mercredi, avril 30, 2008

Seafood Lasagna

Seafood Lasagna

J and her smart boy M were here from Paris! So the diet had to wait (as usual) and we spent a few days eating, visiting and eating some more. With M having a healthy appetite, it was also very motivating to cook or eat out.

I've not made Seafood Lasagna for a few years now. And only after I've made it again did I remember why it was so. It's a really tasty dish, but bechamel being bechamel it's also a pretty heavy one.

(Sauce visible)

This lasagna contained fresh mussles, prawns, scampi, venus clams, zucchini, garlicked bechamel, spicy tomato sauce, emmental, gruyere and parmesan cheeses...Half the mussles, scampi and prawns had their shells removed and cooked in the spicy tomato sauce while the other half were left on top of the lasagna and gratinated in the oven with the cheese.

Hub's Artichoke Pasta

Carrot Soup (with crème fraîche)

Duck in Curry

On other evenings we had Duck in Thai Red Curry, Carrot Soup, Tuna Sushi, Udon Soup, Pan-Grilled Chicken with gravy and the Hub did Artichoke with Pasta (I don't eat artichokes while he's crazy about them). We also did a few restaurants one of which would be worth a mention next.

American Carrot Cake

American Carrot Cake (with Cream Cheese Frosting)

I told Precious Moments that I would have to try out her recipe for American Carrot Cake with yummy cream cheese frosting and what better time to do so than when you had American friends coming over from Paris, right?

I did a whole cake and replaced the walnuts with sliced almonds that I only added to the top of the cake and I also shortened the baking time to 30 minutes. And I was really pleased with the result - a moist and fluffy cake. Thank you very much, E!

Before the Frosting

Cake :

285g Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
2 tsp ground Cinnamon
A pinch of ground Cloves
250g shredded Carrots
170g sliced Almonds
3 Eggs (room temperature)
100g Castor Sugar
90g Brown Sugar
155g Milk
1/2 tsp Salt
180g Vegetable Oil
1 tsp Vanilla essence

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Cream egg and sugar till pale and creamy. Add in the milk little by little. Mix well. Add in the oil slowly till well blended and then the vanilla essence. Fold in the flour in three portions. Add in the carrots and mix well. Pour into cake tin and bake at 180ºC for 30-40 mins or till it is cooked.

Cream Cheese Frosting :
250g Cream Cheese
70g Butter
150g Icing Sugar
2 tbsp Lemon juice

But of course I didn't make any marzipan carrots to decorate the cake with, I fear that art's not my thing at all. I did place a whole big bowl of cream cheese frosting at my guests' disposition so that they could frost their slices to their hearts' content. Great way to eat carrots, don't you think so?

mardi, avril 29, 2008

Ducasse and Other Reads

Country living makes you look forward to receiving mail (parcels, not bills, of course) with manic joy. And one of the ways of keeping said joy flowing is to spend quite a bit of time on the Net and zapping the credit card liberally while you're at it.

One should be on pretty friendly terms with one's postman in such a situation, but of course not only I've never met mine, I'm sure he or she only comes by once a week since if there's mail in the box they always seem to come all at the same time - once a week. In any case, here in Italy most parcels seem to be delivered separately from the letters and since I'm digressing I might as well mention that the parcel delivery guys all seem to chain-smoke in the van and like to drive into one of those big rocks in my courtyard while they are backing out.

The last objects of my joy included a 15ft trampoline, an Intex pool of similar dimensions, the complete works of Shakespeare and J. Austen, a Flower Drum Song DVD, another Wodehouse book and ta-da - Ducasse's Culinary Encyclopedia.

Only mistake I've made was having bought the English version of the gem. French cuisine, like Frenchmen, is still best savoured in French.

Sting Ray East and West

Sting Ray in Kuah Assam Pedas

Not easy finding Sting Ray in these parts. Even in the nice seafood restaurant in the Lago we could have almost everything except the humble sting ray. But I had found it once in the Carrefour at Casalecchio di Reno so when I was last at Ikea buying garden furniture (because Monsieur had a bad back and wanted to lie out in the sun), I made a quick trip there and was happy to report that they had it! I of course got a bad back in my turn lugging that heavy wooden sun bed back.

