Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas Special: Two Ingredient Chocolate Cake

You guys....I have such a fab dessert for you today. It is perfect for the holidays!

I'm sure everyone is gearing up to welcome the festive season. One of the highlights of this time of year for me (aside from the obvious feasting, presents, home trip and the cool weather that comes with it) is that I'm humming "jingle bells" all day instead of the usual "the wheels on the bus go round and round" 😝

Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding have already been featured on the blog. This year I was torn between Gingersnap Cookies and Mini Fruit Tarts. Then I realized that I may not have time to do anything and so I abandoned the idea of doing a Christmas special blog post altogether. But then without warning, this chocolate cake came into my life and tweaked the course of my holiday baking!

In early November, I kept a jar of dry fruits soaking in liquor in my fridge in order to bake a Christmas cake for my colleagues and family back home. The cake was supposed to be ready by the first week of December but unfortunately my attention got diverted with my little ones taking turns contracting HFMD (which put them out of commission for two weeks) and the husband having to go away for a week on a business trip soon after. I began panicking if I could make time for the Christmas cake given I had to tie up several loose ends at work, finish my Christmas gift shopping, invite a few friends over for a gathering, make a million lists, sort out a bunch of stuff at home and complete a mountain of packing but then in a rare (ok...not so rare!) fit of insanity, I baked this two ingredient chocolate cake because it was too hard to resist! 😁

On the bright side, fast forward to today, save for the packing, all my plans are done and dusted 😏 I'm going to start cramming our suitcases at lightening speed this weekend so wish me luck!

I stumbled across this recipe on Instagram from a blogger whose sugar work I really admire. It looked kinda too good to be true so I had to check it out.

This cake has two ingredients......just TWO! Say WHAAAT? 😮 No flour, no butter, no added sugar, no milk....nought/nil/nada. Just good ol' chocolate and eggs. The two come together in a culinary duet to create something special. Eggs are the magic ingredient of this recipe so unless you want me to tear my hair out, please don't ask for a substitute! If you don't consume eggs or don't prefer to use them in your desserts, then this recipe simply isn't for you.

I actually cheated a bit and added a tsp of vanilla extract even though it wasn't mentioned in the original recipe. Whenever a recipe calls for egg yolks to be mixed in separately, I always add in vanilla extract along with it to prevent any 'egginess' in the finished product. I have listed vanilla extract as an optional ingredient so it's your call. 

I didn't have high expectations with regards to taste considering the recipe had only two ingredients but I was so stunned by how it turned out! I was finding it hard to tell that there wasn't any flour in the cake! Gluten-free advocates will be mighty pleased. And the cake was soft, moist and had that melt in the mouth texture to it. Most cakes have that sugary sweetness but this one doesn't. It is just mildly sweet which I think would be appealing to people who don't like their desserts cloyingly sweet. I dusted the cake generously with icing sugar because my palette felt it was needed and topped them with fresh strawberries. I think fresh raspberries would work too. Ice-cream on the side would be a nice touch too but it's not mandatory.....the cake can stand up for itself.

If you haven't got around to holiday baking yet, grab a giant bar of chocolate and eggs and get this lovely looking, guilt-free dessert on the tables in under an hour. You will shine brighter than that star sitting on top of the Christmas tree! 💫

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Recipe of the month: Ragi Dosa (Finger Millet Crepe)

If you have lived in India, particularly South India, chances are, you are familiar with ragi (also called finger millet or nachni).

A generation or two ago, ragi featured commonly in the Indian states where the crop is cultivated. The once well-known cereal is however diminishing from most people’s diets today. It is unfortunate, considering the nutritive and therapeutic value of ragi towards health and well-being. Ragi has high protein content, is a rich source of minerals, helps control diabetes, keeps weight in check, battles anemia, reduces 'bad' cholesterol and has anti-cancer properties. I can't think of a single reason why we shouldn't incorporate this miracle cereal into our diet! It won't be long before this one finds recognition in the International 'superfoods' list which has become quite the craze in recent years. And then I will roll my eyes 😝

Despite hailing from Karnataka and living most of my life in Mysore, ragi is not something that I grew up eating. The reason being that ragi isn't originally a part of Udupi-style cuisine. Ragi mudde, ragi dosa and ragi rotti are dishes that I used to see most of my friends and neighbours eating. I was curious about the dark brown ragi-containing dishes that didn't look appetizing to me at all. As I grew older, my mum did start experimenting with ragi by making ragi rotti once in awhile but I wasn't too keen on it back then. Ragi is definitely an acquired taste so over the years, in the form of rotti and dosa (I'm still not a fan of mudde), I've somewhat grown accustomed to it.

This is the instant version of ragi dosa that I am sharing with you which means no fermentation required (yay!). At first, I tried making ragi dosas using just ragi flour but it felt like something wasn't quite right. I then started adding in a little bit of this and that to make the taste and texture better. I found that incorporating semolina, rice flour and whole wheat flour made the dosas much more palatable. After several trials, I arrived at this particular recipe and it has been my go-to recipe ever since. It appears on our breakfast table during the weekends very frequently even replacing rava dosa which was a previous favourite. Maybe calling it ragi dosa would be a bit unjustified since it contains other grains as well but we'll just go with the name ragi dosa, because I say so okay? Okay.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Restaurant review: Set Lunch at Tandoor (Holiday Inn), Singapore

OMG! It is December already....everyones favourite time of the year! I cannot believe how fast this year has zoomed by 😲 This year has been great and to be consistent, I'm looking forward to end it on a high. I have a very eventful holiday season ahead of me and I cannot wait to pack my bags and be homeward-bound. I don't have much time to blog this month (I finished this particular post in under an hour!) but I still hope to end this year with at least one or two more posts 😊

Tandoor has been established in Singapore's Indian culinary scene since 1985. Over the years, this award-winning restaurant (a part of Holiday Inn located at Orchard City Centre) has garnered a reputation of being synonymous with authentically prepared, traditional Indian cuisine.

