Seafood high tea at The Westin Singapore

My mum was the one who suggested this high tea at the lobby lounge of the Westin hotel in Singapore’s financial district. I hadn’t even known that the Westin had a new hotel and that it was located in the CBD! There was quite a bit of construction around the hotel and to be honest walking around the financial district is always confusing for me – the tall buildings all kind of look the same and the GPS doesn’t work accurately because of said tall buildings.

But I finally found it.

The lobby lounge is on the 32nd floor and has a view of the port and part of Sentosa.

This is the first course. Each person gets a plate of assorted seafood bites including mussels, prawns, seared tuna and more. I quite liked the lobster and mushroom torchon, the addition of the chili on the seared tuna, and that poached prawn open-faced sandwich. The mussels, with the fruity dressing, was a bit sweet for me.

The top tier held crab sandwiches on pumpernickel bread – we got two each.

A closer look at the plate.

I loved how the soy sauce was in a pipette

Second course was lobster thermidor and an oyster each. The oysters came with three dressings – champagne, lychee bourbon and lime, shallot vinaigrette. To be honest, I prefer eating my oysters as is, with just a squeeze of lemon, but I tasted each dressing and though that the lychee one was quite fun.

And finally dessert.

There was pistachio and cherry cheesecake (I’m not a fan of cheesecake and this one didn’t change my mind about that).

There was a yummy mango and lime tart

From a different angle. The whipped cream was meant to be eaten with the chocolate chip cookies and I must say that those cookies were divine!

The little cups hold tiramisu which were really delicious and full of coffee flavour.

I’m not usually a fan of chocolate-dipped strawberries (or white chocolate) but I must say that these strawberries dipped in white chocolate and lemon were quite refreshing because of that very zesty lemon dip!

For all three of us, we barely touched the Truffle Cupcake. It was a very strange taste. Every part of the cupcake, from white chocolate shard, to the frosting, to the cupcake batter itself was infused with truffle. I believe this is the first time I’ve had a truffle-flavored dessert. I’ve had truffles on pasta, truffle fries etc, but definitely nothing sweet. And truffle is such an overpowering taste that even the fork I used had a faint truffle-y taste afterwards. Maybe if they had just put truffle in the frosting, it would have been better? I don’t know. I’m not quite sure I would eat a truffle dessert ever again.

Truffle cupcakes aside, this was a lovely high tea at The Westin Singapore. Attentive and pleasant service, a very nice and quiet lobby lounge (sometimes lobby lounges can be very noisy but this whole hotel was quite pleasant and calm), some very delicious savoury moments and nice sweet flavours, this seafood high tea gets the thumbs up from me.

 

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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.

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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: 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