Monday, July 22, 2013

Restaurant review: MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms), Singapore

This is one restaurant that I have been eagerly waiting to review. Hearing about the opening of this restaurant in Singapore was music to my ears! Before I proceed with my review, here is some history about MTR. 

MTR has served world class Karnataka cuisine since 1924. Don't you love food establishments which have such a long and rich history? I most certainly do! The founders of MTR originally hail from Dakshina Kannada (just like yours truly) so understandably, I have a soft spot for anything associated with the brand. For me, MTR is a brand that is synonymous with good quality food and culinary products. My pantry is filled with their range of spice powders, instant mixes and snacks. It is something my kitchen just can't do without. I cannot remember if I've been to the MTR restaurant in Bangalore or not but my hubby has and he was reminiscing about how much he had enjoyed the food there. 

I should tell you the events surrounding my first visit to MTR in Singapore. I was beginning to think that I was going to be the last among the Kannadigas in Singapore to check out this restaurant since I had been frequently seeing MTR-related Facebook updates from family and friends living here. Naturally, I had been yammering about the same for a while. It so happened that a few weeks ago, my hubby had a charity marathon at the lovely Gardens by the Bay on a Saturday morning at 7:30 am and he had been nudging me to tag along for company. Not being one to be deprived of my beauty sleep over the weekend, I of course said a firm NO at first. But then he said the one thing to completely change my mind - a promise of breakfast at MTR after the marathon (a little bit of bribery goes a long way now doesn't it?!). I wanted to review the restaurant as well so I was looking forward to going there very much. One of my husband's friends was also running the marathon so we asked him to join us.

That's the heading over to MTR

Monday, July 15, 2013

Baker's Corner: Savoury Whole Wheat Buns

I've been on a health-binge lately. I get afflicted by this rare phenomenon once in a blue moon! I've been wanting to shift a few pounds for a while but never got around to doing it (or rather, wasn't all that serious about). A few weeks ago, I decided that procrastination wasn't doing me any favors so I headed straight to my fridge and to my pantry afterwards and started chucking out all the things I thought I shouldn't be eating, mostly the white stuff and processed food. I even emptied out my snack drawer at work so that I wouldn't be tempted to indulge in my stash of coffee-break goodies. This was swiftly followed by a trip to the grocery store where I piled my trolley with a multitude of whole grains, a variety of leafy greens, herbs, veggies and fruit, and last but not least, chalked out a weekly exercise regimen. Needless to say, I embarked on this new path to skinnyville, fervently hoping that I would stick to it! far so good  

One of the biggest challenges I face apart from the occasional fast food and fried food cravings is the snack cravings that roughly hit me between 4 to 5pm. Feeling peckish is the driving force for me to go down to the canteen and grab a spring roll, curry puff or a packet of chips or cookies to go along with my evening coffee. To avoid this, I made up my mind to make my own healthy snack at home. I knew that I had to make it a point to eat only that whenever the snack cravings reared their ugly head. 

I've been baking buns and rolls for quite a while now and I have always used refined flour for the same. This time, I decided to try my same recipe with 100% whole wheat flour. I thought I would do a savory herbed whole wheat bun. This recipe for the bun is modified from my previous potato bun and pizza bun recipe. Instead of doing a stuffed bun, I incorporated extra flavor into the dough in the form of caramelized onions, garlic, fresh herbs, red chilli flakes and some low-fat Parmesan cheese.  I also used olive oil instead of melted butter in the recipe. I was almost certain that the buns would not be as soft and fluffy as the ones I make from refined flour but surprise....surprise, they were just as soft and tasted pretty awesome! I was delighted with the results. I made a small batch over the weekend and froze the rest of the dough to bake later in the middle of the week. One small bun per day was enough to satisfy my evening snack cravings which made the whole endeavor worth while. 

Here is the recipe for the savoury whole wheat buns. You can switch it up any way you like by using any combination of fresh herbs, experimenting with different seasonings and making creative shapes with the dough.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Recipe of the month: Vegetarian Nasi Goreng

I haven't cooked anything blog-worthy in about a month. A recent influx of guests, a family holiday, a deluge of pending chores at home, a poster presentation at a local conference and a backlog of work at the office has contributed to my lack of motivation in the kitchen. I was solely relying on previously drafted recipe posts to keep my blog afloat but now I'm on top of things again so I decided to get back to doing what I love to do! 

