Sunday, 13 December 2009

PATIENCE


My father loves fishing. After he retired from the workforce, he fished almost every weekend with a group of friends who shared the same passion. They'd hire boat which took them into the deep waters of Malaysia or Indonesia. On good days they return with a big catch. Once, he even caught a lobster. On some days they come home with only a bucket full of squids. Even then dad had never expressed disappointment. He enjoyed the time spent with friends.

Whenever I tell my friends about dad's love of fishing, most would jump to the conclusion, "Wow, your father must be very patient!" I suppose that's the way many people see the sport: you sit there holding a rod and you wait. And wait. And wait, sometimes for hours. Contrary to general perception, however, dad isn't a patient man and I’m so much like him in this aspect. We both like to get things done fast.

Unfortunately "breadmaking" and "fast" do not go hand-in-hand. The breadmaking process cannot be rushed. Fermentation and proofing take time and require patience, a virtue which I clearly lack. First, I'd get fed up because the dough doesn't come together in a smooth dough (I've been kneading it, like, forever yet it still sticks to my hand!). Then the dough has to be left proof till double its size.  After shaping the dough, it has to be left to rise a second time (Oh man!). While the bread is baking I'd stand by the oven door, elbows crossed and tapping my feet.  As if I stared hard enough, the bread would be encouraged to cook faster. 

Even under my watchful eye the tops of my bread is blistered.  I guess I carried my patience a little too far.

Monday, 23 November 2009

CONQUERING YEAST

Yesterday, we were actually able to eat  the bread I made! After 4 failed attempts, I finally conquered the beast (I mean, the yeast). It was a proud and glorious moment. My dad beamed with joy. I think my mom cried. At long last their days of feeding on semi-baked dough are over. Saved by Carol.

The secret in breadmaking lies in the kneading. The more you stretch the dough, the further the gluten develops, resulting in light, fluffy bread. But we all know that kneading dough by hand is hard work. Carol's method doesn't require extensive kneading. Rather, it involves flinging the dough on the counter-top 200 - 250 times. This technique works for me. Imagine you're executing the judo-throw to a loathesome client or vile colleague. HAIiiYAK!!!It's a great way to relieve stress.

Once I've mastered Bread Kungfu, the rest of the breadmaking process is quite easy. I fired up the oven to 60 degrees C, then switched it off. The dough is then shaped in a boule fashion and left inside the oven to proof until it doubled in size (about an hour). I divided it into 9 equal portions, filled each with canned chestnut spread, formed each into boule again and left to proof one more time. In his book The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Peter Reinhart tells us that "the whole exercise of giving loaves this (boule) shape is based on creating a tight surface tension to allow the loaf to rise up and not just out; the tight skin causes the dough to retain its cylindrical shape rather than spreading and flattening."

There's much room for improvement, of course.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

HAPPY TO BE FOUND


Two weeks ago, I sent Chew Ling an email telling her I’ve been snowed under in work and that “I don’t see the snow melting anytime soon.” Without missing a beat she promptly answered “Well, let me know after the avalanche.” That’s so Chew Ling. Even when we were colleagues she was the one with the brains, wit and best retort.

Chew Ling and I share a special affinity. We were comrades at work and best of friends after office hours. We saw each other for dinner, caught movies (usually cartoons or animation) and shopped for shoes. Stores often put smaller size shoes on display. As her feet are larger than mine, Chew Ling would make me try the shoes out first. Only if she liked how they look on my feet would she ask the sales attendant for assistance.

Once, we even went on a trip together to Genting Highlands. And then Chew Ling got married and became engrossed with family life and new baby. I changed job and became involved with new challenges. We slowly drifted apart and lost contact. I never forgot the good times. Apparently, neither did she.

Chew Ling tells me that her search for me began the year she enrolled her elder daughter into the primary school that I used to study in. The young lady is now in secondary school! I feel so old! That said, I’m happy to be found.

If you saw us in Crystal Jade Kitchen in May, you wouldn’t have guessed that Chew Ling and I were dining together for the first time after 13 years. I was surprised at how quickly we picked up where we left off. True friendship can truly withstand the test of time. We lost touch but we never lost each other.

Rekindled friendships burn brighter.  Thanks for finding me, Chew Ling.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from this recipe in nytimes.com by Jacques Torres 

I halved the recipe because I didn’t have enough chocolate for the full recipe.

