Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Recipe of the Month: Masala Chai (Spice-Infused Indian Milk Tea)

Okay so before you roll your eyes at me for featuring a 'chai' (tea) recipe, please hear me out. Not everyone can make a decent cup of tea (and note that I'm strictly talking about the Indian-style of milk tea here). I certainly couldn't for an embarrassingly long period of time. During the instances that I would have guests over and they would request for tea upon my persistence for a hot beverage, I would break into a cold sweat! Even now I don't consider myself good at making tea. Whoops! I know that is a damaging statement that questions my credibility as a recipe provider but please trust me when I say that this Masala Chai (which is made by brewing black tea with an assortment of aromatic Indian spices) turns out pretty great. My sister and parents will vouch for that!

I have been and always will be a coffee addict. I find that I am unable to start my day without coffee. I'd imagine terrible things happening to me if I don't get my caffeine fix from a cup of frothy filter coffee. Most of my teenage years and all of adult life has gone by drinking cup after cup of coffee so you can understand why I owe allegiance to this beverage. In stark contrast, my tryst with drinking tea has been a fairly recent one....probably only since the past 5 years or so. And this happens only when I am in India because there are a fair share of tea drinkers in the family and I feel rotten to be the odd one out by demanding for coffee. My mum and my sister love tea and they are almost wholly responsible for making me love this beverage. Most of the time it is regular tea that we drink but occasionally the masala version makes an appearance and that really puts a spring in my step!

I haven't yet featured a drink on the blog and I have been thinking about it for a while. For my first drink recipe, I imagined making something fancy on the lines of a mocha latte, salted caramel hot chocolate, an exotic summer cooler, a healthy smoothie or a fruity sangria. Well, clearly that didn't happen! The reason I decided to feature this recipe was because I needed to post something on the blog while holidaying in India. I had exhausted all my favours for guest posts so it time for me to get off my backside and start the ball rolling. I was scouting for something that was simple & easy to make, that was apt for the winter season, didn't require me to go grocery shopping and would highlight common household Indian pantry staple ingredients. BAM! Masala Chai! What is more popular, simpler, suitable on a cold day and quintessentially Indian than that? Moreover, I didn't have my Canon EOS 40D camera or my arsenal of trusty props so I had to settle on using my iPhone and whatever I could find available to jazz things up. I felt like a drink would be more forgiving with regard to compromised photography!

I have previously made my own spice blend for Masala Chai but it was a very random mixture of spices. I didn't have a set recipe for it. So, when I made it while I was at home in Mysore, I developed a recipe for it and tested it out on two occasions. The feedback I got was good enough for me to stick with it so here it is! Make this Masala Chai for yourself and revel in the warmth of these exotic Indian spices 

On a parting note, this will be my last post this year so wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy the holidays peeps. I shall meet you again next year with more recipes, reviews, reflections and ramblings!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas Special: Nigella's Ultimate Christmas Pudding

Christmas is in the air! Unfortunately where I'm at right now, a lot more is in the air and water and heaven knows where else. All of us at home recently fell prey to a nasty stomach bug (which is apparently doing the rounds) and are on the road to recovery. Following an entire day of violently ejecting anything I ate and not being able to keep anything down, I had to finally go to the hospital for a shot. After that my dad, mum and sister took turns to follow suit. The poor kids weren't spared either. But they bounced back much better than us adults and seem to be in high spirits despite the health upset. Probably the copious rehydration, rest, timely meds and round-the-clock TLC contributed greatly! The good thing is that after 3-4 days of pure misery, things are looking up and hopefully we will all be in the pink of health just in time to enjoy Christmas and New Year. Fingers crossed!

If you overlooked the last post on the blog which was a guest post for German Christmas Markets you need to go check it out right away! After I called in a favour with my sister-in-law (and fellow blogger) to do a guest post, I asked my husband to do the same. I wanted a dessert post in time for Christmas but I knew it was a little unfair to ask him since he doesn't do desserts. I went ahead and asked him anyway....cheeky me! He is the official gulab jamun maker of our household but the only time he made a western dessert was when he attempted a sticky toffee pudding a long time ago (which I thought was decent but he deemed it unsatisfactory). He said that he would think about it and after that I didn't badger him further. 

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when he sent me these pictures along with the recipe last week ☺ At first I didn't believe that he had made this himself! The poor dear had spent an entire weekend researching, shopping & making this attractive looking dessert for my blog and even took the time to take a few step-by-step pics and decorate it according to the Christmas theme. I have no doubts whatsoever that my husband loves me very much! It is another matter that he invited a bunch of his buddies home to give him company to polish off the pudding hahaha  ☺ Killing two birds with one pud! Smart move, no?

Okay so I'm done with my jibber-jabber. Over to the new dessert king of our household....

