lundi, novembre 30, 2009

Crepes, Duck and Christmas Trees

Very small X'mas Tree

Thank goodness I wasn't up to no good as the Hub walked into the house much earlier than usual shocking everyone from big to small. He is still not feeling well, still having some difficulty with his breathing. Wonder why he didn't call to say he was coming home like he usually did (when nobody wanted to know since it would usually be after 8). Luckily I have decided to make Crepes with 5-Spiced Roast Duck Magret (fusion version of Peking Duck) this evening and have already prepared everything to be cooked later. Dessert would be crepes too, what else. And I made the usual French crepes only smaller in size.

The Magret and the Crepes

I was actually making my No-bake Oreo Cheesecake for tomorrow when he walked in. Yes, I'm in some sort of a baking frenzy lately and I often do it so badly Hub sarcastically told me that I should sign myself up for a course at Le Notre or Ladurée. If you look after the kids, I'll do just that, I retorted. When he is sick he is already so painful you can imagine how he must be like when he's en forme.

Marinating the duck

Hoisin sauce, crepes and garnishing

The kids have decorated their little Christmas tree. I think that it's bending under the weight of the ornaments. This afternoon Jan told me that according to the Italians, if we do not remove our decorations by the 5th or 6th (?) of January, normally it would be bad luck to keep them for the next year. And you know what, I often kept them till just before Easter...Now you know why I so lack in that department.

Beef in Oyster Sauce

Beef in Oyster Sauce

Baby Boy is still at home since he had to go to the Doctor for his medical certificate this morning. I made him Beef in Oyster Sauce to celebrate his return to pasta at the school canteen tomorrow. Offered some to the cleaning lady who immediately declared that she would work for free for a month if I would give her the recipe.

No, I didn't take advantage of her. We all know that this dish is basic Chinese, I am not going to con her, it will be bad for my karma. Besides she had been very sweet this morning, thanking me for having respect for her, because though I had my kids sick at home, I didn't let them have the run of the house like the other Italian ladies she works for. It is true that, sick or not sick, I always tell my children to tidy up the night before the cleaning lady is due to come.

I will probably give her the recipe together with all the bottles of sauces that she will need to make the dish with. The recipe is useless without at least oyster sauce, right?

On Spaghetti and with a tofu side dish

Beef in Oyster Sauce :

The marinade :

250g Beef filet
1-2 Tsp Sugar
1 Tsp Light Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1/2 Tsp Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp Oyster Sauce
1 Tsp Corn starch
1/4 Tsp Baking soda

The stir-fry :

1 slice Ginger (julienned)
2 Garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
1 Carrot (sliced)
1/5 Leek (sliced)
Red Chilli (sliced)
Pepper to taste
Leftover marinade mixed with water and 1 Tsp of corn starch for thickening the sauce.

I like it when the beef is smooth and tender. Bought Scottona beef (a young cow of almost 2 years), used my chopper to tenderise the meat and then sliced and marinated it for at least an hour.

Heat the wok and add in some vegetable oil. Fry the ginger and garlic till fragrant, add in the carrots, leeks, chilli and whatever other vegetables you may wish to use.

I like my beef rare so I only add them into the wok when the vegetables are almost done. If you do not want them to stick together, blanch the beef in hot water for a few seconds before adding them to the wok. I put them into the wok directly.

Stir fry till the beef changes colour, pour in the marinade mixed with the cornstarch solution. Stir fry till the sauce thickens. Serve hot.

dimanche, novembre 29, 2009

Lunch with the B's

Mixed Berry Tartlets

A number of families left Modena last summer. This is one of the hazards that we face as expat families, making friends and losing them all often within a year or 2. More often than not, those who left will not return, just like we didn't after Rochester (NY), Jaen or Stuttgart (so far). And when they do, out of sight being out of mind, whoever they thought were their friends often couldn't really make time in their lives for them anymore. C'est la vie.

The B's came back this weekend from Milan. We were honoured to be able to offer them lunch and catch up for a few hours in the comfort of our kitchen. I am used to whipping out a simple meal even for 10 because Hub enjoys meeting his friends at home where they could chat without being disturbed. It doesn't involve alot of work if one plans a little ahead and is not too ambitious. The important thing is to be motivated enough to want to do it.