Makes 20 cookies

120 grams cake flour
120 grams bread flour
Slightly over ¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
140 grams butter, softened
140 grams light brown sugar
115 grams caster sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
240 grams Valrhona dark chocolate, chopped 
Sea salt

Sieve flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add egg, a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate overnight.

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven 180 degrees C. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop 45 - 48-gram mounds of dough (yes I weigh them) onto prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, about 12 minutes. When the cookies are baked, rest them for a few minutes before transferring them to wire racks. Allow the cookies to cool completely before storing them.

Enjoy!

Monday, 7 September 2009

MARBLE MAGIC


Lee Ling came over to my place for her belated birthday dinner last evening. I baked a cake.

Mocha-Matcha O'Marble Cake

Makes one 9-inch Bundt

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon hot water
3/4 cup Hershey's chocolate syrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
260 grams all-purpose flour
130 grams cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
225 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
300 grams caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk

Place a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat the oven at 180 degrees C. Lightly butter and flour a 10-cup capacity Bundt pan. Have all ingredients at room temperature.

In a small bowl, stir espresso powder with hot water until dissolved. Stir mixture into chocolate syrup; set aside. Sieve flour, baking powder and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy and smooth then add sugar, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Continue to beat until the mixture is very light in colour and texture.

Add eggs very slowly, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until mixture is fluffy and pale ivory in colour. Add flour mixture in 3 - 4 additions alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing after each addition only until incorporated.

Transfer 2/3 of the batter into prepared pan, and spread evenly with a rubber spatula.

Stir baking soda into chocolate syrup-espresso mixture, then add mixture to the remaining batter in bowl. Without delay, pour chocolate batter on top of batter in the pan.

Bake the cake until the top springs back when pressed lightly and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out free of batter, 65 – 70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 10 – 15 minutes before turning the cake out of the pan.

Unfortunately, the green tea flavour didn't come through. I wanted more green! Ms Braker tells us (in page 88 of her book) that the heavier chocolate batter will "flip positions with its lighter counterpart" while in the oven thus forming the marbling inside the cake. This is not true. Nevertheless, it's delicious!

I also made a cold soba salad and Lee Ling's favourite comfort food - the Shepherd's Pie. Thanks, Lee Ling, for being a willing guinea pig. It's truly enjoyable to cook for someone who appreciates the simple pleasures.


Thursday, 16 July 2009

DAD CELEBRATES 80TH

On Wed July 15, my father turned 80. We enjoyed a quiet celebration at home, followed by lunch at his favourite chicken rice restaurant afterwards.

The birthday cake came in the form of a peach. To us Chinese the peach symbolizes longevity.

The beaming birthday boy

He makes a wish!

Cake-cutting requires the utmost concentration ...

... and help from spouse

Loving couple


Sunday, 5 July 2009

GIANT RAISINS


On my last evening in Taipei, Alice let me in on a secret: there is a shop in Yong Kang Park that sold Giant Raisins.  I clapped my hands and squealed in delight, "I want!"  She went around the next day to get me some. I had already left Taipei by then but my co-worker, Jee Sien, remained in Taipei for work. It was through her that I received these Giant Raisins later. 

Raisins the size of prunes.  These are NOT giants.  They are MAMMOTHS!

It's raining cats and dogs today, the perfect weather to stay indoors and bake.

OATMEAL AND CINNAMON COOKIES
Makes 24 large cookies

1½ cups Giant Raisins
1/2 cup rum
200 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
200 grams butter
150 grams granulated sugar
150 grams brown sugar
2 large eggs
300 grams rolled oats

Plump the raisins by soaking them in rum for 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven at 180 degrees C. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Sieve together flour, baking soda and ground cinnamon.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gently fold in sifted flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl, making sure all the ingredients come together nicely. Mix in rolled oats and raisins.

Using a tablespoon, scoop the dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 12 minutes. Leave the cookies in the baking sheets for 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Enjoy!


P.S. I love you, Alice!


Saturday, 27 June 2009

Tapei Day 5 and 6

DAY 5 (SUN) Jun 21, 2009

Weather Forecast in the morning: The Typhoon Lotus will sweep past the western coast of Taiwan, thus sparing Taipei.

Tammy and I took things easy today. We woke up very late. Had a leisurely breakfast at McDonald’s.  (Tammy was craving for McDonald's bagels - don't even ask!)

The Taiwanese are very serious about their beef noodles. Every year, an International Beef Noodle Festival (台北国际牛肉面节)is held in Taipei.  Liang Pin (良品红烧牛肉面)was runner-up for the Best Roasted Beef category in the 2007.  The restaurant was very close to our hotel so of course we had no excuse not to try it. Tammy ordered their Signature Beef Noodles; I the Pork Chop Noodles. I must say they were equally good.

