Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Girl Turns 11

My daughter turns 11 today. Not too long ago, she was this screaming, chubby, kissable, new baby I got to cradle after a 16-hour labour. And I was this clueless, idealistic, fat, new mother who just wanted wanted sleep. As cliched as it may sound, in a blink of an eye, she has all grown up.

Sigh ... Tweens. The new Teens. You have to handle them with care and caution. You have to flit between being Mother and BFF. You have to stay updated with what's current, and that means watching NigaHiga and Community Channel together with her. And explaining all the vulgar language and sexual innuendos in them. Because if you don't, she's going to hear the wrong version from her schoolmates. Or worse, repeat them because she didn't know better.

You have to add her as Friend on Facebook, and set up a Pet Society account against your will, so that she can use your Pet to get more stuff for her Pet. And then, you have to feed those Petlings for her, with your Coins.

You get familiar with angsty numbers by Avril Lavigne and emo ones by Miley Cyrus, because she blasts them on Youtube the moment her computer privileges come into effect on weekends.

But such is life in the new millenium. In the digital age, children grow up so quickly. It's not necessarily a bad thing ... but it sure is challenging.

You just have to grow with them.

Which brings me to my greatest fear - the Generation Gap. Heaven forbid, I don't want to be a mother who doesn't geddit. I want my children to feel comfortable telling me stuff. And that means being part of their world from Day 1 because bonds are not forged overnight.

By a stroke of luck, I managed to get my parenting skills checked two days ago, at the baking supplies store. My girl and I were bantering away as we walked around, and when I looked up, the store manager and I made eye contact.

"I am guessing she is not your daughter," he said confidently, with a smile.

"What makes you say that?" I countered.

"Well, you don't talk like a mother would to a child. I heard the both of you talking. You're giving her a lot of options, and you're constantly asking her what she thinks. Parents don't talk to their children like that. At least, I don't. My son has to do what I say," he explained.

I laughed ... a little too hard perhaps, but only because I felt terribly relieved.

"Oh, believe me. She IS my daughter!" I replied. "And you have no idea how happy you've just made me!"

With that random encounter as a small confidence booster, I continue on my parenting journey ... this time with some assurance that perhaps, I have been walking along the right path, after all. Well, we'll see. When I'm 60 and if she still wants to hang out with me, I know I must have done something right along the way. ;)

To my daughter, my first born:
Wishing you a happy, blessed birthday!
May you have wisdom.
May you have health.
May you be all the things you aspire to be, and more.
Above all, may you always be happy.


How did we celebrate? Stay tuned ...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chicken Wine

At the worst of the dry, hot spell, it was this bad:


Parched to a crisp.


The little grass patch next to my car was completely devoid of grass.

Each day that I picked my kids up from school in the sweltering afternoons, I would feel so sorry for some of the children who had to trudge to the bus-stops or back home, bent over with their heavy school bags and getting scorched by the merciless sun. The heat was unbearable.

Then, everybody's rain dance must have worked, because the rain FINALLY came.


After just one day of rain, patches of green started appearing the next morning.



But as they say, when it rains, it pours. And it continued raining till mushrooms appeared, as they always do after a few days of wet weather. Now, if only they were edible.

Cold, wet nights means warming food. And that, for me, is Chicken Wine, which you can get the recipe from here.

I'm keeping this post short. Too busy ... too many things on my mind, and I'm exhausted.


The ingredients that go with the chicken, sesame oil and alcohol.


Steaming up my camera.


Allowing the steam to dissipate ...


Lots of shredded old ginger to give the dish some kick!


One and a half cups of cognac went into this, and it was divine. Needless to say, I was radiating heat after dinner. New moms and people who are convalescing after an illness will benefit from the warming properties of this dish. I made my daughter take some too, as she is always feeling cold, even in warm weather.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kaya


Homemade kaya.

Recently, I bought a bottle of kaya from my regular kaya toast chain. Boy, was I in for a rude shock. Not only was the price upped, the kaya was also thinned out and watered down. I was so disappointed.

That was when I decided enough was enough, and made up my mind to make my kaya.

But first, I had to get past my phobia resulting from a bad experience 10 years ago. I was feeling adventurous one morning, and attempted to make my own kaya. The heavens must have rumbled (with laughter) because at that time, I was at the "instant noodles + fried egg" stage of my culinary journey.

