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Kueh Chang- Nyonya Glutinous Rice Dumplings 2015: Reviving Memories

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2015 has really been a trying year for us. My dad had undergone a major surgery just last weekend and is now recuperating in hospital. Thankfully, everything went on smoothly as for now, and he is recovering slowly, but surely. The sheer ordeal of going through the last couple of months of chemo and radiotherapy with him was really challenging to say the least. My family had just “bukak tua har” as well, coming out of the three year mourning period since the demise of my beloved mother 4 years back and we are trying to cope with our lives without her, revisiting the usual traditional practices, like “golek kueh ee” during tang chek at the end of last year, and semayang tee kong during the Chinese New Year period, albeit keeping things simpler and less elaborated. It is afterall the thought that counts… I think hope. Tomorrow is 端午节 duanwu festival aka dragon boat festival or what is known as “bulan lima lima ari” to the Peranakans. I had planned to “ikat kueh chang” nearer the date for more than a month, something which I had not done for quite a few years already, since there is a patang against doing so when one is mourning.  Alas my dad’s operation came right before the preparation period and that basically threw everything off course. But as my dad’s condition stabilised and is getting better, I pushed on ahead with my plans to ikat kueh chang nonetheless, grabbing ingredients and materials on a very last minute basis and slogged the night before preparing the ingredients and frying the filling, to be used the next day for making the dumplings. So here is a quick photo log of the making of my kueh chang babi this year. Having not done it for quite a few years now, my skills are really rusty. They look kinda out of shape yes, the wrapping job looks shoddy and the tying shitty yes, and the shade of bunga telang blue isn’t even close to what I had intended.  But I’m glad I’d gone through and am now done with it. For me, to be able to celebrate these traditional festivals stretches far more than just being ritualistic or observing old customs plainly and passively. It rekindles memories of wonderful moments I’d enjoyed when I was young, with my loved ones who are no longer with me now, and more importantly, it likens to be able to embrace and celebrate life itself!

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腐乳冰花菜 Crystalline Ice Plant with Fermented Beancurd

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I love travelling because it gives me the opportunity to experience cultures, traditions and local food which we don’t get very much nowadays in urban Singapore. The other reason why I love travelling out is because I love visiting their markets! Soaking in the sights and sounds, smells which are familiar and yet exotic at the same time, market visits are always full of surprises and hence, much anticipation! Market visits allow me to “sample” what the locals eat, and how they are different from what we get here in Singapore. And even with the same ingredient available here, varieties may differ which makes it so interesting!

In our most recent trip to Hong Kong, we chanced upon a vegetable which I’d not seen before, Crystalline Ice Plant aka Ficoïde Glaciale (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) which is often dubbed as 冰花菜 or simply 冰菜 in Mandarin as its scientific name 冰叶日中花 is simply too long! I saw this vegetable being cooked on an online TV show shared by my friend Hody and got very curious to how crunchy (脆口) it is, even after cooking. Thankfully we managed to spot some at one of the local supermarkets and promptly put a punnet into our shopping basket. It stores remarkably well and were still good despite being a few days since we bought it. Probably slightly passed the prime to be used as a salad vegetable as what it is commonly used, so I cooked it the style which I would normally do for a quick water convolvulus aka kangkong stirfry. Not surprisingly, the 腐乳冰花菜 Crystalline Ice Plant with Fermented Beancurd turned out really yummy!

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Lunch @ Nana’s Green Tea Cafe, Tokyo Skytree

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We woke up really early to beat the crowd at the Tokyo Skytree. Knowing how unpredictable the weather in Tokyo can sometimes be, we didn’t wanna be committed to buying our tickets in advance and end up going there on a rainy day. Thankfully, the weather throughout the whole time was quite pleasant and the visit went on rather smoothly. Time flies so quickly and before we knew it, it was time for lunch. the conjoining mall to the Tokyo Skytree has a good selection of eating joints from family restaurants to burger delis to choose from. We landed ourselves in a place which we’d always been wanting to visit, Nana’s Green Tea!
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夜香花樱花虾炒蛋 – Tonkin Jasmine & Sakura Ebi Omelette

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Omelettes are a common dish on the dinner tables of many Chinese households. The versatility of the eggs, is like a clean canvas that provide us with endless possibilities for omelette dishes, each differing from the next. From Cantonese classics as elaborated as 桂花蛋 or 芙蓉蛋, to something as simple as a SPAM or an onion omelette, omelette dishes can also work to reflect the changing seasons, using ingredients that are only available during specific times of the year. To usher in the summer heat, 夜香花 Tonkin Jasmine bloom to exalt one and all in their perfumed blossoms and one can work it very nicely into an omelette as well ,together with sakura ebi, for a very refreshing 夜香花樱花虾炒蛋 – Tonkin Jasmine & Sakura Ebi Omelette.