On the way to the MRT Taipei Station, we stopped for the well-known Fuzhou Traditional Pepper Bun in the vicinity. Every time we walk passed we found a long queue in front of the tiny stall.  Strangely enough, there wasn't a queue today. The bun turned out to be a very large “pau” with a very crisply outer skin, filled with meat and veggies.  I like it a lot.

Moving along.  The lovely Rose House has lovely Rose Tea Preserves. 

良品牛肉面 | Liang Pin Beef Noodles
中正区 开封街一段10号
No. 10 Kaifung Street Sec. 1, Zhongzheng District

福州世祖胡椒餅 | Fuzhou Traditional Pepper Bun
重庆南路一段13号 | 13 Chongqing Road Sec. 1

古典玫瑰园 | Rose House
重庆南路一段11 号 | 11 Chongqing Road Sec. 1


西門町 XIMENDING







Before I set foot on Taiwan, I already knew that it was a Japanese colony for 50 years (1895 – 1945) so I expected the Japanese influence to live on. What surprised me was that the Japanese culture is so deeply embedded into the daily lives of the Taiwanese people.  Japanese restaurant, sushi bar and confectionery shops lined the streets. The supermarkets inside the department store are well-stocked with rows and rows of Japanese groceries, snacks and confectioneries, all gift packed in Japanese style. Japanese flavour is distinct in Taipei’s fashion trends and lifestyle, especially through Ximending.

Just one stop away from MRT Taipei Station is Ximending. According to Wikipedia, the name of Ximending was derived from its position outside the west gate of Taipei City. In the beginning during Japanese rule, Ximending was an area of wilderness, through which there was a road connecting the west gate of Taipei to the town of Bangka. Later, the Japanese decided to follow the example of Asakusa in Tokyo to set up an entertainment and business area. Today’s Ximending is Taipei’s version of Shibuya mixed with Harajuku.

Tammy suggested that I try the famous 阿宗面线, soft white noodles served in broth. When we arrived at its doorstep, I noticed there was a long queue of waiting customers. People were standing outside the shop, heads bent, intently slurping the noodles out of plastic bowls. Looked downright pathetic to me. 

Tammy bought a pair of shoes in Ximending. The store owner informs us that they were imported from Japan. Back in the hotel, however, Tammy discovered the words Made in Hong Kong engraved on the soles of the shoes. More about the darn pair of shoes later.

In the evening, we went to track down a sumiyaki called Kanpai (干杯) near Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. Following explicit directions given in Tammy’s guidebook, we were led to Exit No. 15 and up VERY LONG flight of stairs.  No escalator, why? why? why?  (Thanks a lot, Tammy!)

We circled for a bit but couldn’t locate the restaurant so asked a passer-by for directions. “Ah,” he nodded knowingly, “Walk straight ahead and turn right at the second set of traffic lights. You won’t miss the restaurant. It’ll be the one with the longest queue at the entrance.”

Somehow, the words “the longest queue” didn’t quite appeal to us. The weather was very warm and we were both feeling hot, sticky, and bothered. So we headed in the opposite direction and found Jiafu Sushi House (家福寿司屋).  It proved to be a smart move.  Quality Japanese food in a cosy mom 'n pop setting. A big bowl of chirashi don (海鮮丼) for just NT$290. I love the raw squids – fresh with an almost transparent outer layer. Tammy and I pounced on the food like hungry ghosts the moment it appeared on our table and quite forgot about taking photos but do check them out on this blogger’s site.


家福寿司屋
大安区 復兴南路一段122巷6号
No. 6, Lane 122, Fuxing South Road Sec. 1, Da-an District
大安区 安东街4号之1
1130–2130(Closed on Mondays)
捷运忠孝復兴站1号出口| MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1



***

DAY 6 (MON) Jun 22, 2009

We were back at McDonald's this morning, where Tammy satisfied her bagel craving.  I bought a couple of  生煎包. 
Tammy needed to buy gourmet coffee for a friend and we found ourselves once again in Shing Khong Mitsukoshi (Tower 4A).  Do you recall the pair of shoes that Tammy bought in Ximending? Well, on our way up from the basement supermarket, we chanced upon that same pair of shoes!  It is NT$500 cheaper in Mitsukoshi Xinyi Place!