Needless to say, it was a backbreaking session of slaving over the stove, and which yielded a miserable pot of curdled, lumpy coconut mush. Truly, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

That was when I decided enough was enough, and made up my mind to buy my kaya.


Fastforward to today, and I have come full circle. I think the one thing which put me off trying again was the fact that it involved a lot of time spent in front of the stove, stirring and stirring. This time though, I pulled out my crockpot, like so many others have. Just google "crockpot kaya" and you'll see all their fine examples.

The crockpot is your best friend when making kaya because it minimises the amount of stirring. It's brilliant, really. Gosh, where have I been all these while? Oh, I know! Spending good money on buying kaya when I could have easily made my own. Sob. Well, better late than never.

Presenting ... Kaya - The Painless Way.

Recipe
- 400ml thick coconut cream (I used Kara brand, one small packet is 200ml)
- 150ml fresh coconut cream, which I squeezed out from one coconut (you can use all packet cream if you don't want to trouble yourself)
- 10 eggs, lightly beaten
- 450g regular fine sugar
- 10 pandan leaves, washed and tied into a knot

Yields about 900g of kaya. Halve the recipe for a smaller family, although you have to adjust your cooking time. Half is definitely not enough for me!

1. Mix coconut cream, sugar and eggs well. Try and dissolve as much of the sugar as possible, otherwise it will sink to the bottom and turn brown during cooking. Pour everything into a crockpot. Add in the pandan leaves. Set it to high and stir once when it starts to heat up. The first time I made this, I did not stir at all, and the kaya at the bottom turned slightly brown. It did not affect the colour or taste, though. But to be safe, just stir once or twice when it starts to bubble.

2. After 2 to 2.5 hours, you will get a lumpy looking custard. Remove the pandan leaves.


Eeeeewwwww! Lumpy, messy and watery. But this is normal.

3. I have seen quite a number of bloggers use handheld blenders to smoothen out all the lumps. But I don't own one, so I used a wire sieve. Make sure you sterilise all your utensils beforehand.


Scoop spoonfuls of kaya into the wire sieve and press over a clean bowl, like pureeing baby food. Don't discard the water the accumulates during cooking. Instead, incorporate it with the lumpy kaya when you sieve. It makes the kaya smooth and spreadable. Scrape the kaya from the underside of the sieve and into the bowl.

4. Store the kaya in a sterilised bottle, but allow it to cool before putting on the cap and refrigerating.

There you have it. Kaya that is colouring-free, preservative-free, chemical-free and pain-free. And the best part? It's so, so good!

In fact, I have already made it twice in a row. Here are some additional notes ... you decide which you prefer.


First attempt: I used 100% packet coconut cream. The consistency was thick and creamy.


Second attempt: I used 400ml packet coconut cream + 150ml freshly squeezed coconut cream. The consistency was slightly thinner. I might try 100% fresh coconut cream next round. Stay tuned for the results! I'm still experimenting.


Bottled and ready to be given to some nice neighbours. They are small bottles, by the way. I'm not that generous. I still kept the lion's share for myself.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Southbridge Jazz @ 7atenine



Yesterday, I did something I haven't done in eons. I went on a girls night out and boy, did I have a blast!

Little black dress? Check.

Heels? Check.

Hair and make-up? Check.

Now we're ready to rock!


(Left) Ironically, the first thing that greeted us was rock music coming from the Mosaic Music Festival at the Esplanade. It was deafening, as rock music always is.
(Right) What was I doing? I think I was admiring my heels. ;)



(Above) First, dinner at 7atenine.
(Below) After that, drinks and good music at Southbridge Jazz.


In case you haven't heard, in January this year, Jazz @ Southbridge got married to 7atenine, and together, they are now known as Southbridge Jazz @ 7atenine. It is a collaboration most brilliant, if you ask me. Food and entertainment under one roof.


Every Thursday is Ladies' Night. Sweet!

Each of us girls was given a coupon which we could redeem for a complimentary glass of wine. Ladies' Night rules.


My paparazzi photos. ;) I was perusing the menu when Danielle, our host, came over to say hello.



