27 July 2008

Summer Treats Workshop: Layer Cakes, Cupcakes & Ice Creams

Chef Joycelyn has introduced yet another tantalising class at Shermay's Cooking School: Summer Treats, Layer Cakes, Cupcakes and Ice Creams!

Have been making cupcakes for most part of 2007. Hence interested to find out how exactly a layer cake is put together. And after attending the class, all I can say is, I can never look at layer cakes the same way again. For every beautifully presented cake in the display case of a patisserie, much tedious amount of meticulous work and effort is actually put in by the baker.
For this class, Joycelyn showed us how to put together a luxury 4-layer cake, coconut-flavoured; most apt for a Hawaiian-inspired summer treat. Many useful tips were given in the comprehensive recipe pack including a step-by-step guide to levelling, splitting, filling, assembling and icing the cake with even a hand-drawn illustration!

The cake may look simple enough, but it certainly takes a lot more. With the comprehensive guide, I hope I can proudly present such a cake one of these days.
A hot and humid summer makes one crave for food and drinks citrus and tangy. Hence this Lemon Grove Cupcake.
Topped with a swirl of whipped white chocolate and lemon ganache, the lemon grove cupcakes look kind of classic and retro even.
Using a leave tip and some Valrhona chocolate pearls, a simple lemon grove cupcake turns into a blooming sunflower - this one certainly looks too pretty to eat!
What is summer without ice cream? I don't have the luxury of owning an ice cream machine and hence Joycelyn's instant ice cream is indeed a godsend. Simply mix ingredients in a mixer, send into a freezer and 4 hours later, viola - ice cream! No churning, no machine. We tasted the lemon ice cream and it was yummy! Although this instant ice cream is not as smooth as ice cream that is churned from an ice cream machine, I'm satisfied. Especially when the recipe still allows some room for flavours experimenting.
We also tasted a custard-based ice cream that requires the work of an ice cream machine. Using Valrhona Equatoriale 55% dark chocolate discs and Nielson-Massey Pure Peppermint Extract, this peppermint chocolate chip ice cream tasted smooth and silky, absolutely delicious. I never knew peppermint chocolate chip ice cream can taste this good. If I own an ice cream machine, I don't need to buy Ben's & Jerry or Haagen Dazs anymore! An excuse to take the plunge? ;p Well, maybe I'll stick to the instant ice cream for now.

Each participant took home a coconut cupcake and lemon grove cupcake. I'm not a fan of coconut nor lemon cake actually but I'm bought over by these two. The coconut cake smells fragrant and taste subtle, not overpowering. The lemon grove cake is tangy but not too tart.
Have not baked for quite some time, I'm inspired to bake soon! Looking forward to Chef Keiko's class the coming weekend where I can learn Swiss Roll and my favourite pastry, the almond financier!

24 July 2008

Restoran SPOA, Johor, Malaysia

Very often, hubby and I would drive into Malaysia for short weekend getaways since we stay in the far west of Singapore and the secondlink is conveniently near. The moment we cross the secondlink, we are greeted with miles and miles of countryside, a welcoming change from the densely populated concrete Singapore.
One of my favourite seafood restaurant in Malaysia has got to be Restoran SPOA 合德宝阿斯里海鲜, located at Pasir Puteh in Johor (think it's east Johor). Actually driving there is quite straightforward nowadays as lots of road improvements were completed.
Driving directions:
  • From secondlink (travelling on North-South Highway), exit at Pasir Gudang (exit no. 256).
  • After exiting, basically you are on Pasir Gudang highway.
  • Drive all the way straight with no turns at all for about 40-50mins.
  • You will know it's nearing soon, when you enter the industrial zone with a couple of refineries as well as the Johor Port.
  • Drive on till you reach Tanjung Puteri Golf Course on the right of the road.
  • Turn in and just follow the paved road all the way.
  • You will then reach a stretch of coarsely and poorly paved road (beware road is rather bumpy).
  • Proceed till you see a sign board amidst a palm oil plantation.
  • It may seem a dead end but no, turn right into the palm oil plantation (be warn that the 'road' is bumpy and narrow) and
  • you'll be surprised to see 3 to 4 restaurants along river bank which is the Straits of Johor overseeing Northern Pulau Ubin!
It used to take us 1 1/2hr due to serious traffic jams along Pasir Gudang but since the highway is completed, traffic becomes quite smooth, shortening the drive to around 40-50mins.
Even though the restaurants are located at such an obscure place, throngs of locals and Singaporeans alike still flock there every weekend! Must be the lure of good and affordable seafood!