We couldn’t locate the restaurant which Tammy wanted us to have lunch in. This is the second time her stupid guidebook led us on a wild goose chase.  I hope she threw it away.  :)  And so we went to the only restaurant I knew: Dosan Kanroku Sanuki Udon.




BYE BY TAMMY, HEYJEE SIEN!
In the afternoon, 飞狗 airport express came to pick Tammy up from the Hotel Flowers main entrance. After I saw her off, I went to join my co-worker, Jee Sien, at the United Hotel. (Yes, she was foolish enough to me in.) Her room was large with lots of natural lighting. The bathroom has a vintage bathtub with clawed feet.




CATCH UP WITH ALICE
This evening, I paid a visit to our Taipei office. Alice took Jee Sien and I out to Du Xiao Yue Danzi Noodles (度小月担仔面) for Taiwanese cuisine. Found myself in the Yong Kang Street vicinity once more. Du Xiao Yue was established in Tainan in 1895, which means it has over a century worth of history.  An interesting image is the noodle stand by the entrance, with the noodle master sitting on a low stool preparing noodles.  Alice ordered:

猪油拌饭 (rice mixed with lard and soy sauce)
担仔面 (Danzi noodles)
清蒸蝦仁肉圓 (Meat dumplings)
卤大腸 (braised pig intestines)
炸芙蓉豆腐 (very much like Agedashi dōfu but even crispier)
冬瓜蛤蜊湯 (clear soup with winter melon and clams)

After that we proceeded to Ice Monster for a refreshing iced treat.  Fresh mango with shaved ice was just we needed to end the warm summer evening. Alice informed us that the shop is even more popular during the winter months!

There is no MRT to Yong Kang Street. The best way is to take a cab. Tell the driver to take you to the 永康公园 (Yong Kang Park)  UPDATE Jan 2014: You can now take the MRT and alight at Dongmen Station to access Yong Kang.

永康公园 (Yong Kang Park) is the core of Yong Kang Street community. Everyone is familiar with the beef noodle stall and the Ice Monster which lie on the park’s edge. Shaved ice combined with fresh fruits – mangoes in the summer, strawberries in the winter – topped with a scoop of mango ice-cream, the Ice Monster enjoys a ceaseless flow of customers all year round.

Yong Kang Street is just the main street. The street is flanked by lanes and alleys.  To me this means only one thing: lots of exciting food just waiting to be discovered!  If only I had more time in Taipei.


Actually, the area behind the United Hotel is rather nice as well.






国联大饭店 | United Hotel
大安区 光復南路200号
No. 200 Kwang Fu South Road +886 2 27731515   
捷运站国父紀念馆站 | MRT Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Station

度小月担仔面
永康街9-1号+886 2 33931325
1130 - 2300
东门站 5号出口 | MRT Dongmen Station Exit 5

冰馆 [已搬迁]
永康街15号

***

DAY 7 (TUE) Jun 23, 2009

WHEN WILL I SEE YOU AGAIN?

What a fantastic trip it has been! There is still much left unexplored.  I haven't taken quite enough photos!   I must see you again, Taipei!





Taipei Day 4

DAY 4 (SAT) Jun 20, 2009

Tammy cleverly mapped out the day’s itinerary. We would hit these 3 destinations in one day as they are located on the same MRT line.

On the way to the MRT station, we stopped by at a Mister Donut stall. I read somewhere that when Mister Donut opened its first shop in Taipei’s Tianmu in October 2004, one had to queue 3 hours! On the third day of business, the line winding into the store was well over 200 people. I tried one today and it was ahem, creative. The one I had was a PoDe donut which is made from glutinous rice flour so it’s chewy, sort of a cross between a mochi and a doughnut. Kinda weird, really.  Don't know what to make of it.


淡水 DANSHUI

My Singaporean co-worker, Jee Sien, happened to be in Taipei for work and I invited her to join us in 淡水老街 (Danshui Old Street) for some fun under a very hot sun.






淡水Danshui
捷运淡水捷运 | MRT Danshui Station


天母 TIANMU

Tianmu area is one of Taipei's more expensive neighbourhoods. In the past, it was a residential area for expats and foreigners.

向Hsiang The Brunch in Tianmmu serves all-day brunch. The restaurant is located just behind Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Tianmu.




How to get to Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Tianmu?[已停]
Take the MRT to 捷运芝山站 (Zhishan Station where a free shuttle bus service will take you to Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Tianmu.

