Thursday, December 31, 2009

Meeting Zurin

So I went a short hiatus. The first thing that caught my eye when I logged into my email was a message from Kenny, asking, "Haven't seen your new post for 10 million years, hope everything's fine. Happy Holidays!!!"

Awww, that's so schweeeet ... someone actually noticed ... LOL. Thanks, dear Kenny!

Well, if you have read Zurin's blog, you would know where I had disappeared to. And that we actually got to meet! Meeting her (just before I headed home) was literally the Cherry on a Cake. I left Kuala Lumpur on a high. :)

Bye bye, KL! We'll be baaaack!

I had planned a family trip to KL and emailed Zurin if she would like to meet? Yes, came her reply. But we didn't make concrete plans, given our uncertain schedules. So we decided to play it by ear and keep 28 December in mind, the only day suitable for the both of us. As promised, she texted me to confirm our meeting, but I didn't get the message, and so, the day passed with both of us thinking the other party couldn't make it.

The next morning, I decided to call and say a quick hello ... at least to hear Zurin's voice before leaving. :) And she picked up the call within 2 rings! I was so happy! It was an indescribable joy. :) After a quick chat, we both hastily arranged to meet before I left for Singapore - she would rush down to see me within the next 90mins.

At noon, I came down with my family in tow. I did a quick scan of the lobby and spotted a petite lady sitting daintily in a corner. I instantly knew it was Zurin. I smiled and she smiled back warmly, and we walked over to each other and hugged. I must have reeked of Tiger Balm, though! I slathered on the medicated rub to nurse an aching back - the result of a pulled muscle while juggling the baby and shopping bags. Sorry, Zurin! ;P

The first thing that strikes you about Zurin are her amazing liquid brown eyes. They are big, beautiful, kind, soulful eyes ... in a soft hue of chestnut. And then you notice the classy bob that frames her delicate face. When she rose from her seat, the word "French" came to mind. Like the refined French ladies who are always well-coiffed and immaculate, she was a picture of elegance. Très chic!

And we talked. Oh yes, we talked! No icebreaker needed - we chatted like we'd known each other for ages. It was strange and surreal - the ease at which we connected, but chemistry works in mysterious ways, no?

Zurin also gave me a lovely gift - 2 sets of exquisitely embroidered linen coasters, which she had hurriedly bought just before coming to meet me. What a sweet gesture from a sweet lady! I will surely treasure them. Thank you so very much!

These designs came in a pack of 6 each. Aren't they pretty?

I would have loved to continue chatting as the world went by, but my family was waiting and I had to go. And Zurin, ever so thoughtful, did not want to impose. So we embraced and bade each other farewell, with the hopeful promise that we'd meet again soon. And I have a feeling we will. In the car ride home, my daughter asked if we could come back again. What do you think was my reply? ;)

Thank you, Zurin, for your time and wonderful company. It's my pleasure and privilege to be your friend, and I can't wait till the next time we meet again!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lime Meltaways

It's hard not to bake some cookies when all my blogger friends have been churning out so many exquisite ones for Christmas. If I got a penny for every pretty cookie I saw, I would have raked in a tidy sum by now.

So, go with the flow I did - "I shall bake some myself too!" But what? There were choices galore, and the more I looked, the more confused I got. One thing was certain - I didn't want to bake cookies that looked pretty but wouldn't enjoy eating. Like Gingerbread. Or Linzer. Or Sugar Cookies. I don't dislike them, but I'm not crazy about them either.

I only like 2 types of cookies - Crunchy or Melt-in-your-mouth. Nothing chewy. Ideally it should be chocolaty or citrusy. Depending on the type of cookie, some addition of nuts like almonds or macademias would be nice, but not pecans or walnuts. I know ... if I had to classify my relationship with cookies, it would read: "It's Complicated."

And then by chance, I saw these Lime Meltaways at the parsley thief. Lime Meltaways! It was love at first sight and I knew instantly, that would be the one. I love anything melty, buttery and citrusy.

I cut them thicker than the recipe called for, and my cookies had a slightly crisp underside and a delicate golden top that crumbled at the gentlest nibble. Don't they look twee?

I discovered it was adapted from Martha Stewart, and off I went to her website for the original recipe. So there, I have my Christmas cookies! :) It was my first time making these and it certainly won't be my last.

Wishing everyone who's reading, "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"

Very fast to prepare - not impossible to get the dough done in 15mins, if you're fast.

