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Archive for April, 2014

We were around the Bukit Batok area and since we had some time on our hands, and the weather was good, we decided on a whim to go to Xiao Guilin. Originally a granite quarry, it’s now a park and the quarry area has been flooded to become a lake.

It’s been eons since I went there.  The last time was when I was either in primary or secondary school when I went for a walk with my parents.

The place hasn’t changed much.  Still peaceful and tranquil, though much smaller than I remembered.  There was a couple taking cosplay pictures there, and I suppose it provided the Chinese wu xia (martial arts, swordsplay kinda thing) backdrop they were looking for.

Looking for fish

Looking for fish

Still looking for fish.  There were none by the way.

Still looking for fish. There were none by the way.

Taking a break on the rock

Taking a break on the rock

Lovely Xiao Guilin

Lovely Xiao Guilin

Good for a short walk and to enjoy the peaceful environment.  I loved the beautiful fields of lalangs growing along the hillsides by the path.  Lalang fields seem to be popping up everywhere these days.  Very pretty.

The boys pretended the lalangs were arrows and spears and attacked Jon.  After I pointed out that there was another weed that left it’s seed stuck on your clothes but was pokier than lalangs, Asher cheekily went to pick that and attacked Jon with it too.  Jon was later quite grouchy because the seeds were poking him through his t-shirt when he was driving, so I had to pluck them out one by one! :)

Field of white on the hillside

Field of white on the hillside

Lalangs glowing in the sunlight

Lalangs glowing in the sunlight

 

 

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Shepherd’s Pie

Asher had pie in school one day, and the boys decided they wanted to make pies to eat at home.  Ellery wanted shepherd’s pie, while Asher wanted to recreate the “creamy chicken pie” he had in school.

First up, the shepherd’s pie!

It’s a fairly easy recipe, so it was quite simple to get the boys involved.  This was also one of the rare times I let the boys go near the stove.  It was quite a simple job of stirring ingredients in the pot, and there wasn’t going to be hot water splashing about, so I let them help out.

Frying the onions

Frying the onions

Stirring in the meat

Stirring in the meat

Assembling the pie

Assembling the pie

The result was yummy, and the boys ate heartily!  Plus, I get to fulfil my red meat quota.  Win-win all around!

Ready to tuck in!

Ready to tuck in!

Yum!

Yum!

Here’s the recipe I used:

Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients:
550g minced beef
2 carrots diced
1 onion diced
2-3 cloves of garlic chopped finely
1-2 tbsp plain flour
1.5 cups of chicken stock
a dash of black sauce for colour (maybe 0.5 – 1 tsp)
salt & pepper to taste
1-2 tbsp olive oil

For the topping:
5-6 potatoes, boiled
cheese – as much as you please (we used about 1 cup of shredded cheese)
some milk
pepper to taste

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees celcius.

2. Make the potato topping.  Add a dash of milk to the boiled potatoes and mash together.  The milk is to help make the mashed potatoes smoother.  Add the cheese.  Then add more milk gradually to your desired consistency.  Spinkle some pepper to taste.  Done.

3. In a heavy based pot, heat the olive oil then add the garlic and fry until fragrant.  Add the onions and carrots and fry for  2-3 minutes until the onions soften a little, but not too much.  Add in the flour, give the mixture a stir, then add in the stock.  Bring the gravy to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 3 minutes.

4. Add the meat, making sure to break up the large chunks.  If the sauce looks too watery for you, add a little more flour.  Add the black sauce to give the dish some colour.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

5. Spoon the meat filling into pie/casserole dishes, top with potatoes, and pop into the oven for about 25-30 minutes.

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Istimewa Nasi Padang is one of my favourite nasi padang (Malay rice and dishes) places.  I still remember Jon sneaking home food from there during my first confinement when my Mum was stricter with what I could or could not eat after delivery.

This place is hot stuff.  Lunch queues are always long, snaking around the coffeeshop.  And a good indicator of quality food is the number of cabbies who go there to eat everyday.  The taxi drivers know best!

They have a wide variety of yummy dishes to choose from, making choosing what to eat a battle between greed and belly space.  They are famous for the rendang (dry curried meat), and that was what I was there for that day to fulfil my red meat quota.  The beef rendang was so tender and very lemak (Malay for rich and robust tasting, usually for food cooked with coconut milk).  Their sambal chilli is also kick-ass.

Many of the office workers flock there in groups and order a range of dishes to share.  That’s the best, then you get to try more stuff!

Try to reach early (before 1130am) if you want to avoid the queues, but generally the queues move very quickly because there are usually about 4-5 people serving customers during lunch time.

The long snaking queue

The long snaking queue all the way round the bend

Nearing...

Nearing…

My turn!

My turn!

Beef rendang, sambal kangkong, sayur lodeh, with sambal chilli

Beef rendang, sambal kangkong, sayur lodeh, with sambal chilli – yum!

