Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Baker's Corner: New York-Style Cheesecake

Those who know me well, will know that I am a sucker for cheesecake. Even if you don't know me well, all you have to do is head over the the recipe index on my blog and you may notice that there is already an American Chocolate Ripple Cheesecake, Japanese Cheesecake and a White Chocolate Yuzu Cheesecake recipe in the dessert gallery. I even have a recipe for Blackberry Cheesecake Brownies. That is pretty telling isn't it? ๐Ÿ˜

What's not to love about cheesecake? If your answer is that you don't like cheese, then I'm sorry but I don't think we can ever be friends ๐Ÿ˜‚ Jokes apart, the decadent taste and texture of cheesecake belies the fact that it is fairly simple to make. Cheesecake lovers know that they can enjoy this velvety smooth and creamy dessert anytime they want by stirring up a few basic ingredients including cream cheese, sugar and eggs, pouring it over a crust made of graham crackers or digestive biscuits and baking it till done. The only difficult part is waiting for the cheesecake to set in the fridge which takes a couple of hours! But then again, good things come to those who wait, right? ๐Ÿ˜œ

So, why did I make cheesecake yet again you ask? Well aside from the fact that I don't need any excuse to make this dessert, I realized that I didn't have the classic New York-style cheesecake on the blog and in this recipe, I tried a few new tips and tricks that I hadn't in my other cheesecake recipes.

For starters, I pre-baked the crust for 10 mins. With my previous cheesecakes, I just chilled them in the fridge prior to pouring in the filling and baking. Pre-baking the crust made it firmer and crunchier. For the first time, I used graham crackers instead of digestive biscuits to make the crust and I finally understand why they are preferred. Much superior in terms of both texture and flavour.

A little bit of cornstarch or flour in the cheesecake batter is insurance against cracking and makes the cake easier to cut into clean slices, though it does change the texture of the cheesecake a bit. Starch makes the cheesecake more firm and sturdy, while a cheesecake that relies on eggs alone has a softer, super-creamy texture. I added flour in this recipe and yes, there were absolutely no cracks and I was able to get very clean slices. I agree that the texture was not as soft as when flour is not used but I still thought it was pretty good.

A water bath isn't mandatory if you use starch in your recipe. Many recipes even suggest baking a starchless cheesecake on its own (the American Chocolate Ripple Cheesecake and White Chocolate Yuzu Cheesecakes on the blog were baked in the oven sans a water bath), but for this cheesecake I did use a water bath just like how I did when I made the Japanese cheesecake. A water bath helps cook the cheesecake gently while also creating a steamy environment so the surface doesn't get too dry. It serves like a day spa for the cheesecake, and makes it supremely smooth and creamy. I have to concur! You don't need to be intimidated though - a water bath is not that hard. Just set the cheesecake in a roasting pan or other large baking dish, fill it with a few inches of boiling water, and put the whole contraption in the oven. The whole shebang takes a few minutes extra but is worth the effort. Wrapping the cheesecake pan in foil also helps keep any water from seeping through the cracks of the pan.

I also went a step further and made a fresh strawberry sauce. The sauce turned out lush, thick, bursting with fresh summer strawberry flavor and stunning in its ruby-red glory. The acidity from the strawberry sauce cuts through the richness of this dessert and makes for a perfect topping.

Creamy, sinful, non-stop bliss! Try it you guys ๐Ÿ˜Š

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Floral Surprise from Flowers And Kisses, Singapore

Product Review

I received a delightful surprise from the good folks at Flowers and Kisses, Singapore last Saturday morning. Delivered to my doorstep was a well-executed arrangement of vibrant roses, gerbera, white daisies, baby's breath and fillers wrapped in colourful paper along with a personalised note. 

I will play up the "women like flowers" stereotype here because in my case, it is true! I love all things pretty and flowers in particular, holds extra appeal. Every weekend I bring back an assortment of fresh flowers from the market and make it the centrepiece on my dining table. I like looking at the delicate blooms, smelling their fragrance and I love how they add pops of colour and instantly brighten up the surroundings. 

When flowers come in the form of a gift, it doesn't matter to me how much or little they cost. It doesn't matter if they were bought from a florist or directly plucked from the fields. They captivate me either way! Even though ephemeral they still have the power to make me feel special. 

