A Phuket getaway

Ah can life get any better than this?

We arrived in Phuket in the middle of a storm (the kind that even the taxi driver had to slow down so he could see the road better) so we weren’t able to fully appreciate the beauty of SALA Phuket hotel until the next morning.

Pouring rain as we sipped our welcome drink and checked in

Lemongrass welcome drink

An outdoor bathroom, the rain shower is behind me

I love how the front desk staff walked us into the villa, showed us around, and sat down with us to present us with samples of soaps, body lotions and even pillows to choose from. And I must say I had an easy decision as I loved all their lemongrass-scented lotions and soaps which were the standard. They also had some cinnamon, herbal scents that were nice too.

We lounged around in the room until dinner time and walked out in the rain (with the hotel-provided umbrellas) to the open-air restaurant. The winds were so strong I thought my umbrella would blow away several times. August is the start of rainy season in Phuket and it’s the low season.

The hotel restaurant is surprisingly good. Its menu boasts a mixture of international dishes but we went for local food with a papaya salad, a pork, basil and green bean dish, and a beef curry. Note to self, when in Thailand, “medium spicy” equals “really quite spicy” for me.

It was also Martini Monday with Martinis at just 180THB or US$5.40 (usual price 290THB or US$8.70)

Our first proper day in Phuket and we finally had sunshine!

It was nice to wander around the hotel sans umbrellas and get to see the place. It’s very beautiful with lots of trees everywhere. And so quiet.

I like how they’ve got a library full of books. Most of them aren’t in English!

We also got to enjoy our first breakfast at the hotel, which was included with our room rate. I love that they have a buffet as well as an a la carte selection. I enjoyed the yoghurts and fruits and pastries while waiting for my eggs shashuka to arrive. The husband’s choice was the waffles.

We finally got to use the pool too.

We wandered out to the beach to catch the sunset.

And on Tuesday night there’s a singer-guitarist who has a fun repertoire including Coldplay, Oasis, Ed Sheeren

We kicked our dinner off with 1-for-1 Tiki drinks. He got a Mai Thai and I got an Oriental Mule. I love lemongrass drinks and this was splendid and refreshing.

I ordered the duck leg and it was crispy on the outside and so tender inside. It was served with kale.

We finally had room for dessert and went with the lava cake served with vanilla ice cream and a raspberry compote.

On Wednesday we went out to Phuket Town. Salad resort is a little bit secluded with just a few other resorts along Mai Khao beach on the north-west side of Phuket, about 20 minutes from the airport. The more popular area, Patong Beach is about an hour away. And our trip to Phuket Town also took about an hour as traffic was heavy at times. Phuket Town looks quite a bit like some parts of Singapore with its old shophouses. And one guy I spoke to whose home has become a shop/museum said his ancestors came to Phuket from Malacca, which sort of explains why there was so much Peranakan/Nonya heritage around. The hotel shuttle also took us to the main shopping mall where we bought some things for the kids, lots of dried mango and the best coconut ice cream ever. It sat on a bed of sticky rice and was topped with fresh young coconut and peanuts. It was unctuous and creamy yet not too sweet. It was an absolute delight to eat and I wish I could have had another!

It’s a good thing that the hotel restaurant has such a wide variety and high standards as we ate all our dinners there. On our last night we went for Thai choices. Fish cake, tempura soft shell crab with green mango salad, and a massamun curry. The portions are always sizeable so sharing two starters and a main was plenty for us.

I finally remembered to take some photos of the buffet breakfast. There was also some homemade yoghurt pots with fruit at the bottom, lots of cake and pastries and fruits. I loved the lady finger bananas that I ate every morning – they’re about the size of my index finger! And I enjoyed the congee with its toppings of pickled radish, coriander and ginger as well as the usual Thai condiments of chili slices in vinegar, fish sauce and chili powder.

