One thing I notice is that I get queries about where and how to get supplies and these tend to be the same items so in order to encourage you to cook more and eat heathier, I've listed the top questions I've received. Also, I'm really hoping that this will be a forum of positive sharing, so please leave comments if you have more questions, if you have a good suggestion and also to help answer other people's questions.
(1) Valrhona Chocolate and Cocoa Powder
Baking/cooking chocolate is sold in slabs or small pieces called faves. You can get these in varying percentages of chocolate (54% to about 92%) and in white, milk or dark chocolates. For Valrhona chocolate or cocoa powder, you can find it at Shermay's Cooking School (Jalan Merah Saga, Chip Bee Gardens at Holland Village, Tel: 64798442), Sun Lik (33 Seah Street, Tel: 63380980), ET Artisan Sweets (32 Holland Grove Road Henry Park) and Bake-It-Yourself (182 Bukit Timah Road, near Newton Circus, Tel: 6100 2253 http://www.b-i-y.com/).
If you want to try Michael Cluizel chocolates, which is not Valrhona but another lovely brand of quality chocolates, go to Culina (617 Bukit Timah Plaza, next to Coronation Plaza, Tel: 6468 5255 or 21 Orchard Boulevard, #01-23 Parkhouse, Tel: 6735 9958). Culina has great chocolate but does not have cocoa powder.
For more gourmet baking supplies like paillete feuilletine I would go to Shermays, for more generic baking supplies, I would go to Sun Lik and Phoon Huat (many locations around Singapore), these two are the most comprehensive baking supplies shops and between the two, Sun Lik has better quality. Phoon Huat is a dedicated baking store but they carry their house-brand, called Red Man, which produces fairly low quality product (for example, flour/almonds are not evenly ground, icing sugar contains starch, pineapple jam is thick with gluten).
(2) Vanilla Beans and Poppy Seeds
Vanilla beans are terribly expensive but I found a great site, www.beanilla.com where you can order 10 pods for $14 or in bulk, 1/2 a pound (probably about 50 pods) for $28. Extremely cheap, given the mileage that you get out of each bean, they deliver internationally and very good quality, vacumn-sealed product which I've tried personally before.
What do you use them for? Vanilla beans are like the holy grail of baking, everything tastes better with fresh vanilla. Slice them open, scrape out the fragrant little seeds and use them in place of vanilla extract for cakes, ice cream, cream stuffing, it really perks up the taste and richness of your food, even while keeping the health quotient there. You can also store them in your sugar jar, before using them, to perfume it or you can be very extravagant, as this friend of mine was and use them as stirrers for your coffee!
Poppy seeds are banned in Singapore, even though they can't really be smoked. However, they are available just across the causeway in Malaysia and in Australia in any reputable baking store or in cake mixes.
(3) Dessicated Coconut
There are two kinds of dessicated coconut, there is the dried powdery variety and the slightly wetter coconut curls that is used for topping cupcakes/cakes. The dried kind is easy, any supermarket or Chinese provision store will have them. The wet kind is very difficult to find, so far, I have located them at Cold Storage (occasionally), Jasons (more often than Cold Storage) at Orchard Towers and Bunalun (43 Jalan Merah Saga Tel:64720870 or http://www.bunalun.com.sg/pureinflavour/)
We don't have very much choice, the commercial one are Ocean Spray, Sunmaid, Del Monte and I generally find them all the same. I like to buy the freshly packaged ones in the fruit section of the grocery store, rather than the baking ailse section. However, the best mecca I know for all types of currants, dried fruit and nuts is the Chinese dried goods store at Hong Kong Street. They have a wall of tubs of dried fruit, very comprehensive and inexpensive. They also sell all these usual Chinese New Year Pen Cai stuff like dried mushroom, chinese sausage, lotus leaves, fish maw etc. I believe it's 17 or 33 Hong Kong street but there are a few in a row so you can't miss it.
(5) Fresh Herbs
The best place to go is actually Culina or Tekka Market. The reason I would go to Culina is that unlike grocery supermarkets, Culina sells their herbs by weight, so you can mix and match different types of herbs in the quantity that you need. I seldom finish using a pack of specific herbs from NTUC or Cold Storage and I don't want to buy so many packs of different herbs, so this is a more efficient option for me. I also feel that their herbs are more fresh though that sometimes means that not all herbs are available. Again, the upside is that you get to pick your own herbs so if there are brown bits, you strip it off and you don't to pay for the unusable parts. Tekka Wet Market has a couple of stores (the vegetable one with the hawker who plays contemporary rock music very loudly is particularly good) which carry western and thai herbs. These are really cheap and good, if they are in stock.
(6) Unsalted Butter
Does it make a difference- yes, it does. If you make the same cookie recipe with salted and unsalted butter, it does come out tasting different, take my word for it. That being said, the unsalted is better for you but most people will not know the difference. The difference is more obvious the lighter the dessert is, so in cakes, in creams, in icing, it's going to make a bigger difference than in brownies or criossants.
It is definitely more healthy to cook with unsalted butter and there is a purer taste to some of the more expensive brands like President or Elle and Vire butter or creams which are sold at ET Artisan Sweets, Shermays or Sun Lik but I would save those either for a special occasion or a treat, as they are more expensive. If you are using salted butter, then omit any other addition of salt that's listed in the recipe.
