Monday, April 2, 2018

Vietnamese-Style Vegan Summer Rolls with a Peanut Dipping Sauce

Think summer. Think colorful veggies, fresh greens and aromatic herbs. Think of a light, healthy and flavourful meal. These Vietnamese-style summer rolls checks all the boxes! 

These fresh summer rolls or salad rolls are made from featherlight rice paper wrappers encasing fresh crunchy vegetables partnered with cold proteins, fresh herbs, and sometimes rice vermicelli noodles. Although they are Vietnamese in origin, there are plenty of variations that have popped up.

I have always had a thing for spring rolls. Who doesn't like the universally popular deep-fried snack? We eat spring rolls all the time at home (just for the family and also while entertaining) as well as at restaurants. My domestic helper makes delicious spring rolls and this is an appetizer I ask her to make regularly. The only time I had the fresh translucent kind of rolls was in Vietnam and even though I found them refreshingly different, delicious and a much healthier alternative to the deep-fried kind, I had not tried them for myself. With my current healthy eating plan going on in full swing, I felt it was high time to make these low-calorie packages of summer goodness. I had plenty of inspiration from my brother and sister-in-law who have been making summer rolls for a while and who had recommended that I try them. 

Now, pardon me but I'm not sure about the origins of the terms 'spring rolls' and 'summer rolls' and if they refer to two separate entities or even if the term 'spring roll' can be applied to both varieties but for this post, I'm sticking to the term summer rolls. Kapish?

I knew what veggies and herbs I was going to use but for the protein, I wanted to elevate the tofu to make it extra special. Psst...while on the subject of tofu, I'll let you in on a `secret - I actually hate tofu in its natural unmodified form. Don't like its texture one bit and I find it horribly bland. So, I made sure to transform it into something much more appetizing before it made its way into the rolls. And of course, I was also going to to a spicy flavour-packed dipping sauce on the side. Peanut butter and sriracha make a trendy combo and together, they are bound to result in an explosion of flavours that excite the palate. 

These summer rolls are highly customizable so you can add whatever veggies or greens you like. But understand that using fresh and colorful produce is paramount in summer rolls. Of course, you can use leftover ingredients like rice noodles or meat to fill your rolls but, you do want to make sure you include at least two to three elements with a crunch, like carrot, cucumber, bell peppers, bean sprouts, or lettuce. Fresh herbs will do wonders for capturing the Vietnamese fresh summer roll flavor. Just a few leaves of thai basil, mint, or cilantro can brighten up the flavor of the rolls. Also, garnishes like crushed peanuts and sesame seeds help to bring in even more flavour and texture. 

Setting your ingredients up in an assembly line on your workstation is key. It makes things much easier, less messy and you can trust that you won't forget any ingredient. 

Now doesn't that look appetizing? 



I think that Vietnamese fresh summer rolls are one of those things that people would like to eat but always assume are too cumbersome or difficult to make at home. I won't sugar coat it - there is considerable prep involved (mostly chopping) and it does take time to assemble the rolls but a lot of the steps can be done ahead of time and with a little bit of planning, you can get these done without feeling like being in the kitchen forever. Moreover, if you have a little help, it definitely makes things much easier. Get the partner, kids, siblings, parents, friends....whoever is around involved! Also, if it is your first time handling rice paper, you may fiddle a bit with the first few (and even destroy them!) but trust me, you will get the hang of it with a little practice. 

So if you haven't tried making these summer rolls yet, I suggest you waste no more time. My version here is a vegan and gluten-free one so I'm assuming it can cater to almost everybody right? These summer rolls can serve as a cool summertime appetizer, a wonderfully light lunch or dinner or a grab and go snack. They can be enjoyed room temperature or even cold. These light yet satisfying, nutritious and adaptable summer rolls must be included in your menu plan for the week. 

So let's get rolling shall we? 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Baker's Corner: Chocolate Coffee Cake with a Mocha Whipped Cream Frosting


Don't judge me based on this rich and indulgent recipe okay? For those following me on Facebook and Instagram you would know that I am still faithfully committed to my weightloss journey with a 5kg reduction since the start of this year (not too bad, eh?). I've doubled my intake of water and fruits, tripled my intake of whole grains and veggies and drastically cut down on refined sugar and processed foods. I'm still tossing up salads galore and trying to make conscious and healthy substitutions during every meal preparation (except on weekends of course 😛). I solemnly swear that I will be back with some delicious and healthy savoury recipes soon but for now, I have another sweet bake for you! 

