mercredi, octobre 31, 2007

Europa 92

I Dolci

I must admit that though I was to celebrate my Bday in a good restaurant on the day itself, I was actually quite Boh-Song about it as the invitation smelt heavily of "afterthought". As such I dragged my feet when it came to dressing up and when Hubby arrived to pick us up he started to nag at me which made me even more Boh-Song, if you wish.

It didn't help that it hadn't stopped raining the whole of yesterday. I was drenched on my way sending Eldest Boy to and picking him up from Tennis class. Went around looking for a place to have some gelato in with the Babies and of course nothing was open. Finally gave up and decided to go watch the boy during practice which could be a pain when you have to hang on to 2 itchy-hands Babies at the same time. Or they would be running into the middle of the Tennis court every minute or throwing stray Tennis balls at the players.

Must say that the Boy wasn't doing too badly for a total beginner. They have 4 mini-matches every session and he's currently in the Finals of every one of them plus would win from time to time. Though as usual he is having problems getting along with some of the other kids, apparently they have been making snide racist remarks at him - nothing new. One of those Italian boys is short, fat and ugly. So I told Eldest Son that he has my permission to tell him that it's better to have a "Chinese face" than be short, fat and ugly. If he complains to his parents, I'll deal with it. God knows I wouldn't mind a verbal fight with someone now.

Back to my Bday celebration, we arrived at the Restaurant-Club Europa 92 at half-past eight, quite cold and wet. It was situated in a renovated circa 1600 horse stable and the food is what you would call "Modenese revisited". You get pictures of Pavarotti here and there and his operas to accompany your meal. It's his restaurant after all. Stars like Jon Bon Jovi, Celine Dion, Eros, Sting, Bono, Lady Di, Zucchero and Ricky Martin have all dined in, for example.

The service was friendly and fast. A bit too fast if you should happen to be there to kill time - which of course we weren't. I had a Potato Velouté with Mushroom to start, followed by Lamb Chops with Fried Croutons. There was a free flow of the Modenese specialty Gnocci which is a bit like Youtiao (dough fritters) in taste. The meat was good and properly cooked and we ate it with a good bottle of Montepulciano which on its own cost more than 2 main courses. Hub had a Gongonzola Soufflé to start followed by Roast Goose. The kids had excellent grilled Beef Steaks. No pictures here as none turned out (didn't use flash and the lighting's insufficient).

The positive thing about this Bday celebration was that for once the Hub had gotten smart and has engaged the help of his Assistant in organising the dinner. She called up the restaurant, booked the table and tried to get me a Birthday cake albeit without success. What they did though was actually serve up a fake decorated cake for me to blow my candles on (there were 3 of them and Baby Girl exclaimed : "Mum, you're 3!") and then they removed it and I got to choose my dessert like everybody else from the dessert trolley. Not stupid.

My mood improved significantly by the end of the meal and I actually had the grace to thank the Hub for it. One never knows. Maybe next year he'll get yet a little smarter and may even buy me a gift to go with the meal.

Restaurant-Club Europa 92
Stradello Nava 8
41100 Modena
Tel : 0039 059460067

mardi, octobre 30, 2007

Another Quiet Birthday/ Marital Conversation II

H : I won't be back for dinner this evening.
M: (One eye open) Ah bon.
H : (Sudden realisation) Oh, it's your Birthday!
M: It's not important.
H : We can always eat out tomorrow.
M: No, forget it, I have to cook up a feast tomorrow for Thursday.
H : We'll have to eat out tonight then.
M: No, it's OK. I'm making Chicken Tikka Masala. (Went back to sleep)

H : (phone) I've reserved dinner at Europa 92 (Pavarotti's restaurant)
M: Didn't you say you won't be back for dinner?
H : I've cancelled the dinner.
M: Are you sure you can do it? What kind of a dinner is it?
H : No, it's not important. I've cancelled it (Me : raised eyebrows)
M: As you wish.

The difference between Hub and I when it comes to Birthdays is that I've always celebrated it as a kid (e.g. little Lotus at the Zoo with personalised T-shirt etc) and as a young adult, whereas I believe that it has always been a non-event in his family. My sister-in-law (SIL) was born 10 years and 2 days before me and when I asked my MIL a few days ago if they were going to do something for the lady's Bday, she said no without any hesitation. This year, I didn't remind the Hub about his sis's Bday so I am quite sure that he wouldn't remember to ring her and at least send her his good wishes.

Added to Bdays being a non-event is the fact that he wouldn't remember anybody's Bday except his own. Every single time he had to fill out the kids' Bdays on some form, you can be sure to have him call you to check out the dates. And each time he would valiantly try to get them right - but to no avail.

So he is pretty practical on the subject as he is on almost everything else : remember your own Bday, buy your own gift and reserve your own babysitter and restaurant - if you want to celebrate your Bday.

Only he has married a Singaporean girl. And back where I come from, we like to have the best of both worlds, if possible have the cake and eat it too, if you wish.

So I want HIM to remember my Birthday, I want my present, and I wouldn't mind a little celebration too. Or even better, a cake with candles to blow out - like when I was a little girl.

And I really hate it when one doesn't remember when my Bday is, when I have to remind the person, and then receive a prezzie or a cake like some afterthought.

So I've obstinately refused to go hunt for a babysitter and reserve a table on my own Birthday. Or tell him where to buy a Bday cake at the last minute. And I almost never have a present on the day itself - usually it'll be grouped with Christmas and other forgotten occasions and be something I'd buy and then put it down as a present from the Hub.

On a happy note, my dear German penpal didn't forget the occasion though. Never did, as a matter of fact. Sent me an email yesterday though he's really busy. He's a Catholic priest in charge of annulments etc - surely some of them must include forgotten or hastily-remembered Bdays as a reason.

Marital Discussion I (Pastéis de Nata/Portuguese Egg Tarts)

Lotus' Pastéis de Nata

Hub : What are we having for dinner?
Me : Tandoori Chicken.
H : What with?
M : Cucumber.
H : That's all?
M : What did you mean by that? You said that you wanted to eat light at night...
H : Can we make a raita? How about fries too?
M : ....