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Marshall Cavendish Big Box Sale – Cookbooks Galore!

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Received a tip off from a friend this morning about a book sale hosted by Marshall Cavendish this morning and I immediately made a beeline for it since it is not too far from home. Unlike other clearance sales I’d been to where the books are individually priced and tagged, the books at this year’s MC Sale 2015 is sold by the cartons! Yes, you’d heard me right. Buy a cardboard carton at the door for just 20 dollars and pack it up as much as you can carry! Bizarre it may sound, this is absolutely true! What caught my eye was the array of cookbooks available for grabs at the sale. Despite being under the weather, and still recuperating from my HK trip, I must make a trip down and indeed I did!
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Tartelettes aux Figues et Romarin – Figs and Rosemary Tartlets

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I’m on a tart making spree! This happened once several years back when there was an online tart and pie bake-along event where I did Pierre Hermé’s Tarte Ispahan, Ladurée’s Tartelettes Croustillantes Abricots ou Cerises and the classic Tarte Bourdaloue aux poires all in a short span of just days apart from each other. It was crazy but fun!

Days back, I saw good figs at our local supermarket, and was determined to reprise Hidemi Sugino’s Tartelette aux Figues which I also did at the end of that same year back in 2011 but alas came feijoas and I got distracted, out of which Tartelette au Feijoa et Chocolat Noir was created. However, determined not to let those beautiful fresh figs, and the extra pâte sucrée in the fridge go to waste, I made yet another round of of tartlets, this time a pairing between figs and rosemary, Tartelettes aux Figues et Romarin, inspired by flavours of the Mediterranean Aegean Sea.

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Tartelette au Feijoa et Chocolat Noir – Feijoa & Dark Chocolate Tartlets

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Making these tartlets was a last minute decision, wait, make that an impulse! The initial intention was really to make some of Sugino’s fig tartlets since we finally managed to get some good figs in Singapore this season. Last year’s were horrid. But then came along feijoas, which were on sale at our local supermarkets. I’d seen them last year but they were very expensive, since only one (premium) supermarket carried it, the price was kinda monopolised. That is what happens over here unfortunately yes… But this year, the prices dropped by more than half! No more excuse for not trying them. They were packaged as “zeijoas” since this batch were not from their native South America but New Zealand, where they are widely cultivated and grown by the kiwis in their backyards as a fruit tree. No prizes for how the name “zeijoa” came about but I’m hoping that our folks over here would not take this name too seriously as the actual one!  More curiously, these “zeijoas” were marketed as “Causasian guavas”. I wonder how many actually knew that the common guava we’d been eating originated from Central and South America as well. Despite the slight similarities in taste , I wonder why would anyone do that. Oh well, I guess the logic is functional, mapping the known against the unknown, the familiar against the unfamiliar. But sounds kinda silly if you ask me, likening one to brand fettuccine as the “Italian mee kia” and yes in case you are wondering, it is being done by one of the popular brands for electrical goods, on their latest noodle making machine! Anyway, we’d digressed.

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My first tasting of the feijoa I bought and I was blown away. The fruit had just beautifully ripened, with the core of the insides really gelatinous and sweet. The fruit was also highly perfumed, a bouquet of aromas which reminded me of bubble gum candy and a “grape-flavoured” soft drink called “Qoo”. It can be easily eaten by slicing lengthwise into two and scoop out the flesh as how one would eat a kiwi, with just a dessert spoon As we work towards the skin, the texture changes and becomes more… yes, you’d guessed it, guava-like, slightly fibrous and grainy in texture while the taste also developed from being sweet to sour. It is more juicy than the average guava. The progression of flavours was really interesting and I thought won’t it be great if I could put this into pastry?! And indeed I did! So here’s my little impulsive weekend baking venture, Tartelette au Feijoa et Chocolat Noir – Feijoa and Dark Chocolate Tartlets.
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