My parents arrived in Singapore last month, around the time of the twins second birthday. They wanted in on the celebration and we were more than delighted to have them with us! During the eventful birthday week, we wanted to sneak in time for a family lunch and having frequented most of the Indian restaurants in Singapore, we settled on Tandoor which was one of the few that we hadn't paid a visit yet. We proceeded to make a reservation on one lazy Saturday afternoon.

The menu at Tandoor reflects the aromatic spreads of India's diverse regions covering the coastal areas of Goa, Mangalore, Lucknow, Punjab and more thereby paying homage to the colourful stories that make up India’s rich gastronomic heritage. Keeping in mind their diner's palates, some of the dishes are touted to carry regional cultural influences and healthier preparation methods while retaining their original Indian legacy.

Contemporary yet laced with tradition, the restaurant offers an inviting ambience for families, groups of friends and working professionals.

The color palette of the restaurant, lighting, artwork and table settings are crisp, refreshing and bestows an aura of opulence. The vibe of the restaurants is chic and sophisticated. I was quite impressed when I walked in and I can say the same for the rest of my family as well.

The restaurant offers an ala carte menu, lunch & dinner set meals as well as Sunday brunch. We originally wanted to sample the Sunday brunch but that didn't work out and instead we found ourselves at the restaurant a day earlier. We browsed through their selection of lunch gourmet trails and went for the vegetarian counterpart of the one below,

Which included chaat, soup, kebabs, main course & dessert.

The compilation of dishes were to our liking and we even got to choose between the two paneer-based gravies listed under the main course. The waiter offered to get us a mixed bread basket to go around which I think was a good suggestion.

I was a bit disappointed to discover that a drink is not included in the Set Lunch (which by the way I think it should be! *hint* *hint*) so we had to order the drinks separately. We each chose between mango lassi and salted lassi as a fitting accompaniment to our Indian meal.

The little ones were promptly seated in high chairs and child-friendly cutlery was provided for them (which helped to keep them engaged for a while). We immediately placed an order for cheese naan for the them and it arrived quickly much to my relief.

Our orders were brought to the table in the following sequence. And may I just add that the plates were so pretty!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Baker's Corner: Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Coconut Buttercream

Off late, I've gotten into the habit of making cupcakes whenever I have guests at home or have been designated as the person to bring a dessert during potlucks. They are not only universally liked but also look so dainty and come together without much effort. I have a go-to recipe for vanilla cupcakes which I follow with minor tweaks depending on what I feel like and then play around with the frosting (usually buttercream or whipped cream).

My girls love flavoured yoghurt and one of their favourite flavours is raspberry-coconut. This unusual combination has been stuck in my head for a while and I've been meaning to extrapolate it in a dessert. This time round when I made cupcakes to take to a friend's house, I decided to go with a raspberry-coconut buttercream. In general, my gripe with buttercream is that it is overly sweet so I figured using tart raspberries and an earthy creamy unsweetened thick coconut cream would be a good way to mask the sweetness. 

This frosting is definitely sweet but it isn't too much to handle. The consistency of the buttercream is a little on the runny side because of the wet ingredients that are incorporated into it. Yet it does hold its shape during piping (not obvious from the photograph of the finished cupcake because I took forever to do the job and it was so unbearably hot that day that the frosting started to melt). But I really did like the flavour combination and will be making it again for sure. My little ones will also be waiting for another chance to greedily sink their teeth into it! I did not adorn the cupcakes with toasted coconut flakes because children were among the dinner guests and I didn't think they would fancy it but I do recommend it for additional flavour and texture.

You can see for yourself how simple the recipe is so go ahead and color the day a pretty pink 😊

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Club Med Experience (Cherating Beach, Malaysia)

It's been a while since I did a travel post. Our last overseas holiday was to Taiwan over three years ago when it was still just the two of us. I was not allowed to travel during my pregnancy 😢 so rather than a much-anticipated babymoon, we had to make do with a staycation in Singapore. After the kids were born, passports, tickets and suitcases were the furthest thing from our minds. I'm not complaining about the lack of traveling (aside from trips to India) since it was intentional. With two under two, I didn't really think that going on a holiday was going to "feel" anything like a holiday. When I travel, I go to unwind, to get a change of scene, to explore a new place and embark on a new adventure. But with worrying about schedules, mealtimes, naptimes, diapers and motion sickness, not to mention, keeping a very watchful eye on two overzealous toddlers, I didn't think I could check any of the boxes (yes, selfish I know). Most people naïvely think that handling twins requires the same amount of effort as it is with one baby, times two. In my opinion, that is not true at all. It's actually more than twice the effort which probably only fellow parents of multiples will understand. So, I did the only thing that I could do....grit my teeth and wait patiently till the time was right!

The perfect opportunity presented itself recently. The kids were on the brink of turning two in the first week of November and we decided it was time to awaken the holiday spirit in us. Our little ones had reached an age where they were more independent, were curious about everything around them, had really begun to enjoy going out and were able to communicate their basic needs to us. My parents were around too which meant two additional pairs of eyes and hands (that always helps!).

