Saturday, March 31, 2007

Good bye Singapore and KL

Today marks the last day of our holiday in Singapore. I can't believe how fast time has gone by the last two weeks.

We arrived in Singapore on the 16/3 and spent the first four days of our holiday in Singapore, sampling the hawker food and burning a hole in our savings. Bussed down to KL on 21/3 and spent another 6 days gorging on hawker food, burning more holes in our ING savings account and catching up with friends and the rellies in KL. Took the bus back to Singapore on the 27/3 and before you know it it's 31/3. The last day of our holiday.

At 7:35pm SG time tonight, I will be boarding a flight to Osaka. At 11:40pm (SG time), Alv will be on his flight back to Melbourne.

My holiday will continue for another 2.5 weeks in Japan whilst poor Alv will be heading straight back to work on Monday.

Until then, here are some snippets of what we ate in the last two weeks.

ps. It doesn't look like we ate much.. but we did! These are some of the better and interesting things that we ate in Singapore and KL. I stopped taking photos after the 3rd or 4th plate of Char Kuay Teow and wan tan mee. After a while everything looks the same. LOL

Friday, March 23, 2007

A nostalgic salad

We're in KL (Kuala Lumpur) at the moment, having spent the last 4/5 days prior to this in Singapore. All we've been doing since we got to Singapore on the 16th was EAT EAT EAT and SHOP SHOP SHOP. Such is our "hard life". LOL

Jumped on the bus to KL on Wednesday and since we arrived in KL, the only thing that's changed is that we've not been EATING as much as we were. Just shopping as much.. if not MORE than what we did before.

Ellie over at Kitchen Wench has initiated a once-off event called "Nostalgia", inviting everyone to share with her a nostalgic memory, something from our past that's heart engraved in our memories through a food experience.

For both Alv and I, nothing is more nostalgic for us than returning to our countries of birth.

Alv spent the first 8 years of his life in Singapore, attending one of the famous ACS (Anglo Chinese School) institutions with his older brother Jerome. This marks his second trip back to Singapore, the first one being in 2004, straight after he renounced his Singapore citizenship. It's like trip down memory lane all over again for him. Every where we go and each area we drive through in Singapore brings back many memories of his childhood there. His family left Singapore for Australia when he was about 8 and in a sense, he missed out on a whole lot of Singapore: the experiences of growing up in the Singapore Education system, the food in Singapore (congee for lunch every Saturday after Saturday school) and most of all growing up with his extended family in Singapore.

I on the other hand, spent 17 years in Malaysia. Growing up in the little town of Ipoh. I went through the whole curricular system in Ipoh, got my drivers and motorcycle license when I was 17 (yeah!) and zoomed around Ipoh from one end to another in my mum's little Honda C70 and most of all I made heaps of friends in all those years. I have so many memories of growing up in Ipoh - my first car accident, first motorcycle accident, first crush.. you name it, I've probably experienced it.

Ipoh was also where I last saw my Aunt Lisa, in 1994 when I turned 15. My Aunt Lisa (mum's younger sister) came back from New York for a short visit around the time of my 15th birthday. It was extremely memorable for me partly because I couldn't remember the last time I saw her prior to my 15th birthday and mostly because she threw me the last birthday party I ever had. The last birthday party, because I haven't had anyone throw me a birthday celebration since. ;| (I don't throw parties for me either LOL)

Aunt Lisa threw me a birthday party when she found out that it was my birthday. You could almost say that she forced the party onto me and commanded that I invite friends over to our place for the party. It was so long ago that I can't even remember much of what happened at the party. I remembered celebrating it with about 10 of my closest friends back then of which I only remember 5: Aud, CC, JF, Jacqui and Boon; and the only other thing that I remembered clearly was the salad that my aunt made for the party.

Back then I wasn't as exposed to "western food" as I am now. Western food back then was anything American, like hamburgers, hot dogs, coleslaw, steak and ribs. The salad my aunt made was something we associated with Western type food and I remembered it well because back then western food was like my favourite kinda food. Only because we couldn't appreciate the quality of good local food and it was a novelty thing when you're young because western style food was more expensive and considered a higher standard delicacy compared to the local hawker food.

