Sunday, April 30, 2006

Reds & Yellows

I am a RED fan. I am also a YELLOW fan.
When the two come together, I am E N R A P T U R E D!
Mosaic Reds & Yellows
And as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, the view-finder in my camera will gravitate towards such bright sunny colors. These cheery mosaic walls can be found at Clarke Quay, Singapore and they are a beautiful reminder of how colorful the sixties and seventies eras were, when such walls would not have been considered too garish and outlandish. A wonderful inspiration should I ever redecorate my kitchen!

With red generally denoting robustness and energy, and yellow symbolising happiness and sunshine, is it any wonder that in the science of food imagery, food-related items with these two hues would be more attractive and appetizing, as compared, to blue-colored items - to illustrate, how many blue items did you eat today? Other than blueberries (which are not really blue, more prussian dark blue) and maybe blue icing (though, I shudder at even that), there are very few blue-hued food which do not cause you to throw up, feel queasy or just turn your appetite upside-down!

According to Wikipedia, red, along with yellow and orange, is thought to provoke hunger, hence its use in logos by food vendors. Think McDonald's, Burger King, Long John Silver's...

Not one to disprove such theories, here's a shot to whet your appetite - a yellow fluffy herbed omelette with a red cherry tomatoes, onion and green chillies salsa.
Tomato Salsa Omelette
If you are interested in making the tomato salsa, it's as easy as 'abc':
  • slice into half a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • slice a quarter of one big yellow onion and half a green chilli
  • roughly chop some cilantro leaves
  • add all of the above in a bowl together with some olive oil (about a tablespoon), juice from half a lime (about a tablespoon), salt and black pepper, and stir together.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Classic but not Boring

My first taste of cake as a young child (maybe even as a babe in arms) had to be a buttery pound cake that was my mum's forte. Remembering a dense cake, fragrant with vanilla, orange or cocoa flavors, it was a real treat whenever my brother and I came home from school in the afternoon to find the kitchen filled with baking smells and the promise of a slice (or more) thus spurring us to finish our homework double-quick. Happy indeed were those young days spent at the dining table in mum's kitchen reading, writing and 'maths'ercising (no need to check the dictionary, there's no such word - I just made it up) while inhaling that distinctive buttery aroma escaping from the oven.

With such deliciously etched memories, it is no wonder that whenever I have a 'nostalgic' sugar-craving (as opposed to an 'adventurous' or a 'to-die-for' type of sugar-craving) and an hour or two to spare in the afternoon, it is the classic pound cake that I turn to for gratification.
Little Bursts of Sweetness
When we call something a 'classic', we are basically saying that it's been around for a long long long time, so long that practically everyone is familiar with it, and in some instances, it may even equate 'boring'. So much so that I can hardly ever find good pound cakes for sale in bakeries and patisseries which are however chockful with complicated cheesecakes, moussecakes, soft sponge and cream confections, tiramisus, and what-nots.

Made a classic vanilla pound cake the previous weekend, to serve after dinner for the family. I won't be putting up the recipe in this post as pound cake recipes are a dime a dozen (being the basic recipe found in any respectable baking cookbook - and if you don't have a cookbook, just troll the internet!).
A bit of history: The pound cake derived its name from having equal amounts of flour, sugar, butter and eggs (a pound of each to be exact) as its ingredients.

With just a tad of extra effort, these slices of pound cake when served with champagne grapes and lavender syrup transcended 'boring' to become 'special'.
  • These champagne grapes are sold in Cold Storage supermarket for about $5 (or less) a punnet and are just like tiny little bubbles of sweetness that pop in your mouth - absolutely irresistible, and I think they're great for incorporating in all kinds of desserts, maybe even as a topping for a cream layered cake.
  • The lavender syrup is very easy to make: boil half a cup of sugar with about a three-quarter cup of water, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add 2 teabags (or approximately 2 heaped tablespoons) of dried edible lavender (you can easily get this in herbal tea shops). Let steep for half an hour or more and you will achieve this sweet lavender-scented syrup. Remove teabags (or sieve the syrup if you are using loose lavender) and add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and the champagne grapes to the syrup. Stir and serve by spooning the grapes and syrup over the slices of pound cake.
If you like the smell of lavender, you will love the interplay of the syrup's fragrance against the buttery flavors of the cake and the sweet grapes. And don't throw away any extra unused syrup, just add some hot water to two teaspoons of the syrup in a cup and you'll have lavender tea to sip and enjoy.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mojito Power

