Monday, September 1, 2014

Spiced Roasted Pumpkin and Carrot Soup


The soup journey continues.. today I made my 3rd soup since back from Pai. My 2nd soup making adventure was on Pumpkin and.. so is my 3rd! Guess I really love the thick like a puree soup, served with some toasted whole wheat tortilla and pumpkin seeds here. 

I've posted a Pumpkin and Sweet Potato soup before and that was really yummy too. Today's recipe is filled with the orange goodness of Pumpkin and Carrots! Carrots added a natural sweetness which is brought out by roasting them in the oven prior to cooking. Some spice, in the form of cumin and curry powder provided a savoury kick to the meal. This is seriously addictive. 

Ingredients:
1 large pumpkin (I mean really huge!)
4 large carrots
4 big onions, skinned + 1/2 big onion, sliced
2 bulbs of garlic, skinned
4 cups water
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fish curry powder
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Steps:
1. Wash, peel and chop carrots into big pieces.
2. Wash, core and chop pumpkin into big pieces. (I left the skin on)
3. Roast carrots, pumpkins, onions and garlic at 200C for 30min until very soft. (I used Top Bottom Fan mode)
4. 10 minutes before the roots are soft enough, heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large pot and add the sliced onions. Sauteed until brown and fragrant. Add the coriander and cumin and stir into the onions.
4. Place all the roasted roots into the pot (the pumpkin flesh should tear away from the skin easily), add the water and curry powder, salt and black pepper. Simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, blend and serve. 

Above makes around 10 portions of soups. I kept half in the chiller for this week of breakfast and froze the rest. Easy. Wholesome. Healthy. 


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Roasted Eggplant Soup


After spending a week in Chiangmai and Pai, where fresh fruits, delicious smoothies and flavourful sandwiches are more the norm than green curry, tom yam goon and pad thai, I'm inspired to try and have more healthy meals at home. The meals at Xhale showed me that my stomach is really happy with the dose of fruits/veg and my usual bloating was minimised. Importantly,  it dawned on me that I should not just rely on bread for breakfast. The soup breakfast served fills up our tummies and gives us sufficient energy to get through a morning of hatha yoga, very well.

There are no pictures of meals in the morning as mornings are silent where we are advised to stay with our own thoughts; no talking, no social media and no usage of electronics. Frequently, we will ask Peach, the chef, on the recipe combinations later in the afternoon. For our own trials, below is the yummy combinations that I can recall :

Juice/Smoothie Recipes:
- Pineapple, Toasted Sesame, Celery, Banana
- Papaya, Parsley, Mulberry, Toasted Sesame, Coconut
- Avocado, Parsley, Coconut, Cashews
- Kale and Morning Glory
- Lemon grass and ginger
- Carrot and Ginger

Soup Combi (Onions, Garlic, some herbs and black pepper is the backbone of each recipe):
- Beetroot, Carrots and Sweet Potato (1Beetroot to 3 carrots and 3 sweet potato)
- Pumpkin, Carrots
- Roasted Tomato, Carrots

There were others but alas, my memory don't serve me altogether very well. Thankfully for Pinterest and many generous bloggers who share their recipe, I did bookmark many and started on 1 which feature one of our favourite ingredients immediately when back. This is a really easy and yummy recipe. Cooked and served in 30 minutes, it is going to be a frequent meal on our tables from now on.

Ta Da! Roasted Eggplant Soup, served with toasted walnuts, wholemeal tortilla shreds and coriander.


Ingredients: (adapted from www.thestonesoup.com)
4 small eggplants (I bought the Sakura Brinjal from FairPrice)
1 big onion, sliced
Half bulb Garlic, skin removed
1 can of Cannelloni beans, drained
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup water

Steps:
1. Roast Eggplants at 200C for 30 minutes until eggplant is very soft. I kept the skin on.
2. Sautee onions and garlic in a small amount of olive oil for 15 minutes, until they are very small and lightly browned.
3. Add the beans, water and roasted eggplants, simmer for around 15 minutes.
4. Add lemon juice to taste and blend. I used a Philips handheld blender.
5. Serve with a small portion of toasted bread of choice (it was always 4 teeny weeny shreds of french toast at Xhale which added a satisfying crunch!) and I like to add some self-roasted nuts and coriander.