Istimewa Nasi Padang is found at the coffeeshop at 28 Hoy Fatt Road.

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I booked my Mum and Dad one month before for lunch on the actual day of Mummy’s birthday.  Ever since she announced that she loved the S.E.A. Aquarium and could go there over and over, and could spend a long time just looking at the fish at the big tank, I decided that the perfect place to bring her for her 60th birthday would be the Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora at Resorts World Sentosa.

I never told them where I was bringing them, and Papa spent the entire night after our big dinner at Crystal Jade Golden Palace thinking about where I was bringing them for lunch.  When I picked them up he was convinced I was bringing them to eat nasi briyani.  From the time we left their house until we reached, they kept guessing where we were going with the locations changing as we went past them.

Mummy and I were very amused with Papa when I told him that we were going somewhere special, and he guessed several different  hawker centres, Westmall, Lot1, Vivocity and the like.  So I told him I know where to bring him for his 70th birthday :)  And when we turned into RWS and there was a big sign saying, “Welcome to Resorts World Sentosa”, Papa said, “Oh!! I know where we are going!!  Resorts World!” :O)

They eventually guessed when we were in the carpark because there were signs pointing to the Ocean Restaurant.  Papa then jokingly told me not to keep them in suspense like that again because it’s so stressful :)  He was also now so hungry from expending all that energy thinking about where we were going haha.

We got a seat by the window, and I was initially disappointed that the windows were not floor-to-ceiling.  I had the impression from pictures that it’d be like sitting right next to the glass.  In actual fact, there an almost 1m ledge at the glass.  But it was nice to see the fishes swimming past, and the stingrays were particularly curious.  Several of them kept stopping at our table to look at us.  And as always, the manta ray is so beautiful.

The food was very good though!  I read mixed reviews about the place, but our three mains were really very good, especially Papa’s Boneless Wagyu Shortrib.  It was like heaven in a mouthful.  Soooo good.  Mummy’s lamb was tender and not overpowering, while my layer pork was juicy and very tasty.  I had read that the Sous Vide 45 C King Salmon dish was good, so we ordered that as a starter to share.  It may have been good, but I wouldn’t be raving about it.  I guess I had set up my expectations high given the reviews.  Plus, the serving is soooo tiny!  But I would definitely have the Wagyu Shortribs if I ever go there again.

Mummy bday 1

Mummy bday 2Mummy ended her day with a shopping trip to claim her Samsung S5 present with JJSB.  She happily sent us a picture of herself with her new toy before the day was up :)

Happy birthday!

A happy birthday girl

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To celebrate Mummy’s special day, we organised a dinner at Crystal Jade Golden Palace at Paragon.  I remember celebrating my grandfather’s birthday there once many years ago and had very good memories of the place.  They staff arranged for us to have a private room, which was a good thing since we had four kids running around.

Mummy didn’t realise that besides the immediate family, we had also invited her old friends Aunty Wendy and Aunty Dorothy.  She’s known them since she was around 20 years old.  That’s a good long friendship!

So when she stepped into the room and saw them she was very surprised, and very very happy :)

Dinner was excellent.  I somehow forgot to take pictures of any of the food, probably because all of it was so mouthwateringly good we all just tucked right in.  Even my other aunt who normally takes pictures of food didn’t take a single picture of any of the dishes that night.  It was a real treat.  Not only was the menu quite feng guang (lavish, in other words), but it was all executed perfectly!  I apologise that I don’t have the names of the dishes, but we ordered one of the 10 person set menus.

The soup we had was absolutely heavenly.  Clearly boiled with the best quality ingredients, the clear soup was smooth and silky, and bursting with goodness.  There were also generous amounts of pork rib, wintermelon, scallops, and abalone inside to pick at.

The soon hock (Moby fish, apparently) was so fresh they steamed it to show off the quality of the fish.  Normally soon hock is deep fried and drizzled with sauce, so this was very interesting, and very tasty.

Even a simple dish of cabbage and other vegetables was brought to a whole other level by cooking it with a wonderful orange, pumpkin-like sauce.  I’ve never had anything like it.

And to wrap it all up, about the best orh nee (yam paste dessert) I’ve had anywhere.  It was incredibly smooth, so delicate and rich.  Mmmm…If I wasn’t so full I would have eaten bowls and bowls of the stuff.

The place is not cheap though, but you really get top notch food.  An apt place to celebrate a special occasion like Mummy’s 60th :)

One of the funny things that happened that night was when Ellery and I secretly went to get the cake to put the candles on.  Ellery loudly announced over and over to everyone who would hear, “My Por Por is 60!”  He also innocently asked (loudly), “Mummy, Por Por is 60 years old, why are there only 6 candles?”  We all had a good laugh about it :)

Mummy even had the surprise of receiving an IOU birthday present from JJSB for a Samsung S5!  It would be her first smartphone ever.  She was so happy, she kept saying that since at 60 she gets surprises and presents, she’ll be 60 again next year!

