Friday, November 29, 2013

Recipe of the month: Mexican Fried Rice

Put on a sombrero and grab a's Mexican on the menu today!

Mexican cuisine is one among my favourite International cuisines. My first introduction to Mexican food was during my first visit to the US several years ago and that was when I developed an instant liking towards it. On a subsequent visit to the US while on conference, I gorged on Mexican (more of Tex-Mex) morning, noon and night! I think one of the many reasons I like Mexican food is their generous use of beans. While on the subject of beans, my love affair with this legume family has been a long standing one. Chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed beans, broad beans, lima beans, cannellini beans, name it, I love it! If I had my way, I would add beans to everything That being said, Mexican food for me is not just about the beans. The use of vibrant ingredients like corn, chili peppers, tomatoes, avocados, the aromatic spices and fresh herbs makes this cuisine all the more appetizing. 

Have I previously complained about the Mexican food in Singapore? I'm quite certain I have! Among the Mexican restaurants that I've been to, I consider Margarita's to be one of the better ones. At home, we only whip up simple Mexican dishes like salsa, guacamole, burritos and quesadillas. Okay, if I were being completely honest, I shouldn't say 'we' because it is my hubby who is solely responsible for anything Mexican that comes out of our kitchen. When craving anything outside of the aforementioned limited spectrum of dishes, we have no other choice but to head over to a Mexican restaurant. 

A while ago, I wanted to make a Mexican-inspired rice so I began scouring the internet for ideas. I saw more than a dozen recipes but none of them caught my fancy. I decided to make my own version by throwing ingredients that I felt tied in with the Mexican theme. Please don't look for authenticity in this recipe because it took shape inside my non-Mexican head (but let me assure you that it does taste good!). Most of the ingredients for this Mexican fried rice were stashed away in my fridge but I did have to make a trip to the grocery store for some of the not-so-common ones. I've realized that sourcing for fresh jalapeños in Singapore is quite a painful task. The only time we have found them was at Tanglin Market Place and Jason's Market. Since those places are not readily accessible from where I live, I don't get that many opportunities to come back home with fresh jalapeños. For this recipe, I ended up buying canned fire-roasted diced green chillies from the Mexican aisle of my regular grocery store which turned out to be unexpectedly good. Anyway, the rice turned out exactly the way I envisioned it to look and taste like. 

Before I start getting any more chatty, here is the recipe. If you are in a mood for Mexican, go for it! Don't fret if you end up with left-overs. Get out some tortillas, whip up a simple guacamole (or easier, use store-bought), top up with some more beans if desired, throw in a handful of grated cheese, add a dollop of sour cream and you have a delicious burrito ready for supper the next day


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Baker's Corner: Chocolate Brownies

This is my first tryst at baking brownies. That surprises me because baking these American squidgy cake squares had always been hovering at the back of my mind. When it comes to brownies, I prefer the fudgy or chewy kind to the the cake-like brownies. I mean, if I wanted cake-like brownies, I might as well eat cake right?! ☺ Anyway, in the past few weeks, I spotted several brownie recipes on Foodgawker (most of them fit the description of the kind of brownies that I like) and I was struck with a sudden burst of inspiration. After scrutinizing dozens of recipes, I realized that I already had all the ingredients that were required to make a good brownie. The fact that I don't need to go to the grocery store to buy anything for a recipe post puts me in a jubilant mood! I chalked out my own measurements of ingredients based on the texture of brownies that I desired and the quantity required and came up with this recipe. I can't cite a single recipe as a source because this version is a mishmash of various recipes. 

Baking brownies is really easy let me tell you. You only need a handful of ingredients, you don't need a stand mixer (I managed fine with my wooden spoon) and the brownies get done within the hour from start to finish. The best part is that you can bake a batch of brownies and stash them away in an air-tight container till required. For long-term storage, you can individually wrap and stick them in the freezer. This makes brownies an ideal dessert for dinner parties, potlucks, picnics or lunch boxes. Me and hubs polished off a few brownies at home and I took the rest for my colleagues the next day. And even though I had kept them in the fridge overnight, they didn't dry out as I had feared. They were still moist and fudgy the next day (hallelujah!). Warm the brownies slightly if desired and serve with a glass of cold milk or a hot cup of coffee. If you need to jazz them up, just drizzle with chocolate syrup and/or raspberry sauce and serve with vanilla bean ice-cream or even better, transform into an ice-cream sandwich. Brownie makeover possibilities are endless!