In the last post, I mentioned I was playing around with some green chillies at home - actually, I was playing around also with some green limes that I had bought from the supermarket.
The final result: a composition of green chillies and limes.
Green with Envy
The cut limes were extremely attractive and with the sunny warm days that we've been having over the weekend, a Mojito cocktail (a thirst-quenching drink with a kick) sounded pretty good indeed. Searched my fridge and voila, I still had some mint leaves. Looked at liquor cabinet and noted with disgust that we didn't have a bottle of Bacardi Rum. There was whiskey, vodka, sherry and gin but no rum!

Grabbed car keys, and zoomed to the nearest supermarket - found the liquor aisle and noted that hard liquor is kept in glass cabinets under lock and key with instruction to the potential purchaser to "press a button to call for assistance from staff". Always wondered about the high security, and never understood the reason for this cloak and dagger routine for hard liquor when cans of beer and bottles of wines are freely available on the shelf, some of which may be even more expensive than that bottle of gin or rum in the locked cabinet.

Anyway, back home from that supermarket jaunt, I was plucking mint leaves that were still in 'mint condition', and removing the bruised and blackened leaves. I didn't have a proper 'muddler' - a special stick, like a teeny slim baton, which bartenders use to bruise the mint leaves with the lime slices in the sugar at the bottom of a collins glass (i.e. a tall slim glass) before adding the ice cubes, rum and soda water. And used instead my trusty IKEA mini pestle and mortar.
  • For two glasses of mojito, I 'muddled' 10 mint leaves together with about 2 tablespoons of sugar and the juice squeezed from 1 lime - 'muddle' means to bruise the leaves to release the mint aroma oils from the leaves (the sugar particles helps in this process) but do not pound the leaves or use too vigorous a 'muddling' action as you may end up instead with broken and minute particles of mint leaves in your drink.
  • Transfer the mortar ingredients into 2 glasses and add ice cubes.
  • Add a shot of Bacardi Rum (white rum) and top up with soda water.
  • Stir to ensure that the sugar is dissolved (although I note in some recipes, they propose using sugar syrup, but hey, I want a drink in 5 minutes and not spend an extra 5 minutes at the stove making sugar syrup).
  • For a professional-looking finish, add a slice of lime to the edge of the glass and a sprig or two of mint leaves - you can skip this part if you're not taking a picture of your Mojito cocktail!
Mojito Power
This cocktail is really refreshing with a lovely minty fragrance, and as it goes down ever so easily, I only ever make just enough for a glass or two per person (to be on the prudent side) - believe me, it's quite a 'gulp-worthy' drink!

Because I had some green chillies, I wondered if a green chilli mojito would taste good with extra kick from the peppery taste - and feeling a bit adventurous (could have been the effect of that one earlier shot of bacardi rum), I added a few slices of green chillies to the mint leaves for muddling together with the sugar to make my second glass.
VERDICT: Never tinker with a Cuban recipe that's fool-proof. Green chillies have no place in a mojito cocktail at all. [this is a lesson to show that common sense sometimes leaves the room after a bit of alcohol comes in!]

By the way, you really should drop by this uber-cool website developed by the Bacardi Rum people to promote the mojito cocktail. Unfortunately, entrance only allowed to those above the age of 18, the legal age for drinking in certain countries, including Singapore (I think).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Scouting the Horizon

"You take the right, chilli-joe will scan the left and I'll keep a look-out straight ahead..." - putting a couple of chilli-heads on guard duty
Scouting the Horizon

Had a couple of green chillies in my vegetable compartment and decided to play with my food (as usual), and ended up with this shot of chillies in a glass.

I liked the way the stems were angled facing different directions, almost like little periscopes of a submarine, or maybe some form of creature with tiny heads and huge long bodies. Do you think it resembles miniature loch ness monsters?

Anyway, the weekend's almost here and hope the intro-line to this post brought a smile to your face while I go figure out what to do with these green sentries!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Entry Barred

Red Doors

After dining on prawn noodles (see the previous post), I spotted this really old decrepit two-storey house just next to the coffee-shop. The main house appeared to have been burnt down, was in total disrepair with broken windows and doors, and appeared to be just waiting for the demolition crew to turn up. The side-building (which could have been the servants' quarters or the kitchen, can't tell which) fared a little bit better and had these two red doors (locked) standing side by side. The original colors were a little dull and faded but the composition looked great.

