Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fun Taiwan!




Caution: SUPER long holiday post ahead!

A few weeks ago, me and hubby decided it was time for a holiday and began the absorbing process of picking a destination. A public holiday on October 15th meant that taking a day off from work would give us a nice long weekend from 12th to 15th. Since we had only 4 days to spare, we decided to stick to somewhere close by. More often than not, at this time of year, our choice of holiday location is dictated by the unpredictable weather with monsoons and typhoons hitting different parts of Southeast Asia with gusto! After some discussion, we singled out Taiwan which would mark a maiden trip for the both of us.

While chalking out the holiday itinerary, aside from my usual travel beacons - Lonely Planet, Wikitravel and Tripadvisor, I thought of consulting with my local friends too. After asking around, I realized that around 98% of my local Singaporean friends had been to Taiwan, many of them even more than once. I wondered what it was about Taiwan that made it such a popular destination with Singaporeans and the answer was pretty simple - it is a nearby developed country that is culturally similar to Singapore. Not to mention, Taiwan is much larger than Singapore, is relatively safe, has good public transport, is comparatively cheaper and most importantly, renowned for their street food and abundance of dining options which is something Singaporeans share a passion for. My friends gave me plenty of helpful suggestions so my itinerary was ready within no time. For non-Chinese speaking people, I would heavily recommend preparing a detailed itinerary complete with the Chinese names and addresses of the places you intend to visit because I had been forewarned of the language barrier in Taiwan. Me and my husband booked our accommodation through Agoda and tickets on Tiger Air to Taipei only to find out that a typhoon had just struck Taipei bringing down a torrent of rain (lucky us, eh?!). I was anxious if this recent irksome development would ruin our holiday plans and kept my fingers crossed that it would pass by the time we landed there.

In characteristic fashion, I'm drafting this post on the flight back home to Singapore. We just spent 4 wonderful days in Taipei and I wish that we had stayed to longer because there was so much more that I wanted to see and do.

Ah....well! I'd just have to come back now, won't I? :D

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bakers Corner: Margherita Pizza


I'm super excited about this post! The header says it all doesn't it? After close to 3 years of blogging, I've got my hubby to do a guest post on my blog :)

First, I'd like to open this post by briefly introducing him to my readers. For the sake of maintaining anonymity (and a certain air of mystery), let's just call him A. If you have read my 'About' page, you will know that I credit A with pushing me to start my own blog. He has always been incredibly encouraging and supportive of whatever I do and I am thankful for that. He is one the biggest foodies I have ever met with a vast knowledge of world cuisines, ingredients and flavors. He has sharp tastebuds and a sophisticated palate which makes him the chief food taster and critic in our household! He usually takes over the mantle of head chef from me on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The other days of the week, he is my dependable sous chef! He had volunteered to contribute to my blog a long time ago but somehow that never transpired. A few weeks ago, I asked him to do a guest post for October and I was glad to note that he still was enthusiastic about it. He suggested that he would make pizza since it was not featured on my blog before. Generally, he is the pizza maker at home and he has always used store-bought pizza crust. For this post, he wanted to make everything from scratch. Believe me when I say that he is solely responsible for selecting the recipe, buying the required groceries, the entire cooking process, the presentation and the photography. He even went out and bought a pizza stone and peel, since he thought it would improve the browning and texture of the crust. I was touched by his level of commitment and effort :)

The pizza turned out great! The crust was crisp, the top was cheesy, the marinara sauce had great depth of flavour and the pizza was perfumed with lovely basil. I will be requesting demanding for it again soon! 

Okay, so this is where I say goodbye to you. I have absolutely nothing to do with whatever you see below the dotted line :D

Handing over to A now....

★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★

Hi readers, this post has been a long time in the coming. I had promised Megha more than an year ago that I would be write up something for her blog, but never got around to doing it. I do have the patience for cooking, not so much for writing. Anyway here I am making my debut and I have to say I'm very happy to be doing this. The way Megha's blog has evolved over the years is quite impressive and makes me proud to be a part of.

Italian food has always been one of our favourite cuisines and we regularly end up having pizza or pasta at least once a week. The idea of making a homely rustic pizza at home has always been on our mind but considering the countless local pizza joints and easy home delivery options we somehow were never were motivated enough to try it. Now that we have, and the way it turned out, I'm pretty sure this could become a regular thing.

When it comes to cooking I'm a stickler for the tried and tested and haven't yet reached a stage where I invent my own recipes. The recipe for the pizza crust I'm presenting here has been adapted from a combination of Alton Brown and Bobby Flay's recipes from Food Network. My pizza sauce has been adapted from Emeril Lagasse's recipe also from Food Network. I'm also a great believer in having the right tools and ingredients for cooking, and generally don't take any shortcuts in techniques or make any compromises with my ingredients. So that's how we ended up going out in search of, and buying a Pizza stone, which I believe is the best surface for baking a pizza. A pizza pan can be a good secondary option but if you can find a stone, that's what you should go for. Pizza stones distribute heat uniformly, and being porous allow moisture to escape from the dough resulting in a much crispier and firm crust. For the toppings you can do your own thing and go all out and have fun with it.