Sting Ray in Shallot Butter Herb Sauce

The Hub and Eldest Son like to eat sting ray the French way - with butter, shallots, garlic, herbs and white wine. And the fish cooked in a perfumed broth (with bouquet garni and fumet de poisson) off the heat for 10 minutes for a just-cooked flesh.

Me when I think Sting Ray, it's either covered with sambal chilli and grilled on the BBQ or nicely soaking in a hot and spicy Assam Pedas gravy. Ah, with the fragrant taste of the ginger flower in it...

So I served the Sting Ray in the 2 different ways that evening. And everybody was happy to have their sting ray the way they like it.

dimanche, avril 27, 2008

Il Fischio del Merlo

Seafood Risotto

When we decided to spend our last day in Umbria at the Lago di Trasimeno, the Hub automatically opened his trusted Michelin Guide to find us a place to lunch in and chose Il Fischio del Merlo with its 2-cutlery rating. It proved to be an excellent choice and I am still reeling from the good choice of seafood dishes in the menu.

Il Fischio del Merlo

The restaurant is near Passignano but is situated a little further inland in a lovely farm setting. It has horses, lots of flora and a lovely pool. We ate out next to exotic cactuses and had a lovely meal of gratinated seafood, seafood risotto, lobster in hot sauce, grilled rombo (St Pierre) with zucchini purée...

Definitely worth stopping by. Wish I had space for the antipasti, they sounded great.

Il Fischio del Merlo
località Calcinaio 17/A, Est
Passignano sul Trasimeno
Tel : 075 82 92 83

GIO Jazz and Wine Hotel, Perugia

Eldest Son listening to some Jazz (while the live band was playing!)

There was no way of getting a discounted rate for hotel accommodation the weekend we were at Perugia as it included a public holiday. So we paid peak season rates and consoled ourselves with the good breakfast included. But it was a nice 4-star hotel near the mini-metro (one can ride to town on it and walk down on the way back) with a pool (only open starting end-May though), a wine shop, supermarket, sports shop and a restaurant mentioned in the Michelin Guide.

The GIO Wine and Jazz Area contained 2 buildings one dedicated to Jazz and the other to Wine and linked together with an underpass. They have comfortable sofas in the Jazz part of the hotel with headphones allowing you to listen to Jazz music as you sip wine, and they also offer live Jazz performances most evenings with a free glass of (good) red wine thrown in for hotel guests.

Truite in Pastry

Salted Cod

Chocolate Mousse with Strawberries

The Wine part of the hotel is decorated with wine labels and bottles, with free internet access in the lobby (a few laptops set on wine barrels) and a good restaurant that offered a good menu at an amazing 26 euros per head with antipasti, starter, pasta/risotto, main course and dessert and wine by the glass (3 including a dessert wine) for only 8 extra euros. The food was good and came in generous portions and it was convenient dining in when you have kids.

Our suite had 2 little rooms with each its own TV and was clean and comfortable. The hotel sold chocolate at its reception as its 3rd hotel in Perugia is the Chocolate Hotel. Needless to say, we bought a few bottles of wine in its wine shop before we left. A pleasant stay.

GIO Jazz and Wine Area
via Ruggero d'Andreotto 19
Tel : 07 55 73 11 00

Perugia, Assisi and the Lago di Trasimeno

Perugia's Medieval Centre

When we were in Tuscany 2 years ago I noticed on the map that landlocked Umbria was next to it and that the guide book talked of truffles, funghi porcini and roast meats, olive oil and good wines. So it was a matter of time before we found ourselves there though of course it was a little spoilt by the blood and broken glass incident that preceded it.

Perugia is about 3.5 hours away from where we live. It intrigued me that those lovely cypress trees could be found everywhere in Tuscany, Verona and of course in Umbria but not in Emilia Romagna. That you leave my region and quite quickly Italy would look quite lovely again.

