Monday, June 14, 2021

Book Review: Jake Brigance Series (A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row and A Time for Mercy) by John Grisham

In my mid-teens, I graduated from Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys to John Grisham novels completely bypassing the Mills & Boon phase that most of my friends were into at the time. There was a tiny library near my house and I'd walk over there pretty much whenever I had free time to spare to check out the fiction section (still remains my favorite genre of books!). I clearly remember the first adult fiction novel that I read which was 'The Client' by John Grisham. I recall being captivated by the suspense, intensity and plot twists which I soon recognized to be the hallmark of one of America's favourite storytellers. After reading a couple of his legal thrillers such as The Firm and The Pelican Brief, I moved on to other authors like Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele and Michael Crichton whose novels took up the remainder of my teenage years. 

I hadn't read John Grisham in many years. Recently, I received a recommendation for the Jake Brigance Series by John Grisham which consisted of three novels - A Time to Kill (1989), Sycamore Row (2013) and A Time for Mercy (2020). I finished all three books in a span of 10 days which only happens when I willingly devote every single second of my spare time towards reading (always a good sign for the imminent review!). I was filled with nostalgia after reading Grisham after such a long spell. Although legal thrillers are not my most favourite category of fiction, I do enjoy reading them once in a while. 

John Grisham is no stranger to bibliophiles. He was a practicing lawyer for over a decade but achieved worldwide recognition as an author. John Grisham carved out his own niche, writing a series of gripping legal thrillers. Having spent considerable time in the field of law, writing about courtrooms, juries and legal tussles come naturally to him and when he bases his stories on his native turf, the personal touches make them that much more appealing. It is no wonder he is considered one of the best thriller writers alive.

This series features main protagonist Jake Brigance a 'street lawyer' in the fictional town of Clanton in the equally fictional Ford County, Mississippi. All three novels are courtroom dramas and in-keeping with the time and location they are set in, tackle sensitive subjects like racism, segregation, sexism as well as bigotry, classism and domestic violence. 

I've tried to keep this review free of any major spoilers!

Monday, June 7, 2021

Recipe of the month: Orzo Risotto with Roasted Garlic, Asparagus & Spinach

Lately, I find myself obsessed with orzo pasta. So much so that I think it may just be my current favourite pasta 😊

In our kitchen, we tend to use different types of pasta for specific pasta dishes based on our liking. For example, we use fusilli for our signature Cajun and vegetable stir-fried pasta, rigatoni or macaroni for baked cheese dishes, spaghetti for aglio olio, fettuccine or linguine for mushroom-cream sauce, penne or farfalle for pesto sauce and ravioli for butter or oil based sauces. Although this is not set in stone (sometimes we do switch up the type of pasta), this is generally the trend we have been following for many years. 

Orzo is a type of pasta that is shaped like a large grain of rice. Orzo is easy to cook and works well in soups, stews, salads, sides and even as an entrée paired with simple pasta sauces. We started using orzo only since last year. The first dish we made was orzo in pesto sauce which went down very well, especially with the kids. Then my husband used orzo in a baked cheesy casserole dish which turned out so great that it has made an appearance on our dinner table a few times since then. 

Recently, while browsing Instagram, I saw a delightful spring recipe using orzo, asparagus, rocket, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic on one of the feeds I follow. In the recipe, the orzo is toasted in butter to give off a nutty and buttery aroma and then cooked in a watery broth. Then fresh greens, asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes are added in, Italian cheese is added for creaminess, black pepper for heat and roasted garlic for that amazing flavour. I thought it looked really good so I saved the recipe immediately and tried it within the next few days. 

I made the orzo in the style of a risotto (with the consistency of thick porridge) and it was a super hit at home! I made a few substitutions - I used baby spinach instead of arugula/rocket since my kids are not too gung-ho about the latter and parmesan instead of pecorino romano cheese because that was what I had. I also scaled-up the recipe since I needed it to serve 5 people. Since I had deviated a little from the original recipe, I felt I needed to make it one more time to get the recipe proportions right. I made it again this weekend and the recipe turned out perfect!

This recipe doesn't have a whole lot of ingredients and comes together fairly easily. It is ideal for busy weeknight dinners and elegant enough for entertaining. You don't have any of that tedious stirring that comes with a risotto! The orzo risotto with roasted garlic, asparagus & spinach both looks and tastes wonderful. And the best part is that unlike leftover risotto that thickens and isn't very nice to eat the next day, this orzo still tastes nice after a night in the fridge (it tastes more like a pasta dish rather than risotto though). Refer the notes at the end of the recipe for tips, substitutions and suggestions. 

I hope you try this recipe and love it as much as we did!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Restaurant review: Artichoke, Singapore

This is a restaurant I have been meaning to check out for the longest time! I'm so glad I finally managed to cross it off my list (which I obviously did before the Phase 2 Heightened Alert Covid-19 restrictions kicked in!). 

In our household, we love Middle Eastern food. We rustle up Mezze-style grazing platters pretty often and not just while entertaining but also as part of our regular weekend or sometimes even weekday menu. It is something our children look forward to as well. I am yet to feature Middle Eastern recipes on the blog and it is something that I fully intend to do in the near future. 