The photos in this post have been updated because I was very disappointed with how the first set of pics turned out. These pics still  don't do justice to the finished product but at least you can somewhat appreciate the fudgy-gooey interior of the brownies. This fudgy interior combined with the crusty, crinkly top form a perfect contrast of textures.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Snack Attack: Best Fries Forever, Singapore

Fries just have to be the most loved food on the planet, don't you think? I personally don't know anyone who doesn't like these golden strips of goodness. As for me, fries are something that I could eat every single day without getting fed up. Anytime I pass by KFC, I feel like popping in just to eat their delicious cheese fries. I quite like the fries at Ireland's Potato too. If there is anything better than fries, it is fries that comes along with an assortment of delicious creamy toppings, seasonings and garnishes

The last time we were at the movies, we dropped by Best Fries Forever. We were at Cathay Cineleisure at Orchard which houses one of the three kiosks of this establishment. The huge brightly coloured sign board immediately caught my attention and I thought the name was a pretty clever play on the popular abbreviation BFF.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Movie Recommendation: Rush

You know when you see a good movie and you can't stop raving about it to all and sundry? Well, that is how I feel about Rush. I'm bummed that my review for this movie is coming in at the eleventh-hour. This biographical movie based on real events that took place in the lives of two Formula 1 drivers during the early to mid-70's was released in theaters in September of this year. We managed to catch a screening just as it was getting ready to leave theaters in Singapore and boy! am I chuffed we did :)

I cannot call myself a Formula 1 enthusiast although I do recognize the names of the drivers, teams, circuits and I am roughly aware of the goings on during any particular season. My hubby is one of the biggest fans of the sport I know so thanks to him, I am familiar with most things F1, albeit fairly perfunctory. Having watched the Malaysian and Singapore Grand Prix live at the circuit, I have a fair understanding of what the hysteria is all about! So, it came as absolutely no surprise when I was summoned to go watch a movie that was based on the sport. Sometimes real life events are far more fascinating than fiction and experiencing it through the medium of cinema can be unexpectedly powerful.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Deepavali special: Date and Mixed Nut Laddus

To all my readers celebrating this joyous festival, wish you a very happy Deepavali!

Deepavali or Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is one of the most important Hindu festivals of the year. It literally translates to "row of lamps". Being South Indian, I use the term Deepavali while referring to this festival. The two main significant events associated with Deepavali are: welcoming the return of Rama to Ayodhya after 14 years of vanvas (exile) and the slaying of the evil demon Narakasura by Krishna. This bright and vibrant festival marks the triumph of good over evil. Now what could be a better reason to celebrate? 

I have a whole treasure trove of Deepavali memories. Growing up in India, every year, me and my family would go to my grandparents sprawling house near Manipal where aunts, uncles and cousins would congregate. On the day of Naraka Chaturdashi, we would wake up early, take a fragrant oil bath and get dressed in opulent new clothes (Deepavali shopping is a whole other story by the way!). We girls would get decked up with shimmering jewellery, sparkling bindis, colorful bangles and get our hair adorned with sweet-smelling jasmine flowers. The day would go by in a flurry of activities with us taking part in prayers and rituals at home with a customary visit to the temple, greeting visitors, receiving gifts from doting grandparents, lighting oil lamps thus making the house look resplendent, bursting firecrackers of all shapes, sizes and varieties and last but never least, savouring an assortment of mouth-watering food and delectable sweets traditionally served on a plantain leaf.

The myriad colors, warmth of glowing lamps, pomp and splendor of firecrackers, fragrance of coconut oil, incense, jasmine and the sizzling sounds and aromas emanating from the kitchen sums up Deepavali for me. The merry-making didn’t end with the celebrations on that day. During the couple of days that we were there, we would do some of the things that we often did during the summer holidays - play card and board games, engage in a game of hide and seek around the large estate, listen intently for spooky noises coming from the allegedly haunted hovel behind the house, sneak off to the beach, go visit our grandfather’s farm where we would pluck wild (and potentially poisonous!) berries and drink tender coconut water to our heart's content, roam around Manipal stopping by familiar haunts, visit relatives who lived in the area and go to restaurants in a large group to enjoy a meal together (the restaurant Diana in Udupi being a hot favourite). Those were good times and I get quite nostalgic while recollecting those wonderful years!

This year Deepavali in our household in Singapore is going to be fun because we have family who are arriving shortly from Kuala Lumpur to celebrate with us. The addition of relatives is going to turn the festival into an eventful one. The preparations are currently underway with a shopping trip to Little India, customary house cleaning, mammoth prep work in the kitchen, stringing of aromatic mango leaves into a welcoming thorana (festoon) to adorn the front door, colorful rangoli at the entrance-way, flower decoration for the God's mantap and arranging of lamps around the house. Once the guests arrive, we plan to spend time together, light the lamps, burst some sparklers and feast on a lot of food! So even though the celebration will hardly be on the same scale of what I was used to in India, I'm sure that it will still be lovely 

I made these date and mixed nut laddus for the festival. I decided to make a super simple Indian sweet because I also made chocolate chip cookies and red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for my young nephew and niece who are due to arrive. In an earlier post, I have already chronicled my fondness for dates so making these laddus was a no-brainer. And did I mention that it takes only 20 min to come together? Now if that isn't incentive to make it, I don't know what is!