Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Take five!

Finally, a moment to sit down and catch my breath! Been scouring the shops downtown for all sorts of things - dress shopping for the bridesmaids and the wedding dinner, hen night party ideas and items, shoes, CNY goodies.....and I've fallen sick in the midst of all this activity. Along the way, I somehow managed to get myself plastered on Friday night on red wine, dirty sanchezes and long island tea and spent all night throwing up a rather pricey dinner of Kurobuta pork and flatiron steak I had with my mates earlier on (and it was very very good). My pathetic face and throbbing head elicited a few sympathetic responses from my cousins and sisters but it ended there. Obviously it wasn't on a catostrophic enough scale to excuse myself from the madcap shopping.

People, this is a lesson to try not to leave things to the last minute alright?

Gotta get out of the house again to tie up some loose ends. Wont be blogging so actively for these few days, but I'll be back!!!

p/s: Check out the Singapore Flyer. It's an eye-rolling, embarrassingly un-innovative copy of the London Eye concept, but then again, pourquoi pas?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Good O'Times

Whew! Preparing for weddings is tiring! Yesterday saw my sister, cousin and moi rushing around like chickens with their heads cut off to settle the bridesmaid gowns, what with the wedding 2 weeks away! We practically swept half of Orchard road in the span of 3 hours, so when we finally got to my auntie's resto, it was with much relief that we plonked our tired butts down to settle in for dinner.

I've been anticipating this since I came back. Many people might not know this, but my auntie is a chef and owns a Nonya restaurant now. Her cooking is so darn good that whenever we see her, we go "Sa-yeeeeee, when are you cooking your so-and-so dish again?" Sometimes I think all that whining and imploring from her bratty nieces must drive her nuts. *chuckle* I am so so glad that she's finally decided to venture out and indulge others with her awesome culinary skills. Secretly, I'm even happier cos now I can drop by whenever I feel like it and I will be guaranteed a satisfying meal.

Her Nonya restaurant is tucked away in Changi Village, located at the eastern end of Singapore. The interior decor is very simple, modern and cozy. Red and blue batik seats and tablecloths accentuated by dark wood add a touch of Nonya flair. Stepping in, you are pleasantly greeted with a beautiful orchid screen, made courtesy of another auntie of mine who is extremely talented with her hands and owns the beautiful Vanity Faire Collection. Her materials are all imported and every piece is handmade by her, so her clients can be sure they are not being shortchanged on quality. In addition to this, the woman also does accessories, flower arrangements and practically everything that can be handcrafted under the sun. Geez, we are a family of talents! :)

Sitting down, my auntie quickly assumes the position of a ladyboss and recommends the dishes to us. Several little dishes of spicy sambal belcan with fresh lime were placed in front of us. The heady fragrance has me salivating already and I almost want to take a spoonful of the pure chilli.

The arrival of the appetizer (Babi Chinchalok) has everyone eagerly picking up their chopsticks, but their enthusiasm was soon dashed as I stopped them in their tracks so I could take photos. I chuckled inside as I caught brief glances of everyone's hungry and slightly annoyed looks. All that shopping must have made them very hungry. The starter was very very good. Slivers of soft pork belly, shredded eschallots, crunchy veggies, crushed peanuts, chilli and sprigs of fresh corriander were tossed in an exciting tangy, sweet and salty sauce. The sourness helped whet the appetite and set the stage for the next few courses.

The kueh pie tee was the next to arrive. The flour cups were fried to a perfect crisp and stuffed with a juicy turnip concoction. Omg. Seriously one of the best kueh pie tees I've ever had.

Now on to the main courses. The Babi Sio arrived steaming hot in a claypot. The pork was very tender and sweet, and dished over fluffy white rice, this was very more-ish. I helped myself to a bit of fresh green chilli too and found that the sauce accentuated the natural piment-y flavour.

The stir-fried sotong in squid ink was also very tender and non-rubbery as squid sometimes can get. With everyone stuffing their faces, the table was actually quiet. Quite the extraordinary achievement for my family.

If fish head curry wasn't so laden with calories, I'll eat it everyday! I must have spooned 3 parts of the thick, aromatic liquid to every 1 part rice. It was so, so, so delicious. I dub this the Queen of Curries and myself, the very faithful servant.