H : What's for dessert?
M : What do you mean dessert? You said you wanted to eat light...
H : There's nothing to eat in this house. Did you not just go to the supermarket?
M : I did, I went to get eggs, milk --
H : You came back late and still there's nothing to eat.

M : My dear Master, allow me to present you with your dessert.

Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Egg Tarts) :

Puff Pastry
Icing Sugar
Ground Cinnamon
2 Eggs
2 Egg Yolks
60g Sugar
140ml Whipping Cream
200ml Milk
A few drops Vanilla extract

We've been to Lisbon twice and one of the things we would keep popping into our mouths in between meals of gorgeous seafood and bacalhau dishes was their absolutely yummy Egg Tarts. Our favourite was the old establishment Pastéis de Belem in the capital.

I will not dare to say that I've gotten the recipe right, since the original recipe is still a closely guarded secret. And how you like the egg custard is really a matter of personal taste. I'm not too much into very smooth custards, and so will not even bother to strain or pre-cook my filling. I beat all the filling ingredients together till smooth, that's all.

What is more important to me is the crust. It has to be very crispy and I am happy to say that I got it right. The trick is to pre-heat your oven to between 220 and 250ºC and then bake your tarts for the 1st 15 minutes in this temperature. Some would even pre-bake the pie crusts but I do not think that this is really necessary. Then finish the cuisson in a lower temperature (150-180ºC) for the last 5-10 minutes. Mine were small, shallow tarts so I adjusted the cooking time accordingly. Sprinkle the tarts with a ground cinnamon-icing sugar mix before serving. Truth be told, I used the mix even for the pie crusts and the filling. Just love it. And it's just as good eaten cold, actually.

lundi, octobre 29, 2007

Ferrari 2007 Finali Mondiali (and Schmoozer Award)

My Badge

Let me put it on the record that I'm no F1 fan. Will probably have just as much fun hunting down a wild hare in the chemical dung-filled fields around my house. But if you saw me at the Ferrari 2007 Finali Mondiali races in the Mugello autodrome on Sunday, just know that it was the President's free lunch that made me tug at the line.

Those races actually lasted 4 days (25-26-27-28 October). We had access to the Paddock on all 4 days, but the kids had school and the Hubby needed to work in the office in Maranello. No time for socialising (many of his important suppliers were there). And we would have turned up on Saturday night for the Gala Dinner if we had a reliable babysitter, but we didn't. So we spent the evening watching DVDs.

The Dining Hall in the Terrace

On Sunday, we were among the priviledged few invited to the President's Lunch and as kids were also invited, we happily set out at 9:30am (we were actually late as usual, but with the time change we ended up leaving on time) for Mugello which is slightly more than an hour's drive from home. It's just before Florence when you're coming from Emilia Romagna.

The Babies

Arrived at past 11 though as we lost our way as we entered Barberino di Mugello and as the roads leading to the races tend anyway to be congested. If you do not need to stay in a jam for 2 hours, you'll have to count yourself lucky. Saw lots of Ferraris along the way, of course.

We had an easy time parking though as we had been allocated P1 which had direct access to the tracks. Mugello is a beautiful autodrome set in the mountains and it was amazing seeing the cars racing around us on different levels. The noise however was quite unbearable, in fact ear plugs are indispensable in F1 races or you'll go deaf in no time.

View of Pitlane and Race Tracks from the Terrace

We were ushered up to the Terrace where the lunch would be held. From there we would watch the races as you have a marvelous view of everything (plus a few plasma screens for close-ups), it was heated, there was a continous supply of coffee and drinks and hors-d'oeuvres both sweet and salty. From where we were, we could see the rest of the folks in the stands on the ground and you see that Hubby wasn't joking when he complained (when he was a "commoner" at the Monza Races) that there was a lousy and expensive sandwich stand with long queues and nothing else. Ahem!

Vintage Ferraris personally sent off by the President

As it was too early to eat, we procured ourselves special Passe-partout passes (both Hubby's PAs were on duty so it helped) and set out to visit the boxes where all the racing Ferraris were parked. I was told that many people would buy racing Ferraris that they would be unable to drive on the roads and these cars would be stored chez Ferrari who will organise a few events like this throughout the year to allow these rich guys to get to drive their racy cars on the tracks.

Look carefully, you'll see the President, Todt, Massa and Kimi

I must say that the ambiance was great, I thoroughly enjoyed it much to my surprise. Though the noise was even more deafening when you were in the Pitlane (yes, we were standing right next to the cars just where they set off to join the race tracks situated a few metres away). When a driver starts his engine, the noise is really really loud, goes all the way to your heart.

Like on TV

F1 Racers being prepared for the races

M. Schumacher's Car

Schummi being interviewed

One of the FXXs

We were able to touch the cars, watch them get ready, hear their (horribly loud and powerful) engines revv up just before they zoomed off and of course we saw Schumacher's black race car (Nº 30) though the sneaky guy managed to escape before the car was returned to its parking lot. We saw him in person later on, just a few metres from us as we climbed the stairs to lunch.

Massa and Kimi

In fact we also saw Massa and Raikkonen though I didn't recognise the latter and didn't take his picture. There was a moment when the idea of asking for their signatures crossed my mind - because M (who came to my house for dinner a few weeks ago) was literally standing next to the drivers - but I thought better of it knowing that Hubby would be horrified if I ever try to take advantage of personal friendships to get what I want. He is very strict about such things - which makes him stand out like a sore thumb in Italy where nothing works without relations. In fact, thanks to guys like him the (wonderful - if you ask me LOL) Ferrari tradition of making generous gifts to its employees may soon be a thing of the past. I've arrived at a bad time, boo hoo hoo.