I've been going on and on like a broken record about taking a road trip to Malaysia. There are so many places of interest to visit that can be reached by car but every time, my childrens motion sickness (times two remember!) threw a spanner in the works. We knew that the only option we had for a vomit-free holiday was to take a flight. So after a lot of research, we decided to fly to Cherating beach in Malaysia.

Cherating is a popular beach resort area in Pahang located about 30 km north of Kuantan on Peninsular Malaysia's East Coast. Being the monsoon season and given Cherating's notoriety for rain, we did wonder if we would end up cooped up indoors but we braved that chance. The main motivation for our choice was not the destination itself but in fact, the resort that we had picked. 

Club Méditerranée SA, commonly known as Club Med, is a French company specializing in premium all-inclusive holidays at its chain of resorts in exotic locations around the world.

Club Med staff are called "GOs", or Gentils Organisateurs (Gracious Organizers). Clients are "GMs", or Gentils Membres (Gracious Members). Each resort is known as a village. The resort manager is called the chef de village (Village Chief). The special feature of Club Med is that the GOs and GMs play, dine, drink, and dance together every day and night. Outdoor buffet dining (usually on tables of eight, mixing GMs and GOs), daytime sport-playing, and evening shows with extensive audience participation, are part of the holiday experience.

On arriving at the Kuantan airport after a short 1 hour flight, a spacious bus awaited to shuttle us to the resort located 45 mins away. As we approached the resort, we saw a group of spirited GO's gathered at the lobby, smiling, waving and ready to welcome us.

We were given refreshing towels and a welcome drink at the reception and since we were famished, we and our fellow travellers headed off to lunch. After that, we gathered at the lobby as instructed and the GO's welcomed us to the resort and gave us a introductory briefing. 

The resort is nestled in the heart of 80 hectares of tropical forest; and if that isn't enough to warm a nature-lover's heart, there are also two pristine beaches. 

I went exploring for a bit on the manicured lawns and was lost admiring the lush greenery around the property and the calmness of the secluded beach. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Letter To My Daughters On Their Second Birthday

It's funny how the month of November never held any special significance for me until two years ago. No birthdays or anniversaries in the family or hardly that of close friends, no festivals (unless Deepavali arrived late that year), no public holidays or annual events and thus, nothing to look forward to. Not to mention, the usually depressing weather. To me, November was just 30 days of blah. The only good thing about it was that the end of the month marked the beginning of December (my most favourite month of the year!). But I feel much differently now. After the birth of my twin girls in November 2014, the previously dull month has obviously gained considerable favour! I look forward to November because it is when I celebrate the two miracles that have changed my world for the better 😊

Last year, on the occasion of the girls first birthday, we went with the flow and threw a party for them in India amidst our close friends and family. This year, we thought of changing gears. Last week, we took them both on a holiday along with their grandparents to a beach-side resort in Malaysia. They were thrilled to bits! Seeing them have the time of their lives made us feel so content.

Today, they celebrated their birthday in their playschool and also had a casual outdoor poolside party which all their playground friends attended. I made the effort of baking two cakes for them (even though they turned out looking dreadful). It was quite evident to us that they were excited by the ongoings and had a blast so it's safe to conclude birthday week a success!

Continuing with my annual tradition of writing birthday letters, here is the second one dedicated to my girls. I hope that they do get to read these letters when they are older so they can get a peek into the window of their mother's soul. Like I said last year, I can't rely on my failing memory to tell them all the cute stuff (and the not-so-cute stuff!) that they did when they were little. I do send them emails with photos, snippets of daily life, highlights of special occasions plus of course their birthday letters but who knows if that'll still be around when they are older. On second thoughts, maybe I should even make hard copies of these memoirs for safe-keeping (lol!). There is always the off-chance that they think their mother is a lunatic with far too much time on her hands but I'll take that chance!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Deepavali Special: White Chocolate Cranberry Pistachio Fudge

Wishing all my readers a very happy Deepavali!

As soon as the festive season approaches, I am treated to a visual extravaganza of all kinds of delectable sweet treats propping up on social media. Although, I don't have much of a sweet tooth, it never fails to inspire me to get off my butt and get in on the action!

I really wasn't sure how much cooking I could manage this Deepavali. After a busy work week, our household is gearing up to sparkle and shine. Cleaning, tidying and adorning is going on in full swing, the God's mantap and silverware are receiving special attention and resplendent ethnic wear is being taken out and ironed. We have an eventful weekend planned with potlucks and get-togethers with friends followed by my parents impending visit so I have a lot on my plate. But that nagging feeling of not cooking a special dessert continued to hound me and so I ended up making two dishes. One, my favourite (and more traditional) date and mixed nut laddoos and the other, this amazing (and non-traditional) white chocolate cranberry pistachio fudge. 

This fudge is so easy to make that I swear my pint-sized toddlers may be able to manage it in a few years 😆  I swear it took me hardly 25 mins to put together. It is pretty sweet as fudge generally is so keep that in mind before offering it to the sugar-conscious. Speaking of which, I hope my kids don't start bouncing off the walls after eating this! The addition of salt and the slightly tart cranberries helps to offset the sweetness and the pistachios provide delightful nutty bursts. Filled with cheery holiday colors, it looks gorgeous too....makes for the perfect edible gift!

Don't you think so?

It is Deepavali and I'm sure you have a lot of things to do so don't let me keep you from all the festivities.....go enjoy this glorious festival of lights with those near and dear. And do think of me if you happen to make (and like) this fudge!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Book review: The Nightingale

In love, we find out what we want to be
In war, we find out who we are

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a historical fictional novel set in France with World War II at its crux. Winner of the GoodReads Choice Awards for Historical Fiction in 2015, it has been gaining steady buzz since its release in February of 2015. The book has also earned spots on several bestseller lists, and was optioned for a screen adaptation by TriStar Pictures last year.