When I was asked to review the quality of a custom floral bouquet and the delivery service, I was happy to oblige. A carefully selected bouquet of blooms delivered to my doorstep.....that's hard for a girl like me to resist! 

Flowers And Kisses, is an e-commerce floral company that operates in Singapore. The company stands by the belief that the right mix of flowers can expressively convey any emotion and that everybody should be able to gift a bouquet of flowers whenever they like.

You can select from their wide range of their affordable and high-quality designs for the gift that best represents your thoughts. The flowers are plucked fresh daily, and each bouquet is handcrafted with care by artisanal florists. With same day delivery, they aim to deliver bouquets straight from the garden to your home. 

I received the flowers at the timeslot I had requested with an SMS update on the delivery/receipt status. The flowers were fresh and pristine and the arrangement was beautifully executed. The thoughtful personalized note made it all the more special. 

I checked out their website and I found it to be well designed and easy to navigate. You have the option to shop by occasion, flower type and bouquet style.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Recipe of the month: Mint Pulao

This recipe is very close to my heart so it just had to make the cut on the recipe section of my blog. I always feel that I haven't featured enough rice recipes on my blog so with this one, I feel marginally better!

I don't cook fancy food at home most of the time. Someone may have once implied something of the sort (*cough cough*...my sister...*cough cough* ๐Ÿ˜‚). Far from it actually! If you come at take a look at our typical weekly menu stuck on the fridge, the usual suspects would include chapati with sides like dal, paneer butter masala, egg curry or generic subzis, dosas like ragi dosa, neer dosa, uppu-huli-khara dosa and rava dosa, stuffed parathas,  poori-chole, pav bhaji, pongal, bisibele bhath, pulao, biriyani and the likes of it. I reserve the more time consuming South Indian breakfast dishes like akki rotti, idli-vada, guliappa, patrode and dosa, traditional Udupi-style full meals and chaats for weekends when I have time on my hands to do them justice. Some other weekend indulgences would include pesto or creamy pasta, homemade pizza, risotto, black bean burgers, noodles, fried rice and a few of our favourites from South-East Asian, Mexican, Thai and Middle Eastern cuisine. Starting this year onwards, I've decided to incorporate different salads into our meal plan but that is only a bi-weekly lunchbox affair. So you see, no matter what recipes you see on my blog, Indian food still reigns supreme in my household and that is always how it will be. It is the food I grew up with, the food that evokes the strongest sentiments/fondest memories and the food I will eat until my last breath (so melodramatic I am no? ๐Ÿ˜). 

So back to when I was still an unexperienced (and not a very creative) cook, there were only a handful of recipes that I could depend on when I had guests at home for lunch or dinner. This mint pulao was one of them. I think over the years, I must have made this dish for all my family members and close friends! This dish is a favourite of mine and my husband's and it features on our weekend menu quite frequently. It has also been appreciated time and again when we have made it for other people reinforcing our trust in it. And although I have come a long way since those initial years and learnt many many more interesting dishes, I still continue to make this pulao. This is one dish that both me and the husband make with equal frequency so neither one of us claims it to be our speciality ๐Ÿ˜› I'm pretty sure I got the recipe from somewhere but over the decade, it has gone through many improvisations that I feel like I can call it my own now.

Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow at home and I have plenty of family and friends who grow their own mint. This recipe is super easy and has a basic ingredient list all of which can be easily found in any reasonably well-stocked Indian pantry. I prefer to keep this dish simple without the use of too many spices and vegetables so if you also happen to have basmati rice, coconut milk, potatoes and peas, you have pretty much most of what you need to make this pulao! Serve it with any raita of your choice, a simple green salad and papad or chips and you have a great tasting main course in less than an hour ๐Ÿ˜Š

Since this is a very easy recipe, I have not included the step-by-step photos (I may update it at a later time). Just follow the recipe and you will be fine. This recipe easily doubles and can be halved to serve only two people. 