The President signing autographs on his arrival

We returned in time for lunch and sat next to the Financial Director and his lovely family (he's Italian but the wife's American). The meal's the usual Italian except for the desserts which were really good (for once) and which had a French touch to them. Quite impossible to talk during the meal though as the races were on and the noise was deafening. The President of the company Montezemolo came by and shook everybody's hands and seemed quite taken with Baby Girl (the apple of her father's eye). He's as old as the company but is still very suave with flowing blond hair and a svelte silhouette and apparently kids as old as my Babies from a new marriage. J. Todt swept through the dining room like a tornado, shaking a few hands and signing a few autographs and then disappearing again. The kids all received a Ferrari gift at the end of the meal.

We left the races before the end with the hope of avoiding the leaving crush, but still ended up stuck in a jam for nearly 2 hours. Tough luck. But I'll be back in Mugello at the next opportunity. It had been fun.

And believe it or not, I won one of my rare "lucky" draws in East meets West Kitchen's twin raffle over the weekend. My "ticket" was picked by one of her cute little girls to receive a Blogging Community Involvement Award for the Power of Schmooze. Thank you V for having thought of me and for putting my name in the basket. Maybe this is a sign for me to go sign up for the lottery as God knows I'm in need of some cash after paying for the air tickets to Singapore.

The award is for those with good social and communication skills in the blogging community, good at socialising and making friends and at introducing others to more bloggers/friends and so on. The Hub would choke on his expresso if he knew that I've won myself this award as he likes to tell me that I'm anti-social. You know, because I like my own company very much - and that of my blog. Though he fails to understand how well we could learn and make friends through blogging. A case in point : I was just thinking of the Dutchess of Cookalot as I was typing this out and Rrrring...she phoned me!

It is now my turn to pass on the award which is not a difficult job as bloggers socialise and communicate in their own way, otherwise they wouldn't have a blog in the first place, right?

Fellow Schmoozers :
  • Lily's Wai Sek Hong : probably a reference for many food bloggers out there. Always so ready to explain and help other bloggers needing cooking tips and just for sharing all her wonderful recipes and experience with all.
  • Jaden's Steamy Kitchen : communication-savvy, wonderful recipes, full of funny repartees, great fun.
  • Rasa Malaysia : who doesn't know her? Great recipe ideas, beautiful photos, like I said, who doesn't know her?

samedi, octobre 27, 2007

Millefeuille à la Crème Chantilly (Thousand Layers with Whipped Cream)

Millefeuille à la Crème Chantilly

This evening after dinner, I had a sudden desire to whip cream. So I took out a packet of panna fresca from the fridge and started to whip it up. It took me twice as long to whip up Italian cream than the German ones, but the result wasn't too bad, I was quite happy having whipped cream once again (though bad luck to the diet).

In addition to the need to whip cream, I also felt the need to bake (again). So I turned on the oven, took a peep in my fridge and decided to make us some Millefeuille à la Crème Chantilly. Hubby started to whinge, "But it's so fattening, we still have the Apple Cake..." though the kids jumped with joy whipped cream and puff pastry being quite their idea of nice food.

Making the Millefeuille pastry is the important part though it is really quite easy. I used ready-made puff pastry from the supermarket. Makes 4-5 pastries.

Unroll the puff pastry, sprinkle icing or fine sugar freely all over it. Make holes with a fork. Heat up the oven to 180ºC.

Put the puff pastry in the oven BUT with a metal grill tray on top of it so that the pastry will not be allowed to rise freely during the baking. Bake for 10 minutes.

Take it out and turn the pastry over to its other side. Sprinkle sugar over this side and return the pastry to the oven for another 10 minutes - always with the metal grill tray on top of it. Watch that it doesn't burn, of course. There should be many layers in the pastry when it's done but they must be compactly packed. Let it cool.

Once cooled, cut the pastry as you wish, into round shapes or rectangles or whatever. Sprinkle icing sugar over each layer that you use and then fill it up as you wish e.g. with crème patissière, fruit (goes beautifully with strawberries and raspberries), whipped cream etc. Very versatile, yummy and presentable dessert. The guy who wanted to watch his fat and sugar intake complained that I didn't include raspberries in the pastry...

Now I have to go do some ironing. Tomorrow we leave early for the Mugello race track where the Ferrari 2007 Finali Mondiali races will be held. We are fortunate (actually depends on how you look at things - e.g. less freedom) to be personally invited by the Company's President to join him in the VIP stand. I look like a dumpling in almost anything at the moment, and so will have to hide myself in a pair of loose woollen pants and a sweater. And that stupid pair of pants needs to be ironed. Just my luck.

vendredi, octobre 26, 2007

Spiced Apple Cake

Spiced Apple Cake

I do not know if it's because I've put on weight without even losing the bit (10kgs, actually) that I'm supposed to lose first, or if it's because it's winter, that I'm currently into a small baking frenzy. In the former case, it would be a sign of despair, that of me giving up this dieting business, you know, if you can't beat it, join in (getting fatter). In the latter case, it's no better, I'm cold, I need even more calories though since I do not seem to burn much of any it must be the mind cheating me. And yes, I have given in too easily.

Good Bye Cupcakes

In any case, I stayed up till midnight yesterday baking cupcakes for Eldest Son's class, as his teacher was supposed to leave after today. The boy very proudly brought my offering to school this morning and even got a hug from the lady for the pain. And then she announced to the class that she has decided to postpone her departure, that finally she would leave just before Christmas. I am really happy, of course, as the boy really likes her, but when I think of me falling asleep over my cupcakes last night...

This evening, I had a sudden desire to bake a Spiced Apple Cake. It's the season for apples and the markets are flooded with them. The other day I bought quite a number of Reinettes for the Tarte Tatin and still have a few left over. Am normally not a fan of cooked apples, but I'm OK with them as long as I'm the one cooking them. Funny, right?

Spiced Apple Cake :

200g Butter
200g Sugar
3 Eggs
225g Flour
2 Tsp Baking Powder
25g Ground Hazelnuts or Almonds
1 Tbsp ground Cinnamon
A pinch of ground Cloves
500g Apples

Beat the butter and sugar till creamy. Add the eggs into the mixture one by one.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and ground spices. Add in the ground nuts.

