Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My first Krispy Kreme doughnut

Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

Yes, finally. The famous original glazed doughnut. Can't believe it took this long for me to try Krispy Kreme. I never thought it would be in Manila (well, I didn't want to join the queue in Shinjuku years ago).

I have to say I understand why people love it. It's amazingly soft and satisfying, as you sink your teeth into it. I like that gorgeous glaze that's so crinkly light. On the whole, it's a tad too sweet for me, but yeah, I'd eat it again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fried Nian Gao with Crispy Batter

Are you eating this today? If you have leftover or hardened nian gao (glutinous rice cake), as we often do after Chinese New Year, there's no better way to revive them than giving them a coat of batter and frying them up! A crispy coat on the outside, and gooey sweetness on the inside. Best way to have nian gao, I say!

It's just a simple coat of batter, but I never realised there were so many variations! I found one post that tested 5 different batter recipes.

I just used this:

  • 40-50g flour (all-purpose should be fine, I just used cake flour since I had some open)
  • 1 egg
  • half teaspoon baking powder (this makes it extra crispy!)
  • half teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 ice cubes (stir until almost melted, but make sure batter remains cold)

So it's a bit like a tempura batter. Stays crispy for a bit longer after frying too.

Crispy on the outside, gooey sweet on the inside

Here's wishing everyone 年年有余! May you all have abundance year after year.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

Here's wishing everyone a fantastic lunar new year! I have a feeling the Year of the Dragon is going to be absolutely roaring. Just that it's a water Dragon, and looks like it is already making a splashing entry, creating ponding situations all over Singapore.

Nonetheless, I hope everyone is enjoying the festivities, reunion with family and visiting with friends. We are over in Malaysia, where the kids are visiting grandpa.

Some time ago, Mr Brown posted about the difficulties of photographing for passport purposes his kid Faith (who has autism). I know exactly what he is talking about. We had to take Nadine's photo because her passport had expired (my gosh, it's been five years already since she did hers as a baby).

Nadine - many shots to get the passport ready one
Nadine doesn't have autism; she has Down Syndrome. But the difficulty in getting her to pose properly is not due to her special needs condition. It's just because she's an imp!

She understands the instructions perfectly. Because for a mini split second, she complies. But then she finds it heck of a lot more interesting to do something else.

And here's Jolie. We took like one shot.

Jolie - one shot done
Too bad she's not the one needing her passport renewed.

Speaking of passports and traveling, I must apologise for my Hong Kong and Manila posts being hijacked and interrupted. But now that I've cleared all the CNY-related stuff, I'll be back posting about them. Looking forward to that!


Friday, January 20, 2012

Bengawan Solo - An Inside Look

Opening of 1st Bengawan Solo at Marine Terrace
There is an old school Bengawan Solo shop in my Marine Terrace neighbourhood that is just different from the rest that are located in the malls. Someone told me that is the very first outlet, so they have always kept it.

And recently, my friend Joanna introduced me to the Liew family that owns Bengawan Solo, and they confirmed the story. Bengawan Solo opened here in 1979, which makes them as old as Red Star Restaurant down at Chin Swee Road.

The founder Anastasia Liew, now in her 60s, still runs the business with tremendous passion, energy and attention to detail. Her son, Henry Liew, is also working with her, as are five other family members.

Lovely kuehs including a new cranberry lapis!
Now Singaporeans are all very familiar with the brand and the kuehs, cakes and cookies they make. These are so readily available (44 outlets all over Singapore), and so uniformly consistent, that we sometimes tend to dismiss them as "mass-produced" goods. But did you know that some of the items are still handmade?

Yes, there is a central factory up in Woodlands, supplying the outlets. But as the Liews showed us, it's not all machines at work, because there are some things machines just cannot do. And they refuse to compromise the quality of the products, so some things are still painstakingly done by hand.

Their ondeh-ondeh is still made by hand, all 11,900 of them daily!
Their ondeh-ondeh, for example, are rolled and cooked individually - all 11,900 of them per day every day! To do this by machine would require a less desirable texture for the dough, so that was unacceptable.

Have you had fresh and warm ondeh ondeh? It's heavenly!
Have you ever had fresh and warm ondeh ondeh? It's like coddling a sweet piece of heaven in your mouth.

Kueh dadar is also made by hand
The kueh dadar is also made by hand. You can see the saucepans with the crepes or green skin being made, and once these are ready, they add the coconut filling and roll them up.