To kick off the evening, some drinks. I have heard so many rave reviews about the mojitos here, and upon trying their Litchi Mojito, I can understand why. It was nicely chilled and refreshingly good! Lychee does it for me, everytime. :) My girly companions who have tried other versions of mojitos gave this one their thumbs up.


We also sampled other cocktails, like the Chilli Zing in the foreground and the Fusion Caipiroshka in the middle. Right at the back is the Litchi Mojito.


Deepfried homemade calamari rings with tomato concasse.

First to arrive was the calamari rings, which came spectacularly presented. Just look at that! Not your usual calamari in a basket, for sure. Fortunately, it tasted as good as it looked. The calamari was well-breaded and absolutely moreish.

Now, the unfortunate bit. With the extremely dim lighting, there was only so much my little camera could do. :( So rather than show you grainy photos of each dish, I made a collage using smaller images of the mains we shared.


(Top left) Prawn Malabari: King prawns cooked with spices and onion gravy, served with rice or bread of the day, vegetable masala, papadam and raita or salad.
(Top right) KL-style Hokkien Mee: Fried thick yellow noodles with sliced chicken, prawns and vegetables in a dark sauce, topped with crispy pork lard.
(Bottom left) 52°C salmon. Low temperature cooked fillet of salmon over steamed seasonal vegetables and ponzu reduction.
(Bottom right) Mutton Varuval: Boneless mutton cooked with chilli and spices, served with rice or bread of the day, vegetable masala, papadam and raita or salad.


We enjoyed all the dishes, some a little more than others. But notable mention goes to the curries. They were nothing short of excellent. For someone who can smell mutton a mile away, I could not detect any gamey odour in the Mutton Varuval. Each bite was melt-in-the-mouth tender and bursting with the delightful flavours of herbs and spices. My compliments to Chef Mus, who hails from Morocco. For the first time in my life, I ate mutton without gagging. I think that speaks volumes.



While waiting for the jazz band to warm up, we took our seats and unglamorously munched on churros. Piping hot and generously sugared, with a bowl of molten hazelnut chocolate for dipping. OMG.



Ms Alemay Fernandez in da house! Together with WeiXiang on the piano, Christy Smith on double bass and Eddie Layman on drums, they had us toe tappin' and finger snappin' to the snazzy numbers. You just can't help it ... jazz is so infectious. Fly me to the moon, now. Here we go ...

Southbridge Jazz @ 7atenine
8 Raffles Avenue
#01-10/12 The Esplanade Mall
Singapore 039802
T: 6338 0789
F: 6334 0789
More details on Southbridge Jazz @ 7atenine can be found at their website and Facebook
.

Many thanks to Southbridge Jazz @ 7atenine for hosting us, and to Danielle of Ate Consulting for facilitating this. My girlies and I had a wonderful time and would have loved to stay on if not for my "curfew". Sigh.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nam Yee (Red Fermented Beancurd) Chicken Wings

My good friend, SY, came over for dinner some time ago. It was a terribly last minute arrangement. We spoke on the phone just before she knocked off from work, and decided there and then that she would come over for a quick meal. Being the easy-going person she is, she said "anything simple" would do.

Right-O.

I rummaged through my refrigerator and found:
1. Two brinjals, which I used to cook Terong Balado.

2. Half a cabbage, which I stirfried with dried shrimps, garlic and chilli.

3. A packet of frozen chicken wings that I had already marinated and kept frozen.

4. And rice, of course.



At dinner, SY commented that the wings were very flavourful and asked what I used to marinate them. Her jaw dropped when I told her that there was only one ingredient, and it was Nam Yee (腐乳). For those who have no idea what Nam Yee is, you can read about it here and here. It is sometimes referred to as "Chinese cheese" or "soybean cheese", and is sold as little cubes in jars.

Fu-Chung seems to be the most widely available brand, easily found in supermarkets and asian stores. However, I have never tried it. My mother-in-law always gets Nam Yee for me from Chinatown, which are dished out from a huge vat. She insists that the Nam Yee are of a superior quality. I'll take her word for it.

Anyway, I wanted to share this chicken wing recipe, which is hardly a recipe. Whenever I buy chicken wings, I will separate them into packets of ten, and marinate them with just Nam Yee - two cubes* are sufficient for ten wings.
* Nam Yee comes with a soaking liquid. Don't discard that liquid. Use it together with the cubes.