Greetings readers! It looks like you will be hearing from me once every year. This is the third post I am doing for Megha's blog and I must say one that I wasn't the least bit confident about. As she has already mentioned, desserts are hardly my forte. I love eating them at any time of the day but am quite clueless when it comes to making them. The lack of motivation to learn stems from the fact that she loves to bake and hence at any given point of time, there is no shortage of desserts at home. There are a few savoury dishes that I cook at home on a regular basis which form the foundation of my culinary expertise. I do experiment with other dishes every now and then (with varying degrees of success) but those end up being savoury as well. When she said she would like me to make a dessert for her blog, I was quite sure it was a bad idea. Nevertheless I decided to give it a shot. One has to make a start someday! 

I'd like to share with you a few pointers while making this steamed pudding. I chose this pudding mainly because it was in-keeping with the season and also because Nigella is a name we both trust when it comes to simple and hearty recipes. When I sent Megha the recipe, she was incredulous at the amount of time it took to make and was like - "You steamed that thing for 8 hours?! Are you crazy?". Like Nigella states, 8 hours combined cooking time might seem awfully time-consuming but it’s not as if you need to do anything to it in that time. The steaming of the pudding is done in two batches on different days so it really isn't as bad as it sounds. The recipe is quite simple and as long as you don't have plans to leave the house (you need to keep an eye on the pudding every hour or so as it is steaming), you don't need to worry about the time. For a guy like me who has only ever made one dessert in his life before making this one - if I can do it then anyone can! 

Another important point I want to mention before moving on - the original recipe states that a heatproof plastic pudding basin with a lid is required but I didn't have that so I used a plain old stainless steel basin. I covered it with a layer of clingwrap and then a layer of foil to ensure it would be watertight. I used a giant wok which I filled with water and placed the metal basin to complete the steamer setup. It worked pretty well and even reduced the combined cooking time from 8 hours to 6 hours. I have provided the original recipe in case you would like to try it out the intended way but you can take heart in the fact that improvisation is indeed possible!

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. You will hear more from me next year! For now, do check out this seemingly intimidating but very easy Christmas Pudding recipe 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas Special: German Christmas Markets - A Guest Post by Reshma @ like a lavendeR

When I knew that I was going to be in India for well over two months at the end of the year, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to prepare enough draft posts to keep the blog going. So, I decided to call in a favour!  I wanted to contact a fellow blogger who I was acquainted with, who was actively blogging and whose work I could trust well enough to feature on my virtual home. I must admit that there was only one name that came to my mind and that was Reshma. She is much more than an acquaintance....she is family. She is my cousin’s wife and over the years, my interaction with her has been so much that she has always seemed like part of our family. I am genuinely fond of this girl and I am so happy she took time out from her busy schedule to do a guest post for my blog  She is new to the blogosphere but if she keeps going like how she has been in the limited time that she has been a blogger, I see her going far! Reshma is a designer, an artist and a collector who currently resides in Germany. Her blog titled ‘like a lavendeR' showcases her many interests which include cooking, travel, home decor and much more. I think promising bloggers should be encouraged so make sure you follow the very talented Reshma on her Facebook page, Pinterest & Instagram to get updates on her amazing work. 

Woohoo… I am super enthusiastic and nervous at the same time about this post as it will be my first ever guest post. Thank you Megha for giving me this opportunity.

Greetings "Me in blogland" readers,
I am Reshma Vadiraj from Bangalore, currently living in Stuttgart, Germany. I am a new blogger who is still learning the ropes when it comes to blogging. I write about my travels, food and hobbies.

I am an admirer of Megha's blog and also like her personally. She is a very simple, fun loving and a well organised gal! I like the way she writes and her post 'A Letter to my Daughters on their first Birthday' was very touching. I always follow her Akki Rotti recipe and many other  delicious recipes and my son is a huge fan of  her Chocolate Brownies.
For my guest post, allow me to ignite your imagination. Picture a beautifully lit up sky, a vibrant festive atmosphere, sparkly christmas trees, gleaming rows of brightly illuminated stalls, the enticing aroma of cinnamon, vanilla, roasted almonds, glühwine and the cheery hum of people connecting with each other....the historic and traditional Christmas Markets have come to my part of the world!!!

Let me take you on a tour to the dazzling Christmas Market of Stuttgart and surrounding areas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My Photo Gallery: Twice Upon a Time

I said I would do a photo gallery featuring my little girls didn't I? Well, here it is! I thought what better time to publish this post then soon after their first birthday. 

I didn't want to do a write-up for this post. I wanted it to be all about the pictures because pictures speak a thousand words, don't they? But rather than it being a steady stream of photos, I thought it would be nice to intersperse the photos with some of my favourite quotes on motherhood, baby & children. Some of these quotes are from known authors but there are others for which the authors are unknown. I just left the acknowledgement out just for the sake of maintaining consistency. So to reiterate, these are quotes that I stumbled across the internet and have nothing to do with me  

This is not my girls debut appearance on my blog. They have been the highlight of a blog post some time following their birth which you can read here if interested. These photos were taken in the past one year - most of them at home and a few outdoors.