Fold the flour into the mixture gently. Cut the apples into small cubes and add them into the cake mixture. Mix well.

Bake in a preheated oven (180ºC) for about 1 hour.

I suspect that another reason why I'm enjoying baking so much nowadays is because it does fill the kitchen up with such a nice smell and I do so love watching the cake rise in the oven...From where I am sitting in front of the computer, I have a direct view of my oven. You know, from one screen to another. Still, I should stop this baking business. Sunday we have a VIP Ferrari outing and I'll be meeting all of Hubby's bosses, what am I going to wear? What can I squeeze into, to be more exact? Desperation...

Lamb Pilaf

Lamb Pilaf

This is lamb week. Must be the endless rain and cold, makes you crave for the heat that a lamb dish gives out. I didn't have a lot of time though to make my usual Lamb Biryani with the gravy and all, and so settled for a drier Lamb Pilaf.

The meat I got from an Egyptian-run shop that seems always to sell lamb unlike the Italian supermarkets. I also bought a pack of golden raisins that are more than 3 times the price of normal raisins but like my mother likes to say, 1 cent for 1 cent's quality's worth.

Lamb Pilaf :

1 Kg lean Lamb meat from the Leg or Shoulder
250ml Yoghurt
2 Tbsps ground Ginger
6-8 cloves minced Garlic
1 Tsp ground Turmeric
1/2 Tsp ground Nutmeg
300g Basmati Rice
1/2 Tsp Saffron Strands
100ml Milk
500ml Boiling Water
Hara Masala (4 Chillis, 3 Tbsps Coriander Leaves, 2 Tbsps Mint Leaves)
6 finely-sliced medium Onions
1 Tbsp Black Cumin Seeds
Cinnamon stick
4-5 Cardamoms
3-4 Cloves
Garam Masala
75g Butter
Lime Juice
Hard-boiled Eggs
Roasted sliced Almonds

It's not difficult to make the dish, but one must think of marinating the meat (yoghurt, garlic, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, salt and pepper) and soaking the rice (with salt and water) beforehand - for minimum 2 hours.

Then all the other ingredients have to be ready and on hand.

The saffron threads have to be immersed in hot milk. The Hara Masala has to be prepared by mixing the leaves and chillis together. The eggs have to be boiled.

Next, brown 3/4 of the onions in a pan. When they have turned golden, remove and drain them on some kitchen paper. Set aside.

In the same oil, brown the remaining onions with the marinated lamb pieces and some salt. When they start turning brown, add in the remaining youghurt marinade and cook till it turns light brown. Then add in 350ml of the boiling water, cover and simmer for 20-45 minutes depending on the quality of your lamb.

Drain the rice. Melt 50g of the butter in a pan and fry the whole spices. Add in the rice, the raisins, some salt and pepper and stir well. Add in the remaining 150ml of hot water, stir, cover and cook over high heat till the water is almost all absorbed. Shouldn't take more than 2-3 minutes and the rice must not be cooked through. Remove cover, stir well and turn off the heat.

In a non-stick pan, arrange the following ingredients in this order in a cone :
  1. Half the Saffron Milk
  2. Half the Rice
  3. 1 Tsp Garam Masala
  4. The Lamb (just the meat)
  5. Half the Onions
  6. The Hara Masala
  7. Remaining Rice
  8. 1 Tsp Garam Masala
  9. Remaining Onions

Make a hole in the centre and 2 sides of the cone and quickly pour in the lime juice, remaining saffron milk, the cooking juices from the meat...The remaining butter can be cut into small pieces and spread on top of the rice. Cover tightly and let the lamb pilaf simmer for 30-45 minutes on very low heat.

Mix the rice and meat together before serving, garnishing with the hard-boiled eggs and roasted almonds.

Spiced Porridge with a touch of lemon

Spiced Lamb Lasagna

What did I do with the leftovers? Made a Spiced Porridge with the Lamb Bones and the leftover Pilaf. Hubby normally avoids eating rice porridge but he enjoyed this particular one as it is pretty much like a Lamb Soup. And with the meat, I shredded and fried it with garlic, onions and mint leaves and prepared a slightly Spicy Bechamel, all in preparation for a Indian Lamb Lasagna. That's where India met Italy for the week.

Singapore is the 17th most liveable city in the world according to Monocle Magazine

#17: Singapore's newly blossoming cultural landscape

Today's Singapore bears little resemblance to the city of 10 years ago
By Daven Wu, Monocle Magazine
Published: June 19, 2007
Singapore's landscape is blossoming, with talented local architects making their mark alongside international stars such as Toyo Ito, Moshe Safdie and Kohn Pedersen Fox; and the arts scene has seen a flowering of museums, performing arts venues and galleries.

It's still conservative but this city state is enjoying a cultural boom.

Today's Singapore bears little resemblance to the city of just 10 years ago.

The landscape is blossoming, with talented local architects making their mark alongside international stars such as Toyo Ito, Moshe Safdie and Kohn Pedersen Fox; and the arts scene has seen a flowering of museums, performing arts venues and galleries.

Much of this is the work of native Singaporeans who studied and worked abroad - in London, Tokyo, Vancouver, Sydney - and, for professional or personal reasons, have now come home.

The city now has a First World standard of living that is, save for exorbitant prices for cars and land, extremely affordable. It boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Its communication, health, public housing and transportation systems are first-rate and the regulatory and financial systems are transparent and efficient.

Singapore metrics :

Population: 4.48 million.

International flights: Singapore's Changi Airport is served by 80 airlines with over 4,000 flights a week to 180 cities in 57 countries.

Crime: murders, 17 (2006, all solved); domestic break-ins, 1,123.
Sunshine: annual average, 2,034 hours.

Temperatures: the average temperature rarely fluctuates from the 30C mark with slight dips during the monsoons from late November to January.

Wired: it's near impossible to find a place in Singapore that's not wired. Mobile coverage is excellent, even on the underground.

Tolerance: a policy of social and racial integration has resulted in a society that's remarkably harmonious. Gay sex remains a crime but the government adopts a cautious turn-a-blind-eye approach.

