vendredi, décembre 29, 2006

Christmas 2006 (Cold Seafood, Pan-seared Scallops and Foie Gras...)

We have MIL and SIL over for Christmas this year. Not that it changes much of anything, no matter where we are, we always eat well for the occasion. And too much.

This year, to keep up with the tradition of serving mainly seafood, we drove 1h35mins to Cora Hagenau in France - grocery paradise with excellent wines, meats, seafood etc and etc. I am still wheeling from the sight of so many goodies on offer, so many culinary possibilities...

We started out with 4 dozens of 3-4 types of raw oysters, all from Brittany this year. Served with a shallot and red wine vinegar dip, bread and butter. Followed by a few hundred grams of crevettes roses (pink prawns cooked at sea), crevettes grises (tiny grey shrimps), raw shells, 2 home-cooked Tourteaux (giant crabs).

For those interested, I first made a stock with water, white wine, lemon slices, bay leaf, thyme, parsley, aniseed, carrots, onions, celery and a fish stock cube. Then we plunged the crabs (kept overnight in the fridge to numb them as nobody knew how to spare them torture by killing them outright) in the boiling stock and cooked them over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on the size). Took them out of the stock, cleaned them and then cut them up. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

For the main course, hubby came out of semi-retirement and prepared Pan-seared Scallops and Foie Gras (duck liver) déglacés with some honey, balsamic vinegar and fond de veau (concentrated veal stock) and decorated with slices of black truffles. The scallops were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, the lightly seared raw lobes of Alsatian duck liver simply melted in the mouth. Simply heavenly. Accompanied by fresh green beans lightly cooked in butter and garlic.

We had excellent wines to go with the meal, a dry Chablis for the seafood and a heavenly, very fragrant Gewurzstraminer to go with the scallops and foie gras.

For dessert, we just had lychees from Île Maurice, passion fruit, clementines, pineapple, blood oranges... Very good coffee from our new Nespresso machine and chocolates from Marquise de Sévigny to end the meal.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

vendredi, décembre 22, 2006

Baby Girl Turned 4

It's amazing how little kids love Birthday parties. It was little girl's 4th Birthday in early December and it was her little brother who spent the day singing the Happy Birthday song...

She prepared her list of friends to invite like a month before the big day. It was long and I had to play the wicked parent and cut it down quite drastically. In the end she was allowed to invite 7 kids (3 boys and 4 girls). It wasn't too bad for a first-time Birthday party, I thought.

Even though it was officially winter, the sun was shining and the day was actually quite warm. The kids were therefore able to play in the garden and we even had a father staying around to help us out. They took turns going down the slide and being pushed on the swing, played catching in the garden etc.

Then we ushered them into the playroom and had a few games going on : snakes and ladders, kapla, pretend play (toy kitchen etc)...

It was difficult attracting the kids' attention for more than 15 minutes at any one time, so we brought them to the kitchen to eat the Bob the Builder Chocolate Birthday cake and open the presents and then just put them all in front of the Plasma TV. They watched Pinocchio and were really quite concentrated during the show.

I gave each kid a little doggy bag with a picture of PUCCA, stickers, tattoo, candy, chocolate, a wooden ring for the girls and a wooden spin for the boys to take home with. Baby girl was really very happy with her party and so was her little brother who participated 101% all the way and looked all set to have a party of his own come March.

As for the parents, we were exhausted and relieved that it was over for another year (especially when we just had a party in October for the big brother), though I had to spend an hour or so cleaning up the kitchen thanks to our failed attempts at making coton candy with this lousy machine we bought from There was sugar EVERYWHERE, I could hear the ants marching here...

mardi, décembre 19, 2006

Somaly Mam's Le Silence de l'Innocence

I've recently read this book “Le Silence de l’Innocence” written by Somaly Mam. Former teen prostitute (raped at 12, forced into a loveless marriage, later sold to a brothel etc) in Cambodia, she managed to get out of her hell by marrying a French man with whom she was to set up AFESIP, an organisation that aims to rescue young girls from human trafficking and sexual slavery.*

It is very sad to read about the way young girls and women in general are treated in this country. This is just so inhumane and exasperating. Fancy girls as young as 8 or 9 being sold into prostitution by their own mothers or sisters and then raped, abused, drugged every day of their lives. Many would catch AIDS, STDs, Tuberculosis etc and suffer all the way to their early deaths. Why is there no justice for these poor souls?

And just as exasperating is the physical lack of justice in these countries. The corruption among the judiciary, the Police etc is rampant and the work of associations like Afesip is often ineffective because of that. And the culture of having sex with virgins and young children is sick and to think that those culprits often consider themselves Buddhists or Muslims and lived as righteous individuals in their societies. And not to forget all the men from developed countries like Japan, Germany, the UK etc making their way to Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos etc by the planeloads to abuse young girls, may they grill slowly and painfully in Hell for that.

I know that I sound like a broken record, but please let us not accept the belief that prostitution has to be tolerated because it is the world's oldest profession. Please pressurise Governments into punishing all the pimps and owners of brothels and especially their policemen and soldiers for their part in the trade. Please let us give hell to all the Johns who abuse these women and girls often forced into the trade. Please tell anybody whether they want to listen or not that it is inadmissible to close an eye to sexual abuse in any form and on anybody. And please start in our own homes by educating our own sons and husbands to what it means to respect another person, women in this case.

