experiencing authentic vietnamese cuisine

i can’t believe it’s been about a month since i came back from the U.S.! Time does really really fly…

As my now brother-in-law’s, Donny, family is Vietnamese, the trip to Kansas for my sister’s wedding was filled with tons of real authentic Vietnamese food. I knew right from the start that I’ve always been a fan of pho – who can’t resist a hot bowl of beef noodles! Back during college days, pho was pretty much a staple for Jon and I, eating a bowl of pho at least once a week. Yet, the pho standard in Singapore has only just been okay and every time we went back to Seattle, pho is definitely on our to-eat-list. 

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Although I’ve eaten many many bowls of pho in my life thus far, my knowledge of vietnamese cuisine is as good as knowing that in typical pho restaurants, the further you go down the list of pho, the more beef parts you get. Hence, I was extremely excited to go to Kansas, not just to attend my sister’s big day, but also to get a taste of authentic vietnamese food. 

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During the stay in Kansas, we were hosted by one of Donny’s relatives, whom we call Aunt Michelle and Uncle Jimmy. As soon as we got to their house, they had started food preparation, preparing boxes of rice paper sheets so that we could start rolling them for lunch the next day. We set around the kitchen counters as we hand-rolled delicious banh uot with fried onions inside. It resembles chee chong fun we see in typical dim sum restaurants and although I’ve eaten this since young, this is definitely one of the dishes I’ve never dreamed of making just because it looks too delicate and too difficult to make. We made trays and trays of this delicious goodness and it wasn’t till lunch the next day did I see how banh uot all comes together. With bean sprouts, cucumber, spring onions, grilled pork, cha lua, a sauce made using fish sauce and a couple of other ingredients, this dish is like nothing i’ve ever tasted before! It was incredibly fresh tasting and all the different textures really came well together.

IMG_7977On a separate note, during my sister’s Singapore wedding, Donny’s parents came over to Singapore and on one of the nights, they made the rice paper sheets from scratch and recreated the same dish in Singapore. Such a pity that I was at work during the preparation and couldn’t see how it is made.

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On one of the other nights in Kansas, Aunt Michelle and Uncle Jimmy, both excellent cooks, decided to hold a competition. Aunt Michelle cooked bun rieu while Uncle Jimmy cooked pho ga. Aunt Michelle served her bun rieu first and boy was it so good! It is a vegetable broth and tastes much healthier than pho. It tasted so good that we kinda forgot all about having a second dish to try and before we knew it, we were too full to stomach anything else. The bun rieu, like the bunh uot is really light tasting, and after eating quite a bit of vietnamese food, I realised that that is actually what I love most about vietnamese food! It’s super awesome to eat great tasting food, but even more awesome to eat nutritious great tasting food :) 

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We had Uncle Jimmy’s pho for breakfast the next day but…I was too hungry and forgot to take a photo :P For now, drool once more on this other picture I took of Aunt Michelle’s bun rieu :)

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And, with a blink of an eye, we had to say goodbye to Kansas. Till the next time we go to Kansas, I’ll be missing vietnamese food big time :'( (unless i go to vietnam soon, which i’ve been dying to go!) 

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Pierre Herme’s Melody Cake

For birthdays within my family, it is somewhat unspoken that not only am I tasked (as always) to bake a delicious birthday cake, I am also usually expected to bake a cake I’ve never baked before!

As years go by and as the number of someday-I’m-definitely-going-to-bake-this-stunning-cake type of recipes are used up one by one, I found it especially hard to find the perfect cake for my mom’s birthday this year. I thought pretty long and hard, looked on the internet to look for the perfect recipe and when I couldn’t,  I turned to my pile of trusty baking books to gain some inspiration. It was just a couple of days before her birthday did I finally set my mind on which cake I was gonna bake – Pierre Herme’s Melody Cake.

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The recipe for this cake was almost 10 pages long and referenced 3 different parts of the book. It had quite a number of components and while it was quite intimidating, I was so ready for a challenge! This cake turned out to be quite manageable, in hindsight, but I do recall being really nervous and careful as I was making all the different components and it definitely didn’t help that the recipe would say stuff like…”extremely fragile”. The cake consists of 7 layers (starting from the bottom): cinnamon cookie, genoise, twenty-hour apples, bavarian cream, genoise, cinnamon cookie, sliced apples.

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Fudgey, you will be sorely missed.

Sorry for being away for a long time. With Fudge’s passing, and with him being the heart of this blog, I’ve found it difficult to visit the blog, let alone to write again.

Before everything happened, I have spoken to a number of friends about how it feels like to lose a pet. After all, I’ve lost 2 before – Nikki and Jordan. I used to say…it is not as difficult as it seems. When you see your pet old and suffering, seeing them live by  the day, where some days are better or worse than others, and hearing them sometimes whine because they found it hard to stand or they felt pain, you’ll feel some sort of “relief” or even “happiness” when they go. Of course, we all grief, but, all dogs go to heaven and we know they’ll be in a better place. However, I recently realized that this only holds true when a pet goes in its old age. Never would I have expected that I would be experiencing the otherwise with Fudge.

Fudge passed away about 2 months ago. He was 8 years and and a half  before he passed away. Everything happened in a blur – from the time I noticed a distention, to bringing him into emergency just because i read about the danger of bloating (which turned out to not be a bloat), a CT scan, the many guesses on what the diagnosis is and finally, the diagnosis. It was a roller coaster journey, for Jon, my family, and I, with moments intertwined with bouts of hope and sadness. We thought that…if we put him on a strict diet and exercise routine, that we will survive the odds. The doctor had told us about 6 months. Little did we know that Fudge would be around for just about a week.