If the thought had crossed your mind, I intentionally chose to keep the faces of my children obscure in this post. It is my way of sharing with the world my love for them through the camera lens while still maintaining some degree of anonymity. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Recipe of the Month: Baingan Bhartha (Indian-Style Fire Roasted Eggplants)

Eggplant also known as brinjal, aubergine or baingan in hindi is the gorgeous shiny purple-skinned vegetable that is familiar to most of us. Eggplants are used commonly in Indian cooking. As far back as I can remember, I have always nurtured a fondness for eggplants. A lot of people carry a great deal of dislike for this versatile vegetable and I for one cannot fathom why! 

Eggplants are widely used in my native cuisine. There are quite a few dishes made from eggplant that are my absolute favourites. I love our traditional Udupi-style gulla bolu huli or kodhel (eggplant sambhar), gulla bajji (smoky eggplant mash), gulla palya (stir-fried eggplant) & gulla dosa (eggplant pancake). My paternal grandmother would make the most scrumptious dishes out of mattu gulla (the green round variety of eggplant). If you were wondering, eggplant is called gulla in my mother tongue Tulu. My husband shares my love for this vegetable so the afore-mentioned items feature heavily in my routine day-to-day cooking.  Apart from that, I love eggplant in vangi bhath (eggplant rice), badane ennegayi (stuffed eggplant in a peanut-based gravy), baingan bhartha (Indian-style fire roasted eggplants), bharwan baingan (stuffed baby eggplants), any other form of eggplant curry/side-dish and also in International dishes like moussaka, eggplant parmigiana, ratatouille, Chinese-style stir-fried eggplant with garlic sauce,  & baba ganoush. I may be missing a few more stellar eggplant dishes but they'll come back to me later. Come to think of it, there is no form of eggplant that I have not liked so far. This vegetable can do no wrong in my books!

Now that my long-standing affinity to this vegetable has been firmly established, let me tell you a bit more about this recipe. Baingan bhartha is the Indian cousin of the Middle Eastern baba ganoush. The origins of this dish can be attributed to Punjabi cuisine. To make this dish, eggplants are roasted on an open flame until the surface is charred and the insides are soft and then they are skinned. mashed and cooked along with onions, tomatoes, garlic, fresh chillies and spices. The end product looks like a exotic dip and has a heady smoky aroma. Although the traditional method calls for a charcoal based tandoor to roast the eggplant, that isn't feasible in our everyday kitchen so the recipe has been adapted to suit the stove-top method of roasting. 

Before leaving to India, I was scouting around the fridge wondering what to cook for dinner when I came across three slim purple eggplants (that I had forgotten all about). I wanted to make something new or else something I hadn't made in a very long time so the idea of making baingan bhartha popped into my mind. I wasn't even able to remember the last time I made this dish. The main reason is because I'm a little lazy when it comes to roasting veggies on an open flame. It takes time and it is a little messy so I try to avoid it whenever possible. In our household, it is my hubby who is the fire-roaster (if that even is a word). He is the one who will take the time to patiently char the vegetables (mainly eggplant & bell peppers) on an open flame until they get cooked and turn smokily awesome and then cool, peel and chop them to be used in the dish of our choice. Anyway, on that particular day, I was feeling rather motivated so even though he wasn't around to do the dirty work, I went ahead with making this dish. 

I wanted the smoky flavour of the eggplant to be the highlight of this recipe so I didn't mask it with any spice powders. This recipe is simple to put together and showcases the amazing flavour of the fire roasted eggplant. I served it with freshly made phulkas and it was super yummy! 


I will be making this dish more often since I realized that open flame roasting isn't such a big deal as I made it out to be after all. It didn't even take as much time as I thought. So if you have some of the same concerns that I did, I hope I have coaxed you to change your mind!

If you love eggplants, you will love this dish and if you don't love eggplants, you might just become a convert so try it either way! 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Product review: StickerKid - Personalized Name Labels & Stickers For Kids

Something interesting arrived in the mail a few weeks ago!

I was fortunate to receive a Swiss-made customised gift package from StickerKid, a company dealing with unique and premium quality stickers to identify your child's belongings.

Spearheaded by a Swiss-German couple, StickerKid was established in 2004. 'Label everything you love' - is the motto behind StickerKid. With their well-crafted & durable labels, they make sure innocent mix-ups are avoided, personalized products stand out and everything returns home.
These are some of the attributes of their products,

Impressive eh?

The package I received consisted of the following labels and stickers:

1. Small stickers which are suitable for toothbrushes, pencils, eye glasses or other thin items

I chose bright pink as the background color for these stickers.

The application is simple. All you have to do is place the sticker on a clean and dry surface avoiding any air bubbles between the sticker and the object. These labels stick on glass, plastic, metal and wood but are not suitable for clothes or fabric.

Keep in mind that you have to wait 24 hours before placing the labelled item in the dishwasher, microwave or freezer for the first time.

2. Shoe stickers designed to fit snugly into shoes thanks to their shape, with three lines of text plus a logo 

The good thing about these stickers is there is an option to include a contact number in case the little one(s) gets lost (shudder!).

Note: I've blanked out the number just for the sake of maintaining privacy.