This post is a prelude to my previous post. Earlier this month, it was my  husband's birthday and I thought I'd be a Stepford wife and bake him a nice cake 😆 I asked him if he would like a fruit-based cake, a chocolate cake or a coffee flavoured cake and his almost immediate reply was that he would prefer either a chocolate cake or a coffee cake. Since chocolate and coffee compliment each other brilliantly (the coffee making the chocolate taste richer, darker and more intense), I decided to pair both flavours together in my cake. I knew for sure that I didn't want to go the buttercream route so I zeroed in on whipped cream. I am intimidated by whipped cream and usually steer clear of it when it comes to cakes so I was determined to get it right this time. The week before his birthday, I browsed through several recipes, jotted down proportions, made notes and outlined the recipe I was going to try out. 


Turns out that the previous day of his birthday I started to feel feverish right from the time I woke up in the morning. It was unfortunate timing since I had actually planned to bake the cake and make the frosting that evening so I could decorate the cake and stash it in the fridge the next day before I left for work. So, after getting home from work that day, I ended up doing nothing and instead lay bundled up on the couch in a thick jumper and an even thicker quilt because I couldn't stop my teeth chattering from the chills in the midst of a blazing fever. To make things worse, a bout of coughing fits and a terrible sore throat completely put me out of commision. I had even lost my voice so a few indistinct croaks was all I could manage in the name of communication. Looking at my woebegone state, my husband cancelled the dinner reservations we had made for his birthday. He spent the rest of the evening taking charge of the household and looking after the kids while I could get the rest I so desperately needed. 

The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn feeling even worse than the day before. Fantastic right?! 😒 I knew there was no way I could go to work so I quickly texted my boss that I would be calling in sick. A session of steam inhalation, salt water gargling, a visit to the GP, 5-6 different kinds of medications, a few lozenges and copious amounts of hydration later, I started to feel marginally better. While the kids were at school I even took a nap and by afternoon the fever had subsided, I was in better spirits and able to converse in an audible language as opposed to frantic gesticulations. 

Racked with guilt that I put a damper on his birthday plans (not that he was even bothered!), I decided to go ahead with the birthday cake. I felt like it was the least I could do. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had a stash of mouth masks and latex gloves in my medicine cabinet and began to make the cake with my protective (albeit ridiculous) garb on. It is another matter that I looked more like a surgeon than a baker 😝 But then again, I couldn't afford the risk of spraying the birthday boy's cake with a cocktail of my nasty germs, could I?

In the end, the cake turned out to be quite the success story - the cake itself was very easy to make, the consistency and flavour of the whipped cream frosting came out better than I expected, the frosting and piping didn't take me any time at all and the cake was chocolatey, perfumed with coffee, dense and moist at the same time without being too sweet. Everyone gave it the thumbs up. And most importantly, no one fell violently ill after eating my cake! 😂



So for all the efforts I took to make this cake, don't you think you should be a dear and try out the recipe? And remember, reader feedback is important to me so please leave a comment if you do 😊

Here's to chocolate and coffee.....the two great loves of my life!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Restaurant review: Weekend Set Lunch at Punjab Grill, Singapore

I was at Marina Bay Sands with my family last weekend. We were there mainly for a lunch reservation having made no plans for my husband's birthday a few days earlier on account of me being sick. Racked with guilt, my only plan was to make up for it and enjoy a good meal with the troops in tow. We happened to reach the mall much earlier than was required. With no other solid plans, the kids were off running helter skelter all over the mall until we ushered them into a toy store, a move that made them stay put for a good hour 😝 It even helped us work up an appetite for lunch!

Nestled among the stores of the swanky The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Punjab Grill helmed by chef Javed Ahamad is an haute Indian restaurant serving contemporary Northern Indian cuisine. 

Frequently ranked as one among the best Indian restaurants in Singapore, Punjab Grill has raked up an impressive tally of awards since it opened its doors to Singapore diners. 


The sleek interiors give an aura of opulence and elegance. Inspired by the splendour of India’s Maharajas, Punjab Grill has been designed to capture the zeitgeist of that era. The abundant use of glass, metal and plush upholstery ups the glam quotient. My children even remarked how 'sparkly' and 'shiny' everything was! 

There is an outdoor seating area as well but it didn't appear as refined or intimate as its indoor seating counterpart. 



I found the light fixtures in particular very eye-catching!


Beyond the floor-to-roof length glass windows, you can see the chefs in action at the hand-beaten copper Tandoors.



Even though it was a weekend, the restaurant wasn't crowded. The staff attended to us immediately and menus, highchairs and separate kid-friendly cutlery were provided. 

The menu takes the diner through an epicurean journey through Indian’s richly diverse Northwest Frontier Province highlighting food from gourmet metropolises like Lahore, Peshwar, Rawalpindi, Kabul, Amritsar, Multan and Patiala. Also, make sure to check out the curated wine list and get suggestions regarding food-wine pairing from the staff. 