It was such an unforgettable stay in Phuket both in terms of the accommodation as well as the food at Sala Phuket. It was a peaceful quiet place with such wonderful and friendly staff. I highly recommend Sala if you’re ever planning to visit Phuket. And it looks like they’ve got several other hotels throughout Thailand too.

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

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#WeekendCooking: Blueberry-blackberry sorbet

The husband returned from the organic berries stall at the farmers market with our usual buy of half a box of strawberries and also a load of blackberries. I love blackberries but I’m the only one in the house who eats them. And I’m sure you know that they don’t keep very well.

So what to do with them?

It felt too hot to make a crumble or pie.

Muffins?

Not really. I would end up having to eat them all.

So somehow my thoughts turned to sorbet. I don’t own an ice cream maker but I remember seeing somewhere that sorbet could be done without a machine. Something to do with a sheet pan and some scraping.

I finally settled on this recipe from King Arthur Flour. It’s a recipe for strawberry sorbet though so I had to do some adapting.

I had about 3 cups of fresh blackberries but felt that with the sieving of the seeds it needed more berries so I also added about 1 cup of blueberries.

I kept the simple syrup ratio of water to sugar at about 1 cup water to just under 1 cup sugar.

And also the 1/3 lemon juice – I also added the zest of half the lemon to the berries before I whizzed them with the immersion blender.

Then followed the recipe instructions of freezing and letting it sit for two hours or so and stirring it around every hour or so. And about 4-5 hours later it was nicely set.

I put the sorbet in a Tupperware box and we are still eating it a few days later!

It’s really refreshing on a hot day.

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Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

This wasn’t a definite 🤘for me. We didn’t exactly start out as best friends, this book and I. I was wanting more for our relationship, expecting book here to leave me salivating and craving Chinese food (yes, even Chinese-American food) so I was a bit disappointed. But our friendship grew as I realized this was a book about the drama of ordinary families, amid the struggles of a second generation running a restaurant.

And like a Chinese eatery, it is loud and chaotic and sometimes the service can be brusque but in the end you leave satiated.

Weekend Cooking: Chocolate raspberry cake with strawberry frosting

A long overdue post from March!

I finally found a chocolate layer cake recipe that is perfect for birthday cakes. It’s not too rich, not too dense, has a great chocolatey flavour and is so simple to put together.

I’ve been making cakes for a while now and while we love chocolate cakes, making a layer cake with chocolate takes more than just any chocolate cake recipe. I made a birthday cake for my dad last year when he visited from Singapore. That cake was so rich that three layers was just too much.

I’ve also made Black Forest cake for the past few years for my husband’s birthday and somehow while the cake texture is perfectly light and fluffy, for me the chocolate taste wasn’t quite there.

So when I tried this recipe from King Arthur Flour I was surprised by its simplicity, lightness and flavour. It’s perfect for a chocolate layer cake and I will definitely be making it again. I only used the cake recipe from there, as the birthday boy specifically asked for strawberry frosting.

As for the strawberry frosting, I used this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction last year when I made a similar cake but found it way too sweet – I did reduce the sugar but not by enough.

This time I went with 1.5 cups of softened butter, 1 cup of freeze-dried strawberries and just over 2 cups of icing sugar (about half what the recipe calls for). I also added more salt. And it was perfect.

And the birthday boy was thrilled!

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: A very light banana cake

I always have bananas in my freezer as I buy bananas from Costco which come in a big bunch of at least 7-8 large bananas, and too often they seem to ripen at about the same time. They seem to go from green to almost yellow-green to yellow with brown spots all too soon. And I am no fan of ripe bananas. So into the freezer they go.

Usually I’m quite happy to make banana bread but somehow during the last round of banana bread I got tired of eating it really quickly. It just felt so heavy and stodgy. I wanted something that was a lot lighter, more of a cake than a bread. And somehow online I came across this cake recipe that read almost like it was heading a little towards a chiffon cake, something that would be light and different, with whipped egg whites and gula melaka (palm sugar). I reckon that if you can’t find palm sugar (usually at Asian supermarkets) you could use brown sugar, maybe with a bit of molasses to add a depth of flavour. I’ve adapted this recipe to include a step I learnt from Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Banana Bread Recipe, adding a sort of banana essence, made from the reduced liquid from thawed bananas. If you are not using frozen bananas, you can microwave your fresh bananas for a few minutes until soft and some liquid is released. It may be an extra step but it really adds such extra banana flavour to your cake!