By the sad state of the world economy, many has been forced and will be forced to sell themselves. But if demand can be reduced if not eliminated, surely the attractiveness of using women in such inhumane ways would also see some decline. It will be a very long and tedious battle, but we have succeeded in warming up the globe in a few generations, I don't see why we can't deal with human slavery and trafficking.

*PS : : "AFESIP exists to combat trafficking in women and children for sex slavery; to care for and rehabilitate those rescued from sex slavery; to provide occupational skills and to reintegrate those rescued into the community in a sustainable and innovative manner. AFESIP also seeks to combat the causes and effects of trafficking and sex slavery through outreach work in AIDS prevention; through advocacy and campaigning; through representation and participation in women’s issues at national, regional and international forums."

Our Flat in Paris

When I visited the flat in February 2004, I could hardly believe that it could be within our budget. "There must be something wrong with it," I kept telling myself.

But apparently there wasn't anything wrong with it. The owners had bought a bigger flat elsewhere using a prêt-relais (a transition bank loan) and were in a hurry to sell it as the delay in doing so was costing them alot in interest.

We visited it on a Friday, made an offer the same day and signed the papers the following Tuesday.

The flat is situated in a quiet street in the 16ème arrondisement de Paris. A chic address. Even better, it is between 2 métro stations (Kléber and Charles de Gaulle-Étoile), 300m from the Arc de Triomphe, and 3 avenues away from the Champs Élysées. I often walk to the Tour Eiffel when I felt like taking a look at the monument (it's more or less at the other end of my street). When you think that I arrived in Paris in 1995 with only 3000 Francs in my pocket, this would seem far-fetched.

I love my flat. Our flat, since I bought it with my hubby and our 3 kids. It is on the first floor of an early-20th century free-stone (pierre de taille) building. It has top-to-floor French windows, parquet flooring and the different rooms are logically distributed. The flat is not very big, about 120m2, though for Paris this is a considerable size. It has 3 bedrooms, a large living-cum-dining room, a separate kitchen and 2 bathrooms.

We often imagine ourselves retiring in this flat. It would be great for city-lovers like hubby and myself. Walking distance to some of the best restaurants in France, the cinemas, theatres and shops in the Champs Elysées, the marché des Ternes, a straight coach to the airport, museums and palaces...

But we do not live in it now. A German family is renting it. And loving it. When they move out next Summer we'll return to make a few renovations and spend some time in it. And in Paris.

vendredi, décembre 08, 2006

Moules Marinières (Mussles in White Wine Sauce)

Mussles we can still find in Stuttgart (Nordsee, Real, Edeka...) so mussles we will eat - from time to time. Besides there is no need nowadays (unlike a few years ago) to wash and scrub the mussles, a lot of time and effort is thus saved and one just needs to rinse and cook them.

I do my mussles in different ways (à la provençale, curry, à la crème...) but the best is the simplest - Moules Marinières.

1kg of fresh Mussles
Olive oil or Butter
1 Onion and 1 Shallot
1 clove of Garlic (optional)
White wine
Salt and Pepper

Heat up some olive oil in a casserole or pot. Brown the sliced onions, shallots and garlic. Add in the mussles (washed and drained), stir a little and then add in the white wine. Cover. When the mussles start to open up, remove the cover, add salt and pepper to taste, mix in the chopped parsley and serve hot (do not overcook the mussles) - best with French Fries.

Tarzan in the Forest

We visited Hubby's colleague (who's also French and who like us has 3 kids) in Reutlingen before the end of Summer. He had this good idea of bringing us to Schloss Lichtenstein where there was this amazing tree-top walk in the forest ( that the 2 men and our combined 3 boys (the women we ended up stuck with 3 other children on the ground) did.

The park's open from June to November and has 5 itineraries (easy to difficult). It takes about 2 hours to complete 2-3 itineraries. It costs 12 Euros for children between 8 and 15, 15 Euros for teenagers from 15 to 18 and 17 Euros for adults.

There's a parking (paying) and a small restaurant where one can have a drink and eat a snack.

Could be an interesting Birthday Party venue when the kids are older (14 onwards) as the younger ones would need supervision in the order of 2 kids to one adult.

My eldest completed his course. At one stage I thought that he was going to give up as he was stuck and afraid, but peer pressure (from the other 2 older kids) gave him the courage to continue and once he gained confidence, everything became easier. Another reason to be pleased with this outing and to feel better about spending 2 hours waiting in the cold running after 2 babies.

PS : For lunch we had a pot luck. His colleague's Chinese MIL from Madagascar made the dish on the extreme left : Beef with Chinese Cabbage. I made the the other 2 dishes : Prawn and Green Beans Szechuan Style and an Indian Chicken Curry.

jeudi, décembre 07, 2006

Cream of Mushroom Soup and Chicken Pie : with Campbell

At the German discount store PLUS the other day, I saw cans of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup on sale. That really set me down Memory Lane, to a 14 year old me back in Secondary 2, learning how to make Chicken Pies during Home Economics class.