You know how sometimes seafood can be fried so well that you just want to crunch through the whole animal, bones and all? This deep-fried pomfret was just that. Jas was even picking the head of the fish. And a pomfret has a very small head.

Oh this has gotta be one of the die-die-must-try dishes - jackfruit (nangka) curry! You wouldn't even know you're eating jackfruit! The jackfruit is slowly boiled over a low heat and soaks up all the amazing flavours from the spices. It is melt-in-your-mouth tender. I can't believe jackfruit can taste this good in curry!

Of course, if you know the owner of the restaurant, you can be expected to get some perks. Ours came in the form of stick-to-your-ribs-good beef rendang. The meat was soft and tore away easily. Ecstacy is me.

Just when I thought my tastebuds have already been spoilt silly, in comes dessert. We had da mai and pulu hitam, both drizzled with coconut cream, and soft tapioca balls rolled in steamed grated coconut. They were all delicious, but it was the tapioca that really blew me away. It was pillowy soft, light and complemented the sweet coconut shavings so well. A perfect ending to the meal!
Gotta try it to believe it! You won't be disappointed! :)

Good O'Times
Block 5 Changi Road
Singapore 500005
Tel: 6542 2382

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mooncakes and noodles!

To celebrate the union of two families, it is a long standing Chinese culture to send out gifts of sweet cake along with the wedding invitations. The cakes are normally stamped with a dragon/phoenix or with a 'double happiness' sign in red. So in observing the tradition, my sis and B.I.L. ordered Teochew mooncakes from Mui Lee, a bakery famous among the older generations.

The Teochew-style mooncakes differ from the normal mooncakes in the skin. A dark, dense and sweet filling made from beans is enveloped by leaf-thin, buttery layers in place of the softer, chewier skins. I don't want to be biased, but honestly, Teochew mooncakes kick ass. And this one takes the cake. The older generation really know their stuff - the filling was silky smooth and sinfully rich, the skin crisp, light and delightfully flaky. The oiliness in the paste only further amped the crunch factor at the base of the pastry.

Needless to say, all grand plans to shape up before the wedding flew out the window. I helped myself to 2-3 good-sized slices in the span of one day. And the fact that we have 3 more at home just doesn't help my cause. Ignoring the mooncake is just next to impossible.

One other thing that I've been amazed with since I was back was the quality of the hawker food centres. Many of them have been given facelifts with the hawker centres looking much more airy, smoke-free and and cleaner now. I mean come on, there are even ESCALATORS in the food centre!!! It was with a slight tinge of nostalgia that I reminisced about the older style hawker centres.

My first hawker dish of 2008: noodles with minced pork and liver. The flat mee pok noodles are my favourite since they easily pick up the chili sauce and the liver was soft and pliable. Very more-ish!

Hitting Prive tonight with the girls! Can't wait to see them!!! :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Eating Saga Begins!

Boy, does it feel good to be back home! I've been feeling increasingly disconnected over the past few years and I decided this could not continue. Thus it was with much aplomb and anticipation that I touched down on the wet runway yesterday night.

And guess what? It isn't unbearably hot here, not after what we have been experiencing in Sydney all summer. In fact, I thought the weather was cooler!

It is incredibly well-known that Singapore is a food paradise. On my arrival, I was whisked away to One Degree 15, a yacht club in Sentosa - where my sis' wedding is to be held - for a taste run of the banquet menu. What a great way to start off my holiday!

The menu doesn't sound half bad eh? And look at the wine-glass chandelier! How innovative is that?

Both my family and the groom's family were present for the tasting. Each dish was introduced to the table before it was portioned and served. Our job was basically to taste the food and fill in our comments. Oh I could do this for a living...

For Chinese banquet menus, the first dish is typically a cold dish and usually consists of a few different types of food. We were each served a portion of chilled prawn, marinated octupus, cold strands of jellyfish laced with a peanut sauce, crunchy spring rolls, coin-shaped grilled 'bak kwa' (Chinese-style grilled jerky) and sides of sliced cucumbers. The octupus, prawns and bak kwa were delicious, but the jellyfish could have done with more sauce. Perhaps living in Sydney also turned me off fried spring rolls - it was normal and pretty much impressionless.