向Hsiang The Brunch [已歇业]
士林区 天母东路50巷8号
No. 8, Lane 50, Tianmu East Road, Shilin District +886 2 28725851
Opening hours: 1000 - 2200, Sat and Sun from 0800

Whilst in Tianmu, we also strolled to 中山北路七段 (Zhongshan North Road Sec. 7). The road extending from here to 忠誠路 (Zhongcheng Road) is supposedly a popular shopping district for tourists. We did come across a few interesting boutiques but the humidity zapped every once of energy out of us and we had to gave up after a bit. 



士林夜市 SHILIN NIGHT MARKET
No visit to Taiwan is complete without a trip to a night market.  I ate the best deep-fried chicken I've had in ages.   I couldn't help laughing at the English translation for "腿排".  In Singapore, we would've said "Chicken Cutlet".  In Shilin, it is "The Leg Arranges".  Love!  ^=^

Jee Sien and I had the Chicken Thigh; Tammy ate some skewered grilled stuff.  I would've loved to hang out a little longer but Tammy and Jee Sien kept complaining about the heat so we had to leave.




On the Evening Broadcast: News of an impending typhoon kept Tammy and I on the edge of our beds. Weather forecast predicts that the typhoon may strike on Monday!


Friday, 26 June 2009

Taipei Day 2 and 3

DAY 2 (THU) Jun 18, 2009


复兴南路 FUXING SOUTH ROAD
Spent the early morning hunting down local breakfast places I had read about on the Internet and found them!
安东街 | Dong An Alley
0630 - 2100

姜太太包子店
台北市 大安区 复兴南路一段180号
No. 180 Fuxing South Road Sec. 1, Da-an District
0600 - 1900
捷运忠孝复兴站2号出口,步行約1分钟 | MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 2


九份 JIUFEN

After greedily gobbling up breakfast, I took a bus Jiufen on my own. The fare was NT$87. I boarded the Taipei-Jiufen-Jinguashi bus from the bus stop at the entrance of Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station Exit 1.

The ride took slightly more than an hour as it made several stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. I believe there is another bus which goes non-stop directly from Fuxing to Jiufen. I must have got on the wrong one. I was a little anxious at first.  What if I missed the Jiufen stop? The bus was an old one and didn't have LED signs to indicate which shop was next. I needn’t have worried. Not only were there many tourists alighting at the stop, the area looked very “touristy”. It was hard to miss.

Jiufen was once a prosperous gold-mining town. As you can see, it is now a tourist attraction. The quaint streets, teahouses and stunning views still live on.







The Taiwanese seem to be very fond of yam (taro). Yam cake, yam vermicelli, yam dumplings, all kinds of yam desserts can be found throughout Taipei. In Jiufen, yam balls (芋圓) and yam dessert (鮮芋仙) are available at every corner. I bought savoury yam snacks but thought they weren't great.


To return to Taipei from Jiufen, take a bus with its destination “台北”in LED sign display from the bus stop across the road from 7-11 convenience store. The bus goes downhill. The bus terminates at MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1.


台北车站 TAIPEI MAIN STATION
2PM:Checked out of Déjà Vu Hotel and took a cab to Hotel Flowers, where Tammy and I would spend the next four nights. We had arranged to meet at 3PM but she was held up at the airport and arrived at around 4PM.

The hotel was well-located, surrounded by restaurants, shops, convenience stores and within walking distance to Mitsukoshi, MRT Taipei Main Station as well as Taipei Railway Station.

The room is decent enough. It has a queen bed, a single bed, clean carpeting, crisp linens, a large bathroom and even a small flat-screen TV!

The hotel has 2 branches. We stayed at the new branch.

华华大饭店(分店) Hotel Flowers (new branch)
台北市 中正区 汉口街一段36号
No. 36 Hankou Street Sec. 1, Zhongzheng District +886 2 2312 3811, 2331 7392
捷运台北车站Z2号出口 | MRT Taipei Main Station Exit Z2


永康街 YONG KANG STREET
We gave ourselves just 10 minutes to freshen up before heading out to Ding Tai Fung (Old Shop) in Yong Kang.

Almost everyone and anyone I know tells me that the Ding Tai Fung (Old Shop) in Taipei is the best in Asia because it's the original shop where it all started.  At any rate, I think the food is far better than what we have in the Singapore DTF branches.

Just a few shops away from Ding Tai Fung is I-Mei Confectionery. I did not know it at the time but I-Mei was founded in 1934 and is renowned for its Taiwanese pastries as well as western cakes. Luckily I was smart enough to buy some for our people in the Taipei office (*pat self on the back*).