Light banana cake

150g cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 large bananas – about 250g

(I use frozen bananas. Thaw them, sieve the liquid that inevitably remains, and heat the liquid on the stove, reduce it down to at least half and you get the most banana-y liquid ever. Almost like an essence)

100ml gula melaka syrup

100g vegetable or coconut oil

5 yolks

1/2 salt

5 whites

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

75g caster sugar

Line a 7″ square pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

Mash banana and add oil, egg yolks, salt, gula melaka syrup, mix the ingredients.

Add the baking powder and baking soda to the flour and sift this into the banana mixture and mix until well combined. Do not over-mix. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat the egg white until foamy. Add in the cream of tartar. Continue beating on medium speed while gradually adding the caster sugar. Beat until you get firm peaks.

Gently fold the meringue into the flour mixture in 2 to 3 portions.

Pour into the baking tin. Drop the pan on the counter to get rid of big bubbles.

Place in a water bath and bake for 80 minutes at 350. Cover the top with foil if it is browning too fast.

Cool on a wire rack

Adapted from https://jeannietay.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/banana-gula-melaka-sponge-cake/

Weekend Cooking: How to hotpot

Hotpot has become a family favourite. We don’t really do hotpot that much in Singapore where it is far too hot for hotpot but the cool winters of California are great for it.

So it has become our own little tradition to do hotpot for Chinese New Year Eve (known as reunion dinner or tuanyuanfan 团圆饭) and we do hotpot on Thanksgiving too.

Hotpot is an easy meal for a crowd, provided you have enough utensils and hotpots!

And you preferably need to have access to an Asian supermarket. But if there’s none nearby, you can make do with some other ingredients.

Equipment

We use a portable gas stove and this fun dual hotpot. Those ladles with little holes in them are great for picking out just your ingredients. And we set out regular soup ladles too. Extra long chopsticks are for cooking the meat with.

But here are my typical hotpot ingredients.

Broth

I make two broths in our dual hotpot. One is a vegetable stock made with carrots, celery and whatever else I might have like corn if it’s fresh. And the other is an instant one with dashi powder (or you could make a dashi stock with bonito flakes and konbu) and miso.

Vegetables

I usually buy Napa cabbage and chop that up. Bokchoy would be great too. A more traditional leafy vegetable is tongho but it’s slightly bitter. This year I also added baby spinach that I had in my fridge.

We love the little bunashimeiji (beech mushrooms). There’s also shiitake and king trumpet mushrooms, which are all found at my local Asian supermarket.

Meat

While I do most of the hotpot shopping at the Chinese or Vietnamese supermarkets, we prefer the meat from Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa. It’s a bit of a drive but it’s definitely so much more flavourful and tender. Asian supermarkets usually have thinly sliced meat (beef or pork) for hotpot. But you could always buy a nice piece of meat, freeze it for a bit to firm it up, then slice it really thin yourself.

Seafood

Our favourites are fish tofu, fishballs and cuttlefish balls. They’re springy and fun to eat and cook really quickly. My husband and kids like imitation crabsticks which need just like 30 seconds to warm up in the broth.

Other ingredients may include dumplings, tofu puffs, vermicelli or udon, konyaku, quail eggs and more.

Don’t forget your dipping sauces like peanut sauce, chili sauce or sesame sauce. We also like the Taiwanese shacha sauce which is made from garlic, shallots, chilis, dried shrimp.

Get that gas stove going, the broth boiling, then pick your favourite foods and dunk them in! Happy hotpot-ing.

