Author Archives: Carolyn Chan

About Carolyn Chan

A girl slowly eating her way around Singapore and farther afield when she's lucky.

Firenze – September 2018

It’s been along time between visits to Italy and especially Florence. I think as I have gotten older I appreciate the slower pace of this city more. I love the proximity of the city to where food is grown as well. We contemplated a week staying on a farm in Tuscany, but I think at heart I am a city girl and I need to be able to have access to a cafe in the mornings.

I also just feel … at home … in Italy. I can’t quite explain it, but I feel genuinely happy when I am here. There is warmth from the locals and I even feel less self conscious about my attempts at speaking Italian than say Spain or France.

Florence (and in general Italy) to me, is all about comfort food. Of course there can be refinement – but moreso it’s about a generosity with the bounty of fresh ingredients they have access to.

And having lived now in Singapore for 11 years, where mostly everything is imported, fresh is really a treat.

We stayed at an Airbnb literally just off the Ponte Vecchio across the river from the main part of town. Florence is small – and living on he less touristy side of the city means that you are eating with Florentine locals.

Just down the road from us was Il Santino, a tiny and always busy wine bar serving snacks. Before you even get to order your glass of prosecco you are given small bits of crostini with grilled pecorino cheese and thin slices of Parma ham sitting on top, melting lightly over the hot cheese. It’s a tight squeeze I side and often patrons spilled out on to the roadside but everyone was warm and friendly.

“Coronets” or croissants with a slice of prosciutto

Coffee and breakfast at Ditta Atigianale

It’s tough being a tea drinker in Italy. The coffee in any establishment (we had ones in cafes in piazzas, in the shopping area, even near train stations) is fantastic. Robust and rich, almost creamy – not the horrible dishwashing liquid of Starbucks or in any of the coffee chains in Singapore. Add small bites of food like this simple croissant with Parma ham, and that’s your caffeine-fueled breakfast!

Quickly dipping the crusty roll in to the beef broth before adding the bollito in our panini

Markets are still our favourite go-to’s in any city and the Mercato Centrale has had a bit of a face left since we last visited Florence. Upstairs is now bustling with food stalls, bars and cafes and piped with funky tunes for visitors to enjoy. Downstairs of course there is still old favourites like De Nerbone, which sells panini lampredotto (tripe) or bollito. Cheap cuts of meat that have been slowly cooked over hours gives the most flavoursome and tender meat you can imagine, with a bright salsa verde and a spicy piccante sauce, encased in a crunchy bread roll that has been first dipped briefly in to the beef broth. Always a queue, always worth the short wait.

We of course had to reward ourselves with a truffle sandwich at Procacci – a small wine bar in the middle of town – with a glass of prosecco to wash it down. Indulgent treat!

Kneading our pasta dough

Our tagliatelle

Our simple zucchini and ricotta and mint-filled ravioli tossed in a some sage butter emulsion.

This trip we signed up for a pasta cooking class. Pasta is the one thing that is common across the country. Truffles are from Alba, fresh cheese from Puglia, Parma ham from Parma, but pasta, in all it’s various shapes, is truly just Italian. Again, simply prepared – 100g of plain flour mixed with some semolina flour (for “roughness”, to make sauces stick to the pasta) to one egg. Simple. It takes a lot of effort to knead the dough to get it to that smooth stretchy texture and it was to finally feel the dough get to the right texture. I will admittedly probably make pasta at home in my Thermomix but at least I know what the texture needs to be.

Our stunning view from the Ponte Vecchio

D came down with a 24 hour bug and I took the time to wander around the streets with my headphones and ended up standing by the Duomo and felt myself get quite emotional.

Lunch overlooking the spectacular Antinori vineyard

Weather-wise we had perfect weather. Crystal clear azure skies with an almost Arctic wind which kept the temperatures down. Which was perfect for visiting the Antinori vineyard, where we had a tour of the vineyard that ended with a wine tasting (hic) and lunch overlooking the spectacular vineyard. The place is enormous – Antinori is Italy’s largest wine producer with over 140 labels. It really is a big business – expensive videos screened theatre-style – although still family run. A stark comparison to the small, also family run Zenato vineyard near Verona. Both were thoroughly enjoyable days drinking Italian wines in the Italian countryside.

