jeudi, mai 11, 2006

Taboulé, Tomates-Mozzarella, Tortilla a las Patatas, Penne au Pesto, Cantaloupe Melon & Parma Ham : Lunch with Mothers

When you are living in a foreign country and you send your children to French schools there, the relationships you have with the other parents are usually quite different from what you normally have if you were just sending your kids to a local school.

We interact much more over here and it is common to invite the other kids and eventually their mothers to your place for lunch or tea so that the children could play together. As we only have half-day school here and as it is not easy to find childcare, most mothers do not work (or at least not full-time) and so we bump into each other almost everyday. In Paris, I usually chatted with grandparents, babysitters or live-in maids. What a difference.

My 3-year old daughter has been wanting to invite a few of her friends over and now that the weather is getting better, I finally capitulated. We finally fixed on 2 little boys and a little girl (and of course all their assorted siblings as well), all more Germanophone than Francophone.

The weather was great this Friday, so sunny and warm. We ate out in the terrace, the children played both in the house (we have a big playroom) and in the garden (a swing and a slide), it was really nice chatting with the different mothers each with really interesting backgrounds and interesting things to tell.

For example, found out that one of the mother’s a Baptist Pastor. More importantly, that she and her husband have been sacrificing some of their own comfort in order to send a few thousand Euros every few months to Missionaries in India. To buy young girls from parents ready to sell them to brothels and sending these girls instead to a special orphanage that will provide shelter and education for them.

I told her that this was crazy since there are so very many such girls out there and that there is no way they’ll be able to help them all. But she said that she’s just doing what she could and that every life saved is better than none at all.

It is true that we have gotten so used to thinking that something is only worth doing if there are major results or impact, that we have forgotten that the ocean is made up of many little drops of water.

I made :
tortilla a las patatas y jamon
(last week's pic minus the ham and red peppers, too few eggs and a little burnt at the top coz I was experimenting trying to caramelize it)
penné au pesto (with bacon bits)
cantaloupe melon with parma ham

and finally,
banana and chocolate muffins with ice cream

vendredi, mai 05, 2006

Herb Roast Chicken, Stingray in Butter-Herb Sauce

Herb Roast Chicken is easy to make and is a hit with most children. When I am not in the mood to cook, I usually put some chicken to roast in the oven.

The important thing is that the chicken should be fresh. Could be a whole free-range chicken, or a few whole thighs. Just clean the chicken, rub salt and pepper over it, stuff some crushed garlic and a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme (even mint) inside it, sprinkle some Herbes de Provence (or just rosemary, thyme or estragon...) all over it, douse with some olive oil and white wine from time to time during the roasting. A few slabs of salted butter on the breasts during the roasting adds even more taste - if you're not too health conscious, of course.

Pre-heat an oven at 180ºC. Put in the chicken and cook for 40-60 mins, turning it over at half-time (if using a roasting pan) and wetting it with its own juice or with more white wine. When it's nicely-grilled, let the chicken cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting it up so as to allow it to relax its muscles. If you insist on eating it hot, heat it up in the oven quickly before serving.

If the juice is not too oily (depends on the chicken and on what your threshhold for oil is), you can retrieve some of it, squeeze in some lemon juice (and eventually crème fraîche), adjust the salt and pepper and then serve with the chicken. As I usually use free-range chicken and cook it with white wine and olive oil, the sauce is normally not too oily and goes beautifully with the meat.

Potatoes whether fried, mashed, baked or boiled usually go well with the chicken. For a change, the last time I made a roast chicken, I cooked some fresh green beans (I stress on the fresh as frozen or canned green beans are disgusting. And ideally, the small, thin and crisp ones from Kenya would be the best) for 10 minutes in boiling water, drain them, wrap a slice of uncooked bacon around a bunch of them and put the bacon-green bean bouquets in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Otherwise, a fresh crsipy green salad would do great.

Another quick & easy dish to make is Stingray with Butter and Herb Sauce. Clean a nice fresh piece of peeled stingray. Bring to boil a pot of water with a bouquet garni (e.g. carrots, leeks, onions, celery, whole cloves, thyme, dill, bay leaves, parsley...), salt and pepper - the all to add flavour to the cooking stock. If your fishmonger has a fumet to sell, using some of it wouldn't hurt. Or a cube of fumet de poisson.