Roast Chicken on bed of Vegetables (half-cooked at this point)

I made my Tomato Bufala Tartlets that they really liked, 2 Free-range Roast Chickens with roasted vegetables, fried potatoes, garlicked green beans and butter Basmati rice. For dessert we had fresh pineapple and Mixed Berry Tartlets - another hit. Interesting how the easiest things to make are sometimes the ones that are most liked.

Baby Boy needs to see the Doctor tomorrow for a final check-up before he could return to school. I think that it's about time as he is getting really restless and is making me crazy moving around so much and making so much noise. Baby Girl lost one of her front teeth (finally) and will need to have the mouse (she said the tooth fairy doesn't exist but the French mouse does) bring her a coin. The return of the Teenager from Munich marked the end of a week of relative peace and quiet for me, it's back to screaming at him to switch off his lights, close the door, pick up his clothes and do his homework. Hub seems to be recovering reasonably well, if he can think of wine and sex, you know that he's starting to be fine.

The coming few weeks will be busy. Baby Girl turns 7 in a few days, the Winter Fair is coming up, I have not finished my Christmas shopping and have still to plan and pack for our holidays in Stuttgart, MIL's house near Paris and the French Alps. We may also visit another destination as the company is forcing a long Christmas holiday on everyone due to the bad economy - good for us, but maybe not so good for those who need the money.

Insomniac Thoughts


As a Chinese growing up in Singapore, I have been brought up in a number of Chinese traditions and customs. Mom is one of those people who couldn't travel as and when she wants because she has prayers to perform, paper money to burn, food to offer to the Gods or the ancestors etc on certain days every Lunar month. I think that it is important to respect certain interesting traditions as they keep our history and customs alive and normally the family together.

Many years ago when I was researching for my Thesis, I vaguely remember learning that the Chinese moved towards an age of Enlightenment more or less at the same pace as the Europeans, but decided around the 15th Century to stop the process and stay with their holistic approach to life. After a Western education and a decade living with a very Cartesian Frenchman, I have become pretty good at linear and logical thought myself, but holism is still a part of me. I am very much an individual, but I am also part of my natural and social world, I often define myself in terms of my relation to the past (including my ancestors), my current existence and to the future (including my reincarnation).

Though of course people knowing me know that I usually cannot control my tongue, that I often explore (not just say) what I think. That's not very Chinese, since all through our history you get your heads chopped off if you do not know how to keep your opinions to yourself. That's why Chinese paintings are often about scenery (e.g. mountain, water, wind) and animals - though they often are not about scenery or animals, requiring one to look beyond what was painted to its real meaning all expressed in symbols. Chinese plays and literature are also strong in symbols - telling you about warring feudal lords, abusive monarchs, corrupt government officials etc through stories about drinking tea in tea houses, eating noodles in noodle houses, feuds in large rich familes and so on. Even war messages get passed on in mooncakes.

How many times have I to explain to the others that when one is offered something by a Chinese, try not to accept immediately as it would make one look greedy. And if your host is doing things correctly, he will push his offer in order to prove his sincerity at which point you may accept it and make everyone look good. It is of course a waste of time, so if I offer you something and you say no, you probably will not hear me offer it again.

The only thing most Chinese people feel very safe in talking about is food and money. The former probably as it is the surest source of comfort (and as Chinese food is usually good) and the latter as it is tangible and safer than politics. The Chinese restaurant owner here persists in asking me how much my husband earns and my late aunt each time I showed her something would ask me how much I paid for it. My parents believe in earning face by spending lavishly on others, and some of my relatives do the opposite counting their money like they could bring it to the grave. And kids are expected to support their parents in their old age, because life is a cycle - though if you think about it, no kid actually asks to be born in the first place.

In this vein, I actually get furious when I am approached by gipsy women or men brandishing children or pictures of them in supermarket carparks expecting me to feel sorry for them. I probably would have if I hadn't kids of my own. I wanted to tell them (and probably would one of these days) that they shouldn't have children if they couldn't support them. Children are not the tools of their trade, children need to be given a chance in life, a roof, an education, food, time, love and a future. And I don't buy the perpetuating of the human race bit - because studies have shown that we are overpopulating the planet. If our governments are telling us that we need to replace the population - it's economics. Then they will go to war and kill us off anyway.