So while I am not a fan of canned or industrially-made food in general, I went ahead and bought a few cans of the soup out of nostalgia and since I have nowhere else in my very full pantry to keep them, I promptly made a meal out of 2 cans : improved Cream of Mushroom Soup and Chicken Pies.

I do not want to know how the soup would have tasted like just directly out of the can. If it's anything like the Tomato Soup from the same brand, it would be quite disgusting. What I did was to slice some onions, loads of fresh mushrooms (white and brown), and a stalk of celery and brown them together with bacon bits in a bit of butter. Then I emptied 1 1/2 cans of the Campbell Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup into the pot and stirred in 1 can of water and half a can of milk. Heat up the whole thing for about 15 minutes (do not let it boil though) and then mix it with a handmixer. Add a dash of cream if you wish. I served it with some puff pastry pieces. The soup had lots of flavour and my hubby actually loved it.

The remaining half a can of the condensed soup was used to make a few Chicken Pies. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Using round cutters cut out Puff Pastry rounds (I'll put up a simple recipe another day, but just use the ones sold in the supermarket they are quite good nowadays) and line a muffin tray with them. Use a smaller cutter to make puff pastry rounds to cover the pies.

In a frying pan brown a few chicken filets in some olive oil, sprinkling some salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence over them. When they are done, take them out of the pan and place them on kitchen towels to absorb the oil. Dice them into small cubes.

In the same frying pan, brown some diced onions, potatoes (use a boiled potato), celery, carrots and mushrooms. Add in the chicken cubes, some green peas, the condensed soup and some pepper. Stir fry everything for a few minutes, adjusting the sauce with a bit of milk if necessary. If you wish, at the end of the cooking, you may add in a hard-boiled egg (diced, of course).

Fill in the puff pastry cases with the filling and cover with a pastry round before putting the muffin tray in the oven. If you wish, you may waste an egg and brush the pastry cover with some egg yolk so that it turns out prettier. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Eat them hot.

mardi, décembre 05, 2006

Simple Peking Duck with Tortilla Wraps

I had visions of Peking Duck wrapped in pancakes recently. When I kept seeing magret de canard (duck breast filets) being sold almost every where (Christmas' coming) and added to the fact that I have a few packets of tortilla wraps at home (I didn't feel like making Fajitas and the wraps were about to expire) - my simple Peking Duck with Tortilla Wraps was thus born.

When I said simple I really meant it.

2 Duck Breast Filets (can also use duck thighs)

1 Tbsp Brown Sugar

1 Tsp Ground Ginger

1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

Pinch of ground Nutmeg

1 Tsp Ground Coriander and Cumin

1/4 Tsp Ground Pepper

1 Star Anise

1/4 Tsp Ground Cloves

3 Tbsps Red Wine Vinegar

1 Tsp Sesame Oil

2 Tbsp Sherry or Rice Wine

Hoisin Sauce

Tortilla Wraps

Cucumber (finely sliced in 5cm-long strips)

Spring Onions (ditto)

In a small saucepan put the sugar, spices, vinegar etc to boil. Remove from heat and let the marinade cool.

Bring water to boil in a pot. Remove from the heat and plunge the duck breasts into the water for 5 minutes. Then take out the breasts and put them in a pot of cold water for another 5 minutes. Pat them dry with kitchen towels and spread the marinade generously all over with a brush. Leave at room temperature for at least an hour.

Pre-heat the oven at 180ºC. Place the breasts skin side up and roast till the skin is crisp and brown. It should take about 40-45 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them cool a little before slicing them into very thin slices (about 5 x 1 x 0.5cm).

In a bowl, pour in a generous amount of Hoisin sauce and mix in the marinade from the baking tray. Microwave the tortilla wraps for about 35 seconds. Spread a little Hoisin sauce on each piece of tortilla wrap (about 10 x 10 cm pieces), add in a few strips of duck, cucumber and spring onions, roll it up and enjoy.

PS : Needless to say, it works well with a whole duck too. But may need to marinate for at least 2-3 hours in this case and roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours breast side up. The carcass can then be used to make soup.

samedi, novembre 25, 2006

My Ruby and Diamond Ring

Hubby's one of those men who only remember their own Birthdays. Not even his own mother's (so one can imagine that I buy the presents and give them away in this foyer) and whenever he has to fill up some form involving the family, you can bet that he'll be calling me up at some point to ask me for the kids' birthdates.

I have therefore not seen a present for a few years. Not for my Birthday, nor for Christmas, our wedding anniversary, Mother's Day, the birth of each child or what naught. Though he was not entirely to be blamed, for he works long hours and does not have the time nor the inclination to shop. And I am, according to him, a very difficult client, so he does not feel like buying any present and getting scolded for it because I should happen not to like it. And he did say that I am free to buy whatever I want whenever I want to - but you'll understand that it's not the same, right?

A few weeks ago, as we started to plan for Christmas (this year his mother and sister are coming over from Paris for Christmas AND the New Year), he said to me, "My Chérie, what would you like for Christmas? You have not had a present in years, so you can have a nice one this year.[..] How much are we going to be reimbursed by the Taxman?[..] OK, you get to spend up to 4000 Euros..." (!?! - wire kenna pulled as we would say at home in Singapore)

One can imagine that I wasn't going to wait around for him to change his mind (especially if for some reason the Taxman is not going to reimburse us what we thought he owes us). So I started looking around for my present. Which was difficult in Stuttgart with the limited number and types of shops. And I can't possibly fly back to Paris or to Singapore just to hunt for a piece of jewellery. And the Internet is risky for things like that.