This survey is excerpted from issue five of
Monocle magazine.

mercredi, octobre 24, 2007

Quick Cinnamon Rolls with Hazelnuts

Short-cut Cinnamon Rolls (made using Focaccia Dough)

When I was living in Paris, I had the fortune of being fed occasionally with my American girlfriend J's yummy Cinnamon Rolls. Now that I'm no longer in Paris and still have that occasional craving for said Rolls, I have no choice but to roll up the sleeve and make some of my own.

Actually, I was about to go to the neighbourhood bakery to ask them if they could sell me their bread dough (too lazy to make my own) - when I would have figured out how to say it in Italian (the Germans when I last stayed in Stuttgart never managed to understand what I was asking for). Then I told myself that the bread that they bake over here usually sucks so surely it wouldn't do better as a Cinnamon Roll.

However, the pizza is excellent, so...

I went to the supermarket and grabbed a roll of ready-made pizza dough (if you can find focaccia dough it'll be even better) off the shelf. Unrolled it at home, spread a Butter-Sugar-ground Cinnamon-ground Hazelnut filling all over it, rolled it up, cut it into pieces and baked them in a preheated 180ºC over for 25 minutes. They are best baked closely placed next to one another so that the sides will not turn dry.

Made using Pizza Dough

Then I made a simple butter and sugar icing and spread it on the freshly-baked rolls and basta - Cinnamon Rolls!

Bad thing was that I ate 4 in one go which surely contributed to the 2 kgs I've gained in 2 weeks recently. Arrgh! The Hub finished off the rest (cold) when he came home that night. He too needs to lose some weight.

PS : Update!!! It's even better with Focaccia dough...Thicker and softer, yummy!

mardi, octobre 23, 2007

My 1st Meme

Quiche Lorraine and Rocket Salad

No, "Meme" as in this Tag thingy that goes round the Net, not the French Meme which means grandmother. And it's my very 1st courtesy of East meets West Kitchen (ok, go ahead and snigger - so mountain tortoise, nearly 35 and only doing her 1st meme) so do bear with me.

5 Things :

A. Found in my Room
  1. The Babies' weekly read from school
  2. Le Monde (French newspaper)
  3. A cookbook
  4. An adult scorpion (our 10th in 3 months)
  5. Everybody's smelly socks

B. I have always wanted to

  1. Make a Round-the-World Trip
  2. Participate in a Gang Bang
  3. Save the World
  4. Write a Book
  5. Cook for my Mother everyday

C. Found in my Bag

  1. Shopping Bag
  2. Camera
  3. Restaurant name cards
  4. School Telephone list
  5. Frutella

D. Found in my Wallet

  1. Credit card receipts
  2. Credit Cards
  3. A few name cards
  4. French stamps
  5. Supermarket Loyalty cards

E. I am currently into

  1. Planning my 1st gathering of Singaporeans in Italy
  2. Organising the International Buffet at the school's Christmas Fair
  3. Working out my makan schedule for when I return to Singapore
  4. Looking for our next Ski Holidays
  5. Learning Italian

5 Candidates to Tag :

Roast Chicken and Prawn Salad

Otherwise meals at the beginning of the week will have to be simple and light after all the gorging we've gotten into with the Dutchess in the past 2 days. Made a Quiche Lorraine and a Roast Chicken and all to just go with a Salad.

lundi, octobre 22, 2007

Magret de Canard à l'Orange/Duck in Orange Sauce

Canard à l'Orange

The Dutchess arrived in a red car in her red coat and Lotus Red lipstick. With her Sonny boy and giant of a husband at her heels. But more importantly, she brought along her offering of Kueh Lapis and other gifts, the former as I understood, baked with love and as such tasting of it.

J's Yummy Kueh Lapis

I wish I had been more organised and could welcome her in style. But I had to be in my dirty apron and was halfway through my fried potatoes...

People may wonder why I wanted to receive a stranger in my home - but then how could someone whose blog I have been following for a few months now be a total stranger? Our blogs are our public diaries and I knew even as I read her that we would probably get along quite fine. And my 6th sense has rarely failed me, if you wish.

So the Dutchess is in person truly as elegant and gracious as her blog, and her funny bone she brings it with her wherever she goes. It was my honour that she should get so excited when she saw duck in the kitchen, "Is that duck? Are we going to eat duck?" - for I certainly did put duck on the menu on her account. Quack quack. The recipe is for you, J.

Orange Sauce

Magret de Canard à l'Orange :

Duck Magret (breasts)
Red Onions
4-5 Oranges (about 250ml of orange juice + thinly-sliced zests)
100g Sugar
60ml White Wine Vinegar
30ml of Grand Marnier
40 ml White Wine
4 Tsps of Fond de Veau
Salt and Pepper

Prepare the magret by making cuts on the skin (but they must not reach the meat). Heat up a little oil in a non-stick pan and sweat the onions. Set them aside. Grill the magrets skin-side down in a hot pan for 8 minutes and then turn them over and grill them meat-side down for 3 minutes. That is for a pink duck. Do not throw away the duck fat, it can be used to fry potatoes in. Any blood/juice remaining on the plate where you place the ducks can also be recuperated to be added into the orange sauce later on.

In a non-stick sauce pan, caramelise the sugar on its own. Meaning heat up the sugar and watch it melt and turn into a golden brown liquid on its own. Then add in the vinegar and stir well. The caramel may harden upon contact with the vinegar but do not panic, lower the heat and the caramel will dissolve in the vinegar in no time. Add in the orange juice, Grand Marnier, white wine, stir from time to time till the sauce thickens and reduces in volume.

In another pan, heat up a little water and when it's boiling, put in the orange zests. Poach for a few minutes and then remove the zests and throw away the water. It's to clean the zests and remove their bitterness. Put the zests into the orange sauce.