Go try it folks! 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Begonia Brilliance at the Flower Dome & Children's Garden at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The past week has been all sorts of things - hectic, exhausting, fun, stressful and exciting! The husband is away on a business trip and I have been trying to hold the fort in the midst of a packed working schedule, finding ways to keep the twins occupied during the holidays, finishing their school project, managing them in the evenings, maintaining my daily exercise schedule, meal planning, grocery shopping, eating healthy and devoting my time to a few important commitments that unexpectedly popped up this week. I do have my domestic helper for support but my bad habit of trying to take on more tasks than I can handle often wears me out. For instance, right now, my kids are fast asleep and common sense dictates that I should be too but instead, I feel like I ought to blog and that is what I am doing (sometimes even I find myself infuriating ๐Ÿ˜›) Anyway, back to the subject, being a single parent while the significant other is away is not easy so I salute all those of you with frequently traveling spouses who do it year round! You are all crusaders! I think it would drive me completely nuts ๐Ÿ˜

On the rare occasions that I find myself in this situation, I find weekends particularly challenging because I need to plan activities for the kids. Now especially with the school holidays ongoing, their usual art classes have been temporarily suspended and they have a break from their swimming lessons too. Add to that, most of their playground friends and classmates have been mostly away on holiday. The net result for the poor critters is boredom. And although I am not opposed to the notion of my kids being bored, this substantial lack of activity and interaction is a tad too much for my comfort (and theirs!). That being said, I always tend to overthink these matters because the kids have been nothing but cheerful and manageable during the past month. They spent a lovely ten days with their grandparents at the start of the month. Subsequently, we devised various indoor activities to keep them engaged during the day and our helper is religiously taking them out to play in the morning and evening so it isn't as awful as it seems ๐Ÿ˜›

But with their beloved Daddy being away, I have been determined to make their weekends extra special because I feel like they deserve it. And doing that, given the facilities Singapore has, is not a difficult task. I love love love how Singapore is such a family-friendly country. There is no dearth of options when it comes to activities for kids - both indoors and outdoors. I've mentioned this before - going to water parks is something my kids enjoy more than anything else. The Far East Organization's Children's Garden at Gardens by the Bay is particularly close to their heart and since I had two corporate passes to the cooled conservatories with me, I decided to buy two more and take my helper and the kids to check out the Begonia Brilliance floral display at the Flower Dome and then treat the kids to a splashing good time at the Children's Garden. 

So, I've done an entire blog post on the Gardens by the Bay. I also did two individual posts on previous floral displays namely the Tulip Mania and Blossom Bliss. I didn't actually plan on doing a blog post for the Begonia Brilliance but it turned out the photos I took were decentish and I had absolutely no drafts or other plans for me next blog post so I put it together very last minute and in record time ๐Ÿ˜› I'm glad I did because I realise I hadn't included the Children's Garden in any of my previous posts. 

The kids had been badgering me to take a trip in the MRT. They don't usually ride the MRT so it is somewhat of a treat for them! After a ride that seemed to take eternity (I think we got a year's worth of MRT ๐Ÿ˜) we still reached the Gardens fairly early, around 9:45am. The weather was moody en route with alternating grey and blue skies and sudden unexpected showers. I wasn't sure if we could do the Children's Garden considering how it looked like the skies would open up any minute but I pushed the thought out of my mind. We first occupied a nice bench and gave the hungry kids a hearty breakfast. We then immediately headed to the Flower Dome. 

Begonia Brilliance Floral Display

I was familiar with the name Begonia and could identify the flower from a line-up but I had no idea how many varieties there were or how supersized they could be!  Some varieties of this eye-catching flower are much sought after for their large and stunning flowers. This floral display is the first of its kind at Garden's by the Bay showcasing more than 50 varieties with beautiful blooms in a spectrum of reds, oranges and yellows. Apparently some of the flowers have been grown by Gardens by the Bay’s horticulturists. 

Stepping into the cool Flower Dome, we were instantly taken with the bright pops of colour within the floral display at the entrance. The girls went "WOW!" and after constant (and I mean constant!) reminders to not touch the flowers, I think the message finally sunk in that a pluck-fest was definitely out of the question!

Although it was early there were already quite a few visitors (although nothing compared to the throngs of people I witnessed at a previous Blossom Bliss). While my helper kept an eye on the girls, I was able to easily take photos of the showy flowers at my own pace. 

The Flower Field was (as usual) the main highlight with Begonias arranged in an undersea realm set-up with octopuses, jelly fish, manta rays and giant clams.