62 degree egg

Tagliatelle

Coffee mascarpone

And what is Italy in autumn without the white truffle?? After getting lost before finding out the restaurant was tucked away inside a hotel we found Savini Tartufi where we basically had white truffles shaved over all three courses. First was a 62 degree cooked egg, second was over a simple tagliatelle and finally dessert was over an airy mascarpone cream which was divine.

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UK September 2018

Our annual trip to the UK to visit my in-laws this year was one that felt long overdue. Last November D’s father sadly passed this plane to join my Dad, and almost immediately after, we had news of the dreaded C in the family. Almost a year on, we can triumphantly say that B successfully kicked the big C in the teeth, and everyone is well, and happy.

Family reunions are always cherished. Living away from both sets of parents makes them that much more joyful. Even with technology where we can keep in touch on what’s going on in our every day lives, nothing beats that first big bear hug and the wonderful conversations over seemingly endless cups of tea and meals that follow.

This year we were greeted in the UK by icy winds, but clear brilliant blue skies. Out in the village in Essex where we stayed the sky seemed so vast, dotted with Simpson’s-like fluffy clouds.

It’s also the harvest moon which meant we had some incredible sightings of a huge globe full moon, fat and low in the evening sky.

And the food…ah, the food.

We stayed at the Bell Inn. A lovely b&b where the historic pub was voted one of the top 10 pubs in the UK in the good pub guide 2019.

With locally sourced produce, cooked to perfection and beautifully presented, the dishes are always a winner.

A selection of dishes from Frog’s seven course degustation menu

The next day was a trip to London to eat at Adam Handling’s Frog restaurant. D and I had eaten at “the Frog” in Shoreditch a few years back, and absolutely loved it (especially his betroot betroot betroot) so we were keen to check out his Covent Garden establishment. It didn’t disappoint. The seven course degustation menu surprised and delighted with perfectly balanced dishes full of flavour and texture. Favourites were the brandade (a salt cod and olive emulsion) tortellini with pickled leeks and frozen cod roe – a fishy riot in your mouth, and the surprising coconut ice-cream with chocolate soil and garden pea dessert. Thats certainly one way to eat your greens! Oh. And chicken skin butter (crispy chicken skin is mixed with butter and served with crispy chicken skin and chicken jus on top). So moreish.

Roast beef at Le Benaix

Pea and mint arancini

Le Benaix Bar & Brasserie was a late Sunday roast the next day. We were challenged with their menu but landed on starter of a pea and mint arancini. It was the perfect light starter to the main course which was enormous – roast beef. Medium rare roast beef slices – tender and juicy with crispy duck fat potatoes and Yorkshire pudding with gravy in the middle.

Spotted dick

Last day was sunny and bright and a non-stop Bbq at my BIL’s place. If I recall correctly (I was so amazed at his expert BBQ skills I forgot to take photos) there was bone marrow beef burgers, venison and caramelised onion sausages, lamb loin, pork ribs, herb-fed organise free-range chicken (where we could really taste the herbs in the chicken) and a bone-in rib eye of beef which we couldn’t even eat we were so full. All that amazing meat and for me the winner was a complete surprise and absolute treat – home made spotted dick with syrup and proper custard (thank you L! ♥️). Spotted dick was a dish that we saw on the Great British Bake-off when it was a suet pudding challenge. Quite traditional (it was first attested in 1849), it’s a steamed suet pudding with dried currants, raisins and sultanas. I was fascinated at the stories told as we happily spooned big mouthfuls of the pudding, of different family variations. What a treat to end our UK visit on top of the daily English breakfasts lovingly cooked by my MIL and her husband for D and I. All in a bright sunny kitchen looking across at the allotment.

The courtyard at the Bell Innu


Healthy start to 2018

Happy new year everyone! I just love the vibrant colours in this bowl. With the festive season meaning eating and drinking a LOT more than usual, I wanted to start 2018 eating something healthy. (Full disclosure, this was the start, but then the rest of the day was filled with an entire box of jaffa cakes haha)

I am s-l-o-w-l-y coming around to salads. I am a believer of simple food. Admittedly mostly because I while I have time to cook, I have little time to prepare, and also because I have a love of knowing meals that I cook have less than ten ingredients. It’s my little way of balancing out the immense ingredient list of processed foods that we inevitably eat.

