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.

Pho (Vietnamese Beef Soup with Rice Noodles) 越南生牛肉粉

Vietnamese Raw Beef Pho

The Pho 越南生牛肉粉 looks oily and if prepared a day in advance the fat can be removed. Except during winter when you'll need it for extra warmth.

There are many Vietnamese in Paris so eating a Pho is something we do from time to time when we eat out. Living away from France now for nearly a decade, I make it at least once every 2-3 weeks because it is easy to make and is very popular with the whole family.

The smell in the kitchen is also fabulous as it's made with lots of ginger and spices. Truly comfort food especially in the colder months.

Raw Beef Pho :

2 kg beef for making soup e.g. Oxtail or Bones
400g beef for steak e.g. Faux-filet, Rumpsteak...(best slightly frozen to allow for easy slicing)
beefballs and innards (optional)
1 large onion picked with a few whole cloves
A few star anises
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp of whole coriander seeds
a few whole green cardamoms
whole peppercorns
1 fennel bulb
Fresh ginger
1 bay leaf
1 celery stalk
a few carrots (optional)
fish sauce
Pot-au-feu or Beef stock cube (optional)

Garnishing :

cooked thick rice noodles
coriander leaves
mint leaves
bean sprouts
raw red onions
lemon/lime juice
red chillies

Boil some water in a pot. When it's boiling, blanche the oxtail pieces in it. Drain the water and rince the meat in cold water. Set aside.

Heat up the soup pot and dry roast a few pieces of fresh ginger together with the picked onion and whole spices. Add in the bay leaf and celery, as well as the hard green parts and leaves of the fennel bulb. The aroma will start to fill up the kitchen.

Remove the whole spices and fill a tea filter with them. Close the bag with kitchen string.

Set aside the fennel bulb.

Pour in hot stock/water (enough to cover the meat). Boil under low-medium heat for about 2 hours or till the oxtail is tender. Turn off the heat, leave to cool overnight.

The next day, skim off the fat from the soup and heat it up again. Cook for an hour or more, add in the carrots and fennel bulb about 30 minutes before serving. Taste and adjust the seasoning by adding in salt and fish sauce. If you wish to have a cleaner soup, pass it through a sieve.

Slice the faux-filet into thin slices. We eat it almost raw so I would just pour the hot soup over it.

Serve the soup with a piece of the oxtail, wide rice noodles, slices of the faux-filet, beefballs and innards, bean sprouts, mint and coriander leaves, chilli, sliced red onion and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Sesame Oil Ginger Chicken 麻油姜丝鸡


Sesame Oil Ginger Chicken 麻油姜丝鸡 is one of my whole family's favourite dishes. It is as usual easy to prepare and very often I would marinate the chicken the day before and just cook it a few minutes before I have to serve a meal. One can also add Iceberg cabbage and sliced brown button mushrooms towards the end of the cooking process to have a more balanced dish.

Sesame Oil Ginger Chicken :

500g chicken breasts (tenderised and sliced)
salt and pepper (to taste)
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp dry sherry or chinese cooking wine
2 tsp corn starch
white of one egg

fresh ginger (finely sliced)
fresh red chilli (sliced)
2 tbsp sesame oil
hot water or stock
cooking wine, soy sauce, salt, sesame oil and sugar to taste
2 tsp corn starch (dissolved in a little water for thickening the sauce)

Marinate the sliced chicken with the sauces, wine, sesame oil, cornstarch and egg white for at least an hour if not overnight.

Heat up the sesame oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the ginger and chilli till fragrant. Add in the marinated sliced chicken. When the meat is almost cooked, pour in the sauces and hot water.

When the meat is cooked and coated in the sauce, stir in the corn starch solution.

Stir-fry until sauce thickens. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Serve hot with steamed rice or rice porridge.

vendredi, octobre 06, 2006

Strawberry Shortcake

Pictures speak a thousand words. The method for making Strawberry Shortcake is similar to the Tiramisu and as usual I prefer not to use raw eggs in my no-bake baking. The cake's not very pretty as I am very lousy in slicing fruits and it was a mistake using a round mold when the boudoirs were rectangular in shape. But otherwise it turned out just great. The cream was nice and stiff.

Boudoirs (you could also replace them with 2 layers of sponge cake)
Fresh Strawberries (either sliced thinly or just into halves - depending on how you want the cake decorated)
Cream for whipping (has to be whipped stiff)
Mascapone (1 tub)
2 Tbsps Sugar
2 drops each of Vanilla and Almond Essence
Grand Marnier, Rhum or Cognac (optional)
Cocoa Powder (optional)
Fresh Mint

PS : No need to wet the boudoirs beforehand as the fruit plus cream usually would soak them as the cake sets. Refrigerate for a day before serving.


Legoland (Germany) is just an hour from my place, between Stuttgart and Munich. It costs almost the same for adults (30 Euros) and children (25 Euros) and is worth a visit. But be prepared to pay not just the entry fees but also spend on ice slushes, pop corn, sausages and more importantly - the wide range of Lego merchandise!

The queues were long though maybe not as long as in Disneyland and I think the rides were great when you have young children (my 2.5 and 4 year-olds could do most of them).

There were a few roller coasters and the Bionicle ride was rather innovative - you could programme the speed etc (so even my mom went on it). I love the Lego mini-world, these people are geniuses and artists.

We brought foie gras sandwiches to picnic in the park and bought some ice-cream, pop corn etc sur place. I must say that compared to most other parks, the prices for tit-bits etc were reasonable. The variety was quite decent too.

Only problem was that the opening hours were quite short (10h-19h, but all rides closed at 18h) and we couldn't finish the park in a day. Didn't even catch any shows, for example. Also, the parking was quite steep at 4 Euros per vehicle.

Those living in Germany, watch out for free entry coupons for children (though each child will have to be accompanied by a paying adult) on milk bottles (e.g. Landliebe), Lego boxes etc. Otherwise, if you buy online (, you'll get 10% discount though you'll need to wait a week for your tickets to reach you.