Having said that, it was worth celebrating the day my brother became a father for the first time last month. Because he can afford it, will be a good father and will, I'm sure, try to raise a responsible person. Though at the same time, my sister lost her MIL and Chinese customs stepped in, threatening to tear our family apart instead of bringing us closer together.

You may know that part of Chinese superstition dictates that someone who has lost a close family member must not attend white or red events within 49 or 100 days depending on how they look at things. Mom, as usual being overly enthusiastic with her interpretations and being more orthodox than the Patriarch, got out of hand, starting to stop almost everyone from seeing the new baby. It is amazing how many reasons she managed to find for my dad, my sis etc from going near the baby, until my brother and his wife (with some nudging on my part) decided to risk her ire and tell her that they are not superstitious and would like to have said people visit their child. I am all for tradition - until it proves to tear a family apart instead of keeping it together.

I am writing this down - thoughts that filled my head when I was counting sheep last night to no avail.

vendredi, novembre 27, 2009

Oreo Cupcakes

Oreo Cupcake

Stuck at home for the 2nd week running, I have decided to mark the 2 extra Kgs with another sweet something. Have looked around the kitchen to see what I could find, and having found oreo cookies, cane sugar and rum, decided to make my version of the Oreo Cupcakes.

Have you ever fantasized about what you would do to feed your family if ever your town or city should be under siege and food supplies cut off? Hub said I probably do alot of that when you see the piles of stuff I have stuffed everywhere in my kitchen. I wish though that they do have expiry dates, this way I wouldn't have to constantly find ways to finish them before the siege.

Bottom of the cupcakes

Oreo Cupcakes (makes 7 big cupcakes) :

The cupcake :

200g Self-raising Flour
2 Tbsp unsweetened Cocoa powder
1/4 Tsp Salt
125g Butter
80g Cane Sugar
2 Tsp Rum
1 Tsp Vanilla extract
2 Eggs
180ml Milk
9 Oreos

The Topping :

125ml Whipping cream
1 Tbsp Icing Sugar
2 drops Vanilla Extract
1 Oreo

Heat oven to 180°C.

Cream butter till creamy then add in the sugar. Beat till well mixed.

Add in the vanilla extract and then beat in the eggs one at a time.

Alternately beat in the flour and the milk.

Turn over so that cookie's at the bottom before putting on topping

Line the muffin mould with half of an oreo biscuit each (removing one round disc). Pour the batter into the mould and bake for 20-25 minutes. Let them cool.

Grind 1 Oreo cookie into bits. Whip the cream with the icing sugar and vanilla extract. Add in the ground oreos and mix well.

Pipe or spoon the topping onto the cooled cupcakes. Decorate with the round oreo discs.

Topping can also be made with cream cheese or butter. And one can also add ground oreo bits into the cupcake mixture. Personally I'm only interested in the oreo cream. Hub saw me eating it and cried, "Extra pounds!"

jeudi, novembre 26, 2009

Prawn Tofu Egg on Rice (Mui Fan)

Tofu Prawn and Egg on Rice

Most of the Chinese you find on Continental Europe come from Wenzhou or Zhejiang - places I've never even heard of before arriving in Europe. These cities and provinces are better known for their matchsticks or leather goods than their cuisine - and as such the quality of Chinese food in most European countries suffers greatly.

I remember bringing a Chinese girl from Wenzhou with me to London many years ago. She was my disciple, understudying me to learn how to lead groups of Chinese-speaking tourists from Paris to London. To supplement my student income (from a scholarship), I used to work on some weekends and being a tour guide paid better than babysitting or McDonald's. I had the advantage of being both a French and English speaker, not something most Chinese students could boast of.

I brought her to a Cantonese-run Chinese restaurant in London and introduced her to a Cantonese rice dish Mui Fan. It's basically a rice dish with an egg gravy and whatever leftover meat, seafood and vegetables one could find. An Asian Risotto, if you wish.

It was love at first bite for her and she would order it twice a day during the whole weekend and on every subsequent trip to London that we took together. Her family owned a restaurant, I was surprised she never thought of asking her chef to try cooking the dish.