Gratin de Chou Fleur

When the sauce has reduced by a third, add in 4 Tsps of Fond de Veau, stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. I served the Duck Magret with some Pommes de Terre sautées à la salardaise (Fried Garlic and Parsley Potatoes) and a Gratin de Chou Fleur (Cauliflower Gratin).


We started out with a platter of Tuscanian Cured Ham, Bolognese Mortadella Ham, Parmesan Cheese with Balsamic Vinegar, Bruschetta...downed with a bottle of White Chablis Wine from Burgundy.

The Sons we didn't see much of them as they had disappeared into Eldest Son's room to play games on the PS2 and they seemed to get along quite well. The Babies hung around and kept aiming shots at the Dutchess with their guns, and I pretended I didn't see anything as she gamely suffered them. LOL

Tarte Tatin

For dessert, I made a simple favourite of the family : Tarte Tatin.

I must apologise for the long lunch, but that's the way a French meal will usually turn out - from noon till early evening. We did the European thing and went for a walk round the house before dessert - a first for me in Italy (paiseh). Had never seen the back part of my house from a distance before and didn't even know that there's a path all round linking the house to the neighbour's vineyards and fields. We ended the day with TV, yes, watching Ferrari win this year's Constructor and Pilot/Driver Titles. Quelle émotion!

Thank you J, for gracing my humble farm house with your presence. Hope that you'll enjoy the rest of your stay in the region and have a safe trip home at the end of the week. Hopefully your Hubby whose eyes I've seen all twinkling after his visit of the Ferrari factory will indeed prove to be credit card zappy and make your fetish shoe dreams come true :-).

vendredi, octobre 19, 2007

School Bake Sale

Kids disguised for the Book Day

I can't believe that I've just spent the whole morning from 9 to 3 at school. Started out by bringing a few bakes (Milo Banana Cupcakes and mini Quiches) to the kids' school, then staying for the Christmas Fair planning meeting, followed by helping out in the Bake Sale, then helping my kids choose and buy their books in the Book Sale and finally attending the special meeting with the Principal and Eldest Son's Form Teacher...

Bake Sale

The Bake Sale turned out well, my contribution was entirely sold out, with the cupcakes going to the kids and the quiches all purchased by the mothers. They apparently earned more than 200 Euros selling the bakes to a school of just 80 pupils. You may wonder why a private school is still in need of funds. But at least we usually have fun while doing it.

The story goes that the school's budget somehow doesn't cover a number of things many parents would like their kids to enjoy, so we need to raise funds in order to get them. Last year the parents paid for part of the school playground, for example. This year we may be equipping the school and class libraries.

Spiderman and Tigger eating cake

I'm joining in partly out of curiosity and partly because I should put my foot where my mouth is. I made the mistake of sharing a few of my opinions on a few subjects and should therefore now get myself involved. Big big mouth again - Lotus.

So I know that in no time I'll be given raffle tickets to sell, boxes to fill with sweets and gifts, will have to make donations of food, gifts, whatever and will also have to exercise fluttering my short eyelashes to try to convince the Hubby to donate a few Ferrari souvenirs to the Fair. And best of all, I have just gotten myself the responsibility of organising the Fair's International Buffet. Will have to sollicit food donations from all the families in the school and sell them during the Fair. But this responsibility I do not mind - because food is very important to me and I feel that if we have to milk people of their money with it at least I should make sure that what we would be selling would be good. And yes, when we walk into the Fair on December 1st we'll be sollicited from the beginning to the end. But for a good cause, of course.

So what's the special meeting with the Principal and Form teacher about? If all the mothers weren't called to attend it, I would worry that the boy had been up to no good (again). But certainly they couldn't get everyone around to talk about my son, right? Turned out that the teacher would be leaving at the end of next week. She couldn't seem to get a work permit in Italy and is sick and tired of waiting for it. We also got the impression that she found Modena too expensive for the realisation of her personal projects (e.g. start a family, buy a house) and therefore wanted to leave. Welcome to Italy, man. And aren't we in deep shit with the teacher leaving just a month into the new school year? Just when the kids all seem so happy with her.

The positive thing that came out of this busy morning was that I got to know N, a very chic Italian mother who would be working with me on the International Buffet job. Her son, by the way, is the World Karate Champion in his age category. I also got to know a Bulgarian mother who used to live in Shanghai and whose son used to study in the Singapore School. In fact all that fundraising business probably is just an excuse for socialising. Ha ha.

Anyway, no time to think about the Christmas Fair yet, the Dutchess of Cookalot arrives on Sunday and I have yet to plan out my lunch menu! As it is, no chance to shop for food because of this school fiasco and now I'll have to go squeeze with the crowds on Saturday...Urgh!

Grilled Banana in Coconut Sauce

Grilled Banana in Coconut Sauce :

Banana sliced into 2 halves
Salted Butter
Coconut Milk
Lime Juice
Roasted Grated Coconut with Ground Cinnamon and Sugar

Melt some butter in a non-stick pan and caramelise some sugar in it. Add in the bananas and cook till they turn golden. Add in some rum (if you want to you can flambée the bananas with them) and then the coconut milk. Squeeze some lime juice over the bananas and serve with a sprinkling of the spiced roasted grated coconut.

The contrast in texture is rather pleasant and goes well with the Mango Kiss Vodka Cocktail (1 part Vodka, 1/2 part Lime Juice, 2 parts Pineapple Juice, 2 parts Mango Juice and 1 Tbsp Sugar mixed with Shaved Ice) which rinses and refreshes the palate as you continue eating.

jeudi, octobre 18, 2007

Gratin de Crevettes aux 3 Fromages

Gratin de Crevettes aux 3 Fromages

I love this dish. Promised myself that when I get my oven back I'll make it again. And so I did. Served it as a starter during the dinner with Hubby's colleagues. Goes well with a simple salad with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar.

