Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Baker's Corner: Banana Walnut Cake

I recently bought a recipe book titled 'Mary Berry 100 Cakes and Bakes' at a local book fair. It was the variety of recipes and beautiful pictures that caught my attention. This was the first recipe I tried from the book. The original recipe was for an 'Apple and Cinnamon Cake'. Being a sucker for anything with apple and cinnamon in it, I knew I had to try it out. I did adhere to the recipe strictly the first time round and it turned out great The cake was rich, moist and it had the delightful flavour combination of apple and cinnamon. I loved it so much that I couldn't stop eating it. For those of you who are not a big fan of icing or cream on a cake, you will love this cake because it is all cake and no frills. I think it is perfect served with evening coffee/tea, at a casual get-together or at a picnic. I was so impressed with this recipe that on my subsequent baking venture, instead of experimenting with a different recipe from the book, I made a slight change to the same one. I substituted the apples with bananas to make a banana-walnut cake and the result was great as expected.

I hope you try this recipe and let me know the outcome!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Recipe of the month: Patrode (Step by step preparation)

Patrode is a dish from Mangalore (a major city and the headquarters of Dakshina Kannada) and something I have grown up eating. A spicy batter is made by grinding rice, dal, tamarind and red chilli. This batter is smeared on the colocasia leaves (also called taro or eddoe), which are rolled and steamed or fried. It is interesting to know that the primary use of colocasia is the consumption of its edible corm and leaves. In its raw form, the plant is toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate and the presence of needle-shaped raphides in the plant cells. However, the toxin can be destroyed and the tuber rendered palatable by cooking or by steeping in cold water overnight. In patrode preparation, a generous amount of tamarind is added to reduce the itchiness of the colocasia leaves.

I absolutely love patrode but I never imagined making it myself. A few reasons are because the colocasia leaves are so darn hard to find and the preparation of this dish is time consuming, messy and has to be executed properly to prevent any potential itchiness of the tongue and throat by the leaves. Every time I visit India, my mom and MIL go out of their way to make sure that I get a year's worth of patrode so I that won't miss it much until my next visit! These leaves grow contentedly in the vegetable patch of their backyard so my mom and MIL make it all the time. I bring back a carefully wrapped box or two of home-made patrode to Singapore and eat it judiciously so that it lasts up to a week. That is the extent of my love affair with patrode!

Recently, my hubby came home grinning ear to ear with two bundles of colocasia leaves which he stumbled upon in an Indian store in Singapore. I was surprised to see them because I had assumed that you don't get it here. I was slightly apprehensive of attempting to make it myself since I had never paid much attention to the procedure when it was made at home (eating was all I was interested in). I called my mom anyway and she explained to me how she makes them. I thought to myself, 'Ok, here goes nothing' and embarked on my patrode journey. An hour later, after I was done preparing it, I was afraid to even sample it. I handed it on a plate to my husband and I was intently watching his expression as he ate it. A few minutes and some contemplative expressions later, he announced that he could not tell the difference between the one his mom makes and the one I had just made! That was the biggest compliment I could ever get (the guy has taste buds like you cannot even imagine). 

There are different ways to make patrode. It can be steamed, shallow fried or made into a stir-fry or gravy but the shallow fried way is the one and only way I like it. I don't know why I've never taken much of a liking to the other versions of it! Anyway, here is the step-by-step preparation for the shallow-fried version of patrode.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Restaurant review: Whole Earth, Singapore

One of my very close friend cum colleague is of Peranakan Chinese descent. For the uninitiated, Peranakans are descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Indonesia and Singapore, inter-marrying with local Malays. The old Malay word "nonya" (also spelled nyonya), a term of respect and affection for women of prominent social standing, has come to refer to the cuisine of the Perakanans. Nonya cuisine, combines Chinese, Malay and other influences into a unique blend. Since my friend and I share a common love for food, it is one of the topics that invariably comes up during our daily lunch/coffee breaks. Considering she has an impressive understanding and appreciation for Indian cuisine (she was recently explaining to me how she likes her jalebis!), I have always wanted to be more aware of and experience the cuisine that is an integral part of her culture and identity. 

Nonya cooking is the result of blending Chinese ingredients and wok cooking techniques with spices used by the Malay/Indonesian community. The food is tangy, aromatic, spicy and herbal. Key ingredients include coconut milk, galangal, candlenuts as both a flavoring and thickening agent, laksa leaf, pandan leaves, belachan, tamarind juice, lemongrass, torch ginger bud, jicama, fragrant kaffir lime leaf, rice or egg noodles and cincaluk.

I recently heard about Whole Earth, a Thai-Peranakan Vegetarian restaurant on Peck Seah street in Singapore. I was surprised to hear that it served only vegetarian food (vegan to be precise). Somehow, I wasn't really expecting that! Whole Earth is where the rich Peranakan fare is creatively fused together with authentic Thai fare for fresh and flavourful Southeast-Asian cuisine. After some discussion and last minute coordinating of schedules, me and my colleagues decided to go there for lunch. I had heard that the place can get crowded so I made a lunch reservation in advance.