(from Martha Stewart)
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- Grated zest of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt

The dough for these icebox cookies keep for about 2 months when frozen. Perfect when you have to produce something more sophisticated than regular chocolate chip cookies or indeed, for moments when you just need instant gratification.

Just take the chilled, hardened dough out of the fridge and slice into your desired thickness. And bake!

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream butter and 1/3 cup sugar until fluffy. Add lime zest, juice, and vanilla; beat until fluffy.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add to butter mixture, and beat on low speed until combined.

3. Between two 8-by-12-inch pieces of parchment paper, roll dough into two 1 1/4-inch-diameter (~3cm) logs. Chill at least 1 hour.

4. Heat oven to 350 degrees F (~190 degree celsius). Line two baking sheets with parchment. Place remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a resealable plastic bag. Remove parchment from logs; slice dough into 1/8-inch-thick (~3mm) rounds. Place rounds on baking sheets, spaced 1 inch apart.

5. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. While still warm, place cookies in the sugar-filled bag; toss to coat. Bake or freeze remaining dough. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Notes from The Little Teochew:
- I rolled them into a log size of about 4cm in diameter (as opposed to 3cm as stated in the recipe).

- I felt the ideal thickness (for me) was about 8mm thick (as opposed to 3mm thick as stated in the recipe). Had I cut them into 3mm slices, they would have burnt to a blackened crisp in the 15 mins of bake time!

- I baked at 160 degree celsius for 15mins (instead of 190 degree celsius, as stated in the recipe).

- I did not place the cookies into a bag of icing sugar. I dusted the sugar over them, after they had cooled on the rack. These cookies are too fragile to be tossed in a bag! Handle with care!

Bake till they turn into a pale, delicate shade of gold. Leave them to cool for a while, and then give a generous dusting of icing sugar. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sambal Kang Kong

Is it me or do you also find that stirfried leafy greens are just so hard to photograph? They are always a mangled mess, flopped onto a plate/bowl and lacking the "wow" factor visually? Right after I dished this fiery Sambal Kang Kong out of the wok and into the bowl, I literally drew a deep breath before I started snapping pics. I'd never been able to get satisfactory shots of leafy greens (so many veggie dishes gone unblogged!) and I kept my fingers crossed that I would at least get some decent ones this time.

Here they are. Nothing spectacular, but at least they are blog-worthy. Trust me, they taste a lot better than they look. And even more delicious (with steaming hot rice) on a cold, rainy day.

I bought 2 large bunches of kang kong for the "princely" sum of $1 ... imagine that!

While I pound most of the dried shrimps, I like to leave some whole, for crunch.

- 2 huge bunches of kang kong (I think it was about 1kg)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cloves shallots, sliced
- 1 handful dried shrimps (soaked briefly, and don't discard the water)
- 2 heaped tbsp sambal (homemade or storebought)
- 4 tbsp oil *
- 1 tbsp sugar *
* Note: I have been taught time and time again by seasoned cooks, that oil and sugar are must-have ingredients for kang kong. I've always abided by that advice.

Pound these up roughly:
- 1 to 2 red chillies (don't deseed if you like it spicy)
- 1 thumb sized piece of belacan, toasted lightly

1. In a wok, heat oil. Add shallots and fry till they have turned translucent. Add dried shrimps and continue frying till fragrant. Add garlic and fry briefly.

2. Add in the sambal and pounded chillies + belacan. Fry briefly as you mix everything up.

3. Throw in the kang kong and mix them well with the paste. Add sugar. The leaves will wilt as you cook. Add the soaking water (for the dried shrimps) that you have kept aside, if it's too dry.

4. Add some salt to taste. Keep stirring and frying until kang kong is cooked. Don't overcook, though. They should still be green and crunchy despite the wilted appearance. Serve immediately.

I would not eat kang kong cooked any other way. The spicier the better.

To make up for the blah kang kong photos, here are some pics of my children, having fun at Changi Airport's Terminal 3. They are a lot enjoyable to photograph than stirfried leafy greens, that's for sure!

I had to go to the airport to meet someone, and brought my "little crowd" along. When my kids saw this huge bouncy castle, they went wild. It turned out to be such an enjoyable afternoon for them.

All good things come to those who queue.

They went down the slide in all ways possible. Like this.

Like this and like this.

Bounce, bounce, bounce.

And then it "snowed".

After all that non-stop bouncing (2 rounds totaling 30mins), they still had the energy leftover for sprinting.