Now that it has been 2 months, everything still seems quite fresh. Nothing much has changed, except an emptiness and unusual quietness in the room at night (Fudge was a loud sleeper!) – it was hard to fall asleep. Despite the numerous encouragements I received (which I am very grateful for) like “at least he didn’t have to suffer too much” or “he has had a wonderful life” or “he will be looking out for you from above”, I guess I am selfish and found it hard to accept things and move on.

But in times like this, I guess I have learnt to find an inner strength. Life is hard and hardly ever fair. At the same time, it is important not to forget that while we may have lost something, there are still so many other things in our lives that we should treasure. Live in the moment, not in the past.

*moving on*

happy 3rd birthday, Joy!

It’s Joy’s third birthday today!

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For her birthday, I decided to get her her favorite can food from Fancy Feast (this is not a Fancy Feast ad!) She really really loves Fancy Feast and would purr so loudly every time she’s eating it or sees me opening the can. I also decided to make her 2 toys – a stuffed toy mouse and a catnip fish. She’s such a lucky cat :P

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The next time you decide to light a candle on food for your pet, remember that your pet might not care too much that there is fire. That’s exactly what happened to Joy as she tried to sniff her food, only to realized that tips of her whiskers were starting to light on fire! Hilarious but so dangerous, tsk.

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If Joy actually knew that today’s her birthday, and that she is supposed to be treated like a special queen, I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought that birthdays are the worst. As I was making her catnip toy, all should could do was look, smell and wait. She waited so patiently for me to fill the fish with catnip she must have almost gone crazy. Then, as soon as I was done with her catnip toy, without letting her take a whiff of it, these humans opened her absolute favorite thing to eat, and had to put a candle, prevent her from eating it, just to take a picture for their own satisfaction. Well Joy, you have to work for food in the real world, yknow!

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As soon as we took the candle off, she dived into her food. She was so pleased that she started eating with her eyes closed and purring ever so loudly. There’s my contented cat!

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Pardon me, but I can’t resist not putting this picture up:

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After Joy ate, she leaped off into the garden and there she was. Happy, full, alert, and a year older.

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sichuan hotpot recipe

Jon and I love a really good sichuan hot pot and by that, I really mean a hot pot that is adequately spicy but not too spicy, doesn’t numb the tongue so much and has a soup that is tasty and has depth. For our National Day family get together, Jon decided to take on a culinary challenge and cook the sichuan hot pot from scratch!

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Jon and I started loving sichuan hot pot during our uni days in the US. There are tons of really good hot pot places all around. Hot pot gives you that comforting and soothing feeling, especially during a cold winter. Then, we realized that our love of sichuan hot pot went more than just warming us up during winter as we started to look for good sichuan hot pot places here in Singapore. We would usually have hot pot after work, sitting out in the humid weather, sweating and dipping all our meats and vegetables into the hot pot, only to finish sweaty and satisfied.

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national day + many things to be happy about!

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Yesterday was Singapore’s 48th birthday. For my immediate and extended family, it is a day where we get together, have a feast and watch the national day parade on television. It is actually pretty exciting because from where I stay, we can hear a little of the activities going on, such as the helicopters and when the F16s flown by the Singapore Air Force flies by the house. Year on year, the sequence of the national day parade is somewhat predictable, which in my opinion makes it quite fun. We’ll always ask questions like “has the contingent marched out?” “is the President out yet?” just to ensure we don’t miss out on anything.

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gâteau diane recipe

To me, birthday cakes are an integral part to any birthday celebration. I am quite sticky about this, and maybe a tad too opinionated. I always feel that no matter how great a birthday celebration is, something is always missing when there is no birthday cake.

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Just as I am thinking a little more about why I feel this way, I guess what makes a birthday really special is during that couple minutes where the whole group, as one, dedicates a birthday song to that person. It is really that couple of minutes that everyone comes as one, and focuses on wanting to give joy to someone else. In a society where we many a time take things for granted and move too quickly, stopping for a couple of minutes to appreciate someone’s life really makes a difference.

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food and company in seattle

I had a pretty hard time (and still am) trying to come up with a suitable title for this post since the Seattle trip has been so full with activities, hence the boring title above to sum it all up. Boring as it might be, it is true – Jon and I have been doing nothing but eating and meeting up with college friends (and fighting jet lag).

During our time in Seattle, we made friends with one of the ladies (she might be the store owner’s wife but I’m not sure) in Little Thai, a Thai-owned restaurant in the university district. She always remembers us since we used to visit Little Thai about once a week when we were still studying and she never fails to exclaim “Jonathannn!” (in her Thai accent) whenever we step into the store. It was no different this time, except that she gave Jon a hug since she was excited to see him again after so long. The dish we love most in Little Thai is the Spicy Fried Fish.

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The Ancient Ones (TAOs) & Joy

When Jon and I were living in Seattle, we were very blessed (and still are) to have met a couple – Vigo & Paula – known to us more affectionately as UV & AP (i.e. Uncle Vigo & Aunty Paula) or TAOs (The Ancient Ones). Aunty Paula came up with “The Ancient Ones”, not us!

AP & Joy

AP & Joy

UV preparing salmon to barbecue for dinner!

UV preparing salmon to barbecue for dinner!

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