Gratin de Crevettes aux 3 Fromages (Gratin of Prawns in 3 Cheeses) :

Prawns (with or without Head/shell)
Lime Juice
Red Onion
Celery (leaving a few raw slices of the stalk aside)
Emmenthal Cheese
Fontina Cheese
Parmesan Cheese
Liquid Cream
Salt and Pepper

Marinate the Prawns very quickly in some salt and lime juice. Heat up some olive oil in the wok and sweat the garlic, celery leaves and onions. Add in the prawns, thyme, salt, pepper and butter and cook for just a minute, letting the prawns absorb the rest of the ingredients. Remove the prawns and set aside. Remove the celery leaves and throw them away.

If using individual gratin dishes, prepare a layer of Fontina cheese (can be grated or in small cubes), put in 1 prawn, a slice of raw celery and some of the cooked onions and garlic, add some parmesan and emmenthal cheese, add in another prawn and continue the same process until you almost reach the top of the dish. Cover with a layer of emmenthal cheese, sprinkle some nutmeg, salt and pepper and pour in the liquid cream. Preheat an oven at 220ºC and when it's hot, bake the dishes near the hot grill for about 5-6 minutes. Serve hot.

Duck Magret in Thai Red Curry

Duck Magret in Thai Red Curry

Many Italians only or prefer to eat only Italian. Hence Italian food is very good in the country, but there is a dearth of foreign (not to mention good foreign) cuisines everywhere. I find that particularly frustrating as I do so enjoy eating something different every day. And while I like Italian food in general, too much of it is boring and at times the thought of more pasta or pizza actually makes me feel nauseous.

Hence when Hubby invited F and M to dinner, I decided to prepare an "exotic" main course as my missionary attempt at educating their palate. Besides I felt like eating duck so Duck Magret in Thai Red Curry it was to be.

Some may remember that I attended a Thai cooking class at @Sunrice Culinary Academy a few years ago in Singapore. One of the dishes we learnt to made was the above, only we used Chinese Roast Duck then. I actually much prefer the Magret (breast), which is really tasty and juicy and which can be eaten pink. So I've adapted the curry accordingly.

Duck Magret in Thai Red Curry :

Duck Magret
Ground Coriander Seeds
Ground Cumin
Ground Cinnamon
Ground Turmeric
Star Anise (optional)
Red Curry Paste
Palm Sugar
Fish Sauce
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Sweet Thai Basilic Leaves
Coriander Leaves
Lime Juice
Thai Aubergine or Long Beans or Zucchini
Red Bell Pepper
Cherry Tomatoes
Green Apple
Salt and Pepper

Make a few cuts on the skin of the duck magrets but without them reaching the meat. Heat up a little oil in a non-stick casserole and grill the magrets skin-side down for 7 minutes. Turn over and brown the meat side for 2 minutes. Remove the magrets and slice them. Set aside. They should be very pink on the inside.

In the same oil (now with duck fat), brown the shallots, ginger, galangal, lemongrass and the dry spices. Add in the red curry paste (usually make my own but found this Thai brand that is not bad so why bother?) and fry till the oil comes out and the paste is fragrant. Add in the palm sugar and then the coconut milk. Stir gently and lower the heat. Add in fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves and lime juice and let the curry simmer for 20 minutes.

In a crepe pan, grill the sliced zucchini and red bell peppers. Set aside. You'll add them in just before you serve.

If using the Thai aubergines, add them in about 10 minutes before you serve.

Just before serving, I would add the fruits and the sweet basilic leaves to the curry. Then I would add in the duck slices so as to finish cooking them (very quickly, we like to eat them pink). Adjust the chilli, salt etc level. Serve hot with fresh coriander leaves and white rice or even better, glutinous rice.

They ate up everything and seemed to enjoy themselves though they didn't go for a second serving (not that I had much left anyway). I just realised that eating duck itself would be something quite unusual as the Italians in general are not into it as much as the French or the Chinese.

M started saying that unless he brings me to Naples and asks his mother or some other relative to cook for me, he wouldn't dare to invite me to his house for a meal. Hubby said that once again we've grilled (aka lost) ourselves another invitation and that really the next time I should just make a simple meal and not frighten everybody off the way we seem to manage to.

Honestly, what's the big deal about duck curry or prawn and cheese gratin? I made them because they were easy to make, we were in the middle of a school week after all...

Prayer Answered

We were screaming at each other for a few days Hubby and myself - over our search for air tickets to Singapore. My brother is getting married just before Christmas so we are going to fly home to attend the wedding and air tickets are rare and very dear for that period. As the kids have to return to school and the Hubby has not much leave, we are constrained to leave and return during the peak holiday period and what we were going to pay honestly would have allowed me to have a new minimum 1-carat diamond ring.

It is therefore quite heartbreaking and to make matters worse, every minute we debated as to which option to take (e.g. SQ, AF, via Paris, Amsterdam, from Milan???) seemed to cost us even more money. Take for example Wednesday afternoon when I finally found tickets with the right flights departing at the right hour on the right days and decided to go for them. Due to some misunderstanding with Hubby, we waited for a few hours before booking them and discovered to our horror that the prices had gone up by another thousand Euros! I told myself that if I had given the money for the air tickets to my brother he would have been able to hold a few weddings with it...

It actually reached a point where Hubby and I started screaming at each other for this price increase (and especially over the hours and hours we have both spent hunting for the tickets) and I was telling him that he should just go spend X'mas with his mother and I'll return home alone with the kids. I slammed the door in his face as he was leaving for the office and so it was a sour start to the morning.

Then I decided to do something that I've not done in a long time - pray. To whoever is up there to help me find a solution on this very day. At least just return the prices to that of the day before.

A few hours later, I connected to the Air France website and discovered to my relief that the prices had indeed returned to that of the early part of the day before. I thanked the Lord for his grace and quickly booked and paid up for the flights. No point tempting fate.

And just 30 minutes later, when I decided to make a new price simulation for the same flights, they actually cost a few hundred Euros more.

mercredi, octobre 17, 2007

Milo and Pear Cupcakes

Milo & Pear Cupcake with Cinnamon Icing

Hubby has invited a few colleagues home for dinner tonight. The ones who remain alone in Maranello in the week, only returning home for the weekend. The ones who are regulars at La Brace. One of them, F, for those who remember, is from Ferrara.