I would then freeze them for later use. They come in handy when you have unexpected guests or when you just want to get food out of the way on busy weekdays (I am sure many mommies know what I am talking about). I like to fry them in a non-stick skillet, and you actually don't need a lot of oil this way. You can try baking them too, although sadly, I have never had luck with baked wings.

The wings taste best when they have been marinated at least for 24 hours. Here are two no-frills combinations I cooked recently with Nam Yee wings.


Fried rice with bean sprouts and french beans, topped with crispy shallots.


Throw in some Nam Yee drumlets for a complete meal. Where are my chopsticks?


There they are. Tuck in! My boys love this combo.


Here's a Cauliflower and Potato Gratin that I baked. Lotsa cream and mozza, and topped with parmesan and panko.


Gratin and wings. My daughter's weekday lunch.

Obviously, the possibilities are endless. Nam Yee imparts a very rich, savoury flavour to dishes ... like what cheese does to pasta sauces. Try using it for cooking veggies too. I frequently use Nam Yee to fry cabbage and glass vermicelli for my husband. It's a fast and easy dish that's suitable for vegetarians.

So, get creative, folks! :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Banana Breakfast Muffins

This morning, I woke up to find five bananas lying dead and blackened on my kitchen floor. They must have fallen off from the bunch the night before. Without hesitation, I got the ingredients out to make muffins. My 4-year old son, who was with me, gave his take on the situation.

"The bananas all black black ... spoil already. Must throw away."

I had to educate him otherwise. In fact, I told him, they are sweeter when they are all "black black". :)



I went back to the same recipe I had used here, sans the crumb topping. The recipe called for three bananas, but I used all five, so you can imagine how banana-laden my muffins were. They tasted divine, especially fresh out of the oven.



On a separate note, the week-long school break started today, and I'll be having three kids in the house 24/7. Oh, the chaos and noise! No prizes for guessing why this post is so short. Sigh ... school is the best child-minding service ever created. I'll let ya'll know if my sanity is still intact at the end of the week. Hah.

Wishing everyone a restful weekend!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Green Beans With A Sesame Dressing

When I saw this wonderful dish at the yummilicious 3 Hungry Tummies, my eyes literally lit up. I adore sesame seeds in cooking and baking, and upon seeing that it was a Harumi Karihara recipe, I knew it was a must-do. Remember her Carrot and Tuna Salad which I made? It was such a joy to eat!



Out of curiosity, I googled for the original recipe, and discovered that there are actually two versions of the same dish, from two different Harumi cookbooks! One is from her Japanese Cooking, the other is from her Everyday Harumi, which I am sharing below.

Here's what Harumi herself had to say about this dish:

Green Beans with a Sesame Dressing
From the book Everyday Harumi by Harumi Karihara

I love using both white and black sesame seeds in my recipes. They add texture, aroma, flavor, and color. I use a lot of sesame when cooking, and preparing vegetables with a sesame dressing is very common in Japan. I always prepare the dressing in advance and keep some in the refrigerator ready for use. Sesame seeds should always be toasted before use, taking care not to burn them. It gives them an extra-special flavor and makes them easier to make into a paste. If you cannot find sesame seeds or paste, you can use peanut butter or tahini as a substitute. Please experiment with this dressing — try combining it with other ingredients such as rice vinegar, miso paste, or dashi stock to make new sauces and dressings.

- 2 cups green beans
- 1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp superfine sugar
- 1/2 tbsp mirin
- 1/2 to 1 tbsp soy sauce
- Salt, to season

1. Prepare the green beans: Lightly cook the beans in a pan of boiling water with a little salt, then drain and rinse under cold running water and pat dry.


Arrange on a serving plate after the beans have cooked.

2. Make the sesame dressing: Put the sesame seeds into a mortar, preferably a Japanese mortar with a grooved interior. Grind the seeds until they are almost a paste, then add the sugar, mirin, and soy sauce and mix well. Add a little salt if needed.



3. Mix the sesame dressing in with the green beans and serve.


I decided to add some toasted white sesame seeds for contrast. Yin and Yang. Ebony and Ivory. It don't matter if you're Black or White. OK, I'll stop.


