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.


14 October 2007

Aramsa - The Garden Spa

It's been almost a year since I last visited Aramsa - The Garden Spa. I remembered how I enjoyed the garden spa experience which is unique in the concrete jungle of Singapore.
Nestled among the lush greenery of Bishan Park, it is a tropical sanctuary for weary urbanites who wish a quick getaway from the hustle bustle of city living yet couldn't spare the luxury of travelling out of Singapore. As the setting is within a park, the atmosphere is relaxed with cool breeze, sashaying trees harmonised with chirps of singing birds.
This time, my spa treatment was courtesy of hubby's Caltex Thanks! points - a 90min Aramsa Spa package consisting of 30min Marine Polish Scrub and 60min Aramsa Touch Massage. I love reward cards :)

After checking in at the reception, I was led to the changing area which is specially designed to blend in with the overall nature theme. Took a quick shower, then proceeded to the Green Lounge for some refreshment and relaxation before the treatment. I love the Green Lounge concept with its tasteful furnishings, comfortable couches and free flow of ice water, hot herbal tea and cookies.

Soon I was greeted by my spa therapist and led to the spa treatment room with outdoor shower and sunken bath. I was first given a foot bath, followed by the Marine Polish Scrub. After washing off the scrub, my massage began. The therapist was extremely professional and skillful and I must have dozed off to the comfortable kneads and soothing spa music. Before I knew it, the treatment has ended. Wish it could last longer!

After changing, I went back to the Green Lounge again for more herbal tea - a lovely concoction of lemongrass tea with brown rock sugar and delicious cookies. I must try brewing this tea at home.

Ran up hubby and he was already waiting for me at The Green Room Cafe which is just next to the Spa.

The Green Room Café is a concept cafe serving vegetarian and organic inspired menu. Since we were already there, might as well try something so I ordered herbal tea and apple strudel. The apply strudel turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Apples and raisins wrapped in a layer of popiah skin and baked (or was it fried?) to a crisp, accompanied with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. Rather unconventional way of making and presenting apple strudel but definitely tasted good with tangy apples, sweet raisins and tinge of cinnamon.

A rejuvenating afternoon with sweet ending. Just my kind of perfect weekend.

Aramsa ~ The Garden Spa
Bishan Park II
1382 Ang Mo Kio Ave 1
Singapore 569931
Tel: 6456 6556

08 October 2007

First attempt at Hazelnut & Cinnamon Biscotti

After attending the Macarons & Biscotti Class, I dropped by Phoon Huat to get a bag of hazelnuts. Since biscotti are a breeze to make and I have all the other ingredients at home, might as well have a go at it.
Indeed, it is easy. The only thing is the waiting time - for the sticky loaf to harden at least 1 hr in the fridge before baking; the first-baked loaf to cool to room temperature before slicing; the twice-baked slices to cool to room temperature before storing in an airtight container.

The patience paid off handsomely and my first attempt at Hazelnut & Cinnamon Biscotti was a success! I love the aroma of hazelnut and cinnamon after baking, a heavenly combination. Shall experiment with some flavours next time, like Joycelyn's suggestion of cranberry and pistachio.
But for now, time for some nice artisan tea to go along with the biscotti (P.S. I don't drink coffee).

07 October 2007

Macarons & Biscotti Class

Finally attended Joycelyn's Macarons & Biscotti Class at Shermay's Cooking School! Have been looking forward to the demo class for 2 months now, couldn't wait to see how this precious French pastry which got the French and Japanese into a buying frenzy is made.
The craze is catching up in Singapore; apparently Canelé Pâtisserie Chocolaterie is having a Macaron Festival this month; avid baker Evan of Bossacafez has delightful concoctions of Macarons with multifarious flavours and colour for ordering through her blog.
In this demo class, Joycelyn showed us the master recipe for creating macarons using the Italian meringue method, with 4 variations in flavour. Macaron fillings include classic buttercream and ganache. She also gave us some very useful tips on how to achieve successful macarons. Basically, the 4 combinations are:
  • Chocolate Macarons filled with Valrhona Araguani 72% Dark Chocolate Ganache
  • Hazelnut Macarons filled with Valrhona Jivara Lactée 40% Milk Chocolate Ganache
  • Vanilla Macarons filled with Vanilla Buttercream (made via classic French buttercream method using pâte à bombe)
  • Coffee Macarons filled w/Coffee Buttercream

Once the basic steps are mastered, we could create any flavours we want.

On top of that, Biscotti which is essentially crisp Italian cookies containing nuts and sometimes dried fruits are included in the recipe pack.

Joycelyn started with the Biscotti which is easy peasy as compared to the Macaron. The flavour shown is Hazelnut & Cinnamon; the entire class filled with wonderful aroma of cinnamon and nuts. Although the loaf didn't look impressive, the Biscotti slices looked perfectly classy after cutting; and tasted most flavourful.

Macaron batter forming 'skins'.

As we progressed to the Macaron, it came to realisation that the baking process required lots of patience and each macaron is painstakingly and meticulously created. No wonder the cost is relatively higher and few have mastered the art of creating perfect Macarons.
Perfect Macarons with smooth domes and frilly bottom edge known fondly as 'feet'
- measure of success

It's amazing how simple ingredients when combined with precision could developed into something so exquisite; it's almost a Science. Well, not rocket science but certainly food science.

These classic Macarons were delicately crunchy on the outside, and moist, chewy, and flavourful on the inside - truly precious gems created by the chef's labour of love.

Each participant went home happy with 4 Macarons of different flavours and 2 slices of Biscotti, packed elegantly with a 'chinese' takeaway box - true blue Joycelyn impeccable style. We were also served home-made eggnog (it was really good!), Illy Coffee and Vanilla Sencha (Gryphon Artisan Tea), compliments of Shermay.

I'm certainly very inspired to try the recipes, but terribly hesitant. I shall start with the Biscotti to get a morale boaster first :)