I arrived at the Chinese shop the other day when they just received a batch of fresh tofu. They would do great in this dish as I had some leftover rice this evening and prawns in the freezer. I made it with lots of garlic, an ikan bilis stock, prawns, the tofu, some Chinese cooking wine, a little cornstarch and one egg beaten into the gravy hors-feu. Everything poured over leftover rice.

Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino

Baby Boy has not eaten pasta for a few days since he is not at school this week. The monotony of Italian canteen food gets into the children and they would often refuse to eat pasta at home. For lunch today, I felt that he would be happy if I should whip up his favourite Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino - without the dreaded green bits like fresh parsley. And he was, ate it up in a jiffy.

The garlic should be cooked till fragrant but not browned, as it would taste bitter otherwise. This is probably my favourite pasta dish too. And so easy to make.

I have not bought us a big Christmas tree since we would be away in France this year. And my ecological idea from last year is dead, by the way. Still, thought they would still like a small one to decorate. He cannot wait for his sister to return home so that they could do it together.

Hub is in Bed

The Head of the Family is rarely sick. I have never seen him take any day off work in the years we've been together. Last night, he went to bed early coughing and complaining of being cold and hot at the same time. At 1am, he woke me up asking for paracetamol etc. This morning, he couldn't get out of bed and was whimpering about wanting the doctor to pay him a visit.

I've always queued up at the doctor's. Will the old man want to come to our house? I asked around and they said I'll have to call and ask. I don't even have his number, I just know how to get to his clinic...

Anyway, this is to say that men when they finally fall sick, they can be worse than 3 children combined. Though I must say that he looks really bad. In fact, I'm beginning to doubt as to whether the kids actually were ill last week because unless they hadn't suffered the same symptoms or had hidden them well, in comparison, they hadn't looked half as sick as their father. Will they catch fever and the works again?

Now I am waiting for my turn to fall sick. I have seen my children fall sick one after the other. Now my strong, steady husband is sick. I have kissed everyone even though they were coughing in my face - because I think that when they are sick all the more they needed physical contact with me.

I am starting to have an inkling of what it must be like to be old and just waiting around to go. You know you'll fall sick and you are waiting for it to happen. It's an irritating wait.

Update @ 11:30 am : Doctor as predicted, wouldn't come so I drove the Hub to the clinic. Days like this, or when there's a public transport, public school etc strike, aren't you glad that you're not working? Doctor announced that Hub has bronchitis and wanted him to rest for 5 days. Hub said are you joking? I have alot of work to do...

Then the Doctor said he could vaccinate me if I wanted. Believe it or not, I am therefore vaccinated against both the seasonal flu and H1N1 on the spot. Just like that. Should have seen Baby Boy's eyes when he saw the Doctor with the 2 needles. Mummy made sure she didn't cry, of course.

mercredi, novembre 25, 2009

Grade 2 Moms' Lunch

This afternoon I received 8 moms in my home for a home-cooked meal. One of them is new to the school and she is from Argentina. Lovely lady who has lived in many different countries from Switzerland to Lebanon to the USA...It is always a pleasure to find other families like ours who have moved around abit.

I felt bad that I have waited this long to formally meet this new mom and introduce her to the rest of the class (and to one of our moms who is an importer of Argentinian beef!). My last 2 attempts to organise a meeting didn't fall through very well, that's why. Luckily she has lived in different countries and therefore has good instincts about surviving in a new place. I will not need to bring her around etc as I should as Class Rep.

I kept things simple and offered just a choice between Beef in Red Wine Sauce or Chicken in Thai Green Curry to my guests. Though almost everybody ended up having both. It's a pleasure to see my guests eating and not dieting when they were at my place.

Conversation flowed in this group like it always had, and it was a really nice afternoon. There is a good mix of locals and expatriates and almost everyone meets often anyway after school for activities and other events. There, without my asking, they started to ask me what they could bring to the Winter Fair Buffet and when we were discussing birthday parties, several volunteered to transport those children whose families do not have their own cars. A good bunch of ladies.

Baby Boy had a friend to play with. She used to beat him up whenever she saw him, but now they couldn't bear to leave each other because they were playing so well together. I was telling him to stay away from everyone because he is still coughing (but no fever for more than 48 hours now), but the girl's mom didn't seem too worried about them being together so I relaxed too and left the poor girl to her fate. The problem with kids in the IBO system is that they don't like to miss school unlike kids in the other school systems. Baby Boy thinks staying at home is boring when he could be at school with his teacher and classmates learning and playing at the same time.