The novel chronicles the lives of two french sisters and their relationship with each other at the time of German occupation of France during the tumultuous WWII. It is a poignant tale that sheds light on the women who remained in the shadows under the Nazi regime yet played significant roles during the resistance movement. It highlights the extraordinary traits of womankind such as unbridled courage, selflessness, sacrifice, endurance and forgiveness.

I must admit that this is the first book I read on kindle. I have never been keen on eBook readers but made an effort with this one because it had been heavily recommended. I am old fashioned in the sense that, for me, nothing compares to the look, feel and smell of a print book in my hands. It actually makes reading physically pleasurable and serves as a long-standing reminder of one's intellectual journey. I would any day prefer to sit down with a book inhaling its musty pages rather than stare down at a screen. I think it is a tragedy of epic proportions that local brick and mortar bookstores are meekly closing their doors thanks to the technology that introduced online retail. Oh well! I'm sure my grumbling changes nothing so I might as well get with the times. It wasn't as bad an experience as I expected it to be though (don't take that to mean that I have become a convert!). My love for print books will always remain an undying one. 

Vianne and Isabelle are two sisters born to French parents. Their ordinary lives come to a screeching halt after their beloved mother dies and their father Julien (a broken man after the World War I), abandons them and packs them off to live with an unkind stranger at their ancestral home of Le Jardin in the quiet village of Carriveau. Vianne comes to terms with the harsh reality and finds solace in a local lad Antoine while young Isabelle struggles to comprehend the turn of events and becomes unmanageable. Caught up in her own personal problems, an emotionally unavailable Vianne neglects her little sister who is unceremoniously cast away to boarding school. 

While Vianne settles into a life of quiet domesticity at Le Jardin with Antoine, her sister is thrust into a life of desolation. Rebellious, willful and impetuous by nature, Isabelle makes a habit of running away from boarding schools, convents and finishing school, frequently getting into trouble and sneaking out of windows and onto trains. 

When Isabelle has finally had enough of her vagabond lifestyle, she returns to her father in Paris only to be shunned again and sent to live with her sister in Carriveau. By then, the world is upended as German troops march into France. Isabelle is forced to make the harrowing exodus out of Paris amidst gunfire and bombings along with a newly acquired companion, Gaëtan. Back in Carriveau, Antoine is dispatched to war leaving Vianne alone to fend for their young daughter Sophie. The Germans take over the village with a Wehrmacht officer Wolfgang Beck billeting at Le Jardin. Isabelle is furious with the Nazi intrusion and desperately wants to aid in the struggle for freedom but Vianne, fearing for her daughter's safety, only seeks survival. Being of opposite temperaments, the two sisters come to loggerheads over several matters during the trying times. When Isabelle, staunch in her beliefs, is offered to play a noteworthy role in the French Resistance, she grabs the opportunity. She starts off by distributing anti-Nazi propaganda but then moves on to more perilous missions. Aided by her father and a group of freedom fighters, she goes by the code-name 'The Nightingale' and secretly shepherds downed allied airmen out of France, beyond the treacherous Pyrenees mountains under the Nazi noses into neutral Spain. 

While Vianne struggles to pull through and keep Sophie from harm's way in a city under siege where oppression is at its peak, rations are scarce, winters are unforgiving, disease is rampant and even one wrong utterance can spell death, Isabelle and her compatriots go on to save the lives of several men. During one of Isabelle's rescue attempts, she finds herself in Carriveau and unintentionally puts Vianne and Sophie in grave danger. In the ensuing mayhem, Beck is killed. Vianne is enraged with Isabelle and turns her back on her sister for her recklessness. 

The death of Beck brings a most unwelcome guest, SS officer Von Richter at Le Jardin who is abusive towards Vianne and makes her life even more deplorable. By then, Vianne has adopted the three-year-old Ariel, the son of her Jewish best friend Rachel (who gets deported to a concentration camp) and shields him from the inquisitive eyes of the Nazis and their collaborators. War brings out an unprecedented surge of courage in Vianne and right under Von Richter's tyranny, she starts sheltering Jewish children to save them from the fate of certain death in concentration camps. Meanwhile, Isabelle is finally captured and brutally tortured into revealing the name of The Nightingale. As a final attempt to be the father he had never been to his daughters, Julien confesses to being The Nightingale and is publicly executed by a firing squad. A severely battered Isabelle is then sent to a concentration camp in Ravensbrück as a political prisoner. 

As the war comes to an end, Vianne finds out she is expecting a child and decides to keep the bitter truth behind the conception from Antoine who has just returned home after years of imprisonment. Ariel is taken away from the family to go live with his relatives in America leaving a heartbroken Vianne. Concurrently, Isabelle is sent back to Carriveau to recuperate from her terrible ordeal. There she is reunited with her only love Gaëtan who has also miraculously survived the war. After witnessing the atrocities of the war, living through years of privations, having lost loved ones and being irreparably scarred for the rest of their lives, the two sisters face their inner demons and forge a bond after all those forfeited years of estrangement. 

Read the book for the inspiring full story, especially for the melancholic and moving ending.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Recipe of the month: Vegetarian Thai Green Curry

I just cannot come to terms with the fact that this is the first Thai recipe on my blog of six years. WHAAAAAAT?! I had to triple check to make sure! For someone who loves Thai food, goes out to Thai restaurants quite often, has been to Thailand more than once and who makes feeble attempts to cook Thai food at home once in a while....that is inexcusable no?