3. Iron-on labels for clothes - removable

These labels are rather plain looking when compared to the others but since they go on the inner aspect of the clothes, I guess it isn't that important.

These labels can be easily applied with an iron heated to 180 deg C. You have to place the label on the fabric and protect it with baking paper before ironing. Press the iron on the baking paper/label for 30 seconds.

You need to wait 48h before the first wash. If the label does not hold, your iron was probably not hot enough. The labels can also be removed by reheating which is convenient if you are going to pass on the clothes to a sibling or another child.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Letter To My Daughters On Their First Birthday

My little girls turn ONE today! On this special day, I am sharing with you some photos from their birthday party and my thoughts on the year gone by.

There are few occasions more monumental in a child’s life than his/her first birthday. It is not only a once-in-a-lifetime affair but also a huge milestone. For many babies, a first birthday is the first time they will get to sample cake and the resulting pictures brings so much joy to look back on. Although no one remembers their first birthday, it marks a special time for family and friends to gather together to celebrate this new little person in their lives. Agreed, a baby's first birthday is really for the parents and their loved ones. It marks a day of celebration for making it through a year of ups and downs, challenges and personal growth. Essentially it is a day to celebrate a year of parenthood.

The journey of transformation from newborn to infant and then to toddler is not an easy one for either parent - mothers in particular. I had heard that grappling with motherhood makes you stronger but I never fully understood the magnitude of that statement until I got to experience it myself. This past year (two years actually) has taught me more than the entire rest of my life put together. I was surprised by how I coped with my high-risk pregnancy and harrowing delivery, I struggled with breastfeeding so much that I didn't think it would last three months but here I am having reached my one year target and I never imagined that I could look after my girls without assistance but turns out I was wrong yet again! I now know that nothing is impossible and the only thing that prevents you from doing anything is the nagging voice of self-doubt in your head. I have emerged a stronger and more patient individual and I have only my girls to thank for that.

Me and my husband wanted to celebrate our daughters first birthday in India. We wanted to share the special day with our parents, siblings, closest family members and friends. I love birthday parties having several fond memories of my own. Flipping through pages of bygone birthday albums gives me joy even to this day! As a couple, we feel like our girls 1st, 5th, 10th, 16th and 18th birthdays should be made memorable.

On a Sunday evening, the party was held at a recreational club in Bangalore. The theme of the party was "Two Little Strawberries Turn One" (since my babies looked just like a pair of strawberries when they were born). It turned out to be a wonderful evening with the girls interacting exuberantly with the guests, delicious food, fun games and activities for the kids and most importantly yummy cake! My daughters will not remember any of it but I am going to preserve the memories from this day and show it to them when they are older. The guests also left lovely and touching messages for them in the guest book which they can read in a couple of years. That is bound to make them feel special!

On the occasion of my girls first birthday, I thought I should write them a letter. I need to do this because motherhood has resulted in serious memory lapses ('Mumnesia' it's called apparently). Forget the little details (no pun intended), it terrifies me that I may not even remember the big ones! I want recollections of it all - the good, the bad & the ugly. I'll write them a letter every year until they are old enough to understand how much they mean to me (and hopefully by then my memory will have made a comeback!).


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Baker's Corner: Easy Bread Pizza Pockets

As you read this post, I will be rushing around my home like a headless chicken trying to get everything packed and sorted in time for my trip to India. This is going to be a longer-than-usual visit and I'll be back in Singapore only in January next year. As is the case with all our visits, this one is going to be action-packed too but the part I'm looking forward most to is spending time with my sister and newborn nephew in Mysore. An eventful social calendar is not going to stop me from blogging though. I managed to squeeze time to prepare some draft posts in the last two weeks so that should take care of this year's blogging quota.

I've been on an Italian food-high since last week so this post is inspired from there. If you have been following my blog on a regular basis, you will know that I posted a recipe for Margherita Pizza some time ago. This is one of my favourite pizzas and my husband's speciality so I look forward to it all the more! But I have to admit that making this pizza is quite tedious since we make the pizza dough and pizza sauce from scratch. It isn't something we can make in a jiffy when the pizza craving strikes. To overcome that snag, the idea for these bread pizza pockets took shape.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to pizza. You can make the same combinations of toppings that you love on a pizza work in calzones, stromboli, bagels, stuffed buns, rolls & open-faced sandwiches. This variation is easier than making most of them. Since I've already told you that I am a Margherita pizza lover, for this recipe, all you need is store-bought fresh bread and the three classic Margherita ingredients namely basil, mozzarella and tomatoes (in the form of sauce).

Allow me to break it down for you - you slather bread slices with butter followed by pizza sauce (I used the ready-made kind), layer a few leaves of fresh basil, scatter a few slices of fresh mozzarella, press the sandwich down and crimp the edges with a fork, brush with an egg wash and bake till golden brown. That's IT. Done! It takes less than half an hour from start to finish. You get the same familiar and oh so delicious flavours of a Margherita Pizza in less than half the time and effort. Gotta love that!