Close by our hotel is Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (Taipei Station Branch). Tammy purchased a pair of shoes that was on discount. We felt it was a good deal at that time and it was only afterwards that we realise the discounts offered by Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (Xinyi Branch) are even better.

鼎泰丰(旧店) Ding Tai Fung (Old Shop)
大安区信义路二段194号(永康街口)
No. 194 Xinyi Road Sec. 2, Da-an District
捷运东门站5号出口, 步行約1分钟

仪美食品 I-Mei Confectionery
大安区信义路二段88号


科技大楼 TECHNOLOGY BUILDING
And as if we were afraid that some catastrophe might strike us during the night and we may not live to see tomorrow, we even went on to have dinner!

The area around the Technology Building MRT Station is famous for its late night eateries specializing in porridge. You can select from a huge variety of small side dishes to accompany your congee. Different styles of omelettes and vegetables are available for order as well.

This evening, I took my first MRT ride in Taipei. I was surprised to see passengers queue up in an orderly manner to wait for the train. And was even more amazed when they actually wait for alighting passengers to move out before getting in themselves!


It became evident that we Singaporeans have much to learn from our friends in Taipei. I mean, they even queue up to wait for the elevator! Geez, that’s never going to happen in Singapore!

小李子清粥小菜
大安区 复兴南路二段142号
No. 142 Fuxing South Road Sec. 2, Da-an District
1700 - 0600
捷运科技大楼站, 步行約10分钟
10 minutes walk from MRT Technology Building Station



***

DAY 3 (FRI) Jun 19, 2009


信义区购物中心 XINYI SHOPPING DISTRICT



The district is the premier shopping area in Taipei, anchored by a number of department stores and malls. It is home to 4 blocks of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store (新光三越) shopping complexes. Tammy and I only managed to cover Towers 4A and 8A. In Tower 4A, we saw the same pair of shoes which Tammy bought from Mitsukoshi (Taipei Station Branch) the evening before. It is NT$200 less here!

Other major attractions here include Taipei 101 and Eslite Bookstore (诚品书店).  It spans over 7 floors The bookstore has an expansive magazine collection (especially foreign magazines), a floor dedicated to children's books, a Japanese bookstore, art bookstore. The cookbooks section is equipped with a kitchenette for cooking demonstrations.  Adore!

信义区购物中心Xinyi Shopping District
捷运市政府站3号出口 | MRT Taipei City Hall Station Exit 3


松山区 庆城街 QINGCHENG STREET

Tammy introduced me to Heno Heno Moheno for authentic Japanese food in an unpretentious atmosphere. The restaurant has been around since 1982. Tammy and I shared cold noodles, grilled fish and tamagoyaki. I’m especially impressed by the asparagus hand roll (蘆筍手捲) - very fresh crunchy asparagus, crisp shredded lettuce and mayonnaise nestled together in a cone of crispy seaweed.

This quiet, leafy part of town is lined with cafes and Western restaurants. 长春旅館(Ever Spring Hotel) is across the street. Here you'll find Joyce West Café (No. 22). It has the best setting for an intimate wedding reception.  Also the perfect place while away a lazy afternoon.

福顏日本料理 Heno Heno Moheno
松山区 庆城街26号
No. 26 Qingcheng Street, Songshan District +886 2 27122007
捷运南京东路站  | MRT Nanjing East Road Station





Taipei Day 1

If it wasn’t for Tammy, I would never have experienced Taipei. It most definitely wasn’t on my list of places to visit. Friends tell me that Taipei is not a very nice city - the streets are filthy, its population rowdy. Even my mom (who went to Taipei about 20 years ago) warned me that drivers pay no heed to pedestrian crossings. So no, Taipei wasn’t exactly my dream city. Little did I know, I would change my mind and I was to fall desperately in love with the country, and its people. 

When Tammy was able to redeem 4 nights of free accommodation in Taipei she very generously invited me to share the room with her. I mean, she could have invited any of her sisters or her mom or one of her BFFs but she chose me. Lucky me!

I'm glad I made the trip.

DAY 1 (WED) Jun 17, 2009

Arrived in Taipei to be greeted by extremely warm weather.

When I boarded the 飞狗 (Free Go airport express bus NT$140), I was amazed that everyone wore masks. Being a true Singaporean, I was not to be outdone and wore mine too. Hahaha!