The problem I have with salads, is that a good salad needs a lot of preparation – selecting the right ingredients (of which there are usually many) and then finding a dressing that brings them all together. Salad spinners, toasting nuts, mixing the dressing – it’s all a bit much for a simple (read: sometimes lazy) me. Especially if it’s a salad on the side of something you’ve already spent time preparing.

I bought Thermobexta’s Summer Meal Mix Up book – basically a book of delicious salads, and am loving it! (I have a Thermomix but all her salads can be made without one). I’m trying to have meatless Mondays at home and if the salad is the main event, then I don’t mind all the prep at all. And discovering delicious and substantial salads like this beetroot and lentil salad, makes me like them a little more each day. I also love that these salads can be made ahead of time and leftovers are just as tasty (vs salads you must dress immediately before eating then anything that isn’t finished needs to be binned).

Bring on 2018!!!


Tea’s ready! Sourdough Banana Bread

Yes, that’s a generous slice

I’ve had my sourdough culture for a few months now and been experimenting with different bread varieties with it – some with great results, some, not so much. It’s a bit frustrating (although I have a freezer full of breadcrumbs made from the not-so-nice loaves) but it really makes me smile that I’m dealing with something that is alive that definitely has a mind of its own – it never is exactly the same, despite me feeding it the same flour and water mix every few days. Only temperature and time differ.
My banana breads have never really come out as light as I would like. No matter how little I mix the batter or how light the butter is creamed, they have always come out a little dense. The addition of the sourdough has finally given me texture that I have been looking for. And in case you were wondering if you can taste the sourdough in this banana bread, I can say honestly that I couldn’t.
I made this in the Thermomix but you could easily use a food processor or mixer.
Ingredients
  1.  200g plain flour
  2. 150g sugar
  3. 1 tsp sugar
  4. 230g sourdough starter
  5. 110g softened butter
  6. 3 medium ripe bananas
  7. 1 egg
  8. good splash of vanilla
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan.
  2. Turbo/pulse flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
  3. Pour sourdough in to bowl, cut softened butter and bananas into rough chunks. Add the egg and vanilla. Cover and turbo/pulse all the ingredients together until a thick, smooth batter is formed.
  4. Add dry ingredients to the wet mix and turbo/pulse to quickly combine.
  5. Carefully scrape the batter into the greased loaf pan then smooth the top.
  6. Bake at 180C/350F for 60 to 70 minutes or until well browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

THE BEST crusty and super amazingly soft and tasty bread 

Viva la Thermomix!

I’ve tried unsuccessfully for goodness knows how long to make bread at home. I have access to delicious German Volkhorn (wholegrain) bread from across the road at Baker & Cook, but the allure of the smell of freshly baked bread has kept me going back to try again and again. 

My bread always came out doughy and heavy. And while I like the concept of taking your aggression out on dough, I never seemed to have the muscles or stamina to knead it enough. 

Enter the Thermomix. 

There is a kneading function on it, that you could get from using your stand mixer with the dough attachment. 

This recipe doesn’t even use sugar. I don’t normally have an aversion to sugar, but bread in Singapore (unless you have access to specialty or artesian bakeries) has this slightly sickly sweetness to it. The second ingredient after flour in most of the commercial bread is sugar. Ugh. 

The few simple rules I found helped me get my bread crusty on the outside and super soft on the inside:

1) You need to keep the yeast and the salt separate. Easily done by adding the ingredients in a particular order. Water and yeast first, then a layer of flour before adding the salt. Salt apparently “kills” yeast, and you need yeast to do their amazing work and create those lovely bubbles of air in your bread (I love how yeast is this living thing!)

2) Knead. A lot. A lot of recipes for bread in the Thermomix call for just two minutes of kneading. I get that the blades are super powerful, but I honestly think bread kneading needs time. This recipe calls for six minutes. Be patient. It’s worth it.