When the water is boiling, gently slide the fish into the water, bring the water to a boil again, lower heat to medium-low, cover the pot and cook the fish for maximum 10 minutes. The stingray should be cooked but not overcooked. Take the fish out of the pot, carefully remove the flesh from the cartilage and place it on a serving plate.

While the fish is cooking in the pot, melt some butter and chopped shallots (optional) in a heavy-bottomed casserole over low heat. Add in some chopped dill, parsley, salt and pepper, stir well, remove from the fire, squeeze in some lemon juice and pour the sauce over the fish on its serving plate. Can be eaten with potatoes or rice.

mercredi, mai 03, 2006

Hubby's 40th Birthday Bash

So the Big Day finally arrived. We had 15 adults (his friends from high school, university, neighbourhood, a few of our common friends...) and 7 children (half of them crazy) to feed on the day. And for once the sky was lenient, the weather warm enough for us to eat out in the garden and it only started raining when we finished dessert (the Birthday cake)!

The Menu ''6 Plats 6 Vins'' was as follows (Dishes in Black and Wines in Red) :

Foie gras entier sur toast
Champagne (from our wedding),
Sauternes Château Pey Arnaud, 1998

Consommé Wantan et ses ravioles chinoises (my plate was the only one with egg and not enough soup)
Les Malautiers, Bandol, 2004

Risotto aux truffes et sa coquille saint jacques
Château Tour Saint Pierre, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 1999

Gigot d’agneau rôti au romarin, pommes sautées et haricot verts
Alloxe Corton, Domaine Prin, 1998

Plateau de fromage « Villers Cotterêts »
(all types of cheeses, forgot to take a pic)
Sarget de Gruaud Larose, Saint Julien, 1999

Fraisier de chez Robert

I believe that I've already posted recipes for the Pork and Prawn Wantans in Spiced Beef Consommé and the Rosemary Roast Lamb somewhere in my Blog and will therefore just mention how to prepare the Black Truffle Risotto with Pan-grilled Scallops.

I do not have a highly-refined sense of smell. As such, I am not a fan of black truffles and the exorbitant prices one often has to pay for them do not help to endear me to them. But in order to add some ''class'' to my simple meal and to please those who are sensitive to such pleasures (like the Birthday Boy), I've decided to prepare a dish with the mushroom.

I started out with a classic risotto. Heat up a generous amount of olive oil in a pan and brown some finely diced onions and shallots. Next, add in some white wine, the Arborio rice (not washing it is better in order not to lose too much starch) and mix well. Lower the heat to medium-low. Slowly ladle in salted and peppered chicken stock (about 1 1/2 cups of stock to 1 cup of rice), cover the pot and repeat the operation till all the stock has been absorbed by the rice. That should take about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in freshly-grated parmesan cheese and add in the black truffles (about 1g per person) sliced up finely, cover the pan and set aside for the aroma of the truffles to be infused in the rice. I didn't use any pancetta or mushrooms for the risotto as the truffles are the highlight of the dish and must not be overpowered by other "cheaper" ingredients.

Next, heat up some olive oil in a frying pan. Add in the fresh scallops (still with the coral if there is any) to grill. If they are thick, you'll be able to grill them nicely on both sides, but if they're not, just concentrate the grilling on one side (the side to be served face-up) so as not to over-cook them. It doesn't matter if the scallops are a little raw inside especially if they are fresh. You do not want rubbery scallops so remember not to overcook. Sprinkle some herbs like parsley, dill and rosemary over them and add salt and pepper to taste. Finally, lower the heat and stir in a few Tbsps of crème fraîche.

While the scallops are searing in the pan, beat some crème liquide in a bowl over a bain-marie and then pour it over the risotto. Serve the risotto with one or 2 scallops (the sauce from the scallops on the scallops), some fresh rocket salad and freshly-sliced parmesan cheese.

During the meal, I was often asked to describe the way I cooked my Pommes de terres à la sarlardaise and so I might as well do it here now. First slice or cube the potatoes (about 1 1/2 big potato pax, and watch out for the race, use potatoes for pan-frying). Heat up a generous amount of duck or goose fat in a big frying pan. Add in the potatoes, salt, pepper, rosemary or Herbes de Provence, leave it cooking for 5 minutes, lower heat to medium and then cover the pan. The potatoes have to be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, so it has to cook a little on its side and in its own steam.