The pizza I chose to make is the ever popular Margherita, simply because it's a classic, and has some easy to put together toppings. The combination of basil, cheese and tomato has a simple yet fresh flavour that tastes wonderful.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Navratri special: Sabudana Vada

For Navratri this year, I decided to make Sabudana Vada. This is typically made during the Navratri vrat (fasting) days but it is also a popular snack on rainy days enjoyed with a steaming cup of Masala Chai (spiced tea). I'm not into fasting and stuff but I am a firm believer of savoring hot crispy snacks during the monsoon! This delicious deep-fried snack is made from a spiced mixture of sago pearls and potatoes. The crispy exterior and soft mushy interior with added crunch from the peanuts makes this a delightful snack. I don't usually cook with sago so this was a first for me. Since these vadas turned out pretty good, I will try out more recipes that use sago in the future so watch this space! 

Coming to the significance of this post, Navratri is a festival dedicated to the worship of the Hindu deity Durga. The word Navaratri literally means nine nights in Sanskrit, nava meaning nine and ratri meaning nights. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Shakti/Devi are worshiped. The tenth day is commonly referred to as Vijayadashami or Dussehra/Dasara. 

Hailing from the city of Mysore, Dasara holds incredibly special memories for me. During Dasara, Mysore is transformed into a shimmering wonderland. The main streets and circles are lit up with colorful lights and the spectacular Mysore palace is illuminated daily which is a sight to behold. Vijayadashami denotes the victory of truth over evil and was the day when the Hindu Goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura. On Vijayadashami, the traditional Dasara procession (locally known as Jamboo Savari) is held on the streets of Mysore city. I remember one particularly memorable Dasara where me and my cousins rented a room in a lodge that overlooked the main procession street and armed with binoculars, snacks and cool drinks we had a gala time taking in all the marvelous sights! The main attraction of the procession is the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari which is placed in a golden howdah on the top of a decorated elephant. This idol is worshipped by the royal couple and other invitees before it is taken around in the procession. Colourful tableaux, dance groups, music bands, armed forces, folklores, the royal identities, decorated elephants, horses and camels form a part of the procession which starts from the Mysore Palace and culminates at a place called Bannimantap, where the Banni tree (Prosopis spicigera) is worshipped. According to a legend of the Mahabharata, Banni tree was used by the Pandavas to hide their arms during their one-year period of Agnatavasa (living life incognito). Before undertaking any warfare, the kings traditionally worshipped this tree to help them emerge victorious in the war. The Dasara festivities would culminate on the night of Vijayadashami with an event held in the grounds at Bannimantap called as Panjina Kavayithu (torch-light parade).

Another major attraction during Dasara is the Dasara exhibition which is held in the exhibition grounds opposite to the Mysore Palace. This exhibition starts during Dasara and goes on till December. Various stalls which sell items like clothes, jewelry, accessories, kitchenware, cosmetics and eatables are set up and they attract large crowds. A game area containing attractions like Ferris-wheel is also present to provide entertainment to kids and adults alike. Various governmental agencies setup stalls to signify the achievements and projects that they have undertaken. No Mysore Dasara would be complete for me and my siblings without a visit to the exhibition which we would go to every year without fail along with cousins who would visit us during the festive time. Ah! those fun times!

Every year I feel a tinge of sadness that I cannot be in my wonderful hometown to witness all the festivities. Phone calls and Facebook updates of friends and family back home are a constant reminder of what I'm missing! This year I thought I would celebrate it in my own way by treating myself to this wonderful snack. Looking at the bright side, something is better than nothing right? :)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sweet Indulgence: Laurent Bernard Chocolatier, Singapore

Robertson Quay, a mecca for food lovers is located by the Singapore River. The lovely location offers the dual benefit of a tranquil ambience for an intimate dining experience or a hip and happening evening to chill out with friends. The eclectic mix of alfresco dining spots, bars and pubs, cafes, art houses and fancy condominiums, makes Robertson Quay an attractive option for a weekend hangout. It has become one of my latest haunts and in the past year as I've found myself there on numerous occasions either with my hubby or with my girlfriends. That being said, I've just managed to scratch the surface of this buzzing food hub. There are countless hidden gems that I have yet to discover for myself! I have a huge list of restaurants that I have yet to visit and I'm going to start crossing them off my list one by one. 

I heard about Laurent Bernard from my husband. A friend of his could not stop raving to him about the Chocolate tart which he had there. Laurent Bernard is one of the more popular chocolatiers in Singapore. A little bit of background on this chocolate bar: This French patisserie opened at Robertson Quay in 2006. A year later, a cafe-restaurant opened at Portsdown, followed by a retail outlet at the Takashimaya food hall. Me and my hubby thought it would be worth checking it out so on one visit to Robertson Quay, we decided to hop over to Laurent Bernard after dinner to check out their desserts. Since then, I've been there several times. After any outing over at Robertson Quay, you will predictably see a gorgeous Tiffany Blue Laurent Bernard take-away bag sitting prettily on my dining table!