Hub called home to ask if there was leftover green curry for his dinner. Thank God I managed to salvage a bowl from whatever's left in the wok. They all seem to prefer the curry to the red wine sauce. I wonder why...

mardi, novembre 24, 2009

To Catch a Virus or Not to Catch One

I've been blogging about my children being sick, meaning that I am not out to hide this. In fact, we have known for a while that November is going to be a difficult month where the flu (any flu) is concerned. Life goes on as usual for us, and we do not particularly try to avoid crowded places or people we think may be sick etc. I may even have been trying to expose my children and myself to the circulating viruses, hoping to catch them and be done with being sick before the Christmas holidays begin. The important thing is to be informed about available treatment and to have some faith in the existing health system. So I wasn't complaining when they fell sick last week, and am certainly not out on a witch hunt to find out where and how they got sick.

My children, like Hub and myself, rarely fall sick (touch wood). I am not a paranoid parent. I am not very strict with hygiene. I do not recall having sterilised milk bottles when they were babies (just rinsed them in hot water) and none of them had colic or whatever. We eat quite local when we travel (without taking obvious risks, of course) and I've fed them curries since they were in the womb. I don't rush to the A&E for nothing and I don't go crazy over homeopathy. When there is a fever, I administer paracetamol and lots of vitamin C, towelling the patient down if necessary and above all, I give him a bottle of water and advise him to sleep, play, watch TV with it. If he feels up to it, he can eat fries, drink coke and eat ice cream. I don't have a problem with that. I probably subscribe to the belief that half of any illness is psychological.

Thus far, the kids have always been good sick patients. They don't spend their time when they are sick feeling or acting sick. They recover quite quickly most of the time and they stay healthy more often than sick. I am probably just lucky, but I think that my non-smothering attitude towards illness has some part to play in it.

So I guess I wasn't too sure how to act/react when I had a few mothers interrogating me in the last few days about my children's illnesses. I thought it was done out of goodwill, but subsequent remarks like "I wouldn't send him on the trip if I were you" or "If you don't call the teachers to find out how he's doing, I will" led me to suspect that they were really more worried about whether my child would pass on some virus to theirs than the poor child's actual state of health. Or they thought the teachers wouldn't know how to call me if he's sick.

I do not want to play down their concerns, and I certainly wouldn't deliberately let my children out to spread disease, but even if the Teenager still has something to pass on to his friends, they could ironically catch it from someone else, after all there were people at the train station, in the train, at the hotel, in the streets etc. For all you know, some of those kids could be at the tip of a coming illness (without knowing) when they set out for Munich. And while he wasn't 48 hours free from fever, he had been well for at least 36 hours and as far as I know, he was fine the whole of yesterday. Plus they are not in Africa, they are in Munich - the richest city in Germany. I'm sure they have good hospitals there. And if you think about it, Baby Boy was well for more than 56 hours before he fell sick again.

What I would like to know is what the etiquette is for dealing with that? Do I play along, apologise and act worried when I'm not so that I can reassure them in their need to worry? Or do I, like Hub suggested, just tell them to have a life and leave the poor children to their fate : to catch a virus or not to catch one?

PS : By the way, we do not know if any of the children had flu. I only mentioned they had fever and 2 coughed. The doctor said they don't test anymore for H1N1. It could be just a cold for all you know.

Madeleine Coeur de Nutella

Left = Madeleine, Right = Madeleine with Nutella Heart

When I was studying Proust at University, I often associated Madeleines with total boredom, no thanks to the author spending pages and pages reminiscing about some moment from his childhood as he dipped his madeleine in a cup of tea. Then Madeleines became some sort of staple food when I was travelling 5 weeks through Western Europe in 1991, since it was cheap and easily available in most supermarkets or petrol stations.

This afternoon, on Day 2 of being grounded with Baby Boy, I made some Madeleines with Nutella Hearts. He doesn't have fever anymore and is up to alot of mischief most of the time (a good sign), though he is still coughing quite a bit. He is a little sore from having to miss the school excursion to the Vignola Fortress and finds staying at home boring. Well, that makes the 2 of us.