 

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

#WeekendCooking Eating Singapore: Whitegrass at Chijmes

This is the beautifully preserved Chijmes in Singapore. It was formerly the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) and used as a Catholic convent and convent quarters for 132 years and later a school for girls. Today it holds many restaurants, cafes and bars, and Whitegrass is one of them.

Whitegrass is a modern Australian restaurant that received its first Michelin Star in 2017. It is chef-owner Sam Aisbett’s first venture. Aisbett formerly worked for

We were seated in this lovely round room, most of the other tables were two-tops, and there was a bigger round table that had five diners.

We began with some light snacks. The little crab was crunchy and so good. A pea tart was refreshing. And those little crackers were topped with this amazingly light shavings of cheese.

Interestingly, it was Chef Aisbett who brought out the dish and explained it to us. He would do that for the first few courses of our meal.

The bread was presented with some lardo (melts in your mouth), unsalted butter and some sea salt flakes

A very tomato-y dish! The teapot is filled with some ‘tomato tea’ which you get to pour over.

And we begin with the first course. And it is such a gorgeous one. The flower on top is made of alternating circles of roasted white beetroot (which are soft) and pickled white beetroot (which are a little crunchy), then in the middle, slices of hamachi. There is more hamachi at the bottom. It was beautiful and bursting with flavour and texture.

Another one not on the menu was this “egg fried rice”. It was the most luxurious ‘fried rice’ ever with such beautiful flavours and that fun texture from the egg white “bubbles” on top.

 

 

I could never imagine that octopus would be like this. I’ve had grilled octopus as well as sashimi octopus and the texture of those tend to be a bit chewy. Here the octopus was poached and it was so soft and gentle. The milk-soaked almonds on top added that much needed crunch as did the few suckers (is that what they’re called?) that seem to have been grilled. A delicate and yet crunchy dish that was really surprising.

My main course was described as Japanese sweetfish. There were three pieces of the fish itself. Very tender but with a great char on the skin. And a whole baby fish deep fried on top. Lovely fresh peas and pea shoots and a gorgeous umami-filled broth. Couldn’t get enough of it!

The husband’s steak came with a chocolate and buah keluak puree. Buah keluak is a strange fruit found in Southeast Asia and found mostly in Peranakan-style cooking. The fruit and seeds itself are poisonous unless prepared properly – it has to be boiled and fermented in ash, usually for more than a month!

There was a choice of two desserts, so naturally we got one each. I volunteered to take the jackfruit and coconut one, although I have never liked jackfruit – the other choice was a chocolate one and I’ve learnt that during a fine dining meal like this one, the chocolate choice tends to be the less exciting one. So this chocoholic a little reluctantly gave up the chocolate choice!

I was surprised by my dessert. It was a coconut meringue under those shards of jackfruit and sugar, and under the meringue was a jackfruit ice cream and a ginger cake. The jackfruit didn’t overwhelm the dish as I was expecting it to be. If all jackfruit were presented like this, I would eat far more of the fruit! Ultimately though, I felt that the dessert was a bit too sweet for me, especially with those sugar coated almonds on top.

 

This was the husband’s dessert, topped with a sherry ice-cream. It was a combination of chocolate, cherries, nougat and hazelnuts. Nice flavour but it felt, well, a safe choice.

 

 

And of course we weren’t done yet! There were still some petit fours. The chocolate-covered things were like Tunnock’s teacakes, except that there was a bit of raspberry inside. But I especially liked the soursop balls. I wasn’t quite sure what they were. They were so light and a little like sorbet, yet not icy at all.

 

 

A fun way to the end the meal. I loved that the fortune cookies were spiced.

What I loved most about this meal was both the very Asian influenced flavors as well as the way the chef was very careful about balancing textures throughout the meal. This was definitely one of the highlights of my visit back to Singapore – and I would have to say, perhaps the best meal I have ever eaten in Singapore. The chef and his team definitely deserved the one Michelin star. The service was excellent – friendly, not stuffy at all. The food was brilliant and so refreshing, and I really was very full at the end. A true delight.

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs