30 December 2007

Back from Japan Vacation

It's been almost a week since we returned from our 11D10N vacation from Kansai, Japan. We didn't tour the most of Kansai region, just Osaka, Kobe (Hyogo) and Kyoto. In fact my main aim was to bring hubby to the Kobe Luminarie (had been to the Luminarie back in 2003 during a homestay programme and was mesmerized by the atmosphere then). Apart from the Luminarie, there's of course the shopping, dining and onsen experience - reasons why I love Japan!
During the 11 days, weather was a cool 10 to 15 degree celsius most of the time, didn't experience snow unlike our vacation last Dec :( I remembered there was snow when I was in Kyoto during the same period in 2003. 残念! When we touched down at Changi Airport on Christmas eve, the first thing that hitted us was the hot and humid weather, we were literally sweating the moment we stepped out of the airport. The cool and dry weather was something we definitely missed.
This vacation was generally more laid back, didn't do as much planning as I did for previous trips where I would meticulously planned an itinerary, mapped places to go and all. Armed with my ever trusty Mook Kansai Travel Guide, we planned our travelling on a day-to-day basis; woke up as late as we wanted, ate as and when we felt like it, shopped as much as our hands and luggage could carry, played as much UFO catcher as we could... a journey without extensive planning was challenging, fun and relaxing. I guess just what we needed.
The great thing about holidaying during winter was the dry and cool weather, we walked really a lot but didn't feel least bit tired. Daylight was really short though, sun began setting at 4.30pm. Downside in Japan, most shops don't open till 11am and close at 8.30pm or 9pm other than eateries; which means my shopping time was limited :p
Kansai, Japan 14 - 24 Dec 07 Itinerary
Will blog about the highlights of each day of my journey... could take some time though. Coz I'll be going off for a dive trip in a few days' time :p Yes I seem to holiday a lot but when opportunities come knocking, I must grab them while I can, shouldn't I?

10 December 2007

Early Christmas Bakes: Lemon & Gingerbread Cookies, Spice Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I have been baking fervently from last Wednesday to Saturday, despite a rather hectic work schedule. My close friends and I are celebrating an early Christmas this year as many of us have other commitments during the Christmas period.
My contribution would naturally be Christmas cookies and cupcakes :) It has been intense but I can only blame myself for being overly "ambitious", wanting to bake cookies, cupcakes and cream puffs in just 3 nights and 1 day. In the end I managed to pull it off with rather satisfactory results considering it was a first time effort.

Presenting my luscious Lemon Cookies and Classic Gingerbread Cookies and Spiced Chocolate and Sour Cream Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, learnt at Joycelyn's Christmas Decorated Cookies Class and Christmas Cupcakes Class.
Didn't have much time to decorate the cookies which require intensive meticulous "worksmanship". Some simple icing outlining did the trick equally nice.
Had wanted to make the cute fondant snowman and penguin. But the fondant was a nightmare to handle. After a while, it became sticky and I couldn't shape it at all! Could be due to the hot and humid kitchen so shifted to an air-con room but failed too. In the end, I just made do with dusting of chocolate powder in the shape of a snowflake.
My 4-tier Christmas goodies - cupcakes, custard cream puff and rolled cookies.

Realised I still left a lot of cream cheese frosting after the party. Not wanting to waste, so back to more baking. This time round, mini Spiced Chocolate cupcakes.
I think I have enough of baking for now... looking forward to my vacation in Kansai soon!

09 December 2007

Easy Comfort Desserts by Shermay

Despite my busy work schedule, I specially took a half day on Friday to attend the Easy Comfort Desserts 2 taught by Chef-Owner Shermay herself.
Actually I'm not so much into the chocolate desserts, I'm in solely for the Self-Saucing Sticky Date Toffee Pudding and okay, maybe Egg Nog. Ever since I tried the Sticky Date Toffee Pudding at Marmalade Pantry, I couldn't forget the orgasmic taste. Opps, I think I'm a little too exaggerated here? But that was the first time I enjoyed a dessert so much.
Although the presentation looks pretty humble and is different from what I tried at Marmalade Pantry, it tasted rich with a moist texture. And is really easy to make. I love it!
Dense dark bittersweet Valrhona Chocolate with Grand Marnier. There are many ways of presenting dessert as demonstrated - in a large bowl, garnished with chocolate shavings and raspberries.
Or in chic looking expresso cups or mini glass (candle holder in fact).
Variation from the chocolate pots - a light & rich chocolate mousse which can be piped into store-bought tart cases lined with dark chocolate and topped with rasberry and icing sugar.
With gold leaves and gold dust - definitely impressive enough to create an impression if you are serving this to guests.
Or better still, serve the mousse in a martini glass. Anything served in a martini glass creates a wow factor it seems.
Cream Brulee which is essentially vanilla-infused egg custard with a crispy caramel crust baked in a ramekin and is always an all-time favourite of dessert lovers. It's really easy to make as well :D

And of course, the cooked version egg nog, supposedly a rich creamy Christmas drink garnished with cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg. I love the creamy richness of the milk, cream and egg. The rum and spices add depth to the drink and I confess I'm quite hooked.

Do we drink this only during Christmas? I guess because it goes really well with the Christmas Stollens and Puddings. Yummy... must drink as much as I can this Christmas.

03 December 2007




所以呀,这几个星期对写部落格有些意态阑珊,对许多事务也感到精神颓靡, 欲振乏力。唯一能让我振奋的是打麻将,哈哈,真有点不好意思的说。不然大多时间都窝在土豆网和youtube看台湾偶像剧或综艺节目,有点没建设性。不过阿Q 一点,加强了退步的中文也不错啦。所以今天就用中文练习一下,真的好久没用中文写东西了。

接下来两个星期可有得我忙了。与好友的圣诞聚会, 需要烤些蛋糕,饼干和买礼物。后个礼拜放自己一个大假,前往日本的大阪京都,需要计划行程和收拾行李。超期待的“關西趴趴走”,但因为一去就十天,最好是把手头上的工作交待处理好,这样才能玩得尽兴


17 November 2007

Christmas Special: Cupcakes Class

Despite having a long 'To Bake' list, I couldn't resist the temptation of signing up for Joycelyn's Christmas Special: Cupcakes Class 2007 Edition at Shermay's Cooking School. I couldn't stop marvelling at the cute decorations seen at Joycelyn's blog. I guess even if I don't bake them eventually, seeing how the cute decorations are made is satisfying enough.
The 4 luxe cupcake holiday flavours 2007 edition:
  • White Chocolate (Valrhona Ivoire), Macadamia, Sundried Cranberry & Madagascan Vanilla Blondie
  • Sticky Medjool Date & Guinness Stout Gingerbread with Crystallised Ginger
  • Spiced Chocolate & Sour Cream (using Valrhona cocoa, Pure Coffee Extract and a touch of cinnamon)
  • Pumpkin with Pecans & Rum-Soaked Raisins
Cupcake Toppings:
My favourite cake/cupcake topping - Rich Cream Cheese & Sour Cream Frosting and the ever-so-versatile Classic Royal Icing. (I have a weakness for cream cheese & sour cream frosting :p)
Decorations & Embellishments:
Absolutely Christmassy handmade and edible decorations in the likes of fondant snowman, penguin, igloo, Santa's hat, holly leaves & berries, wreath, bows, gift boxes; as well as royal icing embellishments of snowflake, christmas tree and star...
Despite the luxe-sounding names, the cupcakes look pretty manageable to bake, kudos to Joycelyn for making the recipes so comprehensive :)
With cupcakes as luxurious as these, who could resist them?

The fondant snowman and penguin make such a cute couple :D I think they would certainly be favourites among the kids.
Santa's hat, presents, bows, hollies... anything Christmassy adds to the joyous mood.
There are so many ways of decorating the cupcakes, all depending on one's imagination and creation; and of course lots of patience. Lovely to look at and nice to eat :p
A swirl of icing tinted with green, touched up with an icing star and silver edible embellishment - there you have, an elegant Christmas Tree!

Even a simple dusting of icing sugar in the shape of a snowflake fetches amazing results. Or dress up a cupcake with dried fruits and nuts to make a Christmas fruit cake.
Each participant brought back 4 cupcakes of the different flavours. I couldn't wait to eat them! Personally, my favourites are the Sticky Medjool Date & Guinness Stout Gingerbread (but without the Crystallised Ginger) and the Spiced Chocolate & Sour Cream. Both are rich, dense, moist and tender, characterized with flavours of the ingredients.
Yup, these 2 flavours would be made for my upcoming Christmas party with a group of close friends, topped with luxurious cream cheese & sour cream frosting and not forgetting the cute couple, snowman and penguin. That is, if I succeed with the recipes. Wish me luck!

13 November 2007

Custard Cream Puff

I seemed to be in a baking frenzy this year and especially recently, baking bi-weekly or even weekly (that's a lot considering I only bake once in a blue moon in the past years) and attempting to try out all the recipes learnt at Shermay's Cooking School.

Somehow, baking is therapeutic. The mind is totally focused while preparing the ingredients and seeing the baked products turn out successful gives a great sense of satisfaction. Furthermore, the baking process is a test of patience, precision and planning. I learnt the hard way having had some failures due to impatience, laziness and poor organization. Now I know and I'm trying to improve my work flow.

It's been a few months since I attended Chef Christopher's Retro High Tea class. Have wanted to try the custard cream puff but kept putting it off. In fact, I bought the Bird's Custard powder soon after the class but the can was idling on my shelf for 3 months now.

Finally made up my mind to try it today and it's not that difficult after all :D Was a little apprehensive, especially when the puffs didn't 'puff' up as expected based on the recipe after 10 to 15 mins of baking. In the end, I adjusted the baking time based on gut feel and the puffs turned out alright :) Perhaps my old little oven wasn't hot enough.

Instead of piping large puffs, I decided on mini bite-sized ones that can be popped into the mouth. Piping required some effort though and hubby commented that my puffs looked like a pile of dump but hey they turned out pretty cute ok?

The custard was relatively easy to make but silly me forgot to add vanilla extract, but the custard still turned out yummy :) I quite enjoyed the process of piping the custard into the puff because as you squeeze the custard, the puffs 'ballooned' :p
Instead of 24 custard cream puffs (based on the recipe), I ended up with double the quantity. The mini custard puffs turned out to be quite addictive, I had to resist the temptation to pop one after another into my mouth with the rich and sweet creamy custard oozing out from the puff.
So now, should I try the rough puff pastry so that I can make curry puff and chicken pie? I should, one of these days...

09 November 2007

Japanese Sesame Cookies

Didn't think much of sesame cookies but ever since I tried the sesame cookies made by Chef Keiko during her Jap-French Pastries Class a couple of weeks ago, my impression changed. Surprisingly, the cookie was savoury and crunchy and not too heavy on the palate.
Since the recipe is rather easy, I wanted to try baking it but couldn't find sesame seeds at the supermarkets around my house. Took an opportunity to go to Meidi-supermarket and finally found the jap black and white sesame seeds.
After preparing the dough mixture of unsalted butter, icing sugar, egg yolks, salt, top flour and sesame seeds, I have to set it in the freezer for 3hrs to harden it so that it's easier to slice neatly. Then it's off to the oven with a nice aroma filling the whole house.
Although the shape of my sesame cookies turn out to be a little irregular, but the taste is not bad at all. Another successful bake to add to my list!

08 November 2007

Marmalade Pantry, Holland Village

I love Public Holiday especially if it falls on a weekday. I can bake and cook at my own pace, run errands without a mad rush or simply laze around and do nothing.
Hubby has gone fishing with his kakis in Malaysia; and kindly left the car at my disposal :D which means that I could drive around to different shops I wanted to visit (sometimes it's hard to explain to him about my shopping plans; men just don't get it) and indulge in some pampering too.

Had scheduled a facial at Face Bistro in Holland Village in the late afternoon so I had quite a fair bit of time to spare. Made my way to Bake-It-Yourself (mentioned by Joycelyn during her cookies class) to check out some bakewares and ingredients but to my dismay it was closed. There goes my plan for trying the Decorated Cookies. Or how about Sesame Cookies learnt during Keiko's Jap-French Pastries class then? With that thought, I made my way to Meidi-ya Supermarket to get some Japanese black and white sesame; and also picked up some onigiri (I love onigiri) for my dinner.
After the errands, it was off to Marmalade Pantry in Holland Village (ok, this was supposed to be the subject and highlight of this blog entry but I digress).

Have heard so much about Marmalade Pantry at Palais Renaissance, supposedly a chi chi mall frequented by tai-tais; and that the restaurant is so popular that either you queue and get lucky or make reservations. Hadn't been to Palais Renaissance before, obviously I'm not in that league; just an aspiring tai-tai earning my own keep for now :p

Was definitely excited when Marmalade Pantry opens a branch at Holland Village, my chance to check out the ravings. Since I have not been to the one at Palais, couldn't make comparisons. The restaurant looks trendy with all white-furnishing, kind of casual or at most smart casual setting. Not that chi chi afterall? Menu items look chi chi though. Service-wise was prompt and attentive. Come to think of it, this place feels a little like Greyhound Cafe in Bangkok.

My focus was actually on the Sticky Date Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream which I heard is very good. But I was hungry and wanted to have try something more in the menu instead of just dessert. Ended up with Homemade Dips with Pita Wedges and a Vigorous juice of carrot, celery and apple.The pita wedges were served warm and quite light and chewy. The dips were a little odd though, some minty cucumber yogurt and curried vegetable like masala. A little regret; perhaps I should have ordered something else like a foie gras burger or scrambled eggs & sausages on toast with field mushrooms. In fact, I was going for the miso baked tofu with vegetable tempura & ginger soy but it was sold out.

The Sticky Date Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream is to die for!!! The pudding was served warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Didn't know what to expect since it was my first time trying this English dessert. I was totally blown away after the first bite. It was moist, tender and full of richness, yet not too sweet. The toffee sauce complemented the pudding really well. The ice cream is no ordinary vanilla ice cream; the taste is much more intense due to the vanilla bean used.

I guess I will be back for the other menu items. As for dessert, it would be a tough decision between something new or the Sticky Date Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

Writing this blog makes me crave for the pudding now... In fact, I'm googling for recipes to see if I can try baking it at home.

The Marmalade Pantry
17D Lorong Liput
Tel 64698016

04 November 2007

Christmas Special: Decorated Cookies Class

Although Christmas is 2 months away, many stores in town have already began to deck in Christmas colours. Although we don't have a white Christmas here in Singapore (what a pity!), the atmosphere is still rather joyous. Family and friends would gather for parties, eat some roasts and logcakes, lavish each other with gifts of love... somehow, something is lacking (is it the snow and fireplace?) Or perhaps we are primarily a Chinese-based society where the Lunar New Year holds a much greater emphasis.
When it comes to creativity of Christmas cakes, cookies and chocolates, it feels somewhat lacking. Perhaps I didn't look hard enough or there isn't a strong demand in our domestic market. I had been in Japan for 2 Christmas seasons (2003 - Osaka & 2006 - Tokyo); the variety, colours, flavours and packaging were amazing! I could marvel at the displays in food halls for hours and envied locals in their buying frenzies. If only I could bring back more of those goodies. That said, I'll be going to Kansai region again this December and have a white christmas :D I digress...
Since I'm in such a dreamy Christmas mood, it's certainly apt to attend Joycelyn's demo class CHRISTMAS SPECIAL: DECORATED COOKIES at Shermay's Cooking School. Hopefully I can bake a few batches as gifts for my friends and family before going away :)
In this demo class, Joycelyn illustrated 2 basic cookie doughs - luscious lemon and classic gingerbread and gave us tips on how to ensure the rolled cookies turn out perfect every time. The recipes and procedures "look" simple; I was quietly happy that maybe I can attempt this at home with success.
We were then taught how to make fondant from scratch and meringue powder royal icing which are the 2 main decorating materials that can create amazing results. From there, she demonstrated the core decorating techniques like outlining, flooding, drop-in flooding, over-piping, flocking and gilding. There I realised the decoration involved a lot of patience and meticulous work! Hmmm, second thoughts now?
The entire class went 'oooh' and 'aaah' over the completed stockings, gingerbread boy & girl, christmas tree ornaments and a 3D christmas tree. They were simply too pretty to eat!
Impressive 3D Christmas Tree made by stacking multiple star design cookies of different sizes. An interesting centre-piece, I won't bear to eat it!

Variations in design achieved with fondant and royal icing of different colours. Simple or elaborate designs? It's all up to you!

Are the gingerbread boy & girl sweet? I love the taste of gingerbread with its spicy scent and taste :D Are these ornaments for real? Another conversational piece set to bowl over people.

Joycelyn showed us that just one large decorated snowflake packaged in a red box with ribbons and gift tag is enough to create an impression.

Early Christmas present for each participant - A box of handcrafted decorated cookies baked with love by Joycelyn!

I couldn't wait to get home and finished all of them quickly enough. Love the zesty lemon flavour but my favourite is still the gingerbread :)

Heard that Phoon Huat has ran out of meringue powder. So while I wait for stock to arrive, shall drool over the lovely photos at Joycelyn's blog.

28 October 2007

Japanese-French Pastries Class

Have been attending quite a number of demo classes at Shermay's Cooking School lately (and 2 more upcoming!). Really enjoy classes at Shermay's for the comfortable environment (just a tad crowded), free flow Gryphon Artisan tea and Illy coffee, and most important, the passion shown by the chef instructors along with easy-to-follow recipes and useful + practical tips offered. These are truly valuable for novice home bakers like me who can now bake a mean chiffon cake or gourmet cupcakes with no sweat!
Japanese-French Pastries is taught by Guest Chef Keiko Ishida who studied pastry in Paris, France; opened her own baking studio in Tokyo and now in Singapore teaching baking classes and has published her very own cookbook in Apr this year.
Within just 3hrs, Chef Keiko demonstrated 5 recipes:
  • Matcha Macaron - a French classic flavoured with Japanese green tea filled with buttercream
  • Black Sesame Ice Cream - a simple recipe using black sesame paste
  • Dark Brown Sugar Swiss Roll - a very soft sponge with whipped cream & chestnuts
  • Soy Bean Chiffon Cake - Japanese-style soy bean sponge covered with red bean whipped cream
  • Black/White Sesame Cookies

Chef Keiko's method of making macaron differs slightly from Joycelyn's but yielded perfect results all the same. (I'm still hesitant about making macaron. Perhaps till I manage to get hold of the 1/2 size Silpat mat and other essential equipment.)

Making ice-cream seems easy! That is, with the help of an Ice-Cream Machine. The black sesame ice cream tasted delicate and full of black sesame richness. Alas, my kitchen is just not ready to accommodate another piece of equipment.

I love the swiss roll, spongy and light and complemented perfectly by the whipped cream and chestnut. This should be manageable at home. Can't wait to find time and try this!

Having attended Chef Christopher's Chiffon Cake 101 class previously and successfully baked many chiffon cakes using his recipe, I was quite curious when I saw Chef Keiko's recipe does not require baking powder nor cream of tartar (corn flour is used instead). The chiffon cake turns out to be equally light and fluffy!

The sesame cookies are crunchy and savoury due to the black and white sesame seeds used. I must try this too since sesame is rich in Vitamin E :)

At the end of the class, we tasted the Black Sesame Ice Cream and Dark Brown Sugar Swiss Roll and each participant brought home a lovely slice of Soy Bean Chiffon Cake with red bean whipped cream, 2 slices of Black/White Sesame Cookies and 1 piece of Matcha Macaron. Yet another weekend afternoon well spent and looking forward to the next class!

22 October 2007

Diving in Pulau Dayang - October 2007

This may well be my last dive of 2007. Destination was supposed to be Tioman but changed to Dayang last minute due to the Tioman ferry fire incident recently. Kind of disappointed because we were looking forward to Tioman. Had gone to Dayang the previous dive trip and felt that the dive sites weren't worth the journey, or maybe we were unlucky. This was a trip organized by hubby's company SRC (undertaken by Mako Sub-aquatics) and we had already paid, so perhaps we should give Dayang another chance. Hubby and I decided to drive in (instead of travelling with the main group in vans, having to haul dive equipment and luggage through the customs and beating the causeway JAM). We even brought along our mini mahjong tiles, in case we decided to be lazy and not dive! LOL.