Yes, so that's what I've decided to have. A nice piece of jewellery. Something bright and gaudy, to spend hours looking at during the depressingly long and cold winters here in Europe. I've decided to buy a Ruby or Emerald ring (the pendant, bracelet, earrings etc will have to come later, sigh...)

What I've almost forgotten is the auction house EPPLI here in the centre of Stuttgart. It's a small shop next to the covered market (Markthalle), but contains a good variety of old and new jewellery, furniture, fur coats, branded bags etc. The Schwabs are very stingy people, so recycling is common and second-hand shops do well here.

I normally wouldn't have gotten anywhere near second-hand jewellery, me being an Asian girl brought up on ghost stories where oftentimes the spirit of the former owner of some ring turns up to haunt the new owner...But time away in Europe and the reality of the purse help change minds and I have decided to take the risk and consider the option of buying a second-hand ring.

Antique jewellery is interesting. The modern ones tend to be simple and increasingly popular/common. And when one starts looking for a ruby or emerald, one realises that it is difficult to find nice colours and clarities in the shops that you find in the usual malls or shopping areas (not many people can afford them so most shops just don't carry them) - and walking into Chaumet or Cartier at this moment in time is unfortunately not yet possible for us.

Rubies like diamonds have to be examined in terms of colour, clarity, cut and carat. But unlike diamonds where normally the more colourless the better and standard grades exist to help tell them apart, colour in Rubies is quite personal and one really has to spend quite some time looking at the stones to know what one would like and is looking for. And when one is just starting out, one would have little notion of clarity and cut, heated or unheated stones, and many of the usual shops out there often sell red rubies that are quite opaque and badly-cut. And another thing I've found out as I was looking for my ring is that the origins of a Ruby is also very important, e.g. whether it comes from a mine in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, Afghanistan, the USA or Africa...

I guess that not only do I want a Ruby, but I also wanted it to come with diamonds. Somehow diamonds look great on their own and they look even greater when they accompany a coloured stone :-). And I am quite sick of the usual round diamonds, so well, that's another reason why the quest was starting to be quite difficult.

On one of my last trips to Eppli, I saw a few really nice Ruby rings. One of them was going out to auction in early-November and has a Burmese Ruby surrounded by diamonds and set in 14K gold (Germany usually sells 14K and 10K gold). The colour of the Ruby was fantastic and though the diamonds were round, the setting was really pretty. I will of course not be attending any auction (it's an Art and I've no notions about it except for Ebay), so I decided to wait and see if it wouldn't get sold during the auction and would then be sold in the shop.

And so it wasn't auctioned off. And the price tag was 2200 Euros before the shop's 20% commission and any eventual ring sizing. It may seem expensive, but if you see what one has to pay for a similar new ring in a shop (if you find one like it), it's half the price.

But on the day that I brought Hubby to the shop to look at the ring, sitting next to it in the window was this other Ruby ring set in 18K white gold (I prefer), and surrounded by...6 Navette diamonds and 6 round diamonds with a total weight of 0.88 Carats (TW-W, VSI-SI). The Ruby (3.2 carat Siamese Pailin which in this case would actually be Cambodian) is not as fine as the Burmese one and has a visible inclusion (a line cut across), but it is translucent, has lots of fire and is of a rich purplish-red (not pigeon-blood red Burmese, but...). It took my breath away.

Hubby took a look at it and said that it was pretty but don't you think that it's kind of big? If you wear it out people will think that it's a fake...But he could see that I was quite taken by it, and I suspect that he was just relieved that I have found something that I like, that it was cheaper than usual since it was second-hand and was just quite glad to get it over and done with. So we paid for the ring, asked for it to be re-sized (it was 58 versus my 48.5) and as I thanked him for it, he muttered that he hoped that I was happy with it since I wouldn't be getting another present for the next 10 years! Ha ha! If only he knew that I'm already starting to dream of Emeralds...

So I'm wearing my ring as I type this out. We collected it this afternoon. I wish I could put up a close-up picture of it, but I do not have a zoom on my camera and it just wouldn't turn out. So I'll have to wait for an occasion to have its picture taken. Until then...

PS : I went back to EPPLI recently and saw 2-3 other Ruby rings (2 Burmese and 1 Ceylonese) and they were all going for less than 500 Euros before commission and resizing! It is amazing how much difference there could be between what I paid for mine and what's being sold just after. But it's all a question I guess of quality (or at least I hope) though to tell the truth I can't see no difference between the cheaper rings and mine (except that mine's bigger).

jeudi, novembre 16, 2006

Us in Strasbourg

I have always liked Strasbourg. Now that I am living in Germany, I love it.

Strasbourg has always been special. Separated by a river between France and Germany, it had at different periods in its History alternated between being German and French. And even when it's French, Napoleon gave it (Alsace) special status (e.g. in its Social Security laws) and like the Germans they eat spätzle and sausages and make Riesling wine.