Oh wait....I actually have a valid reason for that. I'm quite rubbish at cooking Thai food - THERE! I said it! I find it hard to achieve that perfect balance of flavours and textures. It also doesn't help that I don't use fish sauce or shrimp in my cooking which are widely used in Thai cuisine. I have not been able to get pad thai (Thai-style fried noodles) right no matter how hard I've tried and that pains me considering pad thai is one of my favourite Thai dishes. I've been meaning to try making som tum (spicy green papaya salad) since that is another regular I order at restaurants but I haven't got around to doing it so far. Khao pad (fried rice), tom yam soup, green curry and yellow curry are about the only Thai dishes that have made the journey from stovetop to dinner table in my household so Thai cooking is hardly my forte.

When me and my husband had been on holiday to Phuket a few years ago, we stayed at a gorgeous beach-facing resort. The food at the resort was good (albeit pricey) but it was more style than substance and we yearned for the humble and rustic Thai street-food experience. One day, as we set off to explore the town on a motorbike, we happened to pass by a small shack run by an amiable elderly local woman situated nearby the resort. We decided to check it out and boy! did we hit the culinary jackpot! The menu seemed endless and there was a staggering number of options. Not to mention the prices were so reasonable and the food had that wonderfully comforting home cooked quality to it. The hospitable 'aunty' was very accommodating and even considered our dietary preferences to change some of the ingredients upon request. Our entire holiday was spent stuffing our faces in a variety of spicy and aromatic Thai dishes. It was one of the highlights of our trip and an experience I will never forget!

Actually to be honest, it is the husband who dabbles in Thai curry experimentation at home. He had previously made a really nice green curry but that had been a while ago and he didn't remember which recipe/recipes he had consulted. My in-laws were around and I wanted to cook something other than Indian food for them for a change so settled for a Thai green curry. Strong, spicy, sour, rich and aromatic....a well-made green curry tickles your tastebuds and really packs a flavour punch.

Let me tell you something....there are a million green curry recipes that you will find online! I was looking for a vegetarian/vegan recipe so that did narrow down the possibilities but there still is a mind-boggling number of vegetarian recipes out there. I consulted four and made my own version based on my intuition. This one has all the authentic trimmings of a Thai green curry- lemongrass, coriander seeds, green chillies, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, basil and coconut milk - only without the meat. I used a combination of veggies I like such as baby corn, purple eggplant, carrots & mushrooms. I don't like pea eggplants and I'm not big on tofu so those two didn't make the cut.

The curry turned out just the way I hoped it would. It was light with a strong aromatic flavour and spicy edge. Sure, I didn't get the pale green color I was was expecting - mine turned out a murky beige but it tasted pretty legit so I stopped obsessing about the color. I didn't want the curry to be too thick so I adjusted the consistency to my liking. Served with a bowl of piping hot jasmine rice, this was a meal to remember!

Okay....rambling done! Here is the recipe for a super yummy green curry that will not only tickle , but do the tango with your taste buds! 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Restaurant review: Spruce at the Fire Station, Singapore

Tucked away in the lush green landscapes of Bukit Timah, is a quaint-by-day and chic-by-night restaurant called Spruce that offers wholesome Italian and American comfort classics. Spruce has two outlets in Singapore - one at Phoenix Park and the other at the iconic old Bukit Timah Fire Station. My review here is for the latter. 

This dining extension of the original restaurant (at Phoenix park) is located very close to the condo I used to stay previously but surprisingly, I never paid a visit then even though I knew about it and a friend had even recommended it. When I think about it, I do regret not going then!

It was one of those rare occasions where the husband and I stepped out of the house for a brunch date. The last time it was just the two of us dining out was at the beginning of the year and so when the opportunity presented itself, we gladly seized it. Enjoying a meal without having to worry about packing suction plates-sippy cups-bibs, choosing a kid-friendly venue, availability of highchairs, hangry (hungry+angry) toddlers, power struggles and the inevitable big mess is a welcome change! Actually, I'm exaggerating a bit. Our kids love eating out and they are almost always well-behaved but it's still nice to get away from them once every few months....haha!

Spruce at Fire Station boasts a chic 3,000 sq ft dining area with an indoor capacity of 120 people.

First impression that comes to mind on entering Spruce is the relaxed and casual vibe. This is a place where you can walk in wearing flip flops, with your raucous kids in tow just to unwind and grab some grub. 

The interior has character because the architecture of the fire station has been retained and that itself lends a uniqueness to the restaurant. The high ceiling, white brick wall, bright red doors and accents add to the appeal of the space. 

The soaring glass windows brings in plenty of natural light and make the space look large and bright. Not to mention, the view outside is pleasant and serene. I sat facing the window and was able to take in the peaceful sights and scenes outside during the course of the meal.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Baker's Corner: Cherry Buttermilk Cake

I made this cake for my in-laws who were in town last month. I was looking for a simple tea-time cake recipe that incorporated fruit and wasn't too sweet.

The original recipe calls for fresh raspberries but unluckily, I didn't get any at the nearby grocery store. I however, did spot a box of fresh US cherries that was on sale at an unprecedented low price. Normally cherries are pretty expensive in Singapore so I scooped them up immediately.

This is one of the easiest cakes y'all will ever bake you guys. I didn't even incorporate the step-by-step photos coz I didn't think it was necessary....a child could pull it off! Moreover, it is likely that you will have most of the ingredients at home. This cake is a great canvas for any kind of berry - strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or cherries. And what's even better is that you don't need to buy store-bought buttermilk. Making your own is a cinch (refer notes at the end). 