Me and hubby wholeheartedly approved of these pizza pockets. It is going to feature as a regular on our weekend brunch or quick weekday dinner menu hereafter. It is a great dish to make when you have guests, to take on picnics or to pack in your child's lunchbox. Quite the all-rounder this one! 

Here is the recipe. Make it for your family and friends and you will be making it again soon. I promise! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Restaurant review: Caruso Italian Restaurant and Bar, Singapore

Invited Review
Last week, the good folks at Caruso Italian Restaurant and Bar extended a kind invitation to sample their lunch menu. Italian cuisine is my most favourite International cuisine (aside from my own native cuisine) so it didn't take much persuasion to say yes. And nowadays, any opportunity to get out of the house is welcomed with keen enthusiasm! Since I knew I couldn't do full justice to the menu considering my dietary restrictions, I took along a trusty local friend and fellow foodie (who conveniently lives across the street from me) to evaluate the meat-based dishes.

Bukit Timah offers some of the best dining options in Singapore and being fortunate to live around the area, it has been a familiar haunt for me over the years. Joining the row of shophouses along Bukit Timah road near the junction of sixth avenue, Caruso Restaurant and Bar is an authentic Italian restaurant showcasing the strong flavor of southern Italian cuisine. The chefs at Caruso use the finest ingredients imported from Italy and classic cooking techniques focussing on authenticity and perfection in their culinary creations. Caruso marked its foray into the local Italian dining scene in August 2013 so is still a relatively new restaurant.

The name of the restaurant is inspired by the first legendary Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso, originally from Naples.

The interiors reflects the rich Italian heritage that the restaurant draws inspiration from. It has a rustic elegance yet lends a homely and cozy vibe. The crisp white stone arches amidst tangerine orange hued walls make the space look eye-catching and inviting. The walls are adorned with photographs proudly depicting the food culture in the Puglia region.

I love going to restaurants that have a culinary history. The hallmark of a good restaurant is the pride they take in their culture and food and Caruso scores major points in this area.

The owner, Leonardo Palmisano hails from Locorotondo, a picturesque little town surrounded by the ancient Trulli in the region of Puglia in Southern Italy. Puglia is famous for its healthy & tasty cuisine, focussing on hand-made pasta such as the orecchiette.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

My All-Time Most and Least Favourite Television Characters

The medium of television has given us some gems in the form of tv shows over the years. Many of the modern dramas can easily rival Hollywood's best releases in terms of their immersive and cinematic style. Unlike a movie which is only a few hours long, TV shows run for an extended period of time (some spanning several years) so the connection to the characters is far more deep and personal. TV characters, more than movie characters are tricky to get right. But when they do, they become familiar and never wear out their welcome. On the other hand, if a character is not embraced by fans, it can even sever a long-standing love affair with the show.

I compiled this post just for laughs so if I come across as too intense, it is not because I can't separate reality from fiction! I just happen to be an emotionally involved tv viewer. I can both love and accept a flawed character but not when it gets past my level of tolerance. My picks for most favourite and least favourite characters are from dramas and sitcoms that cater to my interest and obviously from those I have watched till date. There are several acclaimed shows that I haven't watched yet (and hence you may feel certain characters are missing) but this post will be updated when I come across characters that I feel need to be included. I have a lineup of shows that I have yet to watch  - Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Office, House and The Sopranos. By the time I'm done with them, there will be a whole lot more to watch - a never ending cycle of entertainment! 

What makes a character a fan favourite? Most of the time, it is a combination of the actor's talent along with the amount of depth that the show's writers and creators were able to bring to the character consistently over the course of the series. Some characters are so memorable that years after a show has ended, they still play in the hearts and minds of the public. These are the characters that shape the culture that we live in. The best tv characters are the ones who you find fascinating, you want to see more of and/or the ones you want to be friends with (although not necessarily).

These are some of the characters that help me stay hooked on to a television series from start to finish. Note that these are in no particular order of preference.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Baker's Corner: Coffee Fudge Cake

I'm an aunt! Whoop!

I mean, my cousins have kids and all so technically I was already an aunt but it is the first time I have become an aunt from a birth in my immediate family. My little sister delivered a bouncing baby boy yesterday. I am now a 'doddamma' (elder mother) and my little ones have become older sisters.....what fun!

In Indian culture, sweets are distributed to family and friends on happy and festive occasions. Since I consider my readers as my extended family, I decided I would share something sweet with you all today. This post is dedicated to my adorable nephew.  Little dude....I promise that I'll try to be a cool aunt to you

It's been a few months since I've featured a sweet bake on the blog. Not that I haven't been donning my oven mitts but my last few sweet bakes needed more fine tuning before meeting my stamp of approval to appear on the blog. Whenever I feel like my brain is stagnating with the mundaneness of routine life, I turn to baking for a welcome respite. It works like a charm every time!