But trust me, Strasbourg is French and very much so. We often wonder how this city can be so near Germany and yet be so French :-). When you cross over to Strasbourg from Kiel (on the German side), it gets dirtier and messier. But the old city is simply beautiful, with quaint little shops (the window displays, the goods on offer etc are immediately better, more varied and more interesting), wonderful pastry shops and most important of all - great restaurants. And that is what differentiated Strasbourg from Germany and confirm its very Frenchness.

Even the Kebab is tastier in Strasbourg. It is made of real meat piled up one on top of the other. Not like the factory-concocted slab of tasteless meat that we usually find in the Turkish-owned Kebab shops in Germany. So we may occasionally take away a Kebab sandwich as we leave Strasbourg - for the son.

We try to visit the city once every 2 months. It's about 2 hours from Stuttgart by car. We usually arrive in time for lunch, and would either eat in the Chinese restaurant at the entrance of the old city (needless to say, even the usually lousy Chinese food in France is better than the usual Chinese food in Germany - don't ask me why), or at Kammerzell (

Kammerzell is wonderful, a very old Strasbourgeois house just opposite the beautiful Cathedral. It has a good menu with the usual choucroute (sour cabbage - a Chinese invention for those unaware of that), onion tart, steak, foie gras...and includes a very good variety of seafood dishes. One of my most memorable was its Foie Gras poêlé et Lotte (pan-seared duck liver and Burbot), a delicious marriage of meat and fish, turf and surf. And the desserts also make it very French, ranging from fruit tarts (not the heavy jello sort), to home-made sorbets and ice-creams, chocolate parfaits etc etc. I always make sure that I make room in the stomach for dessert when I'm there. A bonus - 2 children under 10 eat lunch for free and they do not serve you nuggets with fries, but real food e.g. grilled salmon with pasta, chicken in cream sauce...The service needless to say is good, the maître d'hôtel takes obvious pride in his work.

After lunch, we would usually do a bit of shopping. Books (e.g. France Loisirs, FNAC...), clothes and shoes (Héraud, Jonak, Minelli...), and especially food (Monoprix, Paul, Atac, Auchan...). We never fail to bring back a few delicious bread and pastries from Paul, a few good cuts of beef (e.g. bavette, onglet, côte de boeuf...), seafood (oysters, scallops, crabs, cooked pink and grey prawns, stingray...), Bonne Maman cookies, Badoit Rouge mineral water etc etc. We've even invested in a cooler that'll be able to keep our purchases cool during the ride home. In the afternoon, we often had tea at Christian's, a tea salon just opposite the Cathedral, with delicious cakes and pastries and home-made whipped cream.

On our last visit, as my mom was with us, we took a boat ride down the river. There we realised that the city was even prettier than we thought. We got to see the European Parliament buildings as well. We'll certainly go on the boat ride again when we next bring other visitors to the city!

One more thing : they make very good foie gras and Gewurzstraminer (I especially love the vendange tardive wines) in the region. We've yet to visit a few of the wine makers as we wanted to, but we'll try to do so before we leave Germany.

Bon voilà a short write-up on Strasbourg.

lundi, novembre 13, 2006

Recent Eats (Chicken Caesar Salad, Vietnamese Cari Ga, Black Pepper Crab Crispy Noodles...)

Too much backlog, so will just post a few pictures without the recipes.

Caesar Salad with Pan-seared Chicken filets (Roman Salad, Rocket Salad, Red Onions, Roasted Garlic, Garlic Croutons, Parmesan Cheese, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Worchestershire Sauce, Egg...)

Vietnamese Cari Ga (Chicken in a Lemongrass-flavoured Coconut Curry Sauce with Sweet Potatoes...)
Black Pepper Crabs on Crispy Egg Noodles

Breakfast this morning with a mother from school :

Fried Rice Vermicelli Singapore Style, Toast à l'andalou (toasts rubbed with fresh garlic and raw tomatoes and dribbled in olive oil), Tarte aux Pommes (Apple Tart with Ground Cinnamon and Sugar), Tarte Salée (Puff Pastry with Red Onions, Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Basilic, Bacon, Cheese...)

Leek and Potato Soup

Your basic soup in a "Western" restaurant in Asia :-); Our basic soup at home, fast and tasty. This Leek and Potato Soup serves 3-4 as a starter.

2 big Leeks (well-washed and sliced into big pieces)

2 Potatoes (peeled and quartered)

3-4 bowls of water

1 stock cube (or a meat bone blanched and rinsed)

Salt and Pepper

Crème fraiche

Grated cheese

Put the leeks and potatoes in a pot and add in the water and stock cube (I get a meat bone free when I buy meat from my butcher so I use it). Cover and let the water boil after which lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes till the potatoes are cooked. Remove from the heat and mix the contents of the pot with a handmixer. Serve hot with a touch of crème fraiche and some grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

lundi, octobre 30, 2006

Seafood Soup

Ever since one of Hubby's best friends suffered a stroke and underwent heart bypass surgery, he has started to jog at least once a week and would go on and on about the Cretan Diet (CD for short here). So Yours Truly have to work a little harder and crack the brains for dishes that could fall within the CD requirements and this Seafood Soup is one of them.

