or more parts since this tourist attraction comes under the label 'Singapore' on my blog and I would rather have all the information in one place (I'm just finicky that way). The downside to that is that this post may come across as long-winded and photo-heavy. I like to be thorough even if it is at the cost of giving you a headache! 

The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden. The largest of the three gardens is Bay South Garden which showcases the best of tropical horticulture and garden artistry. The Bay East Garden has a 2-km promenade frontage that embroiders the Marina Reservoir. It is an ideal picnic setting with lush lawns and tropical palm trees. From the waterfront promenade, you will see a picturesque view of the city skyline. I had been to this part of the gardens a few years ago to watch the New Year fireworks. Bay Central Garden serves as a link between Bay South and Bay East Gardens. It has a 3 km waterfront promenade that allows for scenic walks stretching from the city centre to the east of Singapore.

The Bay South Garden is the one that receives the maximum number of visitors because of what it has to offer. Inspired by an orchid, the design resembles Singapore’s national flower, Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’. Take note that all the photos in this post were taken at the Bay South Garden.

The Bay South Garden has two cooled conservatories - The Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest situated along the edge of the Marina Reservoir. The two imposing glasshouses are a sight to behold and are special due to the fact that they are columnless (i.e. without additional interior support) and because the architecture aims at reducing the environmental footprint. Rainwater is collected from the surface and circulated in the cooling system which is connected to the Supertrees (man-made revolutionary trees that dominate the garden's landscape). You can’t miss the massive Supertrees here. These alien-looking vertical gardens are between nine to 16 storeys tall. You can walk on the aerial walkway between two Supertrees to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the gardens.

Let me take you on a tour of the different attractions within the Bay South Garden

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Baker's Corner: Mixed Vegetable Frittata

I had been to Jason's - The Gourmet Grocer at Ion Orchard recently. I love going to speciality grocery stores to ogle at what they have to offer (especially in the fruit and veg section). The produce is so vibrant, diverse and irresistible that it makes me feel like a kid in a candy store. I got myself a shopping basket and started picking things off the racks. By the end of my shopping, I had some baby portobello mushrooms, asparagus spears, zucchini, avocados, fresh Italian salad leaves, a gigantic juicy peach & some organic blueberries among other things. The urge to get back home and prepare a healthy veggie-packed brunch was overwhelming. As luck would have it, my hubby had just got me a fabulous 10-inch copper-bottomed anodized skillet that was begging to be put to use. I decided to make a frittata so I could incorporate most of the colourful vegetables I had gotten as well as give my new skillet a chance to make its debut.

A frittata is an Italian egg-based dish which can be likened to a fancy or decked-up omelette. It is simple, quick, delicious and healthy. This dish is perfect for a weekend brunch or a quick weeknight dinner. Moreover, it serves as the ideal vehicle for whatever left-overs languishing in the fridge or to use up any vegetables that are about to cross the threshold into the 'questionable' category. Although it seems too much work to make a frittata with freshly cooked vegetables, I made an exception only because I wanted to use my skillet so bad.

There no 'set in stone' way to make a frittata although there are some pointers that you can keep in mind so that you don't end up with a dry and/or bland dish. 
  • Cook the ingredients that go into the frittata completely and make sure there is no moisture in the mixture
  • Season both the vegetable mixture and the egg mixture. You can use salt, pepper, red chilli flakes, dried herbs and such 
  • Use full-fat dairy. Whole milk works well but you could also use sour cream, crème fraîche or yoghurt. For 6 eggs, you can aim for a quarter of a cup of dairy (I have used more in the recipe)
  • Layer the vegetables in the skillet and then spread the egg mixture evenly over the top
  • Cook the frittata in the skillet for 5 min and then transfer to a pre-heated oven until the frittata is cooked through. Do not over-bake a frittata (I probably went a little over but I don't mind the slight browning)
  • Cool for at least 5 mins before slicing the frittata into wedges

I must confess that I didn't heed every bit of my own advice. Once the frittata was out of the oven, I was in such a hurry to get done with the photography aspect (because like always, I had a million other things to tend to!) that I didn't wait even for a second. As a result, I didn't get the perfect wedge - you can see the tip of the triangle is a bit damaged. After I was done photographing (which took about 10 mins), I set the dinner table and cut wedges for me and my husband to tuck into and they were perfect. Darn! No wonder they say patience is a virtue! 

If the frittata by itself isn't enough, you could serve it with a simple garden salad, potato wedges or garlic bread. Since I had some avocados which were perfectly ripe, I put together a simple garden salad comprising of salad leaves tossed with chopped avocados & tomatoes, walnuts, parmesan shavings and a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, hot sauce and salt.