Mummy & Papa

Mummy & Papa

The cake!

The cake!

Mummy & her surprise guests

Mummy & her surprise guests

Everyone!

Everyone!

Mummy & the grandkids

Mummy & the grandkids

With sweet Heather

With sweet Heather

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For the last few family birthday gatherings I’ve been baking the birthday cakes just for fun.  I like to bake, but it’s always too much cake to eat at home.  So occasions like this are perfect to share the cal…the goodness.  And generally the family are willing to try my experiments, however badly they may turn out haha.

Since we were going to have a full Chinese dinner, I decided something light and fruity would be good.  The berries this season are exceptionally sweet, so they were a natural choice.  Instead of a triple layer cake, I stuck to a two-layer cake.  And I searched for an alternative sponge cake recipe, because the one I used to use has been falling out of favour with me because I find it too sweet.  I also searched for a less-sweet frosting recipe because I really, really, don’t like sweet frosting.  I’m the kind that will sweep away all the icing on a cupcake because it’s usually just too cloyingly sweet.  It’s really wasted on me.

After some researching, I decided on a Victoria sponge recipe, and found a cooked frosting recipe to try.  I generally try to find recipes that aren’t too complicated and that do not need too many ingredients.  The Victoria sponge turned out pretty well, though I think I can still cut back on some sugar.  I added lemon to give it a zesty boost to complement the berries.  The frosting was also less-sweet than regular icing as promised, but again, I think I can cut back on the sugar.  Why are these things so sweet??  I added cinnamon to the recipe too as cinnamon and berries just go so well together.

My little helper grating the zest

My little helper grating the zest

Folding in the flour

Folding in the flour

Assembly was easy.  I wanted to do the ‘unfinished’ look, so cake, frosting, berries, cake, frosting, berries, and I was done!  And the best part, it looked so beautiful because of the berries!  I was very happy when everyone, including the service staff at the restaurant, thought we had bought the cake.  And it was no effort on my part really.  The prettiness of the berries just brought the cake to another level.

Berry cake

The cake tasted good after a heavy meal.  It was light as intended, not too sweet (though in my opinion still can be less sweet.  But I’m a savory person, really), and was pretty as ever.

Here’re the recipes I used, adapted from here and here.

Lemon Victoria Sponge Cake

Ingredients:
225g self-raising flour, sieved
225g butter, at room temperature
225g extra fine caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C
2. Cream butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy
3. Add eggs and juice to the bowl and whisk some more
4. Fold in the flour, baking powder and lemon zest
5. Pour into 2 round tins
6. Bake in the oven until golden brown for 20-25 minutes
7. Cool on a wire rack before decorating

 
Less-Sweet Cinnamon Cooked Frosting

Ingredients:
1 cup milk
3 tbsp corn starch
200g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter*
100g vegetable shortening*
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 tsp ground cinnamon (depending on how strong you like it to be)

* You can use all butter for more flavour, or more shortening for more stiffness (good for warm weather).  I did 50/50 to get the best of both worlds.

Method:
1. In a saucepan, mix the milk and cornstarch and heat while stirring until the mixture thickens into a paste-like consistency.  Cool to room temperature.
2.  Cream the sugar, butter and salt together.  Add the vanilla, cinnamon and cooled milk paste then beat until the mixture is smooth and light.  The frosting is ready for use!

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Road to Easter

I was looking for something to do in the lead up to Easter to make the occasion memorable and meaningful for the boys.  I stumbled upon this e-book called A Sense of the Resurrection by Amanda White that provides a guide for activities leading up to Easter.  There are 12 days of activities that you can do consecutively or spread out over a longer period.  I found it almost exactly 12 days before Easter, so I started immediately and have been doing one activity everyday with the boys.

A Sense of the Resurrection

I like that the activities are short and simple, and that you end up leaving reminders around the house so that Easter and Jesus’ love and sacrifice are never far from your mind.  For example, they decorated glass bottles and filled it with essential oils.  Every time we smelled the scent we would remember how Jesus died for us.  And they made chimes from yoghurt containers.  Each time they heard the containers rattling, they’d say, “Hosanna!”

Each day there is a theme, a reading list taken from the Bible, a craft activity, and a colouring sheet which can be assembled together with colouring sheets from other days to make an Easter bunting.  For the reading list, I usually just find the equivalent story in the kid’s picture Bible so that it’s more engaging for them.

The kids have been enjoying the daily Easter activities, and I’m so happy to see that they are learning little nuggets about Easter that they didn’t know about before.  Each activity is not very deep or complex, but there is always a simple key message for the kids to remember, and they have!  Hopefully it will not just be head knowledge, but something they will learn to internalise over time.

There are still a few days to go before Easter.  You could always check out the e-book to extract parts you think are suitable for the remaining few days.

Easter 1

Easter 2

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