Keep in mind that this cake isn't very sweet since I modified the recipe to ensure it turned out that way. If you prefer your cakes on the sweeter side, you can dust the cake with icing sugar after the cake has cooled down or even go a step further and serve it with vanilla bean or a berry-flavoured ice-cream.

Easy-peasy and tastes good. I hope you don't need any more convincing to try it out! 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

75CL - Singapore's Leading Online Wine Destination

Invited Review

If you know me well, then you probably are aware that alcohol and I don't share a very good equation. Probably not the best opening line for this particular blog post but hear me out, will ya? See....for the longest time, I wasn't able to acquire the taste for it and it didn't agree with me either. But over the years, I have had my fair share of alcoholic beverages that I have developed a fondness for. And although, I am primarily a cocktails kinda gal, I do make an exception to the occasional wine. I don't mind a glass of wine on social occasions or special events. I am partial towards light or medium-bodied white wines that have refreshing and fruity characteristics.

When I was invited for a personalized wine tasting by the good folks at 75CL, I was a bit hesitant since I didn't know if I was the right person to write a review given my lack of expertise in the area. But I've always had a fascination for the science behind wine and winemaking (it's called oenology apparently). Not to mention, the art of wine appreciation has been a secret desire too (it makes for great dinner party conversation!) so I accepted. On one laidback Saturday afternoon, I headed out to the wine tasting lab. I asked a wine enthusiast friend to tag along so she could help provide more insight into the tasting experience. is an up-and-coming e-commerce wine store in Singapore. was previously know as The Wine Gallery. It was re-branded with a focus on e-commerce to provide customers with hassle free wine buying experience online. They offer free same day wine delivery to ensure that their customers don't have to wait too long for their wine. 75CL imports their wines from a curated selection of International producers and family-owned wineries and sells them directly to customers, thereby stripping away the extra retail cost that comes with the middleman. This gives them a competitive edge over other wine sellers by offering a wide range of quality wines at affordable prices.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in wine, especially with regards to wine and food pairing. The aim of 75CL is to make wine more accessible to the general public and to shirk the snob factor of wines. They are geared to promote wine as an easy-drinking tipple, which can be paired with many of the local Singaporean dishes which can be found at hawker centres.

Many would agree that it is hard to purchase quality wines without tasting them first. There is a chance that you will end up paying big bucks for a bottle you don't fancy. And if you are hosting a major event, the worry of your guests not liking the selection of wines becomes amplified. To help their customers understand the different wines available and test if a particular wine suits their palate before purchase, 75CL recently launched their state-of-the-art wine tasting lab. The tasting lab features over 56 premium wines from countries like France, Italy, Spain, Argentina and more, which can be tasted by walk-in customers on a daily basis. They also host wine masterclasses at the space which are conducted in a casual and light-hearted manner. Right from the casual social wine drinker to the sophisticated wine connoisseur - everyone is welcome!

First thoughts that popped into my mind on entering the wine tasting lab was that this company means serious business! You will be compelled to gawk at their extensive collection of wines. The space is roomy, elegant and eye-catching with beautifully arranged displays of wines from all over the world.

The faces behind 75CL are welcoming, friendly and easygoing. They make you feel comfortable, provide you with all the information on their wines and make helpful recommendations when needed.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Recipe of the month: Onion Tomato Chutney

In contrast to my usual style, this recipe post is going to be short. I promise!

This is a savoury chutney recipe I stumbled upon three years ago on one of the food blogs that I religiously follow. I happened to be bored of the usual coconut-based chutney and all its subtle variations for idli, dosa and the likes of it so I was on the lookout for a different kind of accompaniment. Once I arrived at this recipe, I glanced at the ingredients and procedure and it looked enticingly uncomplicated. It turned out great and me and the husband were hooked onto it. Once I started making this chutney, it went on to become a regular in our household. I used to make the traditional coconut chutney while making idli, dosa, uttapam and guliappa but now I have added this vibrant onion tomato chutney to the list of must-have side dishes to go along!

This chutney is onion-based and has only five major ingredients. It comes together very easily, is lip-smacking delicious and keeps in the fridge easily for up to four days. Although it is ideally meant for serving with the above-mentioned South Indian breakfast dishes, it can be also used as a sandwich spread. I use it in grilled cheese sandwiches and I swear it is the bomb! 

Try this chutney and you will realize that I speak the truth!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Taking On a New Role....

I wasn't sure if I wanted to express the thoughts and feelings that have been swirling like a tempest within me lately. But I changed my mind when I realized it may serve some usefulness in the event that my readers wonder about the sudden lull in blog entries that only seems imminent at this point in time. 

To cut a long story short, my 21-month stint as a stay-at-home-mom came to an end last month as I re-joined the workforce. I have been working full-time as a Research Associate in the field of biomedical science (just as I was before I became a mom), but only in a different institute.

First things first - I tend to sit on the sidelines of the ugly mommy wars. What works for one woman might not work for another. There is no right or wrong in this struggle for 'supremacy' and I am inclined to think that every mother has her child's best interests at heart. Personally speaking, I've always known that a break from work would be a temporary thing. Being at home long-term is not a viable option because it'll never be enough for me. I cannot completely abandon that side of me that has studied/worked so hard all my life. I crave the sense of self-worth I get from working, the security of financial independence, the challenge of solving work-related problems and the stimulation of professional interaction. But when motherhood came calling, I made up my mind that come what may, I wouldn't consider getting back to work before my twins were 18 months old. I needed time to bond with my them one-on-one and build a strong foundation of love and trust. Yes, I did worry if time away from work would undermine my career but I put aside my fears and set my priorities in order. In hindsight, I'm so glad I did what felt was right to me. I can sense the impact my constant presence has had on my girls so far in terms of behavioural, emotional and intellectual growth. That was the driving force that kept the urge of my returning to work at bay and made my time at home so worthwhile.  