Olive Oil
Onions (sliced)
Garlic (sliced)
Fennel/Anis Seeds
Fish Stock
Chicken Stock
White wine
Chilli powder (optional)

Red Bell Peppers
Cocktail Tomatoes

White Fish (e.g. Cod, Stingray...)
Tiger Prawns
Prawn Dumplings (optional)
Other Seafood like Mussles, Clams... (optional)

Salt and Pepper
Lemon juice

In a non-stick casserole brown the onions and garlic in some olive oil. Add in the celery, aniseeds, carrots and red peppers. Pour in the stocks, white wine, the herbs and a few safran threads. Simmer for a few minutes till the soup is fragrant and the carrots cooked. Add in the mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes. Simmer for another few minutes. Five minutes before serving, add in the fish, prawn dumplings and prawns, add salt and pepper to taste and squeeze in some lemon juice. Serve hot with chilli powder or fresh red chilli if you wish.

dimanche, octobre 22, 2006

Florence, Tuscany and a bit of Trento

Italy is a beautiful country in general and one usually eats well there. Tuscany has become quite famous in the past decade as European and American politicians and Movie Stars seem to spend much of their vacations there, so I guess that I was pretty happy to be able to say that me too I've just spent 3 weeks this summer hanging around Tuscany.

We drove to Florence from Stuttgart, passing through Austria and Northern Italy. It was raining as we left Germany, but as we entered Italy, the rain literally stopped and the sun came out. Wonderful, a promising start to our vacation. The only problem was that the Italian stretch of the journey seemed to lack in rest areas, so one had better not need to stretch one's limbs or take a pee too often when driving. Also we were careful to stay in the middle of the road as the barriers dividing the highway into the 2 directions tended to be extremely rusty and would possibly give polio to the car if we should be careless enough to scrape it against them.

We spent our first 10 nights in a 4-star hotel (Villa Stanley) in Sesto Fiorentino very near Florence. It was the Villa of an American woman who lived there in the 1800s and had extensive grounds, with a swimming pool, restaurant, tennis courts etc. The rooms were spacious and nicely decorated, though for a night or 2 there was air in the pipes and they sang through the night which meant that we all had little sleep. Breakfast was a buffet with quite a spread, but the juice was from a Tetra Pak and the bread like everywhere else in Tuscany has no salt in it (because the dishes in general are usually very very salty).

We were contented for a few days and then started getting bored. Hubby left for his Italian classes in Florence every morning and left me with the 3 kids AND his mother. We had nowhere to go and were pretty much left to our own devices. And nobody could really swim in the pool before noon as it was nicely shaded from the sun, meaning that even in August it was too cold to swim in it. It wasn't very fun spending the morning staring at the MIL who didn't want to go out and didn't want to stay in the hotel either (?)...

In the afternoons though when the hubby's back, we would venture into the region, driving to the dirty and narrow beach in Livorno (good seafood - but not enough for a town by the sea), to Pisa (horrible restaurants - real tourist traps - but the Leaning Tower's simply beautiful), to Siena (worth a visit, and they speak the best Italian there), San Gimignano (they have 2006's World Gelato Champion and the town's really pretty), Monteriggioni (very pretty and the restaurant Il Pozzo serves very good food including wild boar specialties), Fiesole, Prato...But we hadn't had the time to visit Montepulciano (for the wine) though.

I like Tuscanian food. It's rustic, filling and very predictable. After a week, we could walk into any restaurant and order blindfolded. And lest anyone should assume that we only went to tourist traps, let me assure you that we've consulted Hubby's Italian superiors in the FIAT Group, his Italian teachers, his Italian colleagues, the famous Michelin Red Guide, Fodor's and the Lonely Planet...and ate out every single day. For a country where salaries are not as high as in Germany or the UK, we found eating out pretty steep. I think we've chalked up more than 4500 Euros in restaurant bills and that's excluding breakfast and the daily gelato. Anyway, those who've eaten well in Italy know that Torino and Milano and the regions near France serve the best Italian food. Tuscany has other charms to offer.

So we usually start a meal with a soup (though I try to avoid those filled with pieces of bread - a Tuscanian peculiarity), a salad (they are good with them, I'm very fond of their seafood ones) or a pasta (my absolute favourites are Spaghetti alle vongole and Fusilli lunghi al arrabbiata), followed by pizza, meat (the absolute must-try is the Bisteca alla Fiorentina - though please don't kill the meat like the British by having it too well-done. It is best eaten really rare. I also like to eat sliced steak with rucola/rocket salad and parmesan cheese slices.) or Fish (not much variety, but the salt-baked seabass/branzino or grilled soles/sogliata are usually very good).

The main courses are very rarely accompanied by any vegetables and they are often so salty you have to eat them with the saltless bread, which needless to say is very bad for me who's supposed to cut down on my carbohydrates. Unless they have a really nice-looking Tiramisu, we usually just go for gelato (Coronas in Florence was my favourite, I love its pink grapefruit and mandarin orange ice cream flavours) after dinner as the desserts were often pretty unimaginative. But the gelato was great, we could just live on gelato alone.

I must make special mention though of our 4-star hotel in the heart of Florence where we spent 12 nights in : the Hotel Kraft near the American Embassy. It has a roof-top pool with a view of Florence to kill, very attentive staff, lovely-rooms with amazingly high ceilings and an excellent roof-top restaurant (that offers cooking classes by the way) with a really innovative menu (compared to the rest in the region) filled with different types of fish and meat dishes. Wish we had eaten there more often.