It's not a special salad or anything, in fact I'm not even sure of the origins of the salad. However, it is the most simple and versatile salad I've ever had as it is made with staple fridge/freezer ingredients. I've never remembered to ask the name of it from my aunt but mum and I have always referred to it as Aunt Lisa's American Salad.

For Ellie's Nostalgia event:

Aunt Lisa's American Salad

1 small apple (green or red)
1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed*
1/4 cup corn kernels*
1/2 small carrots (or 1 small baby carrot)*
1 hard boiled egg, peeled and chopped
1 small boiled potato, peeled and chopped
1 large slice of virginian ham (or your favourite ham), sliced

approx 1/4 cup of your favourite mayonaise
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop the apple into small pieces. Soak chopped apple in a small bowl with cold water and about 1/8 tsp of salt. This will prevent the pieces of apple from browning.

Meanwhile, peel and chop up the carrot. Blanch the carrot in hot water until the carrots are soft but still firm, rinse with cold water and then set aside to cool.

Drain the apple pieces from the salt water. Rinse quickly in cold water and dry before placing the apple into a large bowl.

Place the remaining ingredients into the bowl. Toss salad with mayonaise and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover the salad and place into the fridge for about 20mins before serving.

Serve with bread rolls.

Serves 2.

You can vary the amount of mayonaise you use for the dressing.(My dressing measurements are only approximates as I usually don't measure it, I'm pretty sure that I don't use more than 1/4 cup of mayonaise though, so I've used that as an approximate)

***These three ingredients can be replaced with 3/4 cup of mixed frozen vegetables if you have any in the freezer.

It's that simple! The salad would be made simpler if you have some mixed frozen veges in the fridge. I sometimes omit the carrots (because it's not really my favourite vege) and double up on the ham or egg.

I always make this salad when I miss my aunt. It's the only thing I remember about her, apart from her spelling my name with an E as in 'I Leng' instead of I-Ling. I love my aunt, she's a cool aunt! We haven't seen her for almost 13 years since she last threw me that party. She's still living in America, somewhere in Boston with her husband and two little cousins whom I've never met. I hope to see her one day, if not soon. But in the mean time.. this salad is all I have to remember her by...

ps. I was hoping to recreate the salad here in KL with local ingredients which would make it ever more nostalgic! But unfortunately the condominium where we're staying at doesn't come with a kitchen, so I wasn't able to make it hence.. no picture of the salad... :|

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Melting Moments

melting moments

Melting Moments or Yo-yo's, call it what you want, but they are my favourite tea biscuits in the whole wide world! Wow..that's a big statement isn't it?

I succumbed to 'Alv pressure' and made this biscuits purely because he declared to a colleague that "I-Ling's going to make yo-yo's"; after I criticised commented on the yo-yo's he purchased from another colleague at work - who makes/sells biscuits at work as a side hobby/income thing.

I wasn't really criticising it, I just made a comment that it didn't have enough icing in it (which it didn't!!) and the biscuit was a bit..big and has a custardy taste to it that I didn't like. Then I told him about the ones I made for someone at work when he was snowboarding in NZ last August. It was just an innocent comment... really..!!

Then one day last week, he came home one day and said "I told Wendy that you're going to make yo-yos". At first, I wasn't too interested.. and replied "right..". Then I realised he wasn't kidding and asked if it meant that I had to make it before we leave this Friday, since I won't be back til May and all.

All I got was this big cheeky grin and "YEP!".

Melting Moments
from Marie Claire, Kitchen by Michelle Cranston


Biscuit dough
250g Unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp Vanilla extract
60g Icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
175g Plain flour
60g Corn flour

100g Icing sugar
100g Unsalted butter
1 tsp Passionfruit juice

1. Preheat oven to 170 deg C.
2. Beat butter, icing sugar and vanilla extract until soft and fluffy.
3. Sift together corn flour and plain flour and fold into butter mixture in two lots.
4. Line baking trays with non-stick baking paper
5. Roll 1 tsp of the cookie dough into balls and place on the baking tray. Ensure that the cookie dough are placed approximately 3cm apart from each other.
6. Bake in the oven for 12 - 15mins or until biscuits are a light golden.
4. Remove from oven and cool.

1. Beat icing sugar, unsalted butter and passionfruit juice until light and fluffy.
2. Place mixture into an icing bag.
3. Pipe icing (as much as you like) into one of the cookie halves and sandwich with the other half.*
4. Store in an air tight container.