Perugia was lovely. Capital city of Umbria, home to one of Europe's most important Jazz Festivals (held in July since 1973), the Baci (chocolate-coated hazelnuts) and the Università per Stranieri (University for Foreigners with courses for language, literature, art etc). It is also the city that produced Perugino (Raphael's teacher), the Flagellants (folks who whipped themselves for religious penance) and quite a number of battles and blood in the past. But one had better be quite good at starting a car on a slope as the city is one of Italy's best preserved medieval hill towns. Hub complained that I was killing the car's engine each time we went uphill or downhill because I did not know how to control my pedals.

To go up to the medieval centre, you can climb, take the escalator or pay for a ride on the mini-metro. It was really very pretty with great views of the surrounding countryside.


The next day, we visited Deruta known for its (expensive) pottery and Assisi - home of St Francis. The latter, perched halfway up Mount Subasio, was breathtaking. Definitely worth a visit. We also visited the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli near the train station - a huge church built around the first Franciscan monastery.


Basilica di S.M

On our last day, we made a trip to Passignano on the Lago di Trasimeno - Italy's 4th largest lake. That too was really worth a visit, with lovely old houses and buildings leading up to the ruins of an old castle and a beautiful view of the lake including its only inhabited island Isola Maggiore.

View of the Lago from ruins of castle at Passignano

Back to Modena though we were caught in a nasty traffic jam but all in all Umbria is definitely worth a visit.

Another Broken Window

Another broken window

We were all set for our trip to Umbria on Friday morning. For once we were going to set out early. I had prepared the luggage, lowered the heating, closed all the wooden shutters, prepared drinks, fruit and sandwiches for the journey etc etc.

Then the Hub said that I shouldn't have packed boots for Baby Girl as we were no longer in winter. I took them out of the luggage (already loaded in the car) and returned them to the house. I asked him if I could lock up the house and he said yes.

I happily banged the door shut and started to double lock it. But my key turned emptily in its lock. A sure sign that there was a key already in the lock - on the other side of the door.

I was an idiot not to have noticed the key.

He was an even greater idiot for having left the key in the lock on the inside when the whole family was already out of the house.

Difficult to find a locksmith on a public holiday.

Even more difficult when nobody knew how to call for one.

He borrowed a ladder and a hammer from the concierge, climbed up to a 2nd floor window (very very high) and started to break the glass. Didn't think of putting on gloves. Cut 2 fingers deeply.

Glass AND blood every where.

I do not know if this was some sign as the 1st and last time it happened (but without loss of blood), it was on Baby Boy's Birthday. This time round it was on the eve of the Hub's 42nd.

Drove him to the A&E (new hospital in Modena, always did say we should visit it some day) and spent a good 3 hours there. Probably emptied the vending machine while waiting.

Had to drive 3.5 hours to Perugia with a nervous front passenger. It was fortunate that I rather enjoy driving on highways though I miss flying at 180 km/h on the Autobahn in Germany. But I am not fond of passing by Florence as its highways have loads of bends. And I dislike it even more when I enter a strange new city and the Hub spent his time on the phone instead of helping me keep a lookout for our hotel.

Had also spent the last few hours fuming about the amount of broken glass and curdled blood that I would have to clean up on our return. What holiday?

mardi, avril 22, 2008

Kindergarten and Transition Classes on "My School"

"Let me show you my classroom."

"This is the medical room where I was the doctor...This is Luigi's workstation."

"Shall I start with the top floor?"

"This is the library. We have many books, but these over here we can't touch. Only those over there are for Kindergarten and Transition children..."

"This is the Italian classroom. F's mom works here."

"Shall I bring you outside? Would you like to visit the gym?"

Baby Boy and Baby Girl's respective classes both worked on the Unit of Enquiry "My School" lastly. The parents were invited to watch a presentation made by the children which consisted mainly of being introduced to/guided round the school by our own children.

Picture of the Guide in the Library

Baby Boy was very sure and chatty. Full of anecdotes. Didn't need any prompting and was polite all throughout the tour. Even remembered to knock on doors before opening them. He guided me physically round the school and also commented on a presentation on the computer. Boy was I impressed. What a confident, intelligent and articulate boy.