The past few months have seen a whirlwind of activity. After my little ones turned 18 months old, I knew my self-imposed deadline was up and I had to start scouting for employment opportunities. I had turned a bit rusty by then and went about it at snail's pace, not really convinced that I would land a job immediately. But as fate would have it, I received a job offer right after my first interview (so much for all my worries!). It was unexpected, exciting and a little daunting at the same time. There were so many things that needed to be sorted before I started work but by god's grace, everything fell into place in quick succession. We hired an experienced full-time domestic helper, registered the kids in a nearby playgroup and made arrangements for my in-laws to stay with us for a month during the time I commenced work in order to make the transition as smooth as possible. Subsequently, I felt much more at ease and just three months short of my children's 2nd birthday, geared up to take on my dual responsibility.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Restaurant Review: Zaffron Kitchen, Singapore

Life is crazy busy. But that's no excuse to completely disappear from blogosphere, now is it? Whenever I don't have time to come up with fresh content, I turn to my drafts folder. I always have at least a dozen partially finished posts in there! hahaha

This is a post that I had started way back in....erm....I actually can't even remember the year! I hadn't completed it because I had the photos all scattered in different albums and I lacked the patience to sort through them. Yesterday when I found myself free for an hour and realized I hadn't posted in a week, I decided it was time.

I've been to Zaffron Kitchen too many times to recount. The very first time was to the restaurant on East Coast Road eons ago. Me and hubby were at the newly opened Katong mall on a Sunday morning to watch a movie in Gold Class. After the movie, we were contemplating where to go for lunch and we ended up heading towards Zaffron Kitchen which happened to be a stone's throw away from the mall. It was our first tryst with this restaurant and as you will go on to read, definitely didn't end up being the last!

Zaffron Kitchen (East Coast)

Decked in shades of orange, grey and brown, this medium-sized restaurant showcases a cosmopolitan and modern ambience.

First thoughts - the restaurant at East Coast imparts a relaxed and cosy vibe. I really liked the interiors because it catches you by surprise. It doesn't look anything like how you picture a traditional Indian restaurant to look like. I thought the color scheme and layout were striking. Another interesting observation was that the patrons were a mix of locals and expatriates so I gathered that the restaurant had a strong local presence along with an International appeal.

I was rather surprised by the considerably large play area for kids because that is not something you usually see at Indian restaurants in Singapore.

The staff were courteous and attended to us promptly.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What you can expect at the Singapore Zoo and River Safari

The year was 2006. A young, newly married girl found herself on the sunny shores of Singapore.'m not about to toy with your emotions by narrating a story exuding nostalgia. The girl I was referring to is obviously me! Within two days of my arrival, all I wanted to do was start gallivanting around the little island that had become my new home. It didn't matter that I had already been to Singapore a few years ago on a family vacation and seen almost everything that was worth seeing (from a tourist's point of view). I was just being my usual insufferable self! *tee hee*

One of the first tourist destinations in Singapore that I dragged my husband along was the Singapore Zoo. After that, with the steady stream of family and friends visiting us, the number of trips to the Zoo grew exponentially. Over the years I have gathered quite an astounding number of photographs of the Zoo (with the idea that I'll do a blog post someday!). I've picked a select few for this post which I'm so happy to say has finally come about. I will not be doing a separate blog post on the River Safari so I have squeezed it in with this one. Okay? Okay!

Singapore Zoo
Established in 1973, Singapore Zoo is billed the "World's Best Rainforest Zoo". The grounds rest in a heavily forested nature reserve where animals roam freely in open and naturalistic habitats.

The Singapore Zoo is one of the prime sightseeing attractions the country has to offer. It is very popular with tourists as it is with locals and is undisputably a 'must-visit' attraction in Singapore. 

Winner of several awards and accolades, this 26-hectare wildlife park is nestled within the lush Mandai rainforest that stretches into the magnificent Upper Seletar Reservoir. Home to more than 2,800 animals representing over 300 species of mammals, birds and reptiles, this Zoo boasts one of the best wildlife park settings in the world. 

It takes just one visit to understand why approximately 1.7 million visitors flock to Singapore Zoo each year. I have been to the Zoo a dozen times (at least) and it never gets dull for me. The Zoo constantly strives to better its programmes and facilities. I have seen the way it has evolved over the past decade and am not the least bit surprised to witness the success story it has become. 

Unlike most traditional Zoos, the animals are kept in spacious, landscaped enclosures separated from visitors by dry and wet moats. The moats are concealed with vegetation or dropped below the line of sight. And although I cannot speak for the animals, the natural and unrestricted design is primarily why the Singapore Zoo doesn't feel like an animal prison.

Aside from observing the animals from a secure distance outside their exhibits, the zoo has designed many special features such as elevated platforms, underwater galleries and glass observatories for the better viewing of certain animals. Feeding times are when animals are most active and visitors can get a chance to feed the animals (selected exhibits only) and listen to a live commentary from experienced Zoo keepers to gain an in-depth insight into the animal, its characteristics and habitat. Furthermore, the visitor experience involves understanding the animals at a deeper level through well-designed, informative displays. This makes a visit to the Zoo not only an interactive experience but an educational one too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Baker's Corner: Sachertorte

I wasn't privy to the existence of a Sachertorte up until four years ago. If you had asked me about it then, you would have drawn a blank stare.