It took a little more than an hour to arrive at the Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. Somehow I was expecting the bus to stop opposite Sogo Fuxing but it didn’t! For a minute there I lost my bearings. I stopped a masked individual to ask for directions. She turned out to be a friendly Taiwanese who had just arrived home from a holiday in Tokyo. Not only did she point me the right way to the hotel, she also had very wonderful things to share about Tokyo!  


復兴南路 FUXING SOUTH ROAD




Checked into Déjà vu Hotel and immediately made a beeline for the popular Dosan Kanroku Sanuki Udon, a tiny Japanese shop “serving Taiwan’s best and cheapest udon”. The menu is simple – with a choice of about 20 variety of udon in broth.

Just what is the origin of Sanuki udon?  The story goes that Kūkai, a Buddhist monk from the province of Sanuki (now known as Kagawa Prefecture) on the Japanese island of Shikoku, traveled to China in the 9th century to study religious texts. When he returned, he didn’t just bring back religious manuscripts but also a recipe: thick noodles made of wheat flour. Today the ubiquitous local dish is called Sanuki udon.

The moment I entered the shop, a friendly waiter started chattering to me in Japanese. Even though I answered in Mandarin, he persisted and went on to take my order in Japanese. (Duh!)  Still, I was very satisfied with the first bowl of udon I had in Taipei. The vicinity is home to not one, but two Sogo department stores, alleys filled with trendy shops, and interesting eating places.

Bought dorayaki (Doraemon’s favourite snack!) from a Japanese confectionery.

乔合大饭店 | Déjà vu Hotel
台北市 大安区 复兴南路一段136号
No. 136 Fuxing South Road Sec. 1. Da-an District
捷运忠孝复兴站1号出口 | MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1

土三寒六赞歧烏龙面 | Dosan Kanroku Sanuki Udon
台北市 大安区 复兴南路一段126巷6号
No. 6, Lane 126, Fuxing South Road Sec 1, Da-an District
Mon - Fri 1130 – 1430; 1700 - 2100 No credit cards.
捷运忠孝复兴站1号出口 | MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1

星野铜锣烧 | Sing-ya Dorayaki
台北市 大安区 忠孝东路三段265号
No. 265 Zhongxiao South Road Sec. 3  +886 2 87723691
捷运忠孝复兴站1号出口 | MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1





Monday, 11 May 2009

LETTING OFF STEAM



My mother took an interest in this cake simply because it is steamed, not baked. Mom doesn’t do baked goods. The oven scares her. During her time, Asian kitchens were rarely equipped with ovens. All the cooking were done over a stove. Even till today, traditional cakes and kueh-kueh are either steamed or painstakingly grilled over a bed of charcoal.

To my mother our built-in oven is a white elephant taking up precious space in her tiny kitchen. So when not in use, she stores Chinese dried mushrooms inside it. No kidding!

Anyway, mom happily took part in the prep work for this cake. She filled a wok partially with water and it soon came to a merry bubble.

Beating the eggs took a lot of hard work. Mom suggested the electric mixer but there were "only 4 eggs!", I scoffed. One should always listen to her mother. It doesn't matter if the mixer in question is sitting in a dark dark corner of a dark dark shelf in a dark dark room. Trust me, it pays to relief it from its solitude.

The original recipe calls for self-raising flour. Since I didn't have any, I used all-purpose + baking powder. Maybe I didn't use enough BP because the cake turned out rather dense. I had expected something a little fluffier.

Still, this eggy delight does bring me back in time - when there were no French pâtisserie or Pierre Hermé; and terms like ganache and creme fraiche were practically unheard off - a cake like this was the most pleasurable thing in the world!

Times have changed. Back then we were happy with our roti, kopi or kopi-O. Now we can also enjoy baguette, cappuccino and espresso! It is a good change, izit not?

传统蒸鸡蛋糕
Traditional Steamed Sponge Cake
Adapted from Delightful Snacks & Dim Sum by Agnes Chang

4 large eggs
160 grams caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
180 grams all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
50 ml 7-Up

Line a 18-cm square pan with parchment paper. Bring a wok of water to the boil.

Sift flour and baking powder together.

Whisk eggs until frothy, then add the sugar slowly. Continue to whisk fervently until mixture becomes thick and creamy. Stir in the vanilla.

Fold in sifted flour, stirring gently in one direction, until all are used up. Add the 7-Up.

Pour batter into prepared cake pan. Steam the cake, covered, for 30 minutes on high heat. Cool on a wire rack.