3) More patience required: you can’t go “I fancy a freshly baked loaf of bread, and expect to do it in under 2 1/2 hours. Yeast (that lovely living thing) needs time to work it’s magic. And on to my next tip…

4) Prove (or second ferment) the bread in the fridge overnight, or for at least eight hours. The coolness of the fridge slows down the fermentation, giving the yeast more time to give bread a better flavour.

5) I’m still playing around with ratios of plain bread flour and wholemeal spelt flour. Every time I have previously tried to make things completely wholegrain, the bread felt a little too healthy. And I figure, you have to enjoy what you eat, right? Everything in moderation, so I think at most I’d try 50:50, but I haven’t gotten there yet. 

Finally (I know you’re thinking it) here is the recipe:

Ingredients makes one standard loaf

  1. 225g lukewarm water
  2. 1.5 teaspoons yeast
  3. 375g bakers flour
  4. 3-4 tablespoons of mixed seeds (I use flaxseed, sesame and poppy)
  5. 3/4 teaspoon of salt

Method

  1. Add the ingredients in this order: water, yeast, flour, seeds, salt.
  2. Blitz on speed 7 for 10 seconds to roughly combine.
  3. Knead for 6 mins.
  4. Remove dough and place into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and place into a warm spot. (In Singapore that’s anywhere that isn’t airconditioned)
  5. Leave this to rise for approximately an hour or until doubled.
  6. Remove dough from bowl, knock out the air by shaping your dough into a free form loaf, rolls or placing it in to the desired tin.
  7. Allow to rise overnight in the fridge overnight until almost doubled in size. Alternatively you can just let it rise in the same warm place for another 50-60 minutes. 
  8. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  9. Bake for approximately 30 minutes.

Banana bread with cream cheese icing

Today I have a guest helping me. So today’s post is brought to you by my talented niece, Saisha!

I had a surplus of over ripe bananas and decided to make banana bread in the Thermomix, and found a recipe adapted from Donna Hay (thank you Robin!). I added extra bananas just because I didn’t want to waste any, and also more bananas, make the bread even more moist.

Ingredients – banana bread
  1. 4 large bananas
  2. 125g butter
  3. 170g brown sugar
  4. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 80g maple syrup
  7. 255g all purpose flour
  8. 1 tsp bicarbonate soda
  9. 1 tsp baking powder
  10. good pinch of salt
  11. 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  12. small handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
 Ingredients – cream cheese frosting
  1. 100g cream cheese – at room temperature
  2. 50g butter – at room temperature
  3. 150g icing sugar
  4. good pinch of salt
  5. 1 tbls milk
Method – banana bread
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C
  2. Blitz bananas on speed 5 for 30 seconds
  3. Set them aside in a separate bowl
  4. Add the butter, sugar and vanilla to the Thermomix bowl and mix on speed 5 for 3 minutes, scraping the bowl a few times, till light and creamy
  5. Add the eggs one at a time and beat them on speed 5 for 10 seconds (each)
  6. Add the banana mix with the maple syrup and combine everything on speed 5 for 45 seconds
  7. Pour wet mixture into large bowl
  8. Add all the dry ingredients and fold together with a spatular.
  9. Once all the ingredients are combined, scoop the mixture into a lined baking tin and bake for 90 minutes, or until a skewer/knife is placed in the middle and pulled out clean
  10. Allow to cool and ice with cream cheese frosting

Method – cream cheese frosting

  1. Blitz cream cheese and butter for 30 seconds, speed 5
  2. Add icing sugar and salt and mix for 1 minute, starting speed 3 and gradually up to speed 8 until light and creamy
  3. Add milk and mix 30 seconds, speed 5

Enjoy ! Saisha signing off 🙂

IMG_6956


Thermomix Adventures – Pumpkin Soup

DSC_0211

After months and months of deliberation, I finally caved and bought a Thermomix. It means that I can streamline my kitchen from several appliances (Kitchenaid, blender, food processor) and I’m loving it so far.

Easiest way to tell you is with my pumpkin soup. Now, sure, you can make pumpkin soup the way I have always made it. But if you look at my earlier post, blending it with a immersion blender, purees, and if I wanted that incredibly silky texture you get in restaurants, you sieve it – if you can be bothered.