The next dish was absolutely decadent - braised baby abalone in chicken stock. My animal-loving sis couldn't bear the thought of any sharks bobbing out there without their fins, so sharks fin was decidedly kept off the menu. Good on her and and excellent substitute it was. We were each generously given a whole baby abalone - the flesh was the perfect texture: soft, sweet and yielding. The stock it was braised in was warm and rich in chicken and abalone juices. This is the best soup I've ever tasted! I likee!

Sitting there in total bliss, our empty bowls were quietly removed and replaced with plates of Szechuan chicken. I enjoyed the satisfying crunch of the batter as it gave way to a moist and juicy interior. The sauce was a bit on the sweet and almost ketchupy side, but it was delicately accented with a floral note which I thought was rather pleasant. It's a no for the bridal couple though - it'll be replaced by another chicken dish. The yam ring was delicious but could also do with more sauce.

Another typical Teochew dish is steamed fish with salted veggies. It's definitely not as bland as it sounds. The sea bass was firm and sweet and had just the right amount of saltiness. Slurping good. The big juicy shitake mushrooms paired with broccoli was also really good, although everyone seemed to think it could be a little fancier and tastier (probably a good sprinkling of scallops on the top?) After all they ARE shelling out quite a fair amount and want their dues.

Dessert had to be the next best thing in the menu - walnut cream (creme de noix) with lotus seeds and glutinous rice balls. The table was filled with an approving silence as the warm, sweet, creamy concoction slid down their throats. I'm def leaving space for this!

*Burps* Happy is me! Just wished ma petite truffe could be here too to enjoy this!


Whee!!! Back home in Singapore! So begins the food fest!!! :D

Sunday, January 06, 2008


One of my strongest memories of Brittany is that of the food, and in particular, sables or 'sand cookies'. This Breton butter cookie has a crumbly texture akin to that of sand - hence the name - and hails from the region of Normandy.

The sables normally come in a tin box - I purchased one with prints on it mimicking the highly prized porcelain from Quimper. What really left an impression on me was that every person we visited had one of these at home, which tickled but endeared me to the people even more. The Breton sense of identity is very palpable; you can sense it in the architecture, traditional music, their no-holds-barred mannerisms and of course, the food.

Sables, galette bretons or petite buerres were the protocol whenever we popped by someone's place for tea. While everyone was busy catching up in French, I kept busy nibbling on these little golden rounds while trying to pick up certain bits of their conversation.

After all the cooking during the festivities, I found myself wanting to bake something simple. Being in Gloucester for the 2 days just made me miss the countryside so much and brought back memories of my holiday in Bretagne and of dear friends that I have made there. And almost like an after thought, these galette Bretons popped into mind.

So there I was in my kitchen, standing over the fresh batch of warm cookies in all my eagerness to pop one as soon as they were cool enough. One bite into the crumbly cookie brought back a flood of memories and a warm feeling of comfort :)

These cookies aren't very sweet, but that's the way I like it. Feel free to add more sugar if you like your cookies sweet!

Sables (French Butter Cookies)
For this recipe, I used milk in place of egg for the glaze. You can also add a citrus zest or extract or rosewater to the cookies if desired. I wanted mine plain so I stuck with the original recipe

10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (280 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tbsps of milk

In a bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat just until incorporated. Do not over mix the dough.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough a few times to bring it together, and then divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least an hour).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove one portion of the dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough until it is 1/4 inch (1 cm) thick. Using a lightly floured 2 inch (5 cm) round fluted cookie cutter, cut out the cookies, placing them on the prepared sheet. Place the baking sheet of cut out cookies in the refrigerator for about 15 -20 minutes to chill the dough. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and brush the tops with the milk. Then, with the tines of a fork, make a crisscross pattern on the top of each cookie. Bake cookies in the preheated oven for about 12-14 minutes (depending on size of cookie) or until golden brown around the edges.

Cool cookies on wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

adapted from Joy of Baking

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Barrington Tops White Water Kayaking

This is not a postcard pic. Imagine waking up to this view early in the morning...Breathtaking huh? Welcome to the Aussie countryside! :)

I must admit I've always thought the Aussie landscape was pretty much the same all round NSW - the usual dry vegetation dotted with bushlands and the same towns everywhere - but I was pleasantly surprised.