Although the à la carte menu looked appealing, we went for the weekend vegetarian set lunch which consisted of most of the Indian crowd-pleasers given a makeover with a dash of panache and modernity. On the subject of set menus, there are a variety of options to choose from including a five course avant-garde degustation menu so be sure to check them out when you are there.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Book Review: Travails of a Trailing Spouse by Stephanie Suga Chen


I'm aware that I haven't featured a book review on the blog in quite some time. Well, here I am changing that by bringing to your attention a good read I came across recently.

Travails of a Trailing Spouse is the debut novel written by Stephanie Suga Chen, a Taiwanese-American expatriate living in Singapore. A former partner of a New York City-based investment fund, she grew up in Michigan and moved to Singapore in 2012 with her husband, two children, and ageing cocker spaniel. Travails of a Trailing Spouse opened at #2 on the Straits Times bestsellers list. 

***Plot***
The book is a work of fiction chronicling the lives of four expat families during their stint in Singapore. There is Sarah, the trailing spouse, her neuroscientist husband Jason and their two young children who have left a familiar and stable life in the US behind to find their footing in Singapore, Ashley and Chad, the American-New Zealander seemingly perfect-for-each-other duo who lead an envious lifestyle, Carys and Ian, expats from UK whose perpetually stoic facade could be a cover-up for problems in the relationship or the odd American couple Sara and John whose unconventional marriage offers a steady source of gossip to their friends. The four couples form a close-knit group, filling their evenings with drinks at the pub, dinners at fancy restaurants, poolside barbeques and trivia nights. But everything doesn't stay hunky-dory for long as crumbling marriages, secrets among friends and a brush with the law threatens to break up the group dynamic. 

During the course of their adventure in the Lion City, the characters in the novel go through various highs and lows - dealing with the upheaval that relocation brings and the initial settling-in adjustments, forging new friendships, grappling with career stagnation, figuring out cultural assimilation, sorting through marital problems and ultimately finding oneself in the midst of it all.

My thoughts...
First things first - I absolutely loved the title of the book. It couldn't have been any more apt. The title effectively (albeit a tad dramatically) captures the point of view of the main protagonist. As I immersed myself further into the novel, I couldn't help but think that it would be hard for anyone to guess that this is the author's first novel. She does indeed have a flair for writing. Travails of a Trailing Spouse is well written with clean, innocuous and uncomplicated prose. The pace of the novel is brisk and it comprises of characters that are both interesting and relatable. The novel focuses on everyday aspects of life in Singapore, taking a frank and realistic look at friendships, marriage, motherhood and self-discovery. The novel highlights familiar scenes in Singapore expat life such as coping with the unforgiving heat and humidity of the tropics, recruiting and managing live-in helpers (or FDWs as they are known here), fitting in with the locals, amusement/annoyance at the widely considered unimpressive 'Singlish' (the informal, colloquial form of English that is used in Singapore), the exorbitant prices that the tiny island nation is infamous for including the luxury of owning a car, the challenges of owning a pet, the frustrations with frequently travelling spouses, the foreboding of having a brush with Singapore's very strict law, the dreaded annual 'haze', the stereotypical weekend getaways to nearby Bintan among others. The author has left no stone unturned - this is as comprehensive an overview of expat life in Singapore as it can be. Expat life in Singapore is vastly different from the local lifestyle and this novel highlights the former. I arrived in Singapore as an expat and a trailing spouse myself (opting for permanent residence and embarking on a career at the same time roughly two years later) so this book struck many chords with me. I'll admit, it did take me some time to get oriented with all the names of characters, their backgrounds and equation with one other, but once I did, there was no turning back. Although the novel does not boast of a complex storyline or delve into any niche genre, it makes for a light-hearted, mildly funny, insightful and an engaging read. 

I would recommend this book not only to expats living in Singapore but also extend it to anyone who has/is/planning to live abroad. Moreover, for those at a crossroads in life owing to relationships, career or  relocation, this book may resonate with you. Heck, even if you have lived your whole life in one place, it would still offer itself as an easy breezy read!


I would gladly read more of this author's work in the future. 


My rating for this book is


Have you read this book? Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.



Cheers,
Megha


Travails of a Trailing Spouse is available in the US from Amazon, and in Singapore from Kinokuniya, POPULAR, and Times. International orders can be made direct from the publisher, ST Press Books.

You can visit the author's Facebook page here




Disclaimer: I was sent an Advanced Reader's Copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I am hosting a book giveaway on my blog's Facebook page but this has no bearing on my review.