I only visit Restoran SPOA even though there are 3 others. It is even recommended by Mediacorp Channel U as a popular food haunt. The whole place looks rustic and run-down with mainly kelong style wooden structures and platforms. But nobody bothers so long as the food is cheap cheap good good.
We always start with a thai coconut to quench thirst after the travelling. The juice is super sweet and cold! Yummy!
A basket of condiments for self-service. Garlic with lotsa chilli, goes well with seafood.
My absolute favourite dish here! Not sure the real name but we call it 'fake abalone 假鲍鱼'. I think it's some species of shell fish, sliced thinly and tossed in a highly addictive sauce mixture of lime juice, red and green chilli, shallots, peanuts (perhaps some other secret ingredients) and laid over a bed of shredded lettuce. Perfectly coated with the spicy-sweetish-sourish sauce, the chewy 'abalone' creates bursts of flavours in the mouth with each bite. Sensational! I can't help but salivate at the mere thought of it!

Another of my favourite dish here! Squid deep fried in egg batter and curry leaves. I love the slight curried taste and aroma of the dish as well as the chewy texture of the squid! It's so good that I even ate the crispy curry leaves. LOL.
This is a type of lettuce, not sure the English name, but in Chinese we call it 'You Mai Cai 油麦菜'. Cooked in fermented bean curd, the robust flavour complements the juicy and crunchy vegetable perfectly. Delicious!

This dish, we call it 'underwater chicken 海底鸡' because the texture of the fish meat is so tender and succulent that it resembles chicken meat. With fish this fresh, just steam in some light soya sauce and spring onion and it's yet another perfect dish!

In front of the restaurant there is this enclosure where the restaurant owners keep the catches of the day brought in by fishermen. When orders are placed by customers, the fish will be scooped and brought directly to the kitchen. Talk about freshness!

In fact, there are so many other dishes worth recommending like the drunken herbal prawn soup, cereal prawn, chilli crab, all sorts of shell fish etc etc. It's definitely worth the drive and this is one gem you can hardly find in Singapore now.

Restoran SPOA
Telok Kabong, Kg. Pasir Puteh, Johor
Tel: 07-216 2798

23 July 2008

Kha Modern Thai Cuisine, HortPark

Hubby brought me to Kha at HortPark recently for dinner. Am I out of touch or what? I didn't even know the existence of such a place in Singapore.
Quoted from the nParks website, 'HortPark is a one-stop gardening hub that brings together gardening-related, recreational, educational, research and retail activities under one big canopy in a park setting. It is a knowledge hub for plants and gardening and provides the platform for the industry to share best practices and showcase garden designs, products and services. This 23-hectare regional park in South-Western Singapore is also a park connector, connecting Telok Blangah Hill Park to Kent Ridge Park.'
Wow, that's cool. Apparently, there are plenty of activities, programmes and even venues for rental.
Our intention was to check out the restaurant and chill out after a stressful workday so weren't appropriately dressed to go for a walk around the park. We will definitely be back another day to do just that.

Kha offers indoor and alfresco dining. The alfresco lounge overlooks a vast water feature and lush greenery, a good choice to hangout and chill. For dinner, we opted to stay indoors with air-con :p

Reception area.

Both the interior and exterior of the restaurant look quite chic and elude elegance with warm dark wood furnishings and exquisite Thai touches. Would expect the clientele to be rather atas. On the contrary, the patrons ranged from couples to groups of friends and even families in sports gear. So, it isn't exactly a fine dining restaurant, and neither a family restaurant.

As for the menu, since it offers Modern Thai cuisine, most of the dishes are uh, well, modern.

We spent quite some time pondering what to order as the descriptions are relatively sophisticated. Usually we have a tendency to look for familiar names like you know Pandan Chicken. Here they have 'gai hor bai toey - chicken wrapped in pandan leaf with sesame seed and sweet soy sauce'. Pineapple rice is missing or maybe it's not served for dinner or perhaps termed differently, 'khao phad talay - stir fried jasmine rice with seafood'?

Whatever, it's always good to experience new things instead of the same-old, same-old.

tom yum goong - hot and sour broth with king prawn and lemongrass

A must-order for us. Hubby felt that somehow the soup lacked oomph, not sour and spicy enough. He would go for Maggie Thai at Liang Seah Street anytime (big bowl with lots of ingredients and very sour and spicy). So-so for me. Not a big fan of tom yum soup. King prawn was quite succulent and fresh though.

pla gao rad prik - deep fried grouper fillets with chili sauce

Both of us love this dish. Fish was deep fried to perfect crisp and sauteed with chili sauce. The chili sauce was a winner! Complemented plain rice (described as 'khao hom-ma-li - steamed premium thai jasmine rice) very well.

Couldn't recall the actual name of this dish - supposedly a monthly special. It's some grilled squid stuffed with sour pork. We are definitely not used to 'sour pork' which tasted quite weird. The squid was ok. Didn't have much impression except for the weird sour pork.

thap thim krawp - red rubies with coconut jasmine syrup

Hubby's favourite dessert. Turned out rather ordinary, perhaps slightly more fragrant due to the jasmine?

khao nuew dam - black sticky rice and date pudding served with tamarind caramel sauce and mango ice cream

Still prefers the Sticky Date Toffee Pudding at Marmalade Pantry. This was a tad dry and not moist enough. The mango ice-cream was also a little too sour for my liking.