Optional: Sprinkle some icing sugar on to the biscuits

*I piped them in a circle, relatively generously because I heart icing. ;)

Makes 30 sandwiched biscuits

The verdict:
These bikkies are extremely rich! I kid you NOT! When I first made them last year as colleague's farewell present, I followed the recipe to a T and ended up with biscuits the size of an ice hockey puck. The original recipe indicated 2 tsp of batter to be rolled into balls. The 2 tsp expanded as it cooked in the oven. Back then I couldn't stomach more than 1 of these babies.

With 1 tsp, I could manage 2.

They are seriously Melting Moments as they just literally disintegrate in your mouth in the first bite.

I thought the biscuits looked cute in this little container. The idea came about as I was trying to figure out how to 'transport' some of my goodies to work since the biscuits are so delicate.

Monday, March 12, 2007

This meme is wayyy overdue

Some four or five months ago, Jeanne of Cooksister tagged me for a Butterfly Effect Meme. Yep, you heard me four/five months ago. I feel so bad, it was right in the middle of my friend's wedding and relocating to Alv's and birthdays and the christmas rush period at work that I totally forgot about it. Then the New Year rush came about and then it got busy because Ange came back from London and I wanted to spend time with her and then I had to do all this work before I go on holidays... arghh.....anyway..

Tah dah!...(about bloody time!) without further delay, I present to you:

Butterfly Effect Meme, in case you're not familiar with it, started off at SaltShaker. The concept of the meme "is food items or events that changed your foodie life. Not some “oh, it’s the first time I didn’t put jelly on a peanut butter sandwich and used bananas instead” sort of change, unless you truly feel that affected you profoundly. That’s the key - it affected you profoundly, in some manner. A moment you can look back at and say “that was a defining moment”."

1. An ingredient

(Photo from wikipedia)
I realise I'm somewhat cheating here since durian is a fruit, but it's a key ingredient in things like durian ice cream, durian cake and tempoyak (fermented durian).

Durian, the king of fruit. You either love it or hate it!

I'm in the latter category, I can't stand durian! The smell, the taste.. everything
about it turns me off. It's the kind of fruit where you either really love it or really hate it. There is no in between. Sure there are people out there who don't mind it, but surely it's because you like it "enough" that you would eat it?

I was first introduced to durian when I was about 6 or 7. I think it was around that age because my little brother was still crawling back then and my mum and dad gave us a taste of it. I remember choking on the smell and texture of the durian flesh whilst my brother next to me lapped it all up.

My family (extended and all) tell me that I'm an idiot because I don't know "how to" appreciate good food and friends and other Malaysians/Singaporeans that I meet often say that I can't be Malaysian if I don't eat durian.. just like how you can't be Malaysian if you don't eat chilli. Pfft.. well people, I will have you know that "I can" take my fair share of chilli but if durian is one of the things I have to be Malaysian, then I'd rather be an ignorant.

So thats my durian story. For the record, I haven't had a piece of durian since that fateful day 11/12 years ago. I still get taunted everytime there's "any" durian around, but I just ignore it and leave the room/house for a nice stroll at the nearby shopping centre ;)

2. A dish or recipe

If there is something that I can make from the top of my head it's a Thai Beef Salad. :D
Well my version of it anyway. It's something I picked up from my mum who found it in one of the many cooking magazines/books that she reads/borrowed from the library. It was the first recipe I actually got of mum when I first moved out of home. Now I know this dish so well that I can make it with my eyes closed! (just kidding) :)

Thai Beef Salad

2 pieces of your favourite steak cut
1 small red capsicum (or 1/2) sliced*
1/2 small onion, sliced thinly
1 cup of cherry/grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 coral leaf lettuce separated (or mixed lettuce leaves)
1 small cucumber, sliced

1/4 cup of chopped basil leaves (pref thai basil)
1 small red chilli, chopped or 1.5 tsp of sambal oelek**
1/4 cup of kicap manis (thick sweet soy sauce)
1/4 cup of brown sugar^
1 tbsp of lime juice
1 tbsp of lemon juice
1 tbsp of fish sauce

pepper to taste
mint leaves for garnishing
some soy sauce
some oil

*I sometimes do a mix of red, yellow and/or orange capsicum
** more if you prefer a spicier dressing
^If you have palm sugar, you could substitute 1/2 the quantity of brown sugar for palm sugar or just use palm sugar instead. Note: Palm sugar is not as sweet as brown sugar.