(7) Cookie Cutters and shaped Cake Tins
Sadly, the selection of cookie cutters in Singapore is quite abysmal. The two places I can suggest are Shermay's Cooking School and Bake It Yourself. If you want a wider selection, I would suggest buying them online on websites that will ship to Singapore. Try http://cookiecutter.com/ or http://www.thecookiecuttershop.com/ . I got a great money-saving suggestion about baking, apparently you can rent decorated, or shaped cake tins, for kid's birthday parties, from Bake-It-Yourself (182 Bukit Timah Road, near Newton Circus, Tel: 6100 2253 http://www.b-i-y.com/).
Fresh wheatgrass is found at Meida-Ya supermarket in Liang Court. It is sometimes found at Culina's retail locations and sometimes also at Cold Storage or NTUC Finest. Usually, you have to buy a tray of wheatgrass which can be quite expensive.There is a local/Malaysian farm that is experimenting with selling smaller bags of wheatgrass, which is the type that's found in Cold Storage and NTUC Finest.
(9) Duck Fat
While this is starting to show up in Cold Storage and NTUC Finest, it comes tinned at Culina's retail locations, where you can choose between duck and goose fat.
(10) Good meat
Singapore is sprouting butcheries, every time I look around, there's a new one vying for business. The three top butcheries, in descending order of size and variety of product, are Swiss Butchery ( 30/32 Greenwood Avenue Tel: 64687588 or http://www.swiss-butchery.com.sg/index.html), Huber's Butchery (122 Upper Bukit Timah Road, Tel: 64650122 or Level 1, 56 Tanglin Road, Friven & Co, Tel: 67371588, or explore http://hubersbutchery.com/), or Meat the Butcher (615 Bukit Timah Road, next to Coronation Plaza http://www.meatthebutcher.com.sg/).
Alternatively, you can go straight to the wholesalers if you want to purchase a large quantity of meat. There are three main meat distributors in Singapore, QB Meat (8 Chin Bee Crescent, Jurong Tel: 62616120) and its next-door neighbour Best Foods (which has better service nad individual vauum wraps for meats), Indoguna (located at 36 Senoko Drive, Tel: 67550330, explore their online retail website www.greengrocer.com.sg/ ) or Culina (24 Senoko Way, Tel: 6753 6966) . These places will suit you if you are buying for a dinner party, festive family gathering or to stock up the freezer and you will probably get much better prices and cuts.
For smaller quantities of meat, the freshness of supermarket meats is determined by the speed of the turnover, so I tend to find that the best meats are at specific grocery stores that have a high expat neighbourhood population. Of late, I've found that the meat counters at Cold Storage have actually improved tremendously and the meat counters at NTUC Finest, which are now supplied by Culina, are very good though a little pricey. I buy bulk packaged or canned items from Giant, Carrefour or Sheng Siong because it's much cheaper but I would not buy fresh meats there because the turnover is not very high and as a business, the hypermarts don't focus on high-margin items.
Duck is extremely hard to find in Singapore. There are usually limited cuts at the supermarket, so you can either go to a wet market for fresh local duck, try one of the butchers (again, selection might be limited) or get canned duck legs from Culina's retail locations.
For fresh fish and seafood, I would just go to a wetmarket like Tekka Food Market or Tiong Bahru Food Market, I don't really know anyone who buys fish US-style from a supermarket and definitely not mussels or shellfish. For a western variety of fish and smoked salmon, go to Fassler Gourmet Wholesaler (Woodlands Terrace, explore http://www.fassler.info/), for fish and seafood like Boston lobsters, Alaskan kind crab and Pacific oysters, go to Allswell Marketing Live Seafood Market (670 Geylang Road, corner of Lorong 42, Tel: 61004500) and for an even bigger variety, you can go to Jurong Fishery Port but you have to get there at 3-5am. Check out http://cookbakelegacy.blogspot.com/2008/09/jurong-fishery-port.html if you have nothing to do this weekend.
(11) Sea Salt
Sea salt is obtained by the evaporation of seawater and its mineral content gives it a different, less sharp taste than table salt, which is pure sodium chloride. It's thought to be better for health because unlike table salt, it is not refined with the addition of iodine. Areas that produce specialized sea salt are beach areas- Caymen Islands, Greece, France, Ireland, Essex in the UK, Hawaii, San Francisco Bay and Cape Cod in the US.
Sea salt is available in Singapore in most gourmet or organic food stores, like Culina. You can pick and choose from all the atas packaging- if you intend to use it regularly though, I would suggest a reasonably-priced, supermarket brand of sea salt, called Maldon (comes in a green packaging). This is pretty commonly available at Cold Storage and also NTUC Finest.
You can use sea salt in place of table salt all the time. In recipes that specifically call for sea salt like salted caramel (which needs a rounded, less metallic saltiness), I would definitely use sea salt. Fleur de sel (Flower of salt) is a specific kind of sea salt hand- harvested off the cost of Brittany, in Guerande, Noirmoutier and Camargue. It tends to have larger crystals than regular sea salt, or table salt.
(12) Packaging for baked goods
Again an area that Singapore is woefully short of. You can check Phoon Huat for plastic boxes or Daiso for cardboard packaging and ribbons. If it's just ribbons you are after, then you can go to Arab Street or Hong Kong street where there are textile and ribbon merchants. Alternatively, go online to Martha Stewart.com or Williams Sonoma and look under craft/food packaging when they are on sale.
You can also check out packaging websites, like http://packagingplace.com.au/ or http://www.papermart.com/ . Shermay's Cooking School has Martha Stewart crafts packaging for sale but at a huge premium, I think you save 50% at least by buying it directly from the US. You can also look into inexpensive stickers and experiment with printing your own from local shops like http://www.artpaper.com.sg/ , http://www.aceproclink.com or http://www.aceprinting.net/ .