Or….you can make it all in the Thermomix. One bowl, that chops and sautees the onions, then cooks the pumpkin and then blends it to a smoothness that’s hard to describe. Well, I guess you can see from the photo. It’s really quite amazing. And the addition of raw cashews makes the soup rich and creamy without the addition of any dairy. From start to finish in 20 minutes.

I’m trying to keep all my favourite Thermomix recipes in one place so here goes:

Ingredients:

  1. 1 large onion, halved
  2. 1kg pumpkin, skin off and cut in to pieces
  3. enough stock (I used vegetable) to come up to roughly 5cm under the top of the pumpkin
  4. handful of raw cashews
  5. basil (to serve)

Method:

  1. Chop onions 5 seconds/speed 6
  2. Add 10ml olive oil and cook 2 minutes/varoma/speed stir
  3. Add pumpkin pieces and stock and cook 15 minutes/100C/speed stir
  4. Check pumpkin is cooked, add cashews and blend 1 minute/speed 5 increasing to 9
  5. Enjoy with a loaf of crusty bread !

Yorkshire pudding


My husband often catches me sitting in front of my oven as I watch my food bake. It’s certainly better than TV. Cookies brown, pork roast crackling goes crunchy, cakes rise. And Yorkshire puddings are one of the most satisfying rises of all, starting out bubbling around the edges, then blooming dramatically into wonderful bowls of crispy dough, the perfect vehicle for gravy.

I tested various recipes, with Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith’s recipes rendering suprisingly disappointing, heavy Yorkies. The recipe below follows Mary Berry’s. The batter is thin but this produces the lightest Yorkies, which work so well with the mandatory roast beef.

I also prefer to make one or two large Yorkshire puddings rather than trying to quickly and accurately pour equal amounts of batter in to 12 muffin tins.

Ingredients

Makes 12 muffin sized Yorkies or 1 greedy large one

  1. 3 eggs
  2. 115g/4oz flour
  3. 275ml/½ pint milk
  4. beef dripping or oil with a high smoking point
  5. salt

Estrella Inedit “the beer created by Ferran Adria”

  We were given a few bottles of this beer as a gift, which we wanted to share with the gift giver, but time just goes by too quickly and we just haven’t been able to synch our calendars. 

So I decided to tszuj up a random lazy Sunday night dinner of just chicken wings, and treat myself to a bottle. 

I’m not even a beer drinker. My experience of Spanish beer is cervezza served ice cold in tapas bars, which are light and wonderfully refreshing with (endless) plates of jamon iberico. 

This beer is more like a German blonde beer, although less cloudy, but with that familiar yeasty and malty aroma. 

What makes it so drinkable is the addition of spices and fruitiness. It’s light, and not so gassy that you can’t drink a bottle easily. 

In short, a winner for me! 


Royal China @ Raffles Hotel



Apparently part of the Royal China restaurants in London means that this is, I think, the only restaurant in Singapore that does crispy aromatic duck pancakes. I’m happy to be wrong so please let me know if you know otherwise. The good thing about Royal China being at the beautiful Raffles Hotel, means a duck that has been braised in aromatic spices like star anise and cinnamon and Szechuan peppercorns, then roasted till crispy crispiness, entirely shredded and eaten in a soft, thin, flour pancake, with hoisin sauce, sliced shallots and cucumber for freshness (unlike Peking duck where just the skin of a roasted duck is served in the pancakes) (which is also delicious but crispy aromatic duck is just super yum), is just a ten minute walk from my flat – yay!

We went this Chinese New Year to celebrate with friends and we also treated ourselves to lobster noodles, a Cantonese special – noodles are meant to represent longevity (but can be eaten and enjoyed any time) and lobster, well, it’s lobster 🙂 Braised noodles topped with lobster, shallots and ginger is just such a winning dish.

It’s an odd restaurant set up-wise. High ceilings make it feel like it’s a huge restaurant but there actually aren’t a lot of seats/tables available so best to book as it gets full quickly especially for dim sum on weekends.

Royal China
#03-09 Raffles Hotel Arcade

OPENING HOURS:
Mon – Sat: 12:00 – 15:00
Sun & PH: 11:00 – 15:00
Mon – Sun: 18:00 – 22:30

Tel: 6338 3363