1. Marinate steak with some soy sauce, pepper and oil, set aside.

2. Place remaining salad ingredients in a bowl, set aside.

3. Combine sugar, kicap manis, fish sauce, chilli, lime and lemon juices in a jug and stir until well mixed. At this point, taste the salad dressing. It should taste like a combination of sweet, salty, spicy and tangy. If you feel that the flavour is lacking in one of the taste components, adjust the dressing by adding a the relevant ingredient. Ultimately, the dressing should reflect all four flavours but if you prefer a tangier dressing you could just increase the amount of lime/lemon juice. When you achieve your preferred taste, stir in the basil and set aside.

4. Cook the steaks to your liking. When they're done, remove from the pan and let it rest for a while before slicing.

5. Add the beef to the salad and stir the salad dressing before pouring it into the salad. Toss the salad and serve topped with mint leaves.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The dressing recipe yields more than enough dressing for the salad itself. So if you don't like too much dressing, be sure not to pour in all of it.

Sorry for the poor dressing instructions, but I make this salad so often that I usually just tweak it to whatever I fancy on the days that I make it. I couldn't even remember the exact measurements for the dressing. Had to do a trial run, just so I could write it down and be sure. :)

3. A meal (in a restaurant, a home, or elsewhere)

Last year, I was fortunate enough to enjoy a meal at a kappo style home-restaurant. (Another one of those posts that got lost in bloghaven) Home restaurant in the sense that the dining area was converted from a garage into a small restaurant. Though we were not seated around the chef as traditional kappo restaurants would have it, it was close enough. The chef's kitchen was just behind us and we could see all manner of food that was being prepared and each dish was served to us in matter of minutes.

There are some requirements to dine at this special restaurant. You must make a booking in advance with no less than 10 people and the menu is entirely up to the chef and is prepared based on seasonal ingredients. The meal cost was at AUD$50 per head, excluding drinks which was extremely reasonable considering that we were served up to 6 courses. When we dined at Ibuki towards the end of Spring last year, we were greeted upon arrival with the most amazing banquet of sashimi and sushi. That was perhaps the highlight of the night, the rest of the courses were: beef tataki, chawan mushi (egg custard), Golden dumplings and Teriyaki Beef Rolls, Tempura of prawns, asparagus and red capsicum, mustard chicken stew and a dessert of red bean pudding with a slice of honey dew melon topped with an exquisite white chocolate pear and apple sauce.

For me it was the dining experience that was more memorable than the food we were served that day. Until recently, I had no idea that it was kappo style dining. Friends of mine who organised the dinner merely mentioned that it was 'awesome' japanese food and that we should all go.. primarily because we needed 10 people to experience it. (Hah!) My only disappointment that day was that I wasn't seated closer to the kitchen to see the chef at work. I could only glimpse bits of the cooking and preparation from where I was (which was the other end of the table), fine friends that I had wasn't interested in swapping positions and since space was a bit tight I was only able to take short trips closer to the counter to observe the cooking and preparation.

The courses we were served was well worth the price we paid for but the only thing that really wowwed me was the sashimi and sushi banquet. Forget your local sushi joint which probably serves up some pretty good assorted sushi and the standard salmon and tuna sashimi. We're talking about oysters with caviar, lobster sashimi, abalone, scallop (and a shellfish that I recognised the taste but not the name) the whole lot. Sigh..

Photos of our dining experience here.

4. A cookbook or other written work

(photo from Amazon)
One of the first few cookbooks I bought was Yoshoku by Jane Lawson, japanese cooking, western style.

I love this book. It's the only cookbook out of my whole collection that gets used the most and it's one that I always turn to when I need a good meal idea. (see shf27 and wtsim-stew)

Before I bought this book, I knew nothing about Japanese food and the ingredients that is required. All I know was that tempura and tori karaage were awesome, as is anything that is deep fried and that you could make your own california rolls by getting the pre-mixed sushi rice seasoning, mixing it with the ' short grain rice they use to make sushi and roll it up with seaweed. Yep, I was that ignorant.

Then, this book came into my life through the bargain social club book bin that gets dropped off at our tea room every two months (or so). Since then, I have turned to this book countless number of times when I am in dire need of a new meal idea or just something different for a special occasion.