Friday, 8 May 2009

ORIENTAL EYES


When my colleagues and I were in Bangkok in February, we had the good fortune of spending a few days at The Oriental. Let me warn you about the dangers of spending so much time at The Oriental Bangkok: the staff will pamper you and spoil you with their personal service. They'll greet you by name every morning.  They'll remember when it's your birthday.  The lift attendants remember which floor your room is.  They'll wait on you hand and foot, 24/7 and cater to your every whim.  They'll make you feel like they exist only for you.  At the end of the 3 days, you find yourself telling your boss that you have no wish of leaving your castle. In all fairness, after all that personal attention you've been given, you think that you actually own the place! You don't ever want to wake up from the illusion. Even after months of your return to the reality of everyday life, you'll still be recovering from the overwhelming Thai hospitality.

So here I am, four months afterwards and I still can't get over the hotel's Raspberry Ox-eyes -a simple thumbprint shortbread filled with the most delightful raspberry jam. One bite of it and I was hooked. If I wasn't feeling so terrible shy (ahem!) , I'd have asked for a box of them delivered to my room!

Back home, I searched a long time for the recipe to relive that delectable moment.

Rasberry Ox-Eyes
Adapted from the Thumbprints For Us Big Boys recipe in Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes about 60 cookies

100 grams finely ground hazelnuts*
227 grams all-purpose flour
227 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
100 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting
About 1 cup raspberry jam, for the filling

*Available at Phoon Huat

Preheat your oven at 180 degrees C. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together the ground hazelnuts and flour.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract, beat, then throw in nut-flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated.

Working with a teaspoon of dough at a time, roll the dough between your palms to form small balls. Lay them apart on the baking sheets. Press down on each ball with your thumb (I used the end of a wooden spoon) to make a small well in the centre of the cookie. Do not press too hard or the cookie will fall apart.

Bake for 15 minutes. Leave the cookies in the baking sheets for about 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Dust confectioner's sugar over the cookies. Fill indentations of all the cookies with raspberry jam!




Wednesday, 6 May 2009

WINNING HEARTS AND MINDS




Tammy and I met in 1991. Our company sent us (she from Hong Kong and I from Singapore ) to Kuala Lumpur for the launch of a set of limited edition coins commemorating the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. We shared not just a hotel room but also a love for movies, shopping and good food. We kept in touch via hand-written letters and greeting cards. Over the years, the snail-mails turned into emails; and the love for good food developed into a passion for cooking and baking. Each time we visited each other’s city, we swap recipes and traded baking books.

Tammy gets carried away in baking specialty shops like Phoon Huat in Singapore . And Fairprice Xtra. “There is no store this massive in Hong Kong,” she tells me enviously, “you Singaporeans are so lucky.”

Whenever she stays over, Tammy has to put up with a tiny sofa bed and a shared bathroom. When we are not out shopping and sampling at new restaurants, we’d be curled up on the little sofa bed – girl talk and reminiscing about old times.

One morning, I suggested that we should bake a cake. Her eyes lit up. “Let’s do a really simple one. Something you’ve done many times.” So we baked this French-style Lemon Yogurt Cake. For those of you who are familar with Orangette, you must be aware the special meaning this cake holds for blogger Molly and her husband Brendon. And if you’ve read Molly’s site (and her book) you’ll know that Molly's “Winning Hearts and Minds Cake” is her chocolate wedding cake. For me, if by some chance Orangette fans could accept a second "Winning Hearts and Minds Cake", this Lemon Yogurt Cake would have to be it! The recipe is so easy to follow and I've had to bake it again and again and again at the encore of neighbours, colleagues and friends. It truly wins the hearts and minds of everyone around me.

Tammy shares my enthusiasm for the Winning Hearts and Minds Cake. She eagerly grated the lemon zest (which, to me, is the most hateful job in the world!) and sifted the flour. I fired up the oven, weighed out the ingredients and demonstrated to her just how easy it was. When the cake came out of the oven, Tammy cooed in delight. She was won over even before she has had a taste.

Needless to say, Tammy returned home with the recipe. Her kitchen in Hong Kong is particularly small, a 9-inch round cake is out of the question with a counter-top oven. So she baked several batches of mini cupcakes. Tammy later told me that her father commented that the cakes were “very nice” (which in truth meant “out of this world” because he normally only grants a slight nod of approval for most baked goods). Tammy’s father passed away some months afterwards. Two weeks after she broke the news, I suddenly found myself sighing in relief: Well, at least he had a taste of the lemon yogurt cake! Somehow, the thought left me a little less sad.