Kueh Dadar
Hand-made. Every one of them.

The steamed layered kueh goes around a conveyor belt
The lapis sagu has many thin layers. They've got a clever way to make this. Trays and trays of it go around on a conveyor belt being steamed as they go, and a new layer is freshly poured on with each loop. Very efficient.

Kueh Lapis Sagu
And guess what - each of these are hand-cut too. Seriously, there is a guy here that specialises in cutting the lapis sagu, and I saw how he chopped each one of them into uniform pieces with practiced precision. The sagu is too soft for machines to handle, and so they would rather do this by hand, than make lapis sagu that's less delightful to chew.

The round pineapple tarts are finished by hand
The premium (round ones) pineapple tarts are also finished by hand.

Premium pineapple tarts

Well, attention goes not just into the preparation, but also ingredients. Bengawan Solo insists on using freshly pressed coconut milk instead of pre-packed ones, and real pandan juice instead of essence. For their cakes, they mix an Australian premium butter with a certain Dutch butter that costs four times as much but has incredible buttery aroma and taste.

But the most fun part of the factory has got to be the icing room.

The icing room looks most fun
See all the Disney cakes come to life!

So many edible colours!
It's like an art studio in here, with so many fun colours! Edible colours!

Only freshly baked sponge cakes are used for the cakes
Only freshly baked sponge cakes are used. Unlike many places, they don't use cakes that are not baked on the very same day.

This is how they "draw" the Disney characters - tracing an OHP like projection
Ever wonder how they get the likeness down pat for the cartoon characters? They use this thing like an overhead projector to project the image onto a cake and frost the outlines. But even so, it's still not an easy job. Trust me, you still need some skill to do this, and do it quickly.

Someone's getting this cake
There are also the "printed" cakes. Much easier to make, and madly popular. Some little girl called Chloe is getting this one.

And some lucky boy's getting this too
And another lucky boy has got this coming for him. Who doesn't like Toy Story?

3D airplane cake!
Look at this 3D airplane cake! Yes, they are now making 3D cakes as well.

Kueh Lapis (large, 1.2kg)
Their ever popular kueh lapis is also made by hand, using a similar conveyor belt system - a smart way of saving a lot of effort! Instead of opening and closing ovens all the time to pour in each new layer, the cake makers have a whole line of cakes on the move. They add a new layer, send it off to be grilled, and work on the next, and repeat until the cake is completed (takes about 2-3 hours).

There's a prune lapis as well. And they've introduced a cranberry lapis too, which doesn't use any spices, but is fragrantly buttery. I love it! See it in the second photo (the row in the middle of the platter).

Walnut cake - one of our favourites
One of my family's perennial favourites is their walnut cake. It's just one of those simple pleasures in life.

Jolie giving a piece of kueh lapis to Nadine
Nadine and Jolie always run into the Marine Terrace Bengawan Solo shop, yelling, "Cake!"
It's the only shop in the neighbourhood they instinctively love dashing in to.

CNY Sale Tent at 23 Woodlands Link
For Chinese New Year, they have an airconditioned tent outside the factory at 23 Woodlands Link (take shuttle bus 964 from Admiralty MRT or Woodlands interchange), selling CNY goodies at a 10% discount. Visitors have been thronging there for to buy stuff in bulk. They also have festive hampers you can pick up. Interestingly, Bengawan Solo does not raise their prices for the festive season, except for the last two days before Chinese New Year.

It's ironic that they don't make as much profits during Chinese New Year, despite the increased sales. That's because they have to pay a lot of overtime for workers to cope with the orders.

But anyway, here's what we bought.

Special fish keropok or crackers made with fish from Bangka, Indonesia
Fish keropok (ball-shaped) using fish from Bangka (near Palembang) where Anastasia was born. The fish there is particularly sweet, it seems.

Casava Cheese Cookies
Casava Cheese Cookies. These were new to us, and had a most unusual taste. I can't quite describe it, but has a delicate savoury touch from the cheese.

Hae bee hiam dried shrimp rolls
The "hae bee hiam" spicy dried shrimp mini-rolls. So tedious to make, but so easy to eat.

Emping Manis
If you like belinjo crackers, you will love these "Emping Manis" or sweet crackers. They're made from the same fruit.

Philip, Serene, Anastasia Liew and I at Bengawan Solo's office
It was a very enlightening visit, and I now have a new appreciation for Bengawan Solo and the way they are such sticklers for quality. Philip, Serene and I were very pleased to meet Anastasia and Henry Liew. They are wonderful folks. I'll be back hopefully to do a personality profile on Anastasia.

Meanwhile, enjoy the Lunar New Year festivities! 恭喜发财 in the year of the Dragon!

Photo credit: first and last photo from Bengawan Solo.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Justin Quek Showcases Kagoshima's Finest Produce at Sky on 57

Justin Quek visited the beautiful Kagoshima prefecture in Japan last year and loved it all. He's incorporating some of their best marine and farm produce into his cuisine at Sky on 57 as it goes into its second year of operation at the Marina Bay Sands.

Chef Justin Quek receiving his Certification of Recommendation from Kagoshima Governor Yuichiro Ito
For his support, Chef Justin Quek received a Certification of Recommendation from Kagoshima Governor Yuichiro Ito. This is only the second time such a certificate has been presented (the first one went to a five-star hotel in Hong Kong last year).

To mark this event and to welcome the Chinese New Year (CNY), Chef Quek will be presenting a special five-course menu (S$138++) inspired by the various products from Kagoshima. The menu will be available for from 17 January to 7 Feb 2012.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Xin Cuisine CNY Highlights

Tossing for good luck
Familiar faces, familiar places.

I was glad to be able to have an early lo-hei with some fellow blogger friends at Xin Cuisine. We had good memories of the food from last Chinese New Year at this Holiday Inn Atrium restaurant.

Imagine this bugger charging at you!
So are you ready to charge into the new Dragon year?

This lobster certainly looks so!

It's the star in Xin’s Gold Leaf Australian Lobster, Canadian Geoduck Clam and Salmon Yusheng, which is part of its most lavish Bountiful Harvest set (S$3,999++ for 10). They use a whole lobster for this.

Xin’s Gold Leaf Australian Lobster, Canadian Geoduck Clam and Salmon Yusheng
Side view of the impressive ice tower upon which the various sashimi slices nest. I first saw this last year, and was totally blown away.

This year's yu sheng comes in the shape of a dragon
This year's yu sheng comes assembled in the shape of a dragon. There's more of the pickled and sweetened vegetables in order to provide the vibrant colours. But last year's pyramid-shaped offering tasted more refreshing because it didn't have so much of these.

HUAT AH! Yusheng for lo-hei
But it makes for a festive-looking dish nonetheless. Later on, we asked for extra crispy fritters. More symbolic "gold" too!

Pan-Fried Scallop with Eggplant in Japanese Miso Sauce
Xin Cuisine has also included in its festive menus certain customer favourites that are on the regular menu. Pan-Fried Scallop with Eggplant in Japanese Miso Sauce is one of those - each bite of these is somehow very comforting, like a homemade dish.

Steamed Garoupa Fillet with Beancurd with Light Soya Sauce
Steamed Garoupa Fillet with Beancurd with Light Soya Sauce - this dish has a very nice name in Chinese ending with 老少平安 (old and young peacefully safe). It somewhat alludes to the fish and beancurd as similar to parent and child in terms of colour and texture.

Prosperity Pen Cai
And here is the Prosperity Pen Cai (S$398 for 10 pax, S$298 for 6 pax). It features a whopping 17 ingredients: Lobster, Abalone, Shark’s Fin, Fish Maw (two kinds - 花胶 and 鱼肚), Sea Cucumber, Dried Oyster, Dried Scallop, Wolf Berry, Fresh Scallop, Jelly Fish, Mushroom, Sea Moss, Bamboo Pith, Radish, Sea Whelk and Chinese Cabbage.

This is more of a delicate seafood-based pen cai. If you prefer something more robust and meaty, they have other versions like the Imperial Pen Cai, which has deer tendon and goose web among its ingredients.

Deep Fried Xin’s nian gao
And what's Chinese New Year without some nian gao? These were nice, because they weren't too sweet or sticky.

Sesame coated glutinous rice balls with red bean paste and champagne
The dessert you do have to try is the Fried Sesame Ball with Red Bean and Chocolate Liqueur Filling. Inside this innocuous exterior is a champagne-infused truffle. Very potent!

Bird’s Nest with Almond Cream
Or soothe your satiated tastebuds with this Bird’s Nest with Almond Cream. Your skin will also thank you for it.

If you are still looking for a restaurant to celebrate Chinese New Year at, well, you shouldn't tarry. Xin Cuisine itself is almost fully booked. There might be a couple more tables for New Year's Eve, but that's about it.

Wherever you decide to celebrate - have a wonderful feast and fabulous reunion with friends and family!

Level 4, Holiday Inn Atrium
317 Outram Road
Singapore 169075
Tel: +65 6731-7173

Thanks to the lovely team at Holiday Inn Atrium for hosting this dinner!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Delicious Hong Bao Packets from &PlentyMore

Chinese New Year Food-themed Red Packets
Ooh stop press! Look at these deliciously themed "hong bao" or red packets, by a local quintet of young designers called "&PLentyMore". They got featured in the Wall Street Journal blog! OK, that post is a little snarky of Singapore and the tacky side of Chinese New Year, but is such a boost for the designers who face the uphill challenge of selling "ang pao" envelopes that are freely available from more companies than we can count.

But you know, it is so cool to hand out a slice of photogenic bak kwa or kueh lapis, instead of cartoonish or red-gold embossed prints. For once, recipients might actually be more distracted by the envelope than what's in it.

The ang paos come wrapped in that old school pink paper wrapper used by the Chinese for various things from candy to traditional Chinese medicine.

I think my favourite is the bak kwa one
Open the packets, and you'll see witty or cheeky descriptions of the food printed at the back.

They do cost more than ordinary ang baos - S$5 for a pack of eight designs (four square ones - pineapple tarts, nian gao, kueh bahulu, mandarin orange; and four rectangular ones - kueh lapis, bak kwa, mini shrimp rolls and love letters).

But good design is always worth that little bit more, and you get volume discounts:

A single set of 8 angbao packets - S$5
A happy pair (two sets) - S$8.80
3 happy pairs (six sets) - S$25.80
5 happy pairs of sets - S$41.80 (i.e. 10 sets of 80 envelopes)

Plus, it's nice to support local designers while making a tasty statement. You can buy them online or at these retail outlets:

66A Serangoon Garden Way, Singapore 555962

No. 9 Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru, Singapore 168645

Drips Bakery Cafe
82 Tiong Poh Road, #01-05, Singapore 160082

The Garden Slug
55 Lorong L Telok Kurau #01-59/61 Bright Centre, Singapore 425500

Group Therapy Coffee
49 Duxton Road, Singapore 089513

Old School Delights
215M Upper Thomson Road, Singapore 574349

Pause Cafe
5 Jalan Kilang, Singapore 159405

Scoop of Art
278 Marine Parade Road, #01-03, Singapore 449282

Many thanks to my friend Yvonne who passed me two packs.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Resorts World Manila: The Remington (Value Hotel)

Welcome to Manila, where it is apparently still Christmas (almost ten days into January)! Christmas decorations are still everywhere.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Scoot has new uniforms!

Scoot has revealed cabin crew uniforms! The medium- to long-haul budget carrier is looking to combine its perky attitude and practicality (to better serve passengers) in the uniform design. I quite like the girls' uniform - looks like a casual cheongsam tee with a curvy splash of yellow.

Flights begin mid 2012 and tickets should be available this quarter. It earlier announced Australia and China as destinations it will start with.

Photo courtesy of Scoot.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Philippine Airlines and Askinosie Chocolate

[post uploaded using the Blogger App and iPhone 3GS photos, with layout adjusted afterwards]

The Philippines Airlines plane trundled in half an hour late to the gate at Changi Airport. It was a rainy morning, and the plane's fragile-looking windshield wipers waved frantically as though trying to make up for the delay.

It was a simple, small plane for the flight that was just over two hours. No personal video screen, so it was perfect for a snooze.

The inflight meal - fish in white sauce which turned out to be a mild coconut-like curry - was canteen fare, but edible.

There are lots of starving schoolkids in the Philippines who would cry in gratitude if you were to hand them this platter.

I was reading in the inflight magazine how one chocolate maker is helping poor and hungry children in Davao City. No, no, the kids are no eating chocolate!

Shawn Askinosie asked the PTA (parent-teacher association) of a school there to create tableya - tablets of ground roasted cocoa beans used to make hot chocolate. He sells them on his website and sends the entire profit of US$9 back to them. Each tableya makes possible 232 meals!

Askinosie is the first chocolate maker to import cocoa beans from The Philippines. He and the school are working towards funding an entire year of school lunches for all 579 students.

You can help too. Visit www.Askinosie.com to find out more. Buying Davao single-origin chocolate products, the Davao 77% bar and Hey Hey Hazelnut spread also helps.
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