Baby Girl showing me her school work

Baby Girl made me her presentation the following day and hers was a much more timid one. She brought me to many more rooms in the school but was less generous with her comments. However, she did much better and was truly expansive when she started showing me her school work, clearly she took great pride in her neat letter and number work and enjoys art and reading immensely. She wants to start reading and I hope she'll manage it soon.

I am ever so convinced that if we should stretch her more she would do even better and enjoy school all the more. And she really needs to be able to distance herself from her younger brother where their school work is concerned because I can see that her confidence is eroded each time she does something similar to the boy and he seems somehow to outshine her. There are normally 2 school years between them and she is really quite a smart (and bossy) girl so I can understand her jealousy. I was honest and told the Hub I thought Baby Boy did a better (oral) presentation and I saw her pinching the little boy just after. Oops.

Teacher Appreciation Day

The Make-shift Lunch Room

I still have images of myself as a kid going to the staff room at school on 1st September each year distributing presents that my mother got me for my teachers. And she could sometimes get the weirdest stuff like plastic photo albums (without any photos).

This year, my kids' school had their 1st Teacher Appreciation Day under the new Principal. The parents would take over the teachers' painful duties in the canteen and playground during lunch break and/or make them lunch. I volunteered to make lunch as I honestly am not at all fond of children (sometimes not even my own) and the thought of being surrounded by lots of screaming ones for more than 10 mins gave me the shudders. I think having the boobs tattoed would probably be less painful.

Main Courses and Sides

We had a few main dishes, sides and desserts. Sh and R both made Chicken Biryani (but very different ones) while I did a Pork and Prawn in Ginger and Sesame Oil as well as a Singapore Chicken Curry. H made a Vegan and a Vegetarian dish and it was my regret that I only got to try a bit of the melted cheese that was topping those very yummy-looking Stuffed Zucchinis. There was also an exotic Lebanese Kibbe courtesy of G and a hearty Serbian Bean Soup cooked up by D. Of course there were also salads and lots of yummy desserts of which the most popular was the no-bake Strawberry Cheesecake made by N. I tried one of the Vegan Chocolate Muffins that L made and you know what, maybe I would be able to have my cake and eat it too because they really didn't suffer from the lack of butter.

The Desserts

The teachers seemed to appreciate being able to sit down and have lunch free of the kids. The table was nicely set up and even had lovely flowers from M's garden. And the mothers got to enjoy what's left of the buffet so it was a good deal for everyone. A few of the older kids came over hoping to enjoy some of the leftovers (I do not blame them for trying after seeing what they had for lunch) and we had to turn them down or risk having the rest of the school turn up.

Stuffed Zucchinis
Lebanese Kibbe Pork and Prawn Stir Fry

So it was a good idea on JA's part and the PTA executed it to success. Only thing lacking, as I've told Rb, was the children's participation. Wouldn't have them give away empty photo albums to their teachers but maybe they could collectively create a nice present and complete the appreciation of these brave souls whose job is to educate our children (without losing their sanity).

lundi, avril 21, 2008

Baby Boy's 4th Birthday Party

Baby Boy and the Fraisier

Children in this foyer have at least 2 cakes for their birthday - one to share with the classmates and another with the family. And usually there'll be a 3rd one - when they have their Birthday party. How over-indulgent can some parents be, right?

Baby Boy had his party a month after his birthday in the hope that the weather would be good enough for it to be held out in the garden. April this year had thus far not been very warm, so when we had sunshine and a little wind yesterday, we felt really thankful.

The garden all set for the party

7 kids were to join the party though in the end there were more than that running around as their older or younger siblings all came along. The parents hung around to socialise and help keep an eye on their children and we moved the garden furniture around from time to time trying to catch the sun as it changed position.

Chocolate Muffins (surprising popular with the kids, even the burnt ones)

I made 2 cakes for the party - Fraisier and Chocolate Muffins. And the former was a mistake as I had made it with a very heavy butter cream instead of my usual yummy whipped cream and we nearly had a heart attack after the 1st bite. My cleaning lady Irina loved it though and brought what remained of it back with her today.