How I got acquainted with this dessert is that one of my friends had been on a trip to Europe and she (very thoughtfully) brought back beautifully packed individual boxes of what looked to me like chocolate cake. I'll digress here - if you are a regular reader of my blog, you must have noticed by now how most of my friends are hopeless foodies! Birds of a feather, flock together eh? Coming back to the subject, when I quizzed her more about it, she briefed me about Sachertorte and how it has become an iconic dessert attributed to The Sacher Hotel in Vienna. I greedily polished off the lion's share of it and it really was heaven in a bite!

Allow me to wallow in a bit of culinary history - Sachertorte is a specific type of chocolate cake, or torte, that was invented by a sixteen-year old Austrian by the name of Franz Sacher. How inspiring is that?

The Hotel Sacher, arguably one of the world's most luxurious and historic hotels, is the designated purveyor of the torte. They have an elaborate website devoted almost entirely to the Sachertorte! Shipping options are available no matter where you are. Their longtime Viennese competitor, as far as the torte goes, is Demel's. They have their own version as well, which is just slightly different from the Hotel Sacher's. Among the fortunate ones who've tasted both versions, some choose the Hotel's while others opt for Demel's. I hope the day comes when I get to pick a favourite as well!

This beautiful Viennese classic consists of a dense chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam on top, coated in dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. It is traditionally served with unsweetened whipped cream.

Although the recipe is relatively simple, it's important to follow the step-by-step procedure to get a nice, soft inside of the cake. I don't know why but it took me a really long time from start to finish so I don't think this is one of those desserts that I will be making very often! 

But it does have that 'wow' factor and tastes really lovely (when executed correctly) so don't feel intimidated by the steps and do try it out 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Recipe of the month: Black Bean Burgers with Avocado Mayonnaise

Let's be honest....when you hear the word "burger", the mind immediately conjures up an image that is far removed from vegetarianism.

In India, vegetarian burgers are commonly available in most restaurants serving western and fusion food but I'm assuming the same cannot be said outside the country. Growing up, most of the burgers I ate consisted of a patty made with potatoes, paneer (cottage cheese) or chickpeas. Speaking of which, in my hometown, there is a tiny joint that serves burgers and other kinds of western food called 'Downtown'. I swear every once or twice a year that I'm in Mysore, I make it a point to go there and relish their veggie burgers slathered generously with mayonnaise (and I don't even fancy mayo that much!). Seriously good stuff!

In the past, when I'd make burgers at home, I'd resort to making potato or mixed vegetable patties and assemble it within a bun with some lettuce and tomatoes or else channel my inner Gordon Ramsey and grill a portobello mushroom along with some veggies and slap on a slice of swiss cheese. They would taste good especially the latter but that didn't stop me from looking into more options to create a lip-smacking, loaded veggie burger.

Black bean burgers have been on my cooking radar for a long time. Unfortunately, I haven't actually tasted many of them to register a positive food memory. The last one I had was at a popular Mexican fast food chain in Singapore a few years ago, and it was so bad (dry and bland) that I couldn't even finish the burger! Since then, I've always wanted to make it at home so I could fuel my ego with the realization that I could do a better job. Haha!

Black beans are high in fiber and a great source of plant-based protein. Bell peppers are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Avocado is a super food. Arugula is low in calories, nutritious and has a ton of flavour. I squashed all these good guys between a sliced wholemeal bun, wolfed it down and actually felt good (read: not guilty) after eating a burger. How many times does that happen to ya?  Serve this burger with baked sweet potato wedges and a mixed salad on the side and you have a wonderfully balanced meal right there.

Comfort food that is delicious, hearty and nutritious.....what more can one ask for? I've made these burgers multiple times since I first tried it and they have become a huge family favourite. I swear I'm going to do everything it takes to make my kids love this burger when they get a little older *grins*

Here's to eating green! Stay healthy and happy you lovely people 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A date with the birds @ Jurong Bird Park, Singapore

Jurong Bird Park, home to some of the largest free-flying aviaries is one of the most renowned bird sanctuaries in the world. A prime tourist attraction located in the Jurong region of Singapore, this Park has been drawing in flocks of visitors since 1971. Boasting a collection of more than 5,000 birds across 400 species, the exhibits within the Park mirror the natural environments of their feathered residents.

What the Park has to offer:
  • Aside from their colorful inhabitants, the Park features educational and interactive shows where visitors can catch the birds in action. 
  • There are plenty of opportunities to feed the birds and get professional photographs taken with them. 
  • The Park makes sincere efforts towards breeding and conservation and those interested can get in on the behind-the-scenes operations at the Breeding & Research Centre (BRC). 
  • There is also a lot of fun in store for the little people. The Birdz of Play is a bird-themed playground with wet and dry play zones and indoor games room. 
  • There are several cafes and refreshment stalls interspersed throughout the Park which caters to the weary and/or peckish tourist. 
  • Visitors can take a leisurely stroll around the Park or else hop on board the guided trams to explore the attractions. There are lots of sign boards to help you navigate your way.

I have been to the Jurong Bird Park more number of times than I can recount but my last visit had been three years ago. The opportunity to revisit presented itself recently when I had family visiting from India. On a bright sunny, with the kids in tow (and sans the husband), we set off for a half day of bird gawking.

I don't have an insane number of photographs in this post (like I usually do) since I had two hyperactive toddlers to wrangle! I wasn't entirely satisfied with my captures but I did the best I could.

Here is a summary of the attractions in the Park and what you can expect.