After cropping the picture, saturating the colors a little bit and finally rendering the same in a water-color and pen format (using Photoshop), I really like how the red color of the doors stand out against the grey and white patches of wall, and the fine cracks showing up on the walls and the paintwork of the doors. Finally, nature did its part with that bit of stray plant at the bottom corner of the step, thus breaking the potential monotony in the symmetry of this shot. This is really one of my favourite pictures so far, and I don't care a hoot about the purist photographer who views photoshopping as cheating. A picture is supposed to evoke an emotion, and if you need to edit it to get a better shot, why ever not? {by the way, I think viewing the picture in a larger size may allow for better appreciation - try it at this link.}

Under Restraint
And before I left, also saw this most unusual sight of a wheel clamp wrapped around the window grills of the building. Thought it a bit too much to bar entry through a window by using a wheel clamp until I read a sign further to the right warning against illegal parking on the site of this house, and remembered that this site is also just next to the Jalan Besar Stadium and on football nights, there're probably quite a few potential offenders. In fact, if you take a look at the right bottom corner of the picture, you might be able to spot the number plates of some prior offenders - hopefully, these numbers don't belong to your vehicles!

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Prawn Noodles
When this bowl of prawn noodles was placed in front of me a couple of days ago, I was mesmerized by the color of the broth. Just look at that intense opaque yellow!

"Hae mee" (hokkien for prawn noodles) can be commonly found all over Singapore in hawker centres, coffee-shops and sometimes, even in hotel restaurants but just because you can order a bowl easily, it doesn't mean that each bowl is capable of granting satisfaction. A bowl will usually comprise thick yellow egg noodles, sometimes with thin rice noodles (beehoon), a couple of cooked prawns, sometimes with added pork ribs, a few obligatory kangkong (convolvulus) leaves, topped with fried shallots but for me, all these are merely peripheral to the soup in which they are served. The prawn stock is usually made from fried prawn shells slowly simmered for hours in either water or sometimes, stock to which pork bones are added. And just as there are as many cooks, there are as many different variations of that prawn stock. If unlucky, you may end up with a bowl of prawn noodles soup that is downright bland with the merest hint of prawns but if you've ever tasted that bowl of prawn noodles which is fragrant and rich bursting with seafood sweetness that can only come from these 'prawny' crustaceans, you will understand why Singaporeans queue patiently for their favourite prawn noodles at hawker centres.

This particular bowl definitely scored high for its prawn stock, and frustratingly, I am clueless as to the additional ingredient(s) they've added to the stock to create such wonderfully murky, strongly colored, rich and fragrant stock (most prawn noodles in town, even some really good ones are generally more earthy brown and much less murky). Plus I didn't taste any ajinomoto in this stock. The halved prawns were large, fresh and sweet. Ordering the prawn with pork rib noodles, I was pleasantly surprised by the really tender pork ribs which had been braised in soya sauce (and not the usual pale-colored cooked pork ribs). This is one bowl where you will be sorely tempted to finish up to the very last drop.

CharSiew Wonton Noodles
At this same coffee-shop, I also found a most satisfying plate of charsiew wonton noodles. Again, this dish is commonly found in almost all hawker centres across Singapore, yet very few hawkers here make it the way I remember it back in Malaysia. When dining on this dish, the springy texture of the noodle is important and for me, the quality of the thick black soya sauce that is the base for the delicious sauce covering the noodles is paramount. A lot of hawkers over here generally mask the flavors of the black sauce that they use (could it be that it's inferior in taste?) with copious amounts of either the cooked chilli paste or some form of tomato sauce or sweet red taucheo sauce (which gave me a horrific food-culture shock more than 10 years ago when I first stepped onto this fair isle and ordered my first Singapore plate of wonton noodles).

This particular plate of noodles came well mixed in a very slurp-worthy black sauce mixture, no tomato sauce (thank goodness) and with chilli paste served separately in a little container (only if you wish to add some spiciness to the noodles).