Turn over the potatoes when one side is nicely browned so as to brown the other side. Do not stir them too often or they'll break up into pieces. Leave the pan uncovered in the last 5 minutes of the cooking, add in some chopped garlic and then some fresh parsley, adjust the salt and pepper, give everything a good stir and then serve.

We ended the meal with coffee, chocolates, guitar music from one guy, cigars from the Dominican Republic that MIL brought back from her trip there a few weeks ago and the rain. All in all it was a pleasant day and I would like to thank everyone once again for turning up, for all the nice prezzies and good company. See you in a decade (ha ha)!

Indonesian Beef Curry (Rendang) and Soto Ayam (Spiced Chicken Soup)

Indonesian Beef Rendang

Both are popular dishes in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. And needless to say, quite delicious. Made both last Wednesday for dinner.

I think Hubby's first taste of the Rendang must be in Medan, Sumatra, the first year we went out together. We were in a Nasi Padang stall on the last leg of our backpacking trip in Sumatra (where we trekked in the Orang Utan rehabilitation reserve in Bukit Lawang, travelled downstream in a makeshift rubber-tyre raft, climbed a volcano near Lake Toba, where he dived in Pulau Weh off Acheh...) and I finally managed to convince him to give up his usual Nasi Goreng (only dish they usually managed to cook on the spot for us) and try some Nasi Padang (cooked food served cold) in a reasonably clean-looking restaurant. But his favourite Indonesian restaurant remains the Rice Table in Singapore.

Beef or Lamb Rendang :

1kg meat (beef cheek/joue de boeuf is very tender) cut into big cubes
vegetable oil
shallots or onions, sliced
1 thumb-sized ginger, sliced
1 thumb-sized galangal, sliced
3 cloves garlic, bashed
1-2 stalks lemon Grass, bruised (if desired, finely sliced)
2 candlenuts (optional)
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 pinch ground cloves
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 piece cinnamon bark
1 star anis
5 cardamoms, bashed
1 tbsp ground chilli (or fresh chilli)
3 tbsp tamarind juice (or juice of 1 lime)
1 tbsp palm sugar
400ml coconut milk
4 kaffir lime leaves
5 tbsp dessicated grated coconut (to be roasted, optional)
Salt to taste

Marinate the beef with a bit of ground turmeric. Grind the garlic, onions, lemongrass (or use it in a larger piece bashed), ginger, galanga and candlenut into a paste. Add the ground spices and mix well.

Heat some oil in a pot till smoking hot and brown the meat in it. Remove and set aside.

Fry the onions and whole spices in the same oil. Add in the paste and fry till fragrant. If necessary add more oil. Stir in the coconut milk and palm sugar. Add the kaffir lime leaves and the seared beef. Cover the pot and simmer the meat in the spice paste/coconut milk till the liquid is almost gone. It can take up to 4 hours.

Remove the cover and stir the meat as the gravy dries out to prevent burning.

Rendang not yet dry

The Rendang is a dry curry created to allow the meat curry to be kept without refrigeration for a long time. It is best eaten hot with some steamed rice, but is just as good eaten cold (e.g. in Nasi Padang stalls). In fact, it's one of those dishes that taste better eaten later. Eat it over a day or 2 and it would taste better each time you eat it.

Toasted dessicated coconut

Finally, once the curry has dried out with the simmering (remember not to let the meat burn), dry-toast the dessicated grated coconut in a non-stick frying pan. Add to the beef curry with some fresh coriander leaves, a few minutes before serving. Mix well. Meat should be melt-in-the mouth.

Soto Ayam

Soto Ayam :

1 whole Chicken
4 Shallots or 1 large Onion, sliced
2 cloves Garlic, bashed
1 thumb-sized Ginger, sliced
1 large red chilli
1 thumb-sized Galanga, sliced
3 stalks Lemon Grass, bruised
1 Tsp ground Turmeric
A few Cloves
1-2 Star Anises
1 Tsp Peppercorns
1 Tsp ground Coriander
1 Tsp ground Cumin
4 Candlenuts, lightly bashed
2 Kaffir lime leaves
600ml Chicken stock
400ml Coconut milk
1 stalk Celery
Salt and Pepper

Rub the chicken all over with salt.