It was a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment kind of trip. Friends of ours decided to drive up to Mt Barrington to visit their friend who owns an adventure centre and has offered to take them whitewater kayaking. Since there were no urgent matters to take care of in uni, Truffe and I decided to extend our holiday just one more day and happily tagged along. Yep, such is the pleasure of doing research in uni! *chuckle*

Brian is the affable owner of Barrington Outdoor Adventure Centre and put us up in his lovely home which he - get this - built from scratch! His home also doubles up as budget accomodation for thrill-seekers and is fronted by scenic hills which you can take in leisurely on swinging chairs hanging on his verandah. I totally adored the high ceilings and the spacious, airy interior. The lodging was very comfy with bunk beds and clean linen provided, adequately canopied with mosquito nets draped over bamboo poles and a ceiling fan for a bit of ventilation on warmer nights. We had no need for it though since it was pleasantly cool.

It was all about taking it easy from the point of arrival, which suited us just fine since everyone was still recovering from the NYE parties. We kicked up our heels and lounged about the bar top near the open kitchen, chatting, sipping the aromatic coffee that Brian brewed for us and munching on peanut M&Ms. As Phil went out on the verandah to catch up with him, Vina and truffe decided to engage in some foozeball. Mon dieu, the french and their soccer. I remained at the bar top, browsing through adventure pamphlets advertising trekking trips to India and chatting with Naomi, Brian's partner, as she prepared dinner.

There were also these three mischievous little resident puppies that were irresistibly cute. Their proud and rather grouchy father, aka Ernie is a dingo/blue heeler cross and their mum a dingo/kelpie cross. Geez, I really miss having a dog. You should have seen the puppies jump in the water, half swimming half whining when we headed to the river for a dip later on. It was hilarious. Fuzzy friends aside, the river was a nice change from the usual beaches and there were no worries of jellyfishes or sharks or what not that you normally find in the sea. We swam upstream, then floated lazily back to the starting point. This is something I can get used to doing every week.

Dinner was served by candlelight on the verandah. We had worked up an appetite from swimming and ate and chatted as the sun slowly dipped beneath the hills. The meal was simple but gratifying - spaghetti bolognaise, salad and home made garlicky bread. Brian and Naomi retired early (they have early starts) as the rest of us washed up and lounged about for a quiet bit of guitar session and foozeball. (Yeah I'm an addict now too). I went out to soak up a bit of starlight. The sparkling stars seemed to surround you and stretched out way low on the horizon there. Tres beau.

I've been looking forward to the whitewater kayaking all day. After a hearty brekkie of bacon, eggs and toast as well as a good strong coffee, we suited up and hopped in the 4WD to begin the drive up to Barrington Tops. Well, sort of. Someone looks all set to go kayaking in style doncha think? lol. Too cute.

It was too bad I didn't have any pictures of the whitewater kayaking cos I had no waterproof casing! It was SO MUCH fun! The rapids were easy enough to tackle for beginners but were still challenging enough at the same time for you to go "holy craaaaapp!!" when the stream catches you and pushes you along. We tried 'surfing', ie you paddle upstream on a rapid and ride the wave as it crashes downstream. It isn't as easy as it sounds since it requires a fair amount of strength and constant manoevuering. I capsized twice and would have gone for a third time but didn't really feel like emptying out the boat one more time. Very exhilarating and fun though!

Under Brian's careful instruction and excellent guidance, we rode down the rapids, learnt to swerve into eddies and more importantly, to dodge tree branches. Yep. Dont do it right and you get a nice twack in your face. He went through the safety procedures rigorously from the start to the end which is really important in my opinion. This isn't exactly a risk-free sport and many people just ignore all the warnings in all that excitement. We broke for lunch midway at a nice quiet spot and finished off mid-afternoon. Headed back for more coffee and freshly baked date loaves. Where can you find service like this where your guides/hosts pamper you like this? :D It was with a bit of regret that we left after the delicious tea. Would have loved to stay one more day. Well, we'll be back though!

Other than the 1 day kayak tours, BOAC conducts mountain biking/kayak tours as well as overnight camping. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a brief respite from the city and a bit of adventure!

Barrington Outdoor Adventure Centre,
PO Box 20, Gloucester
NSW 2422, Australia