This huge Christmas bauble opened up as we were approaching. I think it only opens up at regular intervals. We were lucky.

It played Christmas carols for a while, before it closed back up again.

The airport terminal was prettily gift-wrapped. I still prefer T2 to T3, though.

My littlest showing off his climbing prowess.

And then they marched in single file ... time to go home.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spicy Tamarind Potatoes

I love potato dishes. Any kind. They are versatile and comforting, and they rank as one of the must-have food items I cannot live without. The others are eggs, rice, sambal and tea. What are yours? :)

So far, I have shared the following potato dishes:

- Begedils (Potato Patties)
- Panfried Rosemary Potatoes
- Cheese, Onion & Potato Pie
- Potato and Cheese Frittata
- Garlicky Oven Wedges

Today, I'm adding one more to the list, and I am quite certain you will love it as much as I do.

Spicy Tamarind Potatoes! Seriously addictive and extremely delish. I usually pair them with a veggie dish whenever I crave a light, meatless meal.

They may look unexciting, but these are potato cubes perfumed by the mingled flavours of shallots, garlic and chilli till they are crisp on the edges. And just before serving, doused with a cocktail of tamarind water, palm sugar and kecap manis. Spicy, sweet, tangy. Sounds good already? ;) (Read on for the recipe if you don't have some of these ingredients).

Oh, come to think of it, if you like the tamarind gravy I shared in Son-in-law Eggs, you will like this. You reading this, Dave? ;)

(ermm ... improvised after watching, talking and learning from so many people)
- 4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized cubes
- 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cloves shallots, sliced thinly
- 1 chilli, de-seeded (if you like it spicy, don't de-seed)

For the sauce (mix all these up)
- 1 tbsp tamarind pulp (aka Assam), mixed with 3tbsp water
* Strain the mixture to remove the seeds. If you don't have tamarind pulp, use 2tbsp lemon or lime juice.

- 2 tbsp kecap manis (aka Indonesian soy sauce)
* You can substitute with thick, dark soy.

- 1 knob palm sugar (aka gula melaka or jaggery)
* You can substitute this with 1 tbsp regular sugar if you don't have this.

The idea is to concoct a sauce that is sweet and tangy. Do note that this dish has very little sauce - just enough to coat the potato cubes. Taste test as you go. If you like it sweeter, add more sugar. If you like it more tangy, add more tamarind (lemon juice). Common sense, yeah?

1. In a skillet, panfry potato cubes in oil till they are half cooked.

2. Add in garlic, shallots and chilli and continue frying till the shallots have softened and the potato cubes have crisp edges. Make sure your flame is not too big.

3. Just before dishing them out, pour in the tamarind mixture and stirfry to coat all the potato cubes evenly. Allow the gravy to bubble and thicken slightly. Taste test - you may like to add some salt. Sprinkle finely chopped spring onions (the green part) for some colour, if you like.

4. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Castella Cake (Kasutera Cake)

Of all the cakes in the world, there are 2 that I have always been intrigued with. Both are wildly popular in Japan, and ironically have European origins. One is the Mont Blanc, the other the Castella.

Some months ago, the flogosphere was flooded with Castella Cakes. Every corner I turned, I would be confronted with a Castella, and before I knew it, I was helplessly sucked into the Castella craze. I was so enamoured by this Nagasaki honey cake that I read as much as I could before attempting to bake it.

There are many photos of Castella cakes online, but the one photo which stood out for me was this, taken from Wikipedia:

So fine-textured it looks almost like velvet. Kudos to the photographer for this great shot.

The moment I saw this photo, I lusted after the Castella like I would for a Gucci bag. These days though, I get more excited over groceries than Gucci. A sure sign of aging. But I digress. The photos you see below are from my fifth attempt at baking this cake. The previous 4 times, something would invariably go wrong. Either I ended up with a cake which was too dense, or had too many air bubbles, or which collapsed when cooled, or worse, was a combination of everything.

The bottomline was, there would be no cake to show and blog about. Taste-wise, it was lovely, but I just couldn't bear to show the hideous photos of them. It would not do justice to this elegant cake.

Then I read Ellie's post about how she finally got her Candy Cane Macarons perfect on the fourth attempt, and it really struck a chord with me. I thought, I should just give the Castella one more try. And this time, the Castella fairies were with me in the kitchen. I finally produced a cake close enough to the Wikipedia photo. Thanks, Ellie! :)

Like all things Japanese, the Castella cake is understated but oh-so-refined.