Had intended to set off at around 8pm so that we could take a leisurely drive up to Mersing but I was stuck at work. By the time I got home, it was close to 9.30pm. It was then a mad rush to freshen up, do some last checks before setting off. An unlucky start? :(

Fortunately the journey was quite smooth and we managed to reach Mersing at 12.30am just in time to catch the main group (nearly 50 people) who had set off earlier at 8.30pm. At 1am, we boarded the ferry. Having had the nasty experience of nearly 'freezing' to death previously, we avoided seats near the air-con and brought sleepy bags. But it wasn't exactly comfortable still, and we drifted to sleep on and off through the 4hr journey to Pulau Dayang.

Finally reached Dayang at 5am and hit the bed immediately. Morning call was at 8am. Contemplated skipping the first dive to catch more sleep but the sunny weather and blue waters seemed so inviting. After breakfast and dive briefing by our divemasters, it was off to our first check out dive at Sebukang.

Sebukang is a fairly nice dive site with calm waters. Besides the usual marine life, we were delighted to discover nudibranchs that we have never seen before.
After the dive, it was back to the island for lunch, rest and relax before the next dive.
Lang is also quite a nice site. Spotted several blue-spotted stingrays, 'dog-face' puffer, nudibranchs. Underwater current picked up towards the end of the dive and we did a little drifting before ascending.
Had goreng pisang and green bean soup for tea break. I must say that Dayang Island Resort served rather delicious meals :D
After sufficient surface interval, we proceeded for our 3rd dive, which is around Dayang Jetty.

It is mainly muck diving but that's where divers got the chance to discover lots of well-camouflaged critters. Our DM sure got very sharp eyes and pointed us to a Flounder which we would otherwise never even notice! Lots of goby with shrimps which hid in a flash before I have chance to take a shot -_- And at one point, we were blocked by large schools of fusiliers, and basically just 'sat' and watched while they swam by.
We decided to call it a day and skip the night dive. Mahjong was more appealing :p So after a sumptuous BBQ dinner, a few of us who skipped the night dive sat together and played mahjong! Fancy that :)
The next morning, we woke up fairly early at around 6.30am to prepare for the dawn dive. Dive site is at Rayner's Rock which I rather anticipate because didn't go there previously. Unfortunately, the sea was rather choppy. We quickly made our descent to avoid seasickness. But the underwater current was equally strong. At some point, all efforts to fin against the current were futile and we had to grab onto rocks to avoid being drifted away from the group. Naturally air usage was fairly high and the dive was relatively short. Since I was desperately finning and hanging on, couldn't really focus and hence didn't spot anything interesting apart from a giant bumphead parrotfish as well as a sinister looking jellyfish during our safety stops.
After the ascent, the sea was still rather choppy and we decided to skip the next dive as we felt a little queasy. Enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and played more mahjong till lunch :D Soon it was time to leave the island which was another 4hrs journey back to Mersing.
The whole gang proceed to MG Garden near Mersing for dinner and there was a wedding dinner going on. We 'joined' in the celebrations and were highly amused and entertained by the live karaoke by the relatives of the bride and bridegroom. Talk about different culture and wedding practises. Another sumptuous meal and we headed back to Singapore.
Generally we enjoyed a better visibility than the previous trip, but it would probably be my last to Dayang. Maybe.

16 October 2007

Wild Bunch & Co Organic Shot Bar

Was at Holland Village on Sunday and noticed a new concept shop where the florist shop used to be. With its appealing bright orange shopfront, sleek display boards and cool branding and packaging, I simply had to stop and check out this new shop.

Wild Bunch & Co is apparently an Organic Vegetable Juice company that has created a range of 100% organic and healthy juices targetting at health conscious executives who need a quick dosage of healthy pick-me-ups.

Since I was looking for a drink anyway, decided to give it a shot literally. Tried one shot of beetroot, carrot & celery. Hmmm, tasted like beetroot, carrot & celery which I rather enjoy. It says 'Cleanses blood, balances PH levels'. At $2.50 a shot, this organic vegetable juice should work its magic and detox my system right? :p

I love the bottle! Wonder how much it would cost.