If you have leftover frittata, you can warm them up and use them to make a scrumptious wrap for brunch the next day. I had some whole wheat tortillas at home so I spread some mayo mixed with hot sauce over the surface and layered chopped up frittata with salad leaves and chunks of avocado and tomatoes. It was super yum! I could do with such a meal every day  

This is my way of making a frittata. The combination of ingredients worked well together ending up in a frittata bursting with robust flavours. Refer the notes for more variations that you can consider.

What ingredients do you like to throw into your frittata? Leave a comment to let me know!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Recipe of the month: Methi Dosa

From where I come from, we have what we call a 'uppu-huli-khara' dosa which literally translates to salt-sour-spicy dosa that is a breakfast staple. It is made by grinding raw rice along with a range of spices, tamarind, jaggery and grated fresh coconut. It does not require any fermentation so it can be made at reasonably short notice. This ground mixture doubles as the paste used to make patrode (a dish from Mangalore-Udupi in which colocasia leaves smeared with this batter and then steamed or fried) and as the batter used to make a variety of dosas.

I make this dosa all the time because both me and my husband like it very much. What's more is that it doesn't require any side dish. Back home, for a basic uppu-huli-khara dosa, the accompaniments that are served alongside are honey, yoghurt and grated coconut with jaggery but in my household, we relish it just with a knob of butter. Another plus is you don't have to fret about perfecting the clockwise circular motions that are required for dosa-making. You can be as random and imperfect as you please!

Like I said, this is the same batter that I make when I'm preparing patrode. When I'm not going the patrode route, I make a few variations of this dosa. Sometimes I add in chopped fenugreek (methi) leaves, sometimes chopped colocasia (patra) leaves, other times I use thinly sliced roundels of eggplant, ridge gourd or bread fruit dipped in the batter and arranged on a tawa to form a dosa. Even shredded cabbage can be mixed into the batter and spread in the form of dosas but I am not too big on cabbage so I tiptoe around it. On certain occasions I've even used leftover batter to coat an assortment of vegetables like onion, capsicum, potatoes and baby corn to make deep-fried vegetable fritters. Whatever the variation, I can assure you that the outcome is finger-licking good  

When I first asked my mum the recipe for this batter about a decade ago, she said she just eyeballs all the ingredients so her way of explaining was telling me to add 'a little bit' of this and 'a little bit' of that. She also told me to keep in mind that the strength of the spices that I get in Singapore may not be comparable to the ones available in India. Of course that isn't much help to a novice cook so it took me a couple of not-so-successful attempts before I figured out the quantities of the ingredients that work best for me. After optimizing the recipe, I realized that even I tend to eyeball the ingredients so the last time I made this dosa, I carefully documented all the quantities and proportions that I used. Good thing I did the future, my daughters won't complain when they ask for the recipe and I don't give them exact measure of the ingredients! I'll probably just tell them to go  look at my blog (if it still exists then!).

Anyway, of all the possibilities with this dosa that I've discussed so far, my favourite by far is Methi Dosa that I prepare by adding chopped fresh methi leaves and chopped onions into the batter. Garlic is something I only started adding recently (I make sure the taste is subtle) and that is only in the case of methi and patra dosas. Adding garlic is optional though so if you don't want it then just skip it. My husband absolutely loves the taste and texture of chopped onions in these dosas so whenever I'm making them, he will be snooping around in the kitchen to check if I'm using enough onions to suit his liking! On the rare occasion that I end up with leftover methi dosa batter, the next day I get out my ebelskiver pan, grease the indentations with a little ghee, spoon dollops of batter into it and cook on both sides until it is cooked through. I had seen my MIL doing this so I've also started doing it. It makes for a different yet tasty variation.

If you master this batter, there are so many things you can do with it that you will be spoilt for choices. Just imagine, a huge batch of this batter and breakfast will be sorted for a few days!

Now that I'm done highlighting the versatility of this dosa, here is the recipe....

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Visit to Madame Tussauds Singapore

One of the first travel posts I published on the blog detailed the various tourist attractions within Singapore. However, after that post was published, several more tourist attractions sprung up on our sunny shores which I neglected to update. But I realised that there were way too many to compile in a single post so I would do separate posts under one label. Singapore is constantly evolving so I'm sure there will be something new to explore and enjoy every year!

Madame Tussauds brings a galaxy of stars to Singapore!