Florence is a really pretty city and one can see that it used to be really rich and important (still is, I guess). August is a great time for us to visit as the locals were all gone (less crowded) and we only had to squeeze with the other tourists (many many French). The city was really accessible on foot and most of the museums and restaurants were within walking distance. The shopping was quite interesting too, Italian women have good taste in fashion in general and this was reflected in what the shops had to offer.

The only thing that bothered me was the way fake Louis Vuitton and Dior bags, Chanel sunglasses etc were being sold everywhere in the streets of the city by African men. The Police and their cars came by very very often (there were policemen and cameras in every street corner, talk about Police State) and those counterfeit goods sellers would just wrap up their stuff and stand aside until the cars moved on and then get on with whatever they were doing before. I guess that checking identity papers became unnecessary ever since like the Spanish and the Italians carried out a few mass regularisation exercises for their illegal immigrants, though being part of the EU, I would except them to have more rigour and respect for the intellectual property rights of the French luxury industry.

On our way back to Stuttgart, we stopped at Trento. The 4* Grand Hotel Boscolo we stayed in was lovely, situated in the heart of town near the restau-rants and the main sights (pretty buildings). We loved the dinner we had in this simple restaurant near the hotel, probably one of the best we've had in 3 weeks. Grilled seafood, pizza, linguine with scampi...really good and reasonably-priced, Trento's a surprise discovery. There is a river near the town which allows one to do water sports like white water rafting and kayaking, so this is a place to look into for a longer stay another time.

All in all it was a good trip and we've enjoyed ourselves. Which is good considering that we may just be moving to Milano or Torino next year. I am going to enjoy mastering Italian cooking. I'm already having some ideas about octopus.
PS : The photos will come in bits and pieces as I have difficulty downloading down - as usual.
(Picture above is Siena and that's my mom in the middle. Joined us in our last week.)

samedi, octobre 21, 2006

Pan-seared Cod with Red Bell Pepper Sauce

This is another lovely way to eat Cod (or most other white fish for that matter). The fish filets are lightly-coated in flour and cooked in olive oil and garlic and then served with a sweetish sauce made of red bell peppers, garlic, olive oil etc. A healthy way to have your sauce and eat it too :-). Hubby's really pleased that it keeps to his Cretan aka Anti-Heart Attack Diet.

700g Cod Fish Filet (the thicker the better)
2 large cloves of Garlic (sliced)
2/3 Flour and 1/3 Corn Starch mix for coating fish
Olive Oil for frying
Salt and Pepper
Lemon juice

1 large Red Bell Pepper (sliced lengthwise into large pieces)
Generous amount of Olive Oil
2 cloves of Garlic (sliced)
1 Shallot (sliced)
2 Tbsps White Wine
Fennel seeds
Salt and Pepper

Prepare the sauce first. In a small casserole, heat up the olive oil and put in the red pepper slices. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Stir the peppers in the oil and then add in the shallots, garlic, herbs. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes on medium-low. Stir the peppers a bit in the oil again and then add in the white wine. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes on low. Add salt and pepper and blend into a sauce. Set aside (keep warm).

Heat up some olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Coat the filets on both sides with the flour and slide them gently onto the oil. Add garlic slices into the oil to give it flavour and once they are brown, pick them up and place them on the fish (usually you would have turned the fish over by then so that the cooked side's up). Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze some lemon juice on the fish.

Serve the fish with the Red Pepper sauce accompanied by some spinach, rice or pasta, for example.

Pandan-flavoured Muah Chee with Ground Almonds, Peanuts and Cinnamon Sugar

I grew up on Muah Chee (a glutinous rice flour-based tit-bit usually served with ground peanuts and sugar). I can still remember my ground floor neighbour in my Toa Payoh block of flats selling it at her doorstep every afternoon and me buying it (nature - plain, without the peanuts) from her almost every day (too much carbo and bad cholesterol for a child, one good reason why I was a fat child).

If I had a microwave oven back then I could have made loads of it easily and grown even fatter on it. It is surprisingly easy to make. I have however made my muah chee with more almonds than peanuts (though the former is 5 times more expensive than the latter) as almonds have a finer and more subtle taste and are probably a little healthier than peanuts.

200g Glutinous Rice Flour
350ml Water
2 Tbsp Coconut Milk
1/2 Tsp Pandan essence
1 Tbsp Sugar
2 Tbsp (Fragrant i.e. Shallot-flavoured - optional) Oil

100g Peanuts
150g Almonds
50g Sugar
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

Peel the peanuts and almonds (better buy them peeled if possible) and ground them finely together with the sugar and cinnamon in a blender.

Mix the rice flour, water, coconut milk, pandan essence, sugar and oil in a microwaveable recipient (I used my Corningware casserole with glass cover) and microwave it on high (mine's only 700w) for 7 minutes. Cut up large slabs with a pair of scissors and mix each slab with the nuts mixture, cutting into smaller cubes as you mix them.

