Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Recipe of the month: Roasted Butternut Squash and Farro Salad


Finally the time has come for another salad on the blog (bring my grand total to three ๐Ÿ˜‚). I had started feeling guilty for promising to post more salad recipes and not staying true to my word. But better late than never right?

I showcase a lot of the salads that I make for myself and the husband on a weekly basis on Instagram (if you are not following me yet....what are you waiting for dude?). But like I've said somewhere before, preparing a salad for a blog post is a challenge for me because it requires me to do it over the weekend and the thought of eating salads over the weekend never crosses our mind! Not that we are casting any aspersions on their potential to serve as a good appetizer or even as a main meal, but we have so many other classic dishes, comfort foods and indulgent meals that we would much rather make on the weekend owing to the luxury of time and energy.

But I do get a ton of requests to post more salad recipes on the blog so I decided to break my weekend rule for a change. It turned out to be a good thing too because on that particular day, after a hearty brunch of homemade mushroom-ricotta ravioli in a luxurious tomato-cream sauce, we felt like having a light dinner and this salad worked perfectly! 

So, this is how a little backstory of how this salad came together,
When it comes to salad grains, my numero uno is farro....by a MILE. Farro gets an A-plus nutritional rating. It is nearly fat-free and completely cholesterol-free, making it a heart-healthy choice and perfect for vegetarians and vegans. Farro is a great source of iron and is extremely high in fiber. However note that while farro is a whole grain, it is not gluten-free. I love how nutty and chewy this ancient grain is and how it beautifully blends into any salad. Quick cook farro is so much more convenient since the cooking time is drastically reduced but I don't always get my hands on it so I make do with the regular kind (in Singapore I usually buy from Cold Storage or Redmart). I have a tendency to favour farro, pearl barley and pearl couscous in the salads I make probably because of their texture. On the other hand, I am not picky when it comes to salad leaves. I like 'em all! I tend to use baby spinach a lot more because of its nutritional value, easy availability and the fact that I enjoy it. In my household, we love butternut squash and pumpkin. My most preferred way of cooking the squash family is roasting in the oven because it just turns so tender and sweet. The other components of this salad were fairly easy choices - feta cheese (gotta have it every time!), pistachios (by far, my most favourite nut) and dried cranberries (I am obsessed with them!). I like the bite raw onions give to salads so I generally add them but if that isn't something you would like, you can either skip them or consider roasting the onions in the oven along with the squash.

For the dressing, I rustled up my favourite apple cider vinegar - Dijon mustard vinaigrette. You could use whatever salad dressing you like but I suggest you try this one (if you haven't yet). I usually don't use store-bought salad dressings except for one roasted garlic balsamic vinaigrette that I love. I just want to avoid any nasties store-bought salad dressings may contain so I am more comfortable preparing my own. It hardly takes 5 minutes anyway.

I hope you try this salad. Go through the notes section for loads of suggestions on substitutions and variations.

Happy eating! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Valentine's Special: Nanaimo Bars

I saw these delectable bars on a blog I religiously follow about 7 years ago and it was love at first sight! Until then, I had frankly never even heard of Nanaimo Bars.

The Nanaimo bar is a dessert item of Canadian origin. This no-bake dessert is named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island. It consists of three layers: a wafer and coconut crumb-base, custard flavoured butter icing in the middle and a layer of chocolate ganache on top. Many varieties exist, consisting of different types of crumb, different flavours of icing (e.g. mint, peanut butter, coconut, mocha), and different types of chocolate.

The idea for trying out the recipe had been lurking somewhere in the depths of my mind all these years. It wasn't until last week while casually browsing instagram, these Nanaimo Bars popped up on my feed and propelled me into action! With Valentine's Day around the corner and all things chocolate gaining all-round favour, I thought there couldn't be a more perfect time to make these for my family. 

With a crunchy and nutty texture on the bottom, creamy sweet custard goodness in the middle and decadent chocolate on top, I can completely understand why these bars are so popular! And although I imagined that these bars would taste cloyingly sweet, they were actually just right (for me) so that turned out to be another win! My husband and kids loved them too so I feel a bit silly waiting so long to try the recipe ๐Ÿ˜

Now, if you have followed my previous Valentine's Day posts, you will know that I don't attach any special significance to this day. It is like any other day (except that I eat more fancy than usual and  subsequently get high on sugar!). I genuinely believe that I am an affectionate person by nature and I do try my best to make those dear to me happy on a daily basis. And when it comes to food, they way I express my love is loud and clear! ๐Ÿ˜

That being said, I do have a tradition of making a special dessert on this day every year. It is just something that I like doing and it makes my family happy, so heck, why not right? If you are like me and plan to whip up a sweet treat for a loved one, then you cannot go wrong with these Nanaimo Bars. In case you want to try some other dessert, I have recipes for all kinds of cakes, cupcakes, pies, brownies, tarts, fudge and cookies in the recipe archives so take a good look around okay?

I took my own sweet time to make this dessert and so it ended up being a leisurely task. The blog post on the other hand was a completely different story! I had no other time to photograph the dessert except for a busy weekday morning (that also happened to be cloudy) so in the midst of getting ready for work and attending to the kids, I did the best I could! And did I mention, my kids were climbing all over me to get "good pictures" of my creation with their little cybershot camera? ๐Ÿ˜€ I've spared you from my characteristic ramblings in this introduction of this post because, I honestly didn't have time for any of it!

Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours ๐Ÿ’–

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Family Picnic to Upper Seletar Reservoir, Singapore

This post is long overdue!

I had made up my mind to blog about all the places in Singapore that are worth visiting. Both the popular tourist hotspots as well as the quieter, off-the-beaten-track kind of places. This post identifies with the latter category.

So, last year, a few months before the twins fourth birthday, we bought them their first ever bicycles. They were elated beyond measure! We were in Decathlon for about two hours and ended up emerging from the store with much more than just two bicycles and helmets ๐Ÿ˜†๐Ÿ™ˆ It took some convincing to impress upon the girls the necessity of wearing helmets but since the ones they chose were pink (it obviously had to match their pink and very girly bicycles!), they eventually consented. Both bicycles had training wheels and we felt like we should give the girls a reasonable amount of time getting used to the bicycles before taking the training wheels off.

After getting the hang of it a couple of times in one of the deserted visiting car parks within our condo premises, we wanted to take the girls outdoors for a more fun riding experience. The big question was…where? The answer came to us fairly quickly. One of the best things about Singapore is the abundance of well-maintained parks, park connectors, walkways, cycling tracks and open green spaces where you can take the kids out to play or cycle. It was the husband who suggested Upper Seletar Reservoir. Having never been there before, I was keen to visit. 

We decided to go on a weekend morning and I put together a hearty picnic brunch to keep the family happy and energized. We crammed the bicycles into the boot of the car and set off on the (fortunately) relatively short drive. 

The Seletar Reservoir was built in 1920 and officially opened by HRH, Princess Alexandra in 1969. In 1992, it was renamed as the Upper Seletar Reservoir and went on to become a marked historic site.The 15-hectare park features  iconic rocket-shaped viewing tower, and is a frequent venue for joggers, walkers and fishing enthusiasts.

Today, the Upper Seletar Reservoir is one of the four reservoirs that borders Singapore's nature reserves. The other reservoirs are the MacRitchie Reservoir, the Lower Peirce Reservoir, and the Upper Peirce Reservoir.

I had no preconceived notions in my mind of how the park was going to be so I was glad to see the road leading away from the hustle and bustle of the city and into more green and peaceful territory. We pulled into the parking lot and were a little surprised to see a mob of long-tailed macaques sauntering about. The girls squealed with excitement and if I hadn't restrained them, would have surely made a beeline for them! 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Recipe of the month: Aloo Soya Ki Subzi (Potato and Soya Chunks Curry)

Presenting the first recipe post of 2019! This recipe is new territory for me and I am pleased that I have kick started the year by going out of my comfort zone ๐Ÿ˜„

Soya chunks or Soybean protein can be considered a "complete protein" since it provides all of the essential amino acids for human nutrition. Soy chunks are suitable for vegetarians, vegans and lactose-intolerant and hence, popularly used as a substitute for poultry and meat. Surprisingly, soya chunks have been reported to have a protein content higher to that of eggs or meat and contain negligible fat. However, there is considerable debate on the health benefits of soy products (especially the more processed varieties) and I am inclined to err on the side of caution and use it in moderation in my future cooking. 

Soya chunks are dry when you purchase them. They need to be reconstituted in water, which causes them to become spongy. Plain soya chunks do not have much flavor at all, but they absorb sauces, spices and flavorings exceptionally well. Soya chunks are inexpensive and easy to cook with. You can use them in salads, stew, soup, curry, rice dishes and stir-fries. On the downside, I've noticed that not everyone is a fan of this product. Some people do not like the smell and/or texture of soya chunks. 

As a mother, I am always concerned that my kids are not getting enough protein from their diet. It is important to me that they consume a balanced diet and incorporating plant-based protein is something I am consciously trying to do. With my little picky-eaters, I have failed with tofu and I'm terrified to even try tempeh and miso ๐Ÿ˜† I'll admit I don't have much experience cooking with soya chunks. For some reason, the husband detests them and hence they rarely made an appearance on our dinner table. As for myself, I have a neutral opinion on soya chunks - don't love them but don't hate them either. I remember thoroughly enjoying a soya chunks pulao years ago at a friend's house but then had a bad tasting experience with a side dish sometime later. I picked up a packet from the supermarket recently and thought I'd make something for the kids and see how they react to it. 

This recipe is adapted from a wonderful blog that I have been following. I have made minor adjustments to the recipe to suit my taste. The resulting semi-dry side dish turned out quite good. We enjoyed them with rotis (even the husband sampled some). The good news is that my kids ate it (they declared it was paneer! ๐Ÿ˜†) and so in future, I will consider occasionally featuring soya chunks in recipes that I make for my kids ๐Ÿ˜Š

Here is the recipe. Hope you like it too!