I didn't plan on making anything particular for dessert as Eldest Son has tonnes of homework (for once) to be completed during the week and as I didn't discover this till the night before - meaning that he had done almost nothing up till now and it's therefore a race against time to get everything done by Friday. And since he's incapable of working on his own, it means that I will have to sit next to him and hold his hand (plus a cane) as he works.

Then Hubby made some comment about the guys having a sweet tooth. Alamak, and here was me not planning on offering any dessert! So while the kids were away at school this morning, I found another excuse not to continue with the unpacking or iron the more than 30 shirts waiting for me and spent some time baking cupcakes. Ran out of chocolate, saw that I have a tin of Milo left and so decided to make Milo and Pear Cupcakes with Cinnamon Icing.

Makes 12 small cupcakes :

170g Flour
2 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
A pinch of Ground Cloves
150g Sugar
150g Salted Butter
150ml hot Water
50g Milo Powder
2 Eggs
1 Pear
2 Tsp Vanilla Essence

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices together. Add in the sugar.

In another bowl, melt the butter in the hot water. Add in the Milo powder, the eggs and vanilla essence. If you are using bananas, use a fork to smash them and then add them in the Milo mixture.

Add in the flour and fold in. If using pears, place a few small pieces in each cup before pouring in the cake mixture. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180ºC for about 22 minutes.

The Icing :

150g Salted Butter
150g Icing Sugar
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Tsp Lime Juice

Melt the butter and beat together with the sugar and cinnamon. Add in the lime juice and mix well. Do not put icing on warm or hot cupcakes or it'll melt.

Banana Version for the school's Bake Sale

I much prefer the version with banana. Which is even better when you add in grated coconut mixed with sugar that you would have dry-roasted beforehand.

Trio of Desserts

I served my cupcakes as part of a trio of desserts : Milo and Pear Cupcakes, Mango Kiss Vodka Cocktail and Grilled Banana with Coconut Sauce.

Chicken like the Colonel's?

Lotus' Fried Chicken

Part of my childhood memories include mom bringing us to the KFC outlet in Kallang Bahru and us eating pieces of the Colonel's Original Recipe chicken on real plates with real cutlery. They used to be much much tastier than the chicken that KFC sells today.

I know that the spices for the chicken must include pretty exotic ones as I've met a former buyer for the company when we were living in the USA and he used to visit Indonesia alot to source for his spices. He has of course been sworn to secrecy and would not reveal the recipe, but one does not need a degree from Le Cordon Bleu to figure a few things out. In any case, seeing that we are not old enough to have tasted the original chicken and as the ones sold today suck, you can't do worse when you try to make your own in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Lotus' Colonel Chicken :

Chicken Breasts or Pieces
Ground Paprika
Ground Turmeric
Ground Ginger
Lime Juice
Ground Cinnamon
Ground Cumin
Ground Cloves
Ground Nutmeg
Ground Coriander Seeds
Chilli Powder

Marinate the chicken breasts (cut into thumb-size pieces) or chicken pieces (thighs, drumsticks, wings) with the salt, pepper, ground ginger, paprika, turmeric and lime juice for at least an hour.

Prepare the flour for coating by mixing the rest of the ingredients together.

Heat the oil to about 180-190ºC. Coat the chicken in the flour and deep fry. Colonel Sanders apparently used to pressure fry his chicken, but studies have shown that it shouldn't make a difference to the taste whether we normal deep fry or pressure fry.

Serve hot with a dip. I also did a sandwich version with hot sauce. Quite finger lickin' good, if I may say so. And OK, lest people complain that I promote unhealthy eating habits, do try to eat it with some green stuff like cucumber or lettuce leaves.

mardi, octobre 16, 2007

Guotie/Pot Stickers

Pot Stickers

OK, I promise that this will be the last post (at least for this week heh heh) about transforming leftovers. But I did have quite a bit of meat and prawn filling left from my wantons and I've bought a new head of green cabbage to go with my leftover Pot au Feu stock, only I ended up with more cabbage than stock. So after staring at my leftovers (and I needed to clear them so that I can buy new stuff to stock in my small fridge - I'm a compulsive buyer), I was left with the conclusion that making Guotie would be inevitable. Besides the Hubby loves them and so do the kids.

Actually one could fill them in many different ways and pot stickers are popular in many parts of the Confucius-influenced world e.g. China, Japan, Korea...In Japan they are called Gyoza and are usually made with very thin skins and tend to contain quite a bit of garlic. In Korea they are called Mandu (like Mantou) which is not too surprising as when you're making your dough for the skins they do like like mantous at one stage. Theirs are usually filled with meat, cabbage, kimchi etc.

I made mine the cina way, of course. With prawns, meat, chives, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, oyster sauce, dry sherry, sesame oil, cabbage, coriander leaves, egg...All mixed quickly in the mixer.

The Skins (makes about 15):

150g Flour
1/2 Tbsp Oil
40ml Warm Water

Very easy to make and handle. Just mix all the ingredients together with your hands. Knead a little till you get a smooth dough and then make a long roll, divide it into small portions (they will look like mini-mantous). Roll out each portion as thinly as you can into a flat round and as you fill it with the meat filling you should be able to stretch it a little with your fingers as it is quite elastic. Seal with a little water.

There are different ways to cook the Guoties. Some fry them, some steam them, some like me will combine the methods and do them in a pan. In a non-stick pan heat up a little oil and grill the Guoties on 2 sides (they should have 3). When they are nicely browned, pour in a little water very quickly and cover the pan, allowing the Guoties to finish their cuisson in the steam.

Serve hot with a dip made of rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and chilli oil or fresh chopped chilli.

with Spaghetti

I served them accompanied by some spaghetti in a sweet, salty and hot sauce made of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, dry sherry, chilli oil, sesame oil, fresh red chillis and a dash of hot meat stock..Don't I just love leftovers. LOL

PS : If any of my Chinese friends in Paris is reading this, do know that I've missed those days when we would be making pot stickers together in our humble hostel rooms...