Looks like caviar, doesn't it? (Aside, when I take shots like this, I really wish I had a DSLR. It's the first day of the IT Show today and I am summoning every ounce of self-restraint not to go down and get myself one. Boo hoo!)

Do take a look at 3 Hungry Tummies for a recipe comparison (based on Harumi's Japanese Cooking). The main ingredients are the same, only the proportions vary, so go ahead and adapt to your preferences. Suresh also shared some great ideas - like adding a dash of sesame oil and how to cut the beans - which I did and loved. Thanks bro, for the wonderful tips. :)


Last look before I mess things up.


Oishiii!

This is a refreshing, summery dish I would not hesitate to make again. In fact, it's perfect for the hot, dry spell that we have been cursed with lately. Bring on the cold food!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boomarang

Two weeks ago, I managed to steal some time to lunch with Brad and Marina. It was a treat to chill over an unharried meal in the middle of a crazy week.



I'm not particularly fond of crowded places, which explains why I am very much a homebody. Singapore is becoming ridiculously congested, so when I arrived at Boomarang, I was thrilled to see this spacious, sprawling eatery.



Being Aussie-owned and managed, it had a welcoming, laid-back vibe that is quintessentially Australian. I swear I could hear Waltzing Matilda while I waited for my food.

With the lunch crowd already thinned out (it was 1.30pm when we met up), the place was literally ours, apart from the few tables of tai-tais and expatriate families ... which was nice. I hate dining cheek by jowl and having to tune in to other people's secrets.

Take note though, if you are claustrophobic like me, it's packed here on weekends. My friend came recently on a Sunday, and she found the place teeming with the brekkie/brunch crowd.



As this was a food tasting session, the portions you see were deliberately kept small upon our request. Foodwise, I'd say more hits than misses. Here's what we sampled:


Appetisers: Scallop & Wanton.
A strange combination, I thought, but the scallop was fresh, so I had no complaints.


Smoked Salmon With Toasted Brioche & Horseradish Sour Cream.
This was really nice. The salmon had none of that salty, fishy taste, while the brioche was buttery and soft. I would love this for brekkie, actually!


Pepper & Lime Calamari.
Oh dear, the batter was disappointingly soft and soggy. And the calamari tasted flat. The grilled peppers which were buried under that bed of veggies, however, were a different story. They were so sweet and tender, and literally stole the show from the calamari.


Chicken Parmigiano with Napolitana Sauce, Shaved Leg Ham, Tasty Cheese and Salad.
Excellent! The breast meat was moist and tender, while the cheese remained light and gooey. Don't you just hate it when some places overdo the cheese to a leathery texture?


Peppered Kangaroo Loin with Sweet Potato Mash, Rocket, Beet Relish and Garlic Aioli.
Brad and Marina had this. I sat out. OK, I did try one teeeeny, weeeeny bite upon everyone's cajoling, but that was it. No thank you.


Panfried Salmon Fillet with Saffron Baby Potatoes, Asian Greens and Olive, Tomato & Basil Salsa.
The fish was supremely fresh and perfectly seared, but it would have been a forgettable salmon dish if not for the salsa. The salsa single-handedly delivered the punch.


Sticky Date Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice-cream and Butterscotch Sauce.
A pudding so moist and spongy, it was a delight to eat. With that decadently rich vanilla bean ice-cream? Heaven! Apparently, the pudding is made from a recipe passed down from the chef's grandmother. And nope, he didn't divulge any further details, unfortunately.


Pavlova with a Trio of Berries and Double Cream.
The double cream didn't do a thing for me. I would have personally preferred freshly whipped cream, or more of that yummy vanilla bean ice-cream! Still, the pavlova was competently done.


Flourless Chocolate Cake with Quintro Poached Strawberries and Double Cream.
Gasp, more double cream?! Also, I wished they hadn't smothered the poor cake with sauce. Let the onus lie on the diner to decide how much, I say. It was a pity because the cake had a nicely dense and moist texture on its own.


Caffe Latte.
Coffee which was velvety smooth. Loved it!

For more information on Boomarang, visit their website here.

Boomarang
60 Robertson Quay
#01-15 The Quayside
Singapore 238252
Tel: +65 6738 1077

Many thanks to Boomerang for hosting us, and Ms Marina Mathews of Crocmedia, for arranging this lunch.