The above serves 3 portions of around 5 spatula scoops, which is good for breakfast portion. If served for lunch or dinner mains, it probably serves 2 portions only.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Xhale Yoga Retreat aka Boot Camp, Pai, Chiangmai


So, it’s 1 week later as we’re sitting at the Chiangmai airport that I finally whip out the mac to detail our experience at Xhale Yoga Retreat in Pai. It’s not that we have no time in the last week but being surrounded by fresh air, lush greenery, beautiful flowers and peaceful quiet just does not do ourselves and the natural surroundings any justice to spend much time on the laptop. I did try to watch one video but quickly lost interest. I find it much more fulfilling to read by the benches while occasionally lifting my head to take in the mountains and clouds in the distance and listen to the low drum of insects and barks of the wild dogs.


The last week flew past, albeit on hindsight as our aching bodies and the afternoon heat did make us count down to the end at times. However, it was a glorious 1-week that we spent with Bhud, the lady of Xhale. She’s the yogi, advisor, nutritionist, teacher all-in-one. She shared the stories of her life, using them as examples of how we can overcome certain hurdles, detach ourselves, find contentment and show compassion, of how we can be aware, mindful and share our love. Yet she revealed that there are sides of her that are just like us, a human, who has tendencies of indulgence, and who sometimes need to just slip from being an all-good person. From her, I found hope. Hope that I may one day be able to achieve some of what she has taught. I learned that nothing is forever. I learned that emotions are flitting. We may be happy one minute, miserable the next; seek to see beyond the current and the suffering will pass. This is of course, very easy to say but hard to do. It is a state that I do not think I will ever be able to achieve; I’m not thaaat zen. However, this is a reminder I should tell myself from time to time.

Being a yoga retreat (I would really call this a Yoga Boot Camp!), apart from the philosophies, there are the daily yoga asana sessions. The typical day starts like this:
730am : A cup of warm lime water and hot herbal tea to start the day, followed by nasal cleaning. When we first saw the pot that we are to use for the cleaning, most of us went euks! I totally could not see how that should be used. Bhud showed us and it was interestingly easy. Fill the pot with warm Himalayan sea salt water, put it up into 1 nostril, tilt your head and let the water channel itself, dribbling out from the other nostril. Took a little practice and some choking but get the hang of it and the nose will be very clean, preparing our bodies for the upcoming cleansing breathe session.

Pranayama time : We will do a few types of breathing exercises which are meant to train our bodies to breathe in different ways and to open up the spaces inside us to hold more air. 



845am : Breakfast, usually a small glass of juice and a really modest portion of soup. This is to allow our stomach to be energized yet not overly full for the following physical practice.

1000am: Hatha yoga. Bhud is fantastic with the teaching. The first day was spent teaching the basic moves so it’s good for all levels. Most of us are beginners with some not having done any yoga before. She set the foundation and showed and guided us through. On a daily basis, we always start the asana session with Sun Salutations and lunge/warrior poses. Each day, she will then focus on different areas of the body which is a good strategy as our body parts of the day (at least mine did) will totally ache the next day!

Every session is 2 hours where Bhud will show how to get into each move correctly and this helped us to get into the poses, some of which I’ve never been able to do before. My hub who has only done 1 yoga session previously also found it easy to get into the poses with the clear instructions. As she strongly advocate, you don’t have to possess great strength to be able to hold yourself up; it’s all about techniques. Having said that, there are of course still some moves that I cannot achieve and need to build up. The headstand continues to be elusive; homework for me!


12noon: Lunch! Fantastic food with every meal carefully crafted to provide a wholesome meal of many vegetable types, some protein like tofu/nuts, and a little carb. Herbal tea is provided all day and I simply love the lemongrass/ginger/berry/chrysanthemum teas. Fruits are also on the table all day long and the number of bananas/mangosteens we go through is unbelievable. Bananas as we need the extra energy and mangosteens because they are so sweet!

 

Break for us to rest, chill and digest the food. This is when we usually take the time to do some reading or simply nap and laze away the really hot afternoons.

 
3pm : Start the afternoon with a daily shake. Another daily dose of goodness, this is usually a mix of fruits/veggie/herbs and usually thickened to help fill our stomachs again to tide through to dinner.

Yoga Philosophy and Q&A : This is the time for sharing where Bhud generously shared her life experiences and teaches about the Eight Limbs of yoga. It’s also the time where we ask any questions at all, not just pertaining to yoga but just really anything.