Theme of Party was "Pirate" (all down to the goody bags)

Towards the end of the party, the older brother of one of our little guests suffered a fit - probably after receiving a kick on the back of the neck and I nearly died of shock - and helplessness. Thank God an Italian mother was at hand to call the ambulance (and cancel it later on when the kid seemed OK - imagine me trying to say anything in my pathetic Italian and in any case I wouldn't know what number to dial) and the boy's mother was around to comfort him and take charge. Whew!

I was about to say that I wouldn't have any Birthday parties to deal with till October when I remember that I had invited almost 30 adults and children to Hub's 42nd in a fortnight. I am such a masochist at times.

vendredi, avril 18, 2008

Prawns in Coconut Curry

Prawns in Coconut Curry

The Hub was getting worried (for his dinner) last evening when he arrived home to find me still peeling prawns. And then in less than 20 mins he was sitting at the table enjoying a Prawn in Coconut Curry. Not bad, n'est-ce pas?

I came back from Singapore in January with a few Ginger Flowers/Buds. My absolute favourite Sting Ray in Assam Pedas sauce called for it. Except of course that now my freezer is full thanks to the ginger buds but I couldn't find any sting ray to cook them with.

Ginger Bud

Since I had some sauce leftover from the garlic venus clams and gambas, I used it as stock for this curry. Another great idea, if I may say so. Lotus is in a self-praising mood today as one may see. Maybe because she's gonna start her flute lessons today - at long last. Needs to start practising a bit of blowing.

Why the flute? Because it's portable? And a beautiful instrument. I bought a Yamaha 4 years ago in Paris and started lessons but had to stop rather quickly when I gave birth to Baby Boy. Now looks like a good time to put that expensive flute to some use. And the flute does go wonderfully with the piano.

Prawns in Coconut Curry :

Prawns (peeled except for the tail)
Fresh Chilli
Fresh Coriander Leaves
Ginger Flower
Cinnamon Stick
Star Anis
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Fish Curry Powder
Fish Stock
Coconut Milk
Fish Sauce
Cherry Tomatoes
Lime Juice
Salt and Pepper

Marinate the prawns with a paste made of garlic, chilli and coriander leaves. Then proceed as per usual.

As for the flute lesson, it turned out quite well. Got a young Italian medical student with a Jane Birkin-like smile for my teacher. I didn't do too badly for a 1st lesson, managed to blow 3 notes. Only the left arm and the fingers were all cramped half-way through and I've blown half a tonne of saliva into my instrument.

dimanche, avril 13, 2008

Cantonese-Style Egg Noodles with Prawn Dumplings and Barbecue Pork

Cha Siu Shuijiao Egg Noodles

OK, we do not have fresh egg noodles here. But I found some dehydrated ones and they made me want to eat egg noodles. I had a pack of shuijiao (dumpling) skins from Singapore in the freezer and Brother C gave me a bottle of Char Siu sauce. I usually make my own Char Siu (Barbecue Pork), but the ready-made sauce looked interesting and I wanted to test it out. So what did that lead us to? Egg Noodles with Prawn Dumplings and Barbecue Pork.

And I made the dry version with a 2-soy, oyster, sherry, sugar, sesame oil, rice vinegar, chilli, chicken stock and tomato ketchup sauce. And baby spinach. Happy food.

Prawn Rolls (Afternoon snack)

vendredi, avril 11, 2008

Nonya Chicken Curry with Roti Jala (Lacy Pancake)

Nonya Chicken Curry

I need to eat a curry (with coconut milk) or I'll expire. That was the only thought I had in my mind as I was inhaling and exhaling during my 2nd ever Yoga class. As you can see, being Zen and all only makes me think of food. Ok, almost anything will make me think of food.

Besides last night after the school performance we went as a big group to an Italian restaurant for dinner. Pizza and pasta. Aarrgh. And R's cousin (a beautiful and elegant Indian lady living and working in Singapore) was there with us, enjoying her Italian food and all the more making me want to eat curry. I've not eaten any curry for more than 2 weeks now and that's as bad as not having sex for more than 2 days.