I was thinking of getting cozy with my kitchenaid and mixing bowls a few weeks ago and it turned out to be perfect timing. I was expecting some friends home, the time frame of which coincided with the husband returning from a business trip to China. It goes without saying that baking a cake would make a lot of people happy. In times of dire baking need, the only person I turn to for a recipe is the Queen of Cakes, Mary Berry. I have tried several of her recipes and they have never failed me to date.

There’s nothing overly fussy or complicated about this recipe.  It comes together easily and bakes up beautifully, making it a great addition to your go-to baking line up. Most cake recipes instruct you to cream the butter and the sugar so thoroughly that it becomes almost white. This vigorous process helps to get air into the mixture and yields a lighter result. Other recipes by contrast, use the all-in-one method which is to dump all the ingredients in one bowl and beat it. This recipe belongs to the latter category so it is easy and requires lesser effort. Note that you need to use self-raising flour and additional baking powder for adequate leavening to occur. I have stopped buying self-raising flour from the store because the raising effect deteriorates over time and in the past, I have had a bag sitting in my pantry for way too long. I prepare self-raising flour at home (refer notes) so that I am sure that the desired effect is achieved. Just make sure that the baking powder you are using is fresh.

Walnuts and coffee are a match made in heaven. The bitterness of the coffee contrasts the intense sweetness of the butter icing remarkably. Keep in mind though that the icing (fudge topping) on this cake is pretty sweet so if that is not your cup of tea, you may just stick to baking the cake and skip the icing all together. Personally speaking, I love icing so I don't mind it at all. The addition of salt and coffee essence does help to counter the sweetness but not by too much. Methinks as long as each generous bite of cake has a little bit of icing along with it, it isn't too much to handle.

This recipe is a keeper and I'm sure I will be making this cake again. Now off you go and make it for yourself and your loved ones!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Recipe of the month: Bread Pakoda

My in-laws were in town for about 3 weeks last month. They had a wonderful time with the kids while I caught a much needed break. We couldn't venture out as much as we would have liked to (courtesy the 'haze') save for another trip to Madame Tussaud's and a get together at a friend's place but it was a refreshing change nonetheless. On the bright of the things you can do when you are stuck at home is cook up a storm so that is exactly what we did!

My MIL makes this bread pakoda quite frequently when she is entertaining guests, on festive occasions or during her customary new year parties. Usually when you hear of bread pakodas, you expect deep-fried batter coated bread filled with a potato or a mixed vegetable filling. But my MIL's version is far less cumbersome, less heavy and I daresay equally delicious. Trust me when I say that it totally satisfies your fried food cravings.

A few guidelines while making this dish - use either white or wholemeal bread (I'm not sure multigrain will work as well), make sure it is the salted variety and not the sweet kind, try to get the largest loaf available, preferably use bread that has been refrigerated at least a day in advance and use fresh oil for deep-frying. The consistency of the dipping mixture is important too but you will get a hang of that by experience. My MIL typically uses finely chopped onions, garlic, green chillies and fresh coriander to flavour the dipping mixture but you could add in some fresh ginger and/or curry leaves if you like. Since the dipping mixture has plenty of bright fresh flavours incorporated into it, you really don't need any accompaniment to these pakodas. Just pick up a hot crispy pakoda and begin munching!

My trusty Canon DSLR conked off just as I was gearing up to prepare this post. As a result, I was forced to use my Sony cybershot to take the photos (which made me very grumpy indeed). I really wanted to feature this snack on my blog and I wasn't sure if I would be making it in the near future (with my upcoming India trip and all) so I decided to compromise. Bleh.

So, the next time you feel like indulging in the pleasures of the deep-fried variety, why not consider these yummy bread pakodas? It can be prepared in a jiffy, is something different from your usual run-of-the-mill Indian snacks and tastes pretty darn good!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gardens by the Bay - Singapore

This post has been on the cards for ages. Garden's by the Bay is a nature park located in central Singapore adjacent to the Marina Reservoir. The sprawling garden is an integral part of a strategy by the Singapore government to transform Singapore from a "Garden City" to a "City in a Garden". It is one of Singapore's premiere attractions and a place I highly recommend that you visit. I myself have been there a dozen times. Over my numerous visits, I have amassed a huge collection of photographs which I was saving for a blog post (that never happened). The other day, I was combing through my albums looking for something in particular and found several folders containing photos of Gardens by the Bay. That jolted me out the procrastination mode I was in and is the reason you are reading this post right now!

I decided not to split this post into two or more parts since this tourist attraction comes under the label 'Singapore' on my blog and I would rather have all the information in one place (I'm just finicky that way). The downside to that is that this post may come across as long-winded and photo-heavy. I like to be thorough even if it is at the cost of giving you a headache! 

The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden. The largest of the three gardens is Bay South Garden which showcases the best of tropical horticulture and garden artistry. The Bay East Garden has a 2-km promenade frontage that embroiders the Marina Reservoir. It is an ideal picnic setting with lush lawns and tropical palm trees. From the waterfront promenade, you will see a picturesque view of the city skyline. I had been to this part of the gardens a few years ago to watch the New Year fireworks. Bay Central Garden serves as a link between Bay South and Bay East Gardens. It has a 3 km waterfront promenade that allows for scenic walks stretching from the city centre to the east of Singapore.