Madeleines with Nutella Hearts (makes 25-30) :

150g Self-raising Flour
150g Butter
150g Sugar (mine has been infused with real vanilla pods for weeks)
2 Eggs
1/2 non-treated Lemon and its zest

Heat the oven to 220°C.

Melt the butter and set it aside to cool.

Beat the sugar and eggs till thick and creamy.

Slowly fold in the flour, followed by the lemon juice, zest and butter.

Pour into madeleine moulds. First one layer of the batter, some nutella and then cover with more batter.

Bake for 3 minutes at 220°C, lower the temperature to 180°C and bake for another 10-12 minutes. The edges should be golden brown.

In France, madeleines are often eaten by children in the afternoon for tea. It supposedly originated from Commercy in Lorraine, France. Named after a Madeleine who used to make them for a Duke named Stanislas.

lundi, novembre 23, 2009

Matcha Sugee Cookies

Matcha Sugee Cookies

Sugee Cookies are among the many things that I gorge myself on during the Chinese New Year. And they were also one of the first cookies that we learnt how to make during Home Economics (but the no-semolina flour sort). Very easy, melt-in-the-mouth and fattening stuff.

Today, I sent off the Teenager on his school trip to Munich, but am grounded for the week as Baby Boy had taken a turn for the worse this morning after seemingly having recovered from his flu (?) over the weekend. He seems to be down with a secondary infection that usually occurs after recovery from influenza and truth be told I'm quite nervous as I've read that this is what usually kills after a flu.

To take my mind off this for a while and calm down, I decided to make a batch of Matcha Sugee Cookies as the boy took his nap. I love green tea and this recipe that requires little manoeuvre and cooking brings out the refreshing taste of the powdered green Matcha tea. Zen...and you either like it or you don't. Hub and the children don't. Matcha is an acquired taste.

Matcha Sugee Cookies
(makes 50) :

200g Plain Flour (sifted)
100g Icing Sugar (sifted)
100g Powdered Matcha
1/2 Tsp Baking soda
1/4 Tsp Salt
130ml Vegetable Oil or Ghee (clarified butter)

Preheat oven to 150°C.

The dough

Mix the flour, icing sugar, baking soda, salt and matcha powder together. Pour in the vegetable oil or ghee (ghee would be richer and tastier and one can simmer butter to obtain the ghee if you cannot find it in your local store) and knead e.g. with your hand till you get a uniform paste which is almost instantly. Once the oil touches the flour mixture, the green intensifies, it's quite lovely to watch.

Before baking

Roll the dough into small balls and bake in the oven (at the lower shelf) for 15 minutes. I love the powdery green colour of the matcha cookies and also the cracks that appear in them when they are baked.

After baking

Cool before storing in airtight jars.

It is the time of the year when I go around asking the other moms for food donations to the Winter Fair buffet. One has to be quite thick-skinned about it, though I am lucky that the majority of moms usually quite nicely reply that of course they would love to make something for the buffet. Then I have those precious wonderful few who actually contacted me before I even contacted them, asking if they could make me a dish or 2! Finally, there is that minority who actually rolled their eyes or shudder when I approached them, though they usually wouldn't say no either, so I'm still grateful, I guess. I will probably make at least 2-3 dishes as usual. One has to lead by example.

dimanche, novembre 22, 2009


Spaghetti alla Seppia Nera

We stopped going to Modena centro to shop at the covered market and lunch at Aldina when the kids were having golf lessons on Saturdays. Then the lessons stopped when the weather turned cold and we found ourselves driving into town yesterday like before.

Almost everywhere you turn you see bottles of expensive balsamic vinegar on display. Christmas is round the corner and I suppose they imagined that we would want to be giving those away as presents.

At the market, we shopped for organic bread, beef, cheese, vegetables...and then I saw the seppia (squid). If you remember, just last Saturday I was at Margi's in Bologna and she cooked me Spaghetti alla seppia nera. I toured the 3 stalls selling seafood a few times and finally decided to buy 2 seppias, Hub not being too keen on them.

My 2 squids were white. Margi's were covered with black ink. But the Chinese girl selling them told me they contained ink. I started cleaning them and they were still white. Hub said I should never have trusted the Chinese girl. That she would tell me anything to sell me her squids. I didn't bother to answer him.