To variate the pleasure, one can also make Rose-flavoured Muah Chee with Ground Pistachios and Almonds. Yummy...

vendredi, octobre 13, 2006

Tempura Udon

I've already posted a short-cut recipe to making udon soup some time ago so I will not repeat myself. I just added some Mixed Tempura (prawns, scallops, zucchini, onions, mushrooms etc) to my udon and made a meal out of it.

The batter for Tempura is light and crispy, not as thick and heavy as the Chinese one. And I made my own sauce for the extra Tempura that I ate without the udon, Japanese ingredients being expensive and hard to find over here.

The next day, I cooked some Japanese rice and made a Ten Don aka Tempura with Rice (had batter left-over). Though the sauce for it is normally sweeter than the usual Tempura dip, so I just added Ketchap Manis, a bit of honey and a squeeze of lemon to the existing dip and re-heated it.

I also did something quite nice with some left-over fresh salmon. I fried it quickly in the hot oil (so that it is crispy on the outside and still a little raw on the inside) and then I squeezed some lemon juice, added salt and pepper and poured a little Teriyaki sauce over it and ate it with my Ten Don. Yummy.

Tempura Batter :

200g Plain Flour

50g Rice Flour

3 Tbsps Corn Starch

1 Egg

200ml Cold Water

Mix the flour. Make a well and crack the egg in it. Starting from the egg, stir very gently (with a pair of chopsticks) outwards towards the flour and gradually add in the cold water as you stir. The batter should be slightly lumpy and not totally smooth. Set aside for 10-15 minutes. I would do the frying in vegetable oil with a touch of sesame oil added.

Tempura Sauce :

1 Tbsp Sugar and

1/4 cup White Wine (to replace Mirin)

1/2 cup Ikan Bilis/Fish stock (to replace Dashi stock)

1/4 cup Light Soya Sauce

1 Tbsp Teriyaki Sauce (optional)

Grated giant white radish (optional)

Sesame seeds (optional)

Heat up the sugar in a slightly-oiled small casserole and caramelise it with the white wine. Pour in the fish stock etc and stir over low heat. The radish and sesame seeds should only be added into the sauce when it is cooled and as you serve it.

Spinach with Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil

Spinach is delicious if well-prepared. The French usually do it with cream (crème fraiche), but this is kind of fattening. The Tuscanians prepare it plain with a dash of lemon juice, which is not bad but a little - plain. The Chinese prepare it in soup (light and delicious) or braised with ham, chicken slices and/or Chinese mushrooms (a delice, but too much work). I do it with roasted garlic, olive oil and a dash of lemon juice :-).

Wherever possible I try to use young spinach leaves. I first wash and drain (very well) my spinach (a lot of it as it diminishes enormously when cooked) and put it aside. Then I heat up a generous amount of olive oil in a big casserole and start to brown at least 3 large cloves of garlic (finely sliced). When you smell the fragrance of roasted garlic, dump in the spinach (in 2 batches if necessary). Do not overcook the spinach. All the nutrients are safeguarded this way. Squeeze in some lemon juice before serving. Salt and pepper to taste. Goes well with roasted lamb, grilled fish etc.

lundi, octobre 09, 2006

Moelleux au Chocolat (Son's 10th Birthday Party)

It is hard to believe but I've been a mother for 10 years now! A decade ago I told myself that it would take a long while for this baby to grow up, and how wrong I was. I didn't see the years pass by, somehow I have the feeling that I have not made the most of the boy's fleeting childhood and from time to time nowadays I would start to panic and fear that I would soon regret letting it slip through my fingers like that...

We make so many mistakes when he's our 1st child. I could have done so much better if I had known better. And I wonder if I would have the momentum and motivation to try to do better in the present and in the coming years, before my duty as a parent is legally over and I would have to leave him to fend for himself in this big mean world?

Anyway, last Sunday the boy invited a few of his classmates over to celebrate his Birthday. First they went to the cinema to watch Cars. And then they came to the house for the birthday cake (Moelleux au Chocolat avec des morceaux de Banane) , lots of sweets, games and so on.

There is no need to dress up as a clown etc and try to organise the party to death. Just leave the boys to their own devices and they usually know how to entertain themselves and have fun. This was my 5th or 6th Birthday party so I know what I'm talking about.

I'm really quite pleased with the cake. It was really moelleux (soft and rich), every bit as good as those you find in good Pastry shops in Paris. And easy to bake.

200g of Butter
100g of Sugar
Half a bottle of Cream (whipped)
4 eggs
200g of Dark Chocolate
Chocolate rice bits (optional)
3 Bananas (squashed)
2 Tsps of ground Cinnamon
A big pinch of ground Cloves
A pinch of Salt
1 Tsp of Vanilla Essence
Half a cup of Orange juice
1 packet of powdered Yeast
50g of Flour
50g of Corn Starch

Beat the softened butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add in the whipped cream/beat in cream to be whipped. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Heat up (low power) the chocolate pieces with a bit of milk in the microwave oven. Add the melted chocolate to the dough. Stir in the squashed bananas, sprinkle in the spices, the vanilla essence and stir in the juice. Gently fold in the flour, the yeast and chocolate rice bits.

Bake (I used a silicon mold - no need to butter it) in a preheated oven (150ºC) for 45 minutes.

And you know what? The cake (whatever was left of it) tasted even better the next day.