After the dinner, we adjourned to the outdoors for a cuppa herbal tea to cleanse the palate. The lounge area is really nice and comfy for lounging. We stayed for quite a while before leaving.

Overall, kha offers a cool ambience and prompt service but the meal itself wasn't anything to rave about. Perhaps we didn't order the 'correct' dishes. In fact, after browsing the menu again on their website, realised we could have ordered some other dishes. The drinks menu looks interesting too but I guess I didn't have the patience to read through the extensive list then. Not to mention the price is on the high side. Maybe I'll be back again, but not so soon.

33 Hyderabad Road Singapore 119578
65 6476 9000

P.S. Advisable to make reservations as the place was quite full even on weekday.

05 July 2008

Doughnut Workshop

Yay!!! My internet connection is up and running again :D A little digression here. Decided to make a trip to my ISP HQ today and see if I could upgrade my broadband and get the free bundle integrated wireless modem on-the-spot. I did (in just 1/2hr) and with comprehensive step-by-step CD configuration (in less than 1/2hr), I'm back in business! No more frustrations with my faulty old modem and getting it to talk to the router and I've upgraded from 3Mbps to 10Mbps :D
So, the first thing I'm going to blog about is the Doughnut Workshop last Sunday at Shermay Cooking School. It was a demo cum hands-on session by Guest Chef Audrey Tan, Cookbook Author & Pastry Chef-Owner of Freshly Baked by Les Bijoux at Killiney Road. It's been a long time since I last attended a hands-on workshop. Haven't been attending baking/cooking workshop for quite a while, in fact, haven't been baking :(
There was this doughnut craze last year where people literally spent hours queueing for a dozen or 2 of doughnuts of different flavour glazes and filling. I wasn't exactly a fan, found them too sweet with too much filling. But I do love doughnuts, the traditional, nostalgic kind, just a plain old sugar-coated ring or doughnut balls skewered on sticks.
Not familiar with bread making at all since I've been concentrating on cakes and pastries. This would be a good starting point to learn what's proofing, what's 'window test' etc. Chef Audrey started with a demo on the dough. Ingredients are actually quite simple but according to her, bread making is about the 'feel' of the dough. Hmmm, profound indeed.
After the demo, the class broke up in pairs to start our very own dough with Chef Audrey going around to assist us. Most of the kneading was done by the mixer but control of the dough is quite important. Good thing is, we could add more flour anytime if the dough feels too soft.

After kneading for a good 20 mins, we did the 'window test' which is stretching a small lump of dough like a window. If it's translucent and not breaking, it's done. We were supposed to allow the dough to proof at least 10 mins, but to save time, we proceeded to roll the dough and cut the doughnuts.
The raw form of doughnut. Have to leave at least 3cm apart, otherwise the doughnuts will stick together after rising and expanding.
Doughnuts in proofing.
After proofing, it's time to fry the doughnuts.
Aroma of oil and dough filled the room... can't wait to try them. But not exactly healthy huh?

Chef Audrey then showed us the preparation of various glazes, how to colour and flavour them, topped with chopped nuts, sprinkles, drizzles of melted chocolate. Tada! With a little effort, the humble doughnut can turn into an atas-looking pastry too!
We were all excited to go back to the work stations and complete our very own doughnuts. Here's mine :D Besides decorating and packing the doughnuts for takeaway, everyone couldn't resist eating them on-the-spot. They were YUM! Doughnuts are best eaten on the same day instead of overnight.
Still my favourite. The no-frills sugar-coated doughnut balls.
Chef Audrey also taught us how to use the same dough to bake breadrolls - healthier version.
Can't wait to try making this at home, perhaps for a gathering or something. Now, looking forward to Joycelyn's upcoming workshop on Summer Treats: Layer Cakes, Cupcakes & Ice-creams!

04 July 2008

On Hiatus

Yes, I have been missing-in-action for a while.
It's been a crazy and stressful 3 weeks since I returned to work from my post hospitalisation/surgery leave.
In short, worked non-stop, late night meetings, some weekends, brought work home to do, not eating healthily... I feel really guilty for not taking better care of myself having just recovered. Sometimes I think to myself, am I trying to be an over-achiever? Perhaps it's just the perfectionist in me.
I think I'm really going through a downward spiral of bad luck! Seriously! The surgery, the work, my messy house, I fell down, and latest, my notebook got virus attack. Managed to system recovery but now my modem won't talk to my router and vice versa.
I'm going to Hong Kong for a work trip next week and I guess it will take a while to fix and configure my internet connections after I return.
Really hope to blog soon as I have so many photos and experiences to share!