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.