Make sure you use a very sharp knife to get these strong, bold lines. I just adore the minimalist, "zen" nature of this cake.

If you are attempting to bake this cake, I would highly recommend the recipe from Just Hungry (which I used). It is by far the most authentic version I have come across. It is also very detailed, so please do read through carefully several times before you begin. One thing I can't stress enough is this: to get those micro crumbs, you have to beat your eggs on low speed for a prolonged period of time. Low speed = smaller air bubbles. If you beat them on high, you will get a thick batter more quickly, but the down side is, the air bubbles will be bigger, and you won't get that "poreless", velvety look. Some things just come with patience and diligence, I suppose.

Micro crumbs!

"What invisible pores you have, my dear!"

Now, if you have never successfully baked a simple butter or sponge cake, I would not recommend that you try this. The Castella cake is not your usual sponge cake. First of all, the recipe calls for bread flour (see here and here), which contributes to its slightly bouncy, gelatinous bite.

Second, there are steps specific only to making this cake, like beating the eggs and sugar over a steam bath, and then wrapping the baked cake in a plastic bag overnight. Doesn't sound like your regular sponge, does it?

My only diversion from the recipe was to skip the wrapping of the cake. Instead, after it had cooled on a wire rack, I put the entire thing back into the oven and left it to cool further overnight.

The next day, it dried out a little as expected. To get it moist and soft again, I did what my parents used to do whenever we had old bread - steam them. It always worked like magic :) (Aside, I remember reading about a coffeeshop in Singapore which still serves steamed bread to go with your kopi-O. Certainly very old-school and traditional).

I cut my cake into slices and steamed them lightly for about 3 minutes, and I got soft, moist, warm Castella cake to enjoy. Oishii!

Final notes:
1. Recipe from Just Hungry. Ms Maki put in so much effort penning the recipe and method, I think it would be very wrong of me to just cut-and-paste her recipe here. Do take a look at her amazing, wonderful blog for the Castella cake (and more).

2. Watch this very fascinating video of how Castella is made by hand in Japan (scroll to the video and click on play). I hope you enjoy watching it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Nasi Lemak Sambal Chilli - Encore!

Remember the famous Nasi Lemak Sambal Chilli recipe I posted not too long ago? I am officially addicted to it. Besides using it as dip for fried chicken and fish, I have also been adding it to some dishes. Like these:

Sambal tempeh

This fiery dish is perfect for the cool, rainy weather we've been enjoying. Even better, there is only 1 skillet to wash up! Yay!

- 1 tempeh, cut into small pieces
- 1 tbsp (or more) sambal (homemade or storebought)
- A few stalks of french beans, sliced
- A handful of cashew nuts
- Some water or chicken stock (on standby)
- 1 clove garlic, minced

1. In a skillet, heat up some oil. Add garlic and fry briefly. Toss in french beans and fry till almost cooked. Add some water or chicken stock if too dry.

2. Add tempeh and continue frying. Again, add some water or chicken stock if it's too dry.

3. Throw in cashew nuts just before turning of the flame. Mix and toss briefly. Add salt if desired, and you are ready to serve.

Another dish I made was Sambal Ikan Bilis (dried anchovies), which was all I needed to go with my Nasi Lemak (coconut rice). Yummy!

Nasi Lemak in its simplest form. Of course you can add on your fried chicken, fried fish, eggs and otak-otak.

Whoever first thought of cooking rice with coconut milk is a genius. This was breakfast ... and it was worth waking up for! :)

(for Sambal Ikan Bilis)
1. Fry some ikan bilis (dried anchovies) till crispy.

2. Add some sambal chilli and toss well before turning off the flame.

(for coconut rice, from Lee Wee & Brothers)
Serves 5
- 370g rice, rinsed
- 625ml water
- 10 tsp thick coconut milk (the creamy layer)
- 3g salt (just a pinch)
- 4g ginger, sliced
- 3 pandan leaves, knotted

1. Put rice, water, coconut milk, salt, ginger and pandan leaves in an electric rice cooker. Mix well, cover and cook.

2. When rice is done, stir it gently with a pair of chopsticks to fluff it up.

* Note that I have not used the above recipe. When I cook coconut rice, I don't use ginger. And I tend to be very generous with my coconut milk (or cream, as I sometimes also use). However, since this recipe comes from a famous name in Nasi Lemak, I thought I'd share the original here with everyone.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Banana Crumb Muffins

When these delicious Banana Crumb Muffins came out of my oven, I was in half a mind to just eat them and forget about taking photos. First, I thought the streusal was not the pretty golden colour it should be (I used dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar).