445pm : Another session of yoga begins, this time of the day is dedicated to yin yoga where we practiced stretching in poses for 5 minutes each time. This is a session of much groaning and mental endurance as even simple stretches can become a strain as the time goes past slowly. Furthermore, the poses are usually more difficult than easy for me as I am extremely inflexible! However, I find these sessions necessary; they really helped in stretching muscles that you never would think to do in your daily life. It also got easier with time, I observed that by day 5, some of the poses were less difficult already. It is a journey I tell myself that I have to trudge on when back in SG.

645pm: Vegetables, smoothies and fruits with up to 4 hours of yoga make for hungry stomachs by this time. Fantastic food every night again! In the 5 days, we had vegetables in various curries with brown rice (my fav!), roasted vegetables with pasta in pesto/tomato, or paired with bread and avocado. We even had a vegetable dish in lasagna style sans cheese and pasta though, never knew kalian, eggplants, beetroot, carrots, and potato could pair with freshly roasted tomato sauce so deliciously. The chef, Peach, and Bhud have endless imagination when it comes to tasty vegetarian cuisine!



715pm : Meditation / Chanting. This is a first for me, both in meditation and chanting. Not sure if this part of yoga is for me, ha ha. The first meditation exercise was really difficult as the body struggled to stay upright and still and time passed really slowly. It did get better as we practiced more. Chanting was more fun, as we sat in a big circle and kind of sing/chant together. Interesting.  
Then it’s off to shower and sleep!

That, is a typical day for the 5 days we were there. Yet, Bhud managed to keep things interesting and the experiences varied. Every night was a different type of meditation or chanting and 1 of the nights was a visit to a hot spring pool that soothed our tired muscles.

The 5 days came to an end and while our bodies feel a relief from the physical exercise and the hot air circulating from the fans; our minds and hearts don’t really wish to leave the peace, the slow trot of life and the wondrous air in Pai. 




Monday, June 30, 2014

Bread King - as good as my memories of Paris


To say I love croissants would probably be an understatement.  If there's anything that perks up my day immediately, other than 80% dark chocolate and a hot cuppa Yahava, croissants would be it. In my memories of Paris couple of years ago, the most memorable is the 25 croissants/danishes we consumed. I distinctly remember the 1euro plain croissant across the street from our hotel and the pear danish at the patisserie a stone's throw away. On my last day in France, I bought 4 and savored it slowly as I worked away the jetlag back in SG. 

In the last 3 years, many a bakery has started, each with their signature or specialty - croissant. Indeed many are good, with a crisp top and holey crumb. A couple of good ones that popped to my mind are TBB, Poulet (did you know you can ask for plain croissants to take away), and now I proudly include new find of the year - Bread King. 

Their croissant had the quintessential crunch as you bite down, the big holes and a slightly doughy crumb. The best part about it is the buttery aroma that comes from using good quality Brittany butter. It is a croissant that gives you a texture that satisfies, a fragrance that infuses your mouth and an overall taste that satiates. I could eat this plain anytime, everyday.

 
$3 each, you cannot stop at 1

Bread King is situated somewhat remotely which is yay! for those of us who know of it. They are at a squash and tennis training centre, 43 Burghley Drive, occupying a small area with 6 round tables. On the Sunday morning that we were there, it was fantastically peaceful, with only another couple there and through our 1.5 hours there, many in the know dropped by for their take-away. Good game plan to stock up for the week! The owner Pedro, gave us good tips on how to keep the bread loaves, prevent loss of moisture and the best way to re-heat them. Never knew that spraying a baguette with some water before toasting them again would make them good as fresh again!

As I read the way-too-few reviews on Bread King, the cheese roll was frequently mentioned as a top highlight of their bakes. Fans of cheese that we are, it was the first thing served to us and greedily chomped on within a few bites. Lovely, crispy pastry that wraps a really, really generous filling of emmental cheese, it was savoury and buttery with a crunch. At $4 per roll, it is a steal; indeed a must try. 


The assortment of bread loaves for take-away was already sparse though we were there bright and early. The brioche was already sold out and 2 sourdoughs boules were left alongside a few sticks of baguette. We ordered a King Sandwich on baguette ($12) which has a filling of prosciutto ham, fried eggs, cheese, vegetables and a good dose of some very good quality olive oil and vinaigrette. 


Check out the lines of fat in the ham. Yum. Look at the holes in the crumb, chewy yet with such a crispy top that our mouths felt somewhat sandpapered after the meal, it is again, one of the best baguettes I ever had in SG. 


It would be a tough decision as to which pastries to get for my next meal at Bread King. I cannot decide; I want everything!   


This is the best I can get to my memories of pastries in Paris. Make it your next week-end jaunt!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Soft-baked Chocolate M&M Cookies


It's the nephews' 4th and 7th birthday party. Off to a very adventurous party we went, with bouldering and rock wall-climbing activities slated for the morning. I toyed with the idea of spiderman cookies as with the nature of the party or ironman themed cookie pops as the boys love their action heroes. However, thought of all those coloured fondant that the kids will probably all gobble up happily, regardless of the preservatives and chemicals, puts me off. At least the adults usually know to remove these layers but to a gleeful kid, probably not. 

Decided upon M&Ms as the main cast then as I recalled the boys picking off all those chocolate candies on the cupcakes I baked for their last birthday. Off I went to bake a batch of soft doughy brown-sugar cookies with additional chunks of semi-sweet chocolate for a touch of gooey indulgence. 


These cookies from Sallys Baking Addictions are a breeze to bake. Not even needing a mixer, all it took was 2 bowls and probably 10 minutes to mix everything up. Chill for 2 hours and into the oven they went. The cookies stayed beautifully tall with the M&Ms dotting them prettily. Each tablespoon of dough spread into a regular Scotch tape size and has around 1cm of height to it. The crumb is soft and chewy, which crumbles into big pieces with a little pressure so eat these little gems carefully or you will be spilling and sweeping afterwards. 

I was also initially worried if little children will take to soft cookies as they are probably more used to store-bought crispy sweet cookies. To my delight, I see them biting into these pillowy rounds happily, reaching for 1 after 1 after 1. Caught my little nephew having 4! Hope it was not just the M&Ms he was going after though. 


I do prefer my cookies to have a crisp top though these cookies are probably not meant to have so I may bake them at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time the next I try these. Nonetheless, these are addictive and what was meant to be 65 pieces of servings at the party dwindled to 50 by the time we got there. 

Ingredients (Source)
2 1/4 cups AP Flour
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1 1/2 Tsp Cornstarch
1/2 Tsp seasalt
170g unsalted butter, melted
3/4  cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 Tsp vanilla essence
100g chocolate chunks
100g M&M

Steps:
1. Sift flour, soda, cornstarch, seasalt together.
2. Melt the butter and in a large bowl, mix well with both sugars and egg/yolk and vanilla essence.
3. Mix flour mixture into the butter mixture in 2 addictions, mixing well each time but do not overwork the mixing. 
4. Mix in the chocolate chunks. 
5. Cover and chill the dough in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
6. Before baking, pre-heat oven to 150C top-bottom fan mode.
7. Let the dough relax at room temperature for 10 minutes.
8. Roll into 1 tablespoon-sized dough and press  3 to 4 M&Ms into surface of the dough. 
9. Bake for 12 minutes. Dough will have flatten slightly but remains relatively tall and chunky.
10. Let the cookies rest on tray for 10minutes before cooling. 
11. Eat 1 while it's still a little warm and sigh in satisfaction. 
12. Cool the rest completely and keep them in air-tight containers at room temperature. 

Try not to finish all at 1 go. Try very hard. It's that good. =)


Friday, June 13, 2014

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Filling


On a trip to PasarBella one day, I found really reasonably-priced vanilla pods. 4 for $8.90 (I seem to recall) I grabbed, without really know what I would do with them. It has then been on my mind to try a vanilla bean cupcake. Everyone needs a basic cupcake recipe. I've my go-to recipe for chocolate cupcakes from ThePioneerWoman. My favourite fruit-based cupcake is definitely the Hummingbird or the Sticky Date. Now and then, I like a banana walnut muffin. Guess it's time I venture into the realm of a classic vanilla cupcake. Hopefully one that is soft, light and slightly crumbly yet moist. 

Google for vanilla cupcakes and many versions of "the Best vanilla cupcake" & "the Perfect Vanilla cupcake" popped up. Taste is subjective after all. I supposed I would have to test out a few recipes like I did for my chocolate cuppies. Decided on the recipe by My Baking Addiction. She has many cupcake recipes under her belt and all looks great! In addition, hers is one of the few recipes that uses seeds from vanilla pod. Being a newbie to this pod and vanilla business, I decided to go safe and chose that I can follow, rather than use my own judgement. This is also a white cake recipe which means it omits egg yolks and I've seen many recipes using white cakes which seem to give a lighter and fluffier crumb. 


Took the recipe, did accordingly except to reduce the sugar content as with all US/European recipes I follow as those tend to be too sweet for the typical asian palate (or could be just me!). Then, I brought the remaining of my salted caramel sauce to room temperature and spooned a teaspoon of it into each cupcake, cover back the cup cap and frosted with a vanilla bean SMB. The cake is slightly on the dry and tough side; I wonder if it's the reduced sugar content. Though the salted caramel made up for the dry cake, I would still prefer a softer crumb with more moisture on its own. It could be me baking this for the first time or could be the reduced sugar. May try again by increasing the milk or egg next time. However, the whole flavour combination went quite well, with the salted caramel adding a sweetness to the light and fragrant with vanilla seeds buttercream. Probably worth another try!

Vanilla Bean White Cupcakes (from my baking addiction. Make around 20 cupcakes)
2.25cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon seasalt
1.25 cup milk, room temp
4 egg white, room temp
113g unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
2 teaspoon vanilla essence

Steps: 
1. Beat softened butter with sugar and vanilla bean seeds until light and fluffy. 
2. Add in vanilla extract and beat till combined
3. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add 1/3 to the butter mixture and beat on medium speed.
4. Whisk together sugar and egg whites. Add 1/2 to the mixture and beat on medium speed. 
5. Beat in half of remaining flour mix, then milk mix. 
6. Add the last flour mix and continue to bear. Add the last of the milk mixture and beat until combined. Increase speed to high and beat for 3 minutes. 
7. Pour into cupcake holders and bake at 180C for 22 minutes. 
8. Cool thoroughly.



Salted Caramel Filling (from Kelsey Nixon)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
50g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt

Steps:
1. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan or pot.
2. Keep mixture on low heat until sugar is dissolved.
3. Bring to a boil, do not stir.
4. Boil until the mixture turns amber (for around 5minutes)
5. Remove from heat and whisk in the heavy cream. Be careful of sputters. 
6. Stir in the butter then the salt.
7. Cool to room temperature before keeping. 
Note: This will make a large portion. Keep the rest in the fridge up to 2 weeks and bring to room temperature or re-heat before using.

Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream (from Sweetapolita)
5 large egg whites250g granulated sugar340g unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes1 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or essenceseeds from 1 vanilla podpinch of salt
Note: You will probably use less than half of this portion. Keep the rest in the fridge for 1 week or freezer for up to 1 month. Remove from fridge and rewhip with paddle attachment to make it smooth before using again.

Steps:1. Place egg whites and sugar in a clean and dry metal mixer bowl, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
2. Using the whisk attachment of mixer, immediately start whipping until the meringue is thick and glossy. The mixture should be at room temperature by now (It may take around 10 minutes)
3. Switch over to paddle attachment and on low speed, start to add butter cubes gradually, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture. Add vanilla, salt, and seeds from vanilla bean. Continue to beat on low speed until well combined.

Assembly:
1. Cut a small hold on top of cupcake, dig out some of the cupcake crumbs, insert a dollop of salted caramel.
2. Frost with vanilla bean swisss meringue buttercream.
3. Serve at room temperature so that the salted caramel oozes and is not a chilled ball.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Symmetry - yummy truffle fries


If you have read about Symmetry, you would have read that their potato fries $14 (which are truffle fries)  are good. And that their portion is big; seems like most are not able to finish that. #1 - Valid. Fries are great. #2 - NA. 3 of us didn't just finish the fries. We ordered a second tub! That IS good evidence that their fries are pretty addictive. They are crispy on the outside and gives a great bite. A fan of crispy or soggy fries? I'm for crispy anytime and 90% of this tub is crunchy good. A sprinkle of cheese on top complemented the truffle scent but like most of those truffle fries I've ever tried, it's mainly the top layer that taste best. Thankfully, the crisp makes up for it in the rest of them. One of the only few I would recommend and believe me, I've tried many, most of which I would not repeat. Symmetry fries, I would love to have it everyday if I can!


Can't remember the name of this dish but it's a tortilla packed with generous slices of pork, creamy avocado and melted cheese. This is a tasty meal, crispy tortilla meets juicy pork. Lovely to share amongst friends.


Pork Cheeks Pasta $28 was a dish recommended by many as well. This was a delightful dish too, with the meat tear-away soft and a suitably savoury touch to the creamy pasta. 

We also had the braised beef pork cheeks $40+. No photos of that but it was a disappointing dish. With the hefty price tag, we were expecting more but a plate bearing 8 or so slices of thin beef pieces arrived. Sadly, the beef were also too tough. Not quite enjoyable. 

Symmetry
Jalan Kubor