The recipes in Yoshoku have been slightly modified to suit western palates and ingredients but still stay true to the traditional recipe. There are also substitute ingredients suggested in some recipes in case one's unable to find the required item and a 2 page glossary of explaining all the ingredients common in japanese cooking.

Since then, I have purchased another book dedicated to japanese ingredients but still find myself going back to Yoshoku for a quick refresher.

5. A food personality (chef, writer, etc.)

(Photo from slashfoods)
Who doesn't know or recognise Jamie Oliver? The first time I ever heard of Jamie Oliver was when I watched an episode of the very first The Naked Chef episodes. Back then I thought, this guy's weird, he doesn't speak like the normal tv chef's do and too young to be any good at cooking. Boy was I totally off there!

I know.. I know.. you're probably thinking.. "What?! another Jamie fan?" Sorry to disappoint you! I guess I am in the generation of people that started being more aware about food when Jamie started coming into the picture.
I think he's pretty cool with what he's done to make people more aware about food and using his wealth for a good cause.

My admiration for Jamie really grew when he set about to improve the food served to kids at British schools. I was also very impressed when the Fifteen concept went to air. It meant that misguided youths out there have a chance to prove themselves.

Though I have to say, I am getting a bit annoyed at his constant self-promotion of his Jamie's products. Even his latest book, Cook with Jamie.. lauded as one of his best books so far has Jamie's products littered all through out the book. "Use my flavour shaker to ...."

Not only that, ever since Jamie released his food range, everywhere I turn I see Jamie's Balsamic Vinegar is..tangy and tasty.. etc. Still, I would like to think that he didn't came up with all this by himself for the good his ever expanding empire?

Although, after what I read about his legal team telling Edward from Wino Sapien that he (Edward) was breaching copyright by posting Jamie's recipe (all duly referenced)... hmm..

6. Another person in your life

I'm going to detract a bit from the question and talk about some important people that have influenced in my passion for food. I'll get back to answering the question when I talk about the last person :)

There are currently four people I know that I credit with influencing my interest and passion in food. My mum, my Aunt Lisa (mum's sister), my colleague Jules and one of my current bosses Kathy. (I have two bosses)

My mum still cooks for me (hehe) every fortnight when I go home for dinner. My Aunt Lisa, I haven't seen for over 10 years! (I have a post coming up about my Aunt), Jules you would've heard me talk about here and Kathy, my hero!

Kathy, my boss.. well that's a funny one isn't it? Who would've thought that you could talk so much about food to someone, especially to someone whom you report to? Kathy wasn't my boss when I was introduced to her four years ago. She was just another one of those consultants that works with us. I've only been reporting to her for the last year or so (and on and off before hand). But you wouldn't believe the amount of cooking knowledge this woman has up her sleeve! She's like a walking cooking dictionary!

Kathy has had years of cooking under her belt. (I'm not sure how many years. I'm sure I could work it out but I don't think it would be nice to actually reveal her age here... suffice to say she is like my second mum!) From what I can remember, she's been cooking and baking from a young age and has been part of the catering for the Whitehorse Scout's Showtime (aka Scout Gang Shows) ever since her daughter joined the scouts 10 years ago.

She's a wealth of information when it comes to food, cooking and baking. Whenever Jules or I are looking for meal ideas or trying to work out why the cake we baked turned out wrong, we always turn to Kathy for advice and inspirations. You could almost say that every Thursday and/or Friday is our little cooking club day.

Kathy is a very well rounded cook, in all types of cooking, chinese, thai, indian, moroccan.. you name it she knows it. She sometimes surprises me with her knowledge of chinese ingredients especially things that I would not expect to have crossed westerner's palate, e.g. preserved mustard greens.

I have learned a lot from her about ingredients, cooking styles and especially all things baking. I know that if I am in the middle of baking something and it doesn't work out, I can always pick up the phone and give her a ring and everything will be ok. :)

Kathy is my food hero. If Kathy was a cook and had books published and all, she'd "definitely" replace Jamie Oliver in the food personality section above.


Well, that's it. Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this long winded post.

I'm terribly terribly sorry Jeanne for taking such a long time to get around to this. =|

ps. You could almost say that I took a month to write each section. "You're terrible, Muriel!"