Rich, fragrant, vibrant and comforting are all words that can describe the wonderful creations of the Middle East. Bread has been the primary food staple in the Arab-Muslim world but others include rice, barley, lentils, rye and wheat. The flatbreads are made with flour, softened with olive oil and can entirely replace the need for cutlery! Freshly baked pita bread is an integral component of this cuisine. Middle Easterners also eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, meat, nuts, dairy products and rice. Religion has impacted the cuisine by making lamb the primary meat. Traditional spices include cumin, caraway, nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron, sumac, isot, oregano, mint, nigella seeds and spice blends, including za’atar, ras el hanout and baharat. If you are familiar with this cuisine you will recognize the commonly featured ingredients like olives and olive oil, honey, rose water, orange blossom water, pistachios, sesame seeds, dates, chickpeas, mint and parsley. Popular dishes include hummus, moutabel, labneh, falafel, grilled halloumi, tabbouleh, foul medammas, fattoush, kebabs, dolma, doner kebab, shish tawook, shawarma, manakeesh, mulukhiyah and baklava. 

Located in the heart of Singapore's Arts and Heritage district, Artichoke offers non-traditional Middle Eastern food and unapologetically so! At the helm of Artichoke is chef-owner Bjorn Shen, who has been tickling the Singapore palate with fun and creative dishes inspired from the Middle East. Artichoke is said to be an extension of the chef's eccentric personality. 

Expect the unexpected at Artichoke so go with an open mind and empty belly. For more traditional and standard Middle-Eastern fare, you can always head over to Arab street! At Artichoke, imagine funky grub like the 'Thicc'-kest hashbrown you have ever seen, green harissa prawns, chipotle baba ganoush, an unconventional date pudding, all served to a backdrop of 60’s soul and 90’s hip-hop.

We had reserved a table for four on a Saturday afternoon. We parked the car a few blocks away from our destination. While walking towards the restaurant, we caught sight of charming shophouses and street art, the latter of which grabbed our attention as it is not a commonly sighted feature of Singapore. 

You can completely miss the restaurant if you aren't looking for it! Artichoke is hidden in an enclave between a brightly colored art gallery and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). If you were expecting a large or posh food establishment, you will be in for a surprise. Instead, Artichoke has an enigmatic, quirky and cosy vibe.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Recipe of the month: Sabudana Dosa

So we are back in an 'almost-lockdown' state due to the rising Covid-19 cases in Singapore and the emergence of nasty variants of the virus. I had been dreading this for a long time but knew it might come sooner than later. It's back to mostly working from home for the next 3 weeks and home-based learning just until the end of this month (mercifully!). Having never had to do it before, I'm completely new and clueless to the whole online schooling thing so wish me luck! If you ask me, the mid-term school holidays cannot begin sooner 😅

I realized that I haven't posted an Indian savoury recipe in more than a year. Uncharacteristically, I had been focusing more on Indian sweets in the past several recipe posts so here I am trying to tip the scale a little bit 😊 

Previously, I hardly used sabudana/sabakki/sago pearls in my cooking. If you ask me why, I have no logical explanation for it. There is only one recipe on my blog that features sabudana and that is Sabudana Vada that I happened to make for Navratri one time. It had become such a habit not to use the ingredient that I seldom had it in my pantry. So you can conclude that when it came to me and sabudana, it was an 'out of sight, out of mind' kinda deal.

But that changed not too long ago. I love experimenting with different urad dal and rice based dosa batter recipes over the weekend. Earlier this year, one of the recipes I wanted to try listed sabudana as an ingredient. I bought a large packet out of which I used only a small amount for the dosa. I had no plans for the rest of it but it so happened that while talking to my mum over the phone that same week, she mentioned that they were having Sabakki Rotti for breakfast (where I'm from, we refer to it as Sabakki). I quickly noted down the recipe and made it the following weekend. Much to my surprise, it was a big hit with my children! Then a few weeks later I used it to make a kheer (pudding) for the Hindu New Year celebration festival of Ugadi. More recently, I discovered a recipe for Sabakki Dosa typed away in a draft post that had been long forgotten and that inspired me to make it. That took care of whatever sabudana was remaining. I do fully intend to make Sabudana Khichdi sometime in the near future and once I do that, I will be armed with five sabudana recipes in my culinary repertoire 😊 It helps that my family has liked whatever I've made so with the ingredient until now so it does look like sabudana may have just managed to secure a permanent spot in my pantry!  

This is a pretty easy dosa to make and requires only a few ingredients that are staples in any Indian kitchen. The sabudana needs soaking for a minimum of 4 hours (or preferably overnight) but after that the steps to getting the dosa on your plate are super quick. There is no grinding or fermentation involved so aside from the soaking time, you can consider this an 'instant dosa'. It is soft, mildly crispy and tastes good with a wide range of accompaniments. This dosa does not contain yoghurt so it is suitable for vegans and people who have an allergy or aversion to yoghurt. 

Try the recipe and let me know if you liked it. Eat well, stay positive (the good kind!) and stay safe 🏡