The Bay South Garden is the one that receives the maximum number of visitors because of what it has to offer. Inspired by an orchid, the design resembles Singapore’s national flower, Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’. Take note that all the photos in this post were taken at the Bay South Garden.

The Bay South Garden has two cooled conservatories - The Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest situated along the edge of the Marina Reservoir. The two imposing glasshouses are a sight to behold and are special due to the fact that they are columnless (i.e. without additional interior support) and because the architecture aims at reducing the environmental footprint. Rainwater is collected from the surface and circulated in the cooling system which is connected to the Supertrees (man-made revolutionary trees that dominate the garden's landscape). You can’t miss the massive Supertrees here. These alien-looking vertical gardens are between nine to 16 storeys tall. You can walk on the aerial walkway between two Supertrees to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the gardens.

Let me take you on a tour of the different attractions within the Bay South Garden

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Baker's Corner: Mixed Vegetable Frittata

I had been to Jason's - The Gourmet Grocer at Ion Orchard recently. I love going to speciality grocery stores to ogle at what they have to offer (especially in the fruit and veg section). The produce is so vibrant, diverse and irresistible that it makes me feel like a kid in a candy store. I got myself a shopping basket and started picking things off the racks. By the end of my shopping, I had some baby portobello mushrooms, asparagus spears, zucchini, avocados, fresh Italian salad leaves, a gigantic juicy peach & some organic blueberries among other things. The urge to get back home and prepare a healthy veggie-packed brunch was overwhelming. As luck would have it, my hubby had just got me a fabulous 10-inch copper-bottomed anodized skillet that was begging to be put to use. I decided to make a frittata so I could incorporate most of the colourful vegetables I had gotten as well as give my new skillet a chance to make its debut.

A frittata is an Italian egg-based dish which can be likened to a fancy or decked-up omelette. It is simple, quick, delicious and healthy. This dish is perfect for a weekend brunch or a quick weeknight dinner. Moreover, it serves as the ideal vehicle for whatever left-overs languishing in the fridge or to use up any vegetables that are about to cross the threshold into the 'questionable' category. Although it seems too much work to make a frittata with freshly cooked vegetables, I made an exception only because I wanted to use my skillet so bad.

There no 'set in stone' way to make a frittata although there are some pointers that you can keep in mind so that you don't end up with a dry and/or bland dish. 
  • Cook the ingredients that go into the frittata completely and make sure there is no moisture in the mixture
  • Season both the vegetable mixture and the egg mixture. You can use salt, pepper, red chilli flakes, dried herbs and such 
  • Use full-fat dairy. Whole milk works well but you could also use sour cream, crème fraîche or yoghurt. For 6 eggs, you can aim for a quarter of a cup of dairy (I have used more in the recipe)
  • Layer the vegetables in the skillet and then spread the egg mixture evenly over the top
  • Cook the frittata in the skillet for 5 min and then transfer to a pre-heated oven until the frittata is cooked through. Do not over-bake a frittata (I probably went a little over but I don't mind the slight browning)
  • Cool for at least 5 mins before slicing the frittata into wedges

I must confess that I didn't heed every bit of my own advice. Once the frittata was out of the oven, I was in such a hurry to get done with the photography aspect (because like always, I had a million other things to tend to!) that I didn't wait even for a second. As a result, I didn't get the perfect wedge - you can see the tip of the triangle is a bit damaged. After I was done photographing (which took about 10 mins), I set the dinner table and cut wedges for me and my husband to tuck into and they were perfect. Darn! No wonder they say patience is a virtue! 

If the frittata by itself isn't enough, you could serve it with a simple garden salad, potato wedges or garlic bread. Since I had some avocados which were perfectly ripe, I put together a simple garden salad comprising of salad leaves tossed with chopped avocados & tomatoes, walnuts, parmesan shavings and a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, hot sauce and salt.

If you have leftover frittata, you can warm them up and use them to make a scrumptious wrap for brunch the next day. I had some whole wheat tortillas at home so I spread some mayo mixed with hot sauce over the surface and layered chopped up frittata with salad leaves and chunks of avocado and tomatoes. It was super yum! I could do with such a meal every day  

This is my way of making a frittata. The combination of ingredients worked well together ending up in a frittata bursting with robust flavours. Refer the notes for more variations that you can consider.

What ingredients do you like to throw into your frittata? Leave a comment to let me know!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Recipe of the month: Methi Dosa

From where I come from, we have what we call a 'uppu-huli-khara' dosa which literally translates to salt-sour-spicy dosa that is a breakfast staple. It is made by grinding raw rice along with a range of spices, tamarind, jaggery and grated fresh coconut. It does not require any fermentation so it can be made at reasonably short notice. This ground mixture doubles as the paste used to make patrode (a dish from Mangalore-Udupi in which colocasia leaves smeared with this batter and then steamed or fried) and as the batter used to make a variety of dosas.

