Sunday, August 7, 2022

Baker's Corner: Traditional Rolled Börek

I have a fantastic recipe for you today which I'm sure you will love! This recipe is the result of my having attended a Turkish cooking class which I have been doing on a fairly regular basis since last year. 

Börek (also spelled bourek, burek and bòrek) is a deliciously flaky, baked savoury pastry. It is believed that börek originated in the old Ottoman Empire from what is present-day Turkey. Since its creation, börek has become a very popular dish in countries spanning the Balkans and Eastern Europe, Greece and all the way to Armenia and North Africa. 

This pastry comes stuffed with different fillings ranging from meat, vegetables, potato, cheese or a combination of ingredients. The shape also varies depending on where it’s made. Sometimes they are flat pastries, sometimes a log shape, a fancy spiral shape and other times resemble a pie.

The filling I have made consists of fresh spinach and feta cheese which is quite a traditional combination. I have also added in chopped Swiss brown mushrooms because I had some on hand but this is an optional ingredient. The filling for this börek is quite similar to the filling I use for Greek pie Spanakopita and the Turkish flatbread Gözleme. I adore this combination of ingredients so it is no surprise that I now have three dishes on the blog with subtle tweaks on the same! 

I have used store-bought frozen filo (phyllo) pastry sheets to make the börek. It makes things so much faster and easier! I defrosted the filo sheets by placing the package in the fridge overnight. The next day, the sheets were ready to be used. Note that if you are working with filo pastry for the first time, you will notice that these sheets are very delicate and tear easily. Not to worry though - a few tears here and there are perfectly acceptable!

This vegetarian rendition of börek is perfect as a breakfast or brunch dish served with a side salad. You can also serve it as an appetizer when you have guests over. It looks amazing and tastes fabulous too. My kids loved it so I'm convinced that it will have widespread appeal 😊

Try this recipe folks and let me know how just much you love it!

Monday, July 25, 2022

Recipe of the month: Aish El Saraya (Lebanese Bread Pudding)

It is a well established fact among my family members (both immediate and extended) that I love to cook and try new recipes all the time. So when someone from my family comes across an interesting recipe that worked for them, they probably don't think twice before suggesting the recipe to me 😀 I welcome these recommendations with open arms! 

One of my aunts who lived in the Middle East for many years, sent me this recipe for Aish El Saraya aka Lebanese Bread Pudding at the start of the pandemic. With lockdowns and work from home being enforced, I had a lot more time on my hands than usual to get the culinary juices flowing. 

Aish El Saraya is a popular and delicious no-bake Middle Eastern dessert. Aish El Saraya translates in Arabic to “the bread of the palaces ". This dessert is essentially an aromatic bread pudding. 

I not only love Middle Eastern food (as I have reiterated many times) but I love their desserts as well especially baklava, künefe, halva and rice pudding. The use of nuts, rose water and citrus hints in their desserts greatly appeals to my palate so I was eager to try a Middle Eastern dessert recipe that I had previously never heard of. 

Aish El Saraya needs only a few ingredients and comes together fairly quickly. It is the perfect dessert to make while entertaining as it can be made ahead of time. It is also eggless so it caters to those who don't consume eggs or dislike the smell. I have made this dessert many times and I've noticed that it appeals to both adults and kids alike. My kids absolutely love it! The appearance of this dessert with the mauve-green pistachios and the pretty edible rose petals along with the aroma of the orange and rose water makes this dessert feel exotic and enticing. 

There are three main components to this dessert. The bottom layer, i.e. the base, is made out of white bread. Toasted stale white bread is what is preferred. For me, using toasted store-bought rusk for this dessert is a no-brainer because I like the spongy cake-like base compared to the softer bread base texture. A simple syrup consisting of sugar, water, orange blossom water, lemon juice and rose water is then made which is poured over the rusks. This imparts both sweetness and fragrance. Then comes the milk custard topping which is the star of the dessert. It is so good, you can eat it just as it is! It is made with whole milk, full-fat condensed milk and whipping cream. Corn flour is used to thicken it and it is flavoured with rose water and orange blossom water. The milk custard gives the pudding that lovely creamy texture, just the right amount of sweetness and a delightful perfume. The dessert is garnished with crushed pistachios and edible rose petals that enhances its color, flavor, and texture.

At any given time I have milk, sugar, whipping cream, pistachios, corn flour, citrus fruits and rose water in my kitchen so I typically have to buy only the rusk and condensed milk to make this dessert. Initially, I checked the availability of orange blossom water and although available in Singapore, I felt like the ingredient would just be idling away in my pantry as this is the only dish I would ever use it for so I substituted it with grated orange zest. It worked out pretty well so I have just continued to do that. Please go ahead and use orange blossom water if you have it or are inclined to buy it. You could also use a few drops of orange essence or a few tablespoons of orange liqueur instead. 

I have made this Lebanese bread pudding at least half a dozen times and have optimized the ingredient quantities it to perfectly fit a 8x8 inch square (metal or glass) dish which to me, is just right for dinner parties. You could use a round dish but cutting the rusks to fit the bottom might be cumbersome. A square or rectangular dish are the more suitable choices. I also cut down on the sweetness in the original recipe to suit my preferences. No one who has tried my rendition has yet complained that the dessert isn't sweet enough so I'm sticking with my modification 😊 Feel free to dial up the sweetness if that is how you prefer your dessert. 

I really hope you try this recipe folks because trust me, it is a keeper!

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Restaurant review: Basilico at Regent, Singapore

To celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary early this January, my husband and I chose a restaurant that we had been meaning to check out for the longest time. I still have a long list of restaurants in Singapore left to check off my bucket list so I hope to make good headway on that this year. 

Situated in a green enclave, a stone’s throw from Orchard Road, Regent Singapore is a five star serene urban oasis balancing classic style with modern comfort. Housed within Regent is all-day dining restaurant Basilico serving seasonal Italian cuisine. 

Helmed by Rome-born and bred Head Chef Valerio Pierantonelli, the award-winning Basilico is widely considered one of Singapore's best Italian restaurants. The menu at Basilico features authentic Italian elements such as a rotisserie, antipasti, mains and pasta, comforting wood-fired pizzas, sumptuous desserts and a walk-in cheese cellar. There are both buffet and a la carte dining options. 

First impressions as we entered the hotel bobby was the feeling of contemporary grandeur. The hotel boasts chic interiors and needless to say, was sparkling clean! Several aspects of the space caught our eye - the stunning chandelier, tasteful furniture, the skylight, the bubble glass elevators, a suspended art piece, the water feature and the extensive indoor flowers and plants which made the space appear lively and calming. 

I could hear the twins exclaim in delight several times. They seemed genuinely thrilled with their whereabouts. 

Basilico is located at the second floor of Regent Hotel and can be accessed by stairs or elevator. It has a modern and sophisticated appearance. There are two levels, with an upper open deck/terrace. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Book review: Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman

We are halfway into 2022 and I have finished reading 16 books folks. I'd say that is pretty good by my standards! I have been stuck on One Hundred Years of Solitude by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquezfor the past few weeks that has arrested my reading pace. But a few more books to go and I'm sure to achieve my reading goal for this year 😊

Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-hour Workweek (alternatively subtitled And How We Can Get There and How We Can Build the Ideal World) is a book by Dutch popular historian Rutger Bregman. It was originally written as articles in Dutch for a virtual journal, De Correspondent, and was since compiled and published. It went on to become an international bestseller and has been translated into 23 languages. 

This book came heavily recommended in the non-fiction category and so I had put it on my reading list. Once I was done reading it, I was so glad that I did!

Utopia for Realists offers a critical proposal that it claims is a practical approach to reconstructing modern society to promote a more productive and equitable life based on three core ideas:

  • A universal and unconditional basic income paid to everybody
  • A short working week of fifteen hours
  • Open borders worldwide with the free movement of citizens between all states

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

The book starts with a brief history lesson alluding to how everything in the past was worse. It highlights the stupendous progress that humanity that has made over the last 200 years. In just a fraction of the time that our species has clocked on this planet, billions of us are suddenly rich, well nourished, clean, safe, smart, healthy and even beautiful. Compared to 1820, where 84% of the world's population still lived in extreme poverty, by 1981, that percentage dropped to 44% and now, just a few decades later, it is under 10%. In today's world, we often work long and hard hours in jobs we don't particularly like, we buy things we don't need, we constantly compete, we struggle with anxiety and obesity among other things so the real question is, even if we are wealthier, are we happier? 

This is a compelling book that provides many valid arguments, put forward in simple language addressed to the wider public, and backed by a wealth of evidence to challenge ideas that were previously deemed radical. In short, a collection of revolutionary ideas that can potentially change our world for the better.