Aren't we all just that little star struck? Everyone wants a piece of celebrity. But it isn't everyday that commoners can catch a sighting of the bigwigs in politics, sports & the entertainment industry. For the likes of us, Madame Tussauds has come up with a teeny tiny consolation - displaying lifelike waxworks of the celebrities that one can interact with and get up close and personal. We tend to be very cautious while visiting museums because generally it is an offence to touch any of the artifacts/objects on display. Not to mention, there are security cameras zooming in on you and guards monitoring your every move. At Madame Tussauds, you can not only cozy up to the wax figures but strike your goofiest poses alongside them for as long as you please! In addition, there are props, interactive touch screen panels & live action games to liven up your experience at the museum. 

I have been to the original Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London but that was several years ago and I only have foggy memories of it. When I heard that a branch opened in Singapore in October last year, I was eager to visit but life got in the way and I wasn't able to go until the perfect opportunity presented itself a few days ago. After holidaying in Bali, my parents decided to stop over in Singapore for 10 days. Since none of us had been to Madame Tussauds here, it was a unanimous decision to go take a peek on a balmy weekend morning. Lady luck was with us that day because the museum wasn't terribly crowded and the kids were in a sublime mood. The museum houses around 60 wax figures of well-known personalities across the globe and I was able to take several photographs (but not many full-length ones because of the relentless photobombing!). This is regrettably the generation of the selfie and as exasperating as the wax figure monopolizing can get, there is no escaping it so get in line! Anyway, fair warning - this post has a gazillion photos so I suggest you go through it when you have considerable time on your hands  

Lady Gaga

Madame Tussauds Singapore begins with a short boat ride and moves on to 8 themed interactive zones. Allow me to walk you through it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Baker's Corner: Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

My baking ventures have been going rather well lately (if I do say so myself!). Last month, I baked bread bowls for a soup (featured previously) which unexpectedly turned out to be a winner. The weekend after that, I was looking to bake something else savoury and ended up making these stuffed peppers which were a bit hit too. My oven has been good to me and considering I have a few more baking experiments lined up, I hope I'm on a roll here! 

Me and my husband love bell peppers. It is one of those vegetables that has a permanent spot in my fridge. I love that it has the ability to infuse tremendous color and flavour into any dish it is added to. I use bell peppers quite extensively in my cooking. However, the only time peppers see the inside of my oven is when I incorporate them in grilled vegetable sandwiches or bruschetta. I haven't tried baking/grilling peppers under any other scenario. So, I thought why not try to bake stuffed whole bell peppers. I browsed through several recipes but didn't find the 'one', so, I developed my own recipe merging ideas from here and there. I didn't have any time to go grocery shopping so I had to make do with whatever ingredients I had on hand. Most of the recipes I saw called for quinoa or brown rice to stuff the peppers with. I didn't have quinoa so I opted for brown rice. I didn't have black beans (which are common in Mexican cooking) either so I settled on red kidney beans. I had grated parmesan cheese and a baking cheese blend consisting of cheddar, parmesan and mozzarella so I incorporated both into my dish. As for the seasoning, cajun spice is something I really like and it is a staple in my pantry. It is a spicy blend of onions, garlic, red pepper, herbs and other spices. I used a combination of cajun spice, cumin powder and red chilli powder to flavour the rice with. Fresh jalapenos would have been a great addition but I didn't have any at the time (boo!). Anyway, after I was done assembling and adorning the peppers, they went into the oven and came out looking quite striking. And more importantly, they tasted delish! I was pleasantly surprised. My husband who isn't the easiest person on the planet to impress, said that they were really good so I was on cloud nine  

I love brown rice in general and in this dish particularly, I felt that the chewy texture of the brown rice went perfectly. The blend of spices complemented each other quite well so the overall flavour was spot on. I added sweet corn kernels, red beans, more bell peppers and cilantro into the stuffing so when it went into the tricolored peppers it was uber colorful indeed. I'm no purist yet I refrained from calling this dish 'Mexican Stuffed Peppers' since I modified the dish to the available ingredients in my kitchen and to suite my taste. But authenticity aside, take my word for it when I say this version is legit.

This is a great dish for parties because you can make the stuffing and prep the bell peppers ahead of time. All you have to do then is pop the peppers into a preheated oven about 20 mins before you want to serve them. It is not only a colorful and hearty dish but it can be made healthy too (if you go easy on the cheese that is). 

Here is my recipe. I have tried to make the recipe as versatile as possible listing all the possible ingredient substitutions.

I really hope you try it out and fall in love with it just like I did!