And if you're a local football fan, you will already know where this coffee-shop is. I forget the name of the coffee-shop but the hawker-stall selling these noodles has the main frontage of this coffee-shop and goes by the name of "ren ren ta xia mian" (loosely translated as 'people's big prawn noodle'), and the coffee-shop is at the corner of Jalan Besar and Allenby Road, the very corner you turn in from Jalan Besar if you're going to support your local football team at Jalan Besar Stadium.

By the way, the 'hae-cho' (prawn roll) served by the same hawker-stall is also not too bad.
Prawn Roll (Hei-Cho)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Candy Colors

When I look at this picture, I feel positive vibes and a smile ends up on my face :)
Candy Colors

the pink window shutters remind me of innocent childhood, all things sweet and nice from candy-floss to ribbons and ruffles...
the yellow walls are like a starburst of energy, bright and full of possibilities...
and finally that intense blue sky is tranquility personified...

This colorful set-up can be found along Clarke Quay, Singapore, a wonderful place for a variety of photographic possibilities and of course, on a sunny day, just perfect to bring on smiles galore!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bangers 'n' Mash

Bangers and Mash
Bangers (English colloquial for sausages) and mash is truly English "pub-grub" at its simplest. And yet, bangers 'n' mash were once served as a delicacy during the coronation of King James II in the 17th century. Now that is what I call true democracy at work, food created for royalty ending up as a popular dish of the plebeian masses.

Grill a couple of your favourite pork, beef or lamb sausages, and serve them on top of a mound of silky smooth fluffy mashed potatoes and a satisfying meal is guaranteed in half an hour. Instead of the usual pork sausages, I used minced lamb with rosemary sausages. Excellent meaty flavors against the foil of the mashed potatoes. The 'mash' in this case is mashed russet burbank potatoes with some butter, low-fat cottage cheese, milk and of course, salt and black pepper. Reducing the level of butter normally added to mashed potatoes, I added low-fat cottage cheese instead (read this from a Martha Stewart recipe for lighter mash), and I must say that it did its trick to create this wonderfully light silky smooth mash.

Dining on this dish, I'm reminded fondly of my first visit to England more than 10 years ago. Hubby and I were doing a self-drive out of London around Surrey and Oxfordshire and being on a budget, pub-grub was all we could afford then, bangers 'n' mash, steak and kidney pies, fish 'n' chips, roast beef with baked potatoes, all washed down with british ale or stout. Dining off potatoes (mashed, boiled, steamed, baked or fried) at lunch and dinner for a substantial portion of our trip, it soon dawned on us that we were true 'chinamen' at heart, and potatoes no matter how tasty could never satisfy that singular yearning for rice and vegetables.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Uncomplicated Pairing

Recently, a friendly wine retailer suggested that I try a simple pairing of shiraz with our local Bee Cheng Hiang's barbecued bacon slices sandwiched in a baguette loaf (buttered or otherwise). Unlike the normal "bak kwa" which has been trimmed of fat, these barbecued strips of sweet-marinated dried bacon with their smoky flavors looked incredibly sinful with their very visible fatty layer but are so very tasty.

The MadFish Shiraz 2003 from Margaret River, Western Australia, with its attractive aromatic bouquet of ripe fruit, intense dark cherry and plum flavors with spicy and peppery undertones, and soft tannins, is easy lovely drinking and to my pleasant surprise, complements quite well with the smoky meaty sweet-tasting bacon 'bak-kwa'.

And for me, this is the best way to drink wine - open up a bottle, slap something quick and easy together, sit back and just enjoy the company of those at the table and the simple pleasures that life presents - uncomplicated and fuss-free.

Late Night Snack

Checking out the MadFish's website, I found this interesting take on its name:
"The MadFish story begins in the far southern reaches of Western Australia where 15 kilometres from the quiet coastal town of Denmark is the picturesque MadFish Bay. According to local folklore, the bay’s tranquillity is broken when two tides meet, resulting in schools of small fish going mad…. Jumping about to avoid being gobbled up by hungry, larger fish."

And if you're wondering about the wine label design, featuring a turtle:
"The traditional aboriginal water turtle design on the label is a symbol of perserverance and tolerance - no doubt characteristics displayed by the [mad jumping] fish in MadFish Bay."

Next time I find myself in the middle of chaos, I shall try to bring to mind this image and pysche myself to be a tolerant perservering calm turtle in a sea of mad jumping fish!