I make this dosa all the time because both me and my husband like it very much. What's more is that it doesn't require any side dish. Back home, for a basic uppu-huli-khara dosa, the accompaniments that are served alongside are honey, yoghurt and grated coconut with jaggery but in my household, we relish it just with a knob of butter. Another plus is you don't have to fret about perfecting the clockwise circular motions that are required for dosa-making. You can be as random and imperfect as you please!

Like I said, this is the same batter that I make when I'm preparing patrode. When I'm not going the patrode route, I make a few variations of this dosa. Sometimes I add in chopped fenugreek (methi) leaves, sometimes chopped colocasia (patra) leaves, other times I use thinly sliced roundels of eggplant, ridge gourd or bread fruit dipped in the batter and arranged on a tawa to form a dosa. Even shredded cabbage can be mixed into the batter and spread in the form of dosas but I am not too big on cabbage so I tiptoe around it. On certain occasions I've even used leftover batter to coat an assortment of vegetables like onion, capsicum, potatoes and baby corn to make deep-fried vegetable fritters. Whatever the variation, I can assure you that the outcome is finger-licking good  

When I first asked my mum the recipe for this batter about a decade ago, she said she just eyeballs all the ingredients so her way of explaining was telling me to add 'a little bit' of this and 'a little bit' of that. She also told me to keep in mind that the strength of the spices that I get in Singapore may not be comparable to the ones available in India. Of course that isn't much help to a novice cook so it took me a couple of not-so-successful attempts before I figured out the quantities of the ingredients that work best for me. After optimizing the recipe, I realized that even I tend to eyeball the ingredients so the last time I made this dosa, I carefully documented all the quantities and proportions that I used. Good thing I did the future, my daughters won't complain when they ask for the recipe and I don't give them exact measure of the ingredients! I'll probably just tell them to go  look at my blog (if it still exists then!).

Anyway, of all the possibilities with this dosa that I've discussed so far, my favourite by far is Methi Dosa that I prepare by adding chopped fresh methi leaves and chopped onions into the batter. Garlic is something I only started adding recently (I make sure the taste is subtle) and that is only in the case of methi and patra dosas. Adding garlic is optional though so if you don't want it then just skip it. My husband absolutely loves the taste and texture of chopped onions in these dosas so whenever I'm making them, he will be snooping around in the kitchen to check if I'm using enough onions to suit his liking! On the rare occasion that I end up with leftover methi dosa batter, the next day I get out my ebelskiver pan, grease the indentations with a little ghee, spoon dollops of batter into it and cook on both sides until it is cooked through. I had seen my MIL doing this so I've also started doing it. It makes for a different yet tasty variation.

If you master this batter, there are so many things you can do with it that you will be spoilt for choices. Just imagine, a huge batch of this batter and breakfast will be sorted for a few days!

Now that I'm done highlighting the versatility of this dosa, here is the recipe....

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Visit to Madame Tussauds Singapore

One of the first travel posts I published on the blog detailed the various tourist attractions within Singapore. However, after that post was published, several more tourist attractions sprung up on our sunny shores which I neglected to update. But I realised that there were way too many to compile in a single post so I would do separate posts under one label. Singapore is constantly evolving so I'm sure there will be something new to explore and enjoy every year!

Madame Tussauds brings a galaxy of stars to Singapore!

Aren't we all just that little star struck? Everyone wants a piece of celebrity. But it isn't everyday that commoners can catch a sighting of the bigwigs in politics, sports & the entertainment industry. For the likes of us, Madame Tussauds has come up with a teeny tiny consolation - displaying lifelike waxworks of the celebrities that one can interact with and get up close and personal. We tend to be very cautious while visiting museums because generally it is an offence to touch any of the artifacts/objects on display. Not to mention, there are security cameras zooming in on you and guards monitoring your every move. At Madame Tussauds, you can not only cozy up to the wax figures but strike your goofiest poses alongside them for as long as you please! In addition, there are props, interactive touch screen panels & live action games to liven up your experience at the museum. 

I have been to the original Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London but that was several years ago and I only have foggy memories of it. When I heard that a branch opened in Singapore in October last year, I was eager to visit but life got in the way and I wasn't able to go until the perfect opportunity presented itself a few days ago. After holidaying in Bali, my parents decided to stop over in Singapore for 10 days. Since none of us had been to Madame Tussauds here, it was a unanimous decision to go take a peek on a balmy weekend morning. Lady luck was with us that day because the museum wasn't terribly crowded and the kids were in a sublime mood. The museum houses around 60 wax figures of well-known personalities across the globe and I was able to take several photographs (but not many full-length ones because of the relentless photobombing!). This is regrettably the generation of the selfie and as exasperating as the wax figure monopolizing can get, there is no escaping it so get in line! Anyway, fair warning - this post has a gazillion photos so I suggest you go through it when you have considerable time on your hands  

Lady Gaga

Madame Tussauds Singapore begins with a short boat ride and moves on to 8 themed interactive zones. Allow me to walk you through it.