While holidaying in Bali recently, I signed up for a traditional Balinese cooking class at the resort that I was staying. I've always been intrigued by the Southeast Asian style of stir-fried rice and noodles because I am miserable at making it so I informed the instructor that I would like to learn how to make vegetarian Nasi goreng (which literally means "fried rice" in Indonesian). Nasi goreng can refer simply to fried pre-cooked rice, a meal including stir-fried rice in small amount of cooking oil or margarine, typically spiced with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), shallot, garlic, tamarind and chilli and accompanied with other ingredients, such as egg or meat.

For the cooking class, I had my sister-in-law for company so in the evening, we left our room for the kitchen. The first thing that struck us was the vast array of fresh and colorful vegetables and ingredients that were arranged neatly on the table. There were several ingredients to the Nasi goreng but the procedure was fairly simple. We were taught to use leftover cooked red rice for the dish which I was happy about since I don't normally eat red rice. I loved using a mortar and pestle to pound the chillies and garlic instead of using an electrical appliance. I think that makes any dish taste better! I grossly under use my mortar and pestle in my own kitchen, bringing it out occasionally to crush things like Indian spices and nuts. Anyway, coming back to our Nasi Goreng adventure, the finished dish was a colorful and flavorful vegetarian fried rice, garnished with fried shallots and cashew nuts and served with rice crackers and a side salad. As we were to serve this dish to my mother-in-law (who doesn't eat egg) for dinner, we took away the fried egg before serving. Fortunately for us, she really enjoyed it! Feeling significantly less intimidated by making fried rice, I made up my mind to try it out in my own kitchen when I got back to Singapore :)

This is the picture of the Nasi Goreng that I made in Bali. What do you think? Does my home-made  attempt look similar?

Here is the adapted recipe for the Nasi goreng. This recipe is from Mini, a lovely local woman and chef at Bali Eco Stay, the resort where I learned to make it. I have slightly modified her recipe in that I've changed the type of oil to peanut oil (she used coconut oil), reduced the amount of oil used,  increased the amount of spice, slightly reduced the amount of sweetness, used a touch more seasoning of salt than what was originally suggested and incorporated the spring onion into the garnish. I wanted to make this dish as healthy as possible so I used brown rice and I skipped the fried garnishes. If you like it any different, you can always make the required tweaks.

This is a healthy, hearty, vibrant, vegetarian, vegan-friendly and gluten-free dish. I won't lie to you, it requires a considerable amount of time and patience to make but it is well worth the effort. I think if you are new to the Southeast Asian style of cooking and cuisine, then the ubiquitous Nasi Goreng would be a great start!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Restaurant review: Beirut Grill, Singapore

Beirut Grill is a Lebanese restaurant located near the colorful and buzzing Arab street in Singapore. Being a fan of Middle-Eastern food and loving this ethnic neighborhood of Singapore, my visits to Arab street are frequent. I'm captivated by the medley of fruity smells from the hookah/shisha wafting around, the exotic perfume and spice shops, the array of shops selling colorful Persian carpets and rugs, the numerous little cafe dotted streets and the cute little boutiques housing quirky merchandise. I've been to several restaurants at Arab street although this is the first one that I've reviewed in my blog. I had been to Beirut Grill a few years ago with my hubby on a hot, sunny afternoon and we had enjoyed a delicious set lunch. Keeping that in mind, we decided to take two guests who were visiting us to take in the sights, sounds and smells of Arab street and to unwind over dinner at this restaurant. 

I enjoy Lebanese cuisine because of the abundance of whole grains, vegetables, herbs and fruits that it incorporates. Typical flavors found in Lebanese cuisine include olive oil, herbs, garlic and lemon. Beirut Grill is popular for its mezze which is categorized as hot and cold. Similar to the tapas of Spain and antipasto of Italy, mezze is an array of small dishes served on a platter, creating an interesting array of colors, flavors, textures and aromas. Beirut Grill offers authentic Lebanese food with key ingredients including herbs and spices that are said to be brought in from finest shops in Beirut which happens to be the capital and largest city of Lebanon. 

Before I delve into the restaurant and the food, I need to lament on the crummy photographs in this post. I blame it on the dim lighting and my lame point and shoot camera! Try as I may (ok...I didn't try that hard!), I couldn't get better shots than this *sighs*