Second, it was almost dinner time and I hadn't even started cooking yet. To shoot or not to shoot, that was the question. Yet something inside told me that I should just take a few shots - quickly, before the sun set - and I'm glad I acted on my instincts. They were fabulous!

I found this recipe on All Recipes quite by accident, and when I saw the stellar rating it received, I was sold immediately.

The muffins were an explosion of banana and cinnamon in every bite. The topping really makes all the difference.

Crisp exterior, fluffy interior. Perfect!

(adapted from here)
Makes 10 muffins

- 190g all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 bananas, mashed
- 150g white sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 75g butter, melted (which you can replace with vegetable oil, if you prefer)

For the crumb topping
- 75g packed brown sugar
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp butter

1. Preheat oven to 190 degree celsius. Lightly grease 10 muffin cups, or line with muffin papers.

2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.

3. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour and cinnamon. Cut in 1 tbsp butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

The best part of the muffin - the crumbs!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

SK-II Tea Party 2009

I spent last evening learning about the wonders of yeast. Not how it makes our breads rise, but how it benefits our skin. This special yeast even has its own name and branding: Pitera™.

Welcome to the world of SK-II, "often considered one of the most expensive beauty brands in the world", according to Wikipedia. Gulp.

Check out the price tag ... $416 for the price of beauty.

Now, if you know me, my skincare routine involves cleansing-and-moisturing-if-I-can-remember. So, when I got the invite to attend this SK-II Tea Party, my curiosity for chi chi skincare was piqued and of course I said yes. Besides, there was promise of food. Mmmmm ...

I was not disappointed. Pastries as far as the eye can see ... OK, I jest.

These were nice! Especially the green ones. I thought they were matcha-flavoured, but they turned out to be pandan. Yum.

Just so you know, I put my best face forward. Hey, I was representing food bloggers! Heavy responsibility, people. I have to show 'em that we look as good as our food. LOL.

With my sweet Beauty Consultant, Jia Yi. She used a handheld whatchamacallit scanner and took photo samples from all parts of my face, including a keratin swab from under my chin.

Tadah - the results! Smoother skin than the average person! Thank you, fish oil!

Almost invisible pores! Wooo ... thank you, dad & mum, for passing on your good genes.

Those weren't all. She tested me for sebum level, elasticity, colouration, moisture and some others I can't remember now. It was quite ghastly seeing your own skin magnified on the computer screen. LOL.

40 days - that's how long this bottle should last ... if I can muster up the discipline for that long.

There were only 7 of us at this party, so it was a cosy gathering. I got to meet some really nice ladies, like Arissa & Dawn and Esther. I have to thank Arissa for being so sweet and offering to take photos for me when I had my skin analysis done. Thanks, girl!

After all of us had our skin analysed, we sat through a short talk by SK-II Trainer, Ms Cindy Cheong.

Here are Cindy (right) and Mandy (left) from SK-II.

The rest of the Beauty Consultants watched along with us.

At one point, I volunteered my hands.

(Bottom left) Shoes a food blogger would wear. (Bottom right and top right) Shoes fashion bloggers would wear.

Before we left, every one of us received a lil bag of SK-II goodies. I'll be trying them out for sure, and if I manage to transform into Japanese beauty, Koyuki ... I might just post a big photo of my face here. Hur hur hur.

But till then, it's back to my real everyday beauty regiment: Eat well, Live well, Laugh a lot. Of course, a little help from miracle water is not going to hurt either. We'll see ...

If you want to know more about SK-II and the seasonal gift sets they have available, click on the ad on the top right of my blog. Thank you, SK-II, for an enjoyable, girly evening. And thanks to Nuffnang too, for helping arrange everything.

- - - - -

And now, some Orchard Road photos for my overseas friends and readers, taken on my way home. Don't worry, I only took them when I stopped for the red light. No dangerous driving, I promise.

The Christmas light-up. And very busy streets. Loads of shoppers!

"Glitzy Christmas by the Bay". Hmmm ... Christmas in Singapore is ALWAYS a glitzy affair.

The Christmas tree at Raffles City.

Lights hanging from the real trees that line the streets.

Last photo before I hit the highway ...

Hope you like the photos. Come visit Singapore!