Pound or grind the shallots, ginger, garlic and chilli into a paste. Heat up some oil in a pot and brown the shallot paste, ground and whole spices, lemongrass and galangal. Add the chicken and enough hot broth to cover the chicken. Cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the chicken and cool it in a basin of cold water for 10 minutes, drain and debone the chicken. Set the meat aside and return the bones to the stock. Add the celery, potatoes, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk. Simmer for at least another 30 minutes.

Serve the chicken soup with some chicken, salt and pepper to taste, a few cubes of boiled potatoes (or traditionally mashed potato patties), hard-boiled egg, fried shallots, fresh coriander leaves, mung bean vermicelli (optional), squeeze some lemon juice over it. For the initiated, the soup can also be eaten with some chilli padi mixed with sugar and dark soya sauce.

PS : If you want your soup to be less oily you'll have to be more hardworking and cook it the day before so that you can cool it and remove the fat before serving it.

7 Plats 7 Vins : Autour des Herbes et des Épices, Jazz Brunch at Le Réservoir, Truman Capote Movie

We returned to Paris last weekend just to attend a cooking class. Hubby's favourite Wine-tasting instructor (or Oenologue) Mr. J. BLOC organises food and wine outings and food and wine-tasting sessions quite regularly. The one we attended was titled : ''7 Plats 7 Vins : Autour des Herbes et des Épices'' (7 Courses and 7 Wines around Herbs and Spices). It cost 120 Euros per person and was inclusive of the cooking demonstration, ingredients, food and wine tasting.

It took us 6 hours to drive to my MIL's place in Bonneuil en Valois (to leave the kids with her) and 2 hours to drive to Paris (horrifying traffic jams). We were late for the cooking class and missed out on the citron confit (luckily it was a simple recipe) and the rosemary scallops. But with 7 dishes to prepare, there was more than enough to keep up with, we've picked up quite a few interesting tips about preparation and cooking methods and it was a priviledge and lots of fun learning from the Chef de cuisine Pierre GASSERT (last year we learnt how to make Foie gras with cacao with him), a round, jolly and really funny guy who's very professional and very good in his job. We all got to help him prepare the dishes and also to serve them.

The menu was as follows (Dishes in Black and Wine in Red) :

Saumon mariné à l'aneth, façon Fjord
Domaine de la Tournelle 2003, Fleur de Savagnin

Croustillant de chèvre, vinaigre balsamique, miel thym et framboise

Blanquette de veau à la vanille, tagliatelles aux épinards
Domaine Sylvie Spielmann, Pinot Noir Réserve Bergheim 2003

Brochette de coquilles St Jacques sur sa branche de romarin, sauce corail et citronnelle, endive braisée, asperges sauvages
Cuvée tradition 2001 - Vouvray François Pinon

Poulet au bâton de réglisse, citron confit avec sa poire rôtie à l'huile d'olive et ciboulette (no photo 'coz I was so eager to eat it I forgot to have one taken)
Château La Tour de Mons 2000 - Margaux

Cantal vieux
Xerès Amontillado

Ananas rôti à la créole mijoté au poivre de Séchouan et cardamone
Classic Rhum Versailles, 13 ans d'âge

I'm not a wine lover but it was really interesting listening to Mr BLOC commenting on each wine before we tasted each dish, the history of the wine, its maker, the aromas, how it compliments the dish etc.

We spent the night in a small hotel at Bastille and had brunch the next morning at Le Réservoir, a branché bar-club-restaurant in the Bastille area. For 22 Euros you get a pretty decent spread and a Jazz concert, last Sunday we had Johanne SAYADA, classic Brazilian revisited.

Then we watched the film Truman Capote (the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's), brilliantly portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Makes me want to read his last completed book and non-fiction novel In Cold Blood based on the 1959 murder of the four members of a Kansas farming family, the Clutters. And I am really quite haunted about what he wrote in the preface of his uncompleted book, using Saint Theresa of Avila's saying that ''Answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered''...

PS : If anybody's interested in the recipe for any of the above dishes, write to me and I'll provide it.