I love Indian, Thai, Indonesian, even Japanese curry. But nothing comforts me more than a good ole Singapore Nonya Curry.

The Singapore or Malaysian Nonya Curry would of course not be as well-known as its Indian or even Indonesian counterpart. For the simple reason that not many Nonyas exist, nor are the people who usually cook and eat them very Peranakan. But I have noticed with interest that among the curries offered to families and staff from the school here in the past few months, Brother C's Malaysian-style curries were often very popular, though the people who liked them may not understand why at all.

So needless to say I have made mine with much love. And memories of my childhood and young adult years in Singapore. Of the curry I grew up with. The pleasure it has always given me. Of where I come from.

A Nonya Curry is usually slightly less spicy than an Indian curry and less chilli hot than a typical Thai curry. Though I probably would with my usual heavy-handedness make it both spicier and hotter than any of those curries.

Singapore Nonya Chicken Curry :

Chicken Filet or skinless thighs
Kaffir Lime Leaves or Zest from a Lime
Nonya Curry Powder (Coriander seeds, Cumin, Red chillies, Peppercorns, Cinnamon, Cloves, Turmeric)
Star Anise
Curry Leaves (optional)
Dried Shrimp Paste (optional)
Tamarind water or Lime juice
Potatoes (boiled)
Coconut Milk

Most Malay and Nonya curries require some marinating of the meat beforehand. So marinate the chicken for at least an hour in a paste made of the dry-roasted spices and the shallots, ginger and garlic. Then brown the marinated chicken slices in some oil in the pot, remove and set aside.

And continue like you would when making other curries, returning the chicken to the curry about 10 minutes before you serve so that they would be nicely coated by the sauce.

On my last trip to Singapore, my parents bought me a Roti Jala (Lacy Pancake) mold. I ate my 1st Roti Jala at the school canteen when I was 13. And my last 2 years ago at my dear friend Alwiyah's. I usually eat curry with Basmati rice, but from time to time, I would crave for a Prata or a Roti Jala to go with it and I am happy to be able to make my own Roti Jala from now on.

Roti Jala
Roti Jala :

200g plain Flour
3 Eggs
1/2 Tsp Salt
400ml Milk
2 Tbsp Oil

Prepare the batter as you would a normal crepe and leave it in the fridge for at least an hour before use. Use an oiled crepe pan and with the help of the Roti Jala mould, dribble the batter onto the pan in a circular motion till you get a lacy crepe. Turn over and then start to fold it twice into a triangle.

Was hoping to have some leftover curry for lunch the next day but the Babies kept asking for seconds (and even had it for tea) and it was all gone in no time. Eldest Son had a Swedish schoolmate over and the boy actually ate the pancake with some curried potatoes - a feat as his mother told me before that he usually only eats plain pasta. Some of these kids do not know what they are missing - if I may say so.

jeudi, avril 10, 2008

Pan-Fried Foie Gras and Green Bean Baby Spinach Salad

Pan-Fried Foie Gras

Foie gras is too rich to enjoy on a regular basis. But finding a raw lobe of it in Briançon on our way back to Italy was special. Too good to be true. Worth uncorking a nice bottle of Muscat de Rivesaltes for : part of it to go to the duck liver and the other down to mine.

Poêlé ou mi-cuit en terrine : that was the question. And I finally settled on the former as it would require less work and since it is not easy finding raw duck liver we might as well make the most of it.

Good thing about pan-frying raw duck liver is that one needn't be too meticulous with the de-nerving. Though I would still do it as it is unpleasant flossing your teeth with nerves as you eat your liver.

I served the Pan-fried Foie Gras with a Green Bean & Baby Spinach Salad. With fresh raspberries and good Balsamic Vinegar on the salad. And for the liver, a sauce made of Red Wine, the sweet Muscat wine, chicken stock, bits of foie gras, seedless grapes and Raspberry Vinegar. With toasted bread on the side. Yummy.

Vongole and Gambas Starter (ate too much as usual)