Then I saw that one of them had a little round pocket that looked as if it had something black inside. I put it aside and started to prepare my dish.

Squid, Ink and Pasta :

Spaghetti for 1 or 2 persons
Olive Oil
2 Squids (about 250g each, with their ink)
3-4 large Garlic cloves (diced)
4-5 Cherry Tomatoes (quartered)
A handful of fresh Parsley (chopped)
Red Chilli (optional)
White wine
Salt and Pepper

Margi's Hub Enea was the one who taught her how to make this dish and she has been cooking it for them since. I saw her posting pictures of her dish in Facebook and drove all the way to Bologna insisting that she cooked it for me. Very thick-skinned as usual.

It's a simple, ugly but delicious pasta, though watch out for the black mouth that you'll get at the end of your meal. And it's a fishy dish, you have to like the smell and taste of fish to go for it.

Heat up a generous amount of olive oil in the frying pan and fry the garlic till fragrant. Add in the diced chilli and chopped tomatoes and squish them a little with the spatula.

At this point I added the squids and coated them with the fragrant oil. Poured in some white wine and then the ink from the little round pocket. Then I added in the parsley and the cooked spaghetti (al dente, of course), gave everything a good stir and ate it for dinner.

Black is beautiful, it is amazing how much black ink that little round pocket contained, I was really happy.

vendredi, novembre 20, 2009

Pao di Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

Pao di Queijo

No, these are not Madeleines. Believe it or not they are Pao di Queijo or Brazilian Cheese Bread. Made in madeleine moulds.

I can't remember when and where I first ate this bread, but it was certainly love at first bite. Apparently it is usually made with cheese from one part of Brazil, which is why many Brazilians would make it out of a mix - but substituting with parmesan and cheddar cheese works quite well as well.

Know why the bread is so chewy on the inside? Because it's made of cassava (aka tapioca) flour. And it will rise on its own steam so there is no need for yeast. Bread is crispy on the outside and soft/chewy on the inside. Colour should be just pale yellow (from the cheese and eggs).

Pao di Queijo (makes about 26 little bread) :

1 cup Tapioca or Cassava Flour (normal or fermented)
1 Egg
1/4 cup Milk
1/2 cup mix of Parmesan and sharp Cheddar Cheeses
1/4 cup Vegetable oil
1/2 Tsp Salt

Bring the milk and oil to a boil. Set aside and let it cool a little.

Stir in the tapioca flour.

Add the egg, then the salt and grated cheeses.

Mix well and pour into small moulds. Or grease your hands and roll them into balls.

Bake for 14-16 minutes in an oven heated to 180°C.

I wouldn't eat too many of them, it's too rich. Plus I am supposed to be intolerant towards parmesan cheese.

These cheese bread are best eaten freshly baked, but mine, I thought, were actually better the next day. Probably just needed to be heated up slightly.

Cocotte Staub

Cocotte ovale Staub

If MIL is not too broke this Christmas, she will normally offer me this beauty. This is the first time in more than a decade that I have blatantly asked for such an expensive gift.

Normally I am a Le Creuset fan, but since they are not replying to my email about the holes in the enamel of my current cocotte (and it is supposed to be under lifetime waranty), I am ready to embrace Staub.

This pot can feed 7-8 persons. 37cm, oval, blue, 8L. I may need a bigger stove for it.

Lychee Meatballs

Lychee Meatballs

The Teenager also has fever and was recalled from school. I now have 3 kids at home, I guess it's a question of time before I fall sick too. And who will look after me then?

They are all happy to have escaped the fish at the school's canteen today and since I have to feed 3 sick kids, I thought I'll make them Jaden's Lychee Meatballs. It's comforting, easy to make (slightly less work compared to what I usually do to make sweet and sour pork) and will please any sweet and sour sauce lover.

Anything sweet & sour has to come in a huge quantity in this family

Lychee Meatballs :

1 can Lychees (drained and syrup reserved for the sauce)
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Zucchini
1 Red Onion
1 Garlic clove
1 Red Chilli

The meatballs :

500g Minced Pork
1 Egg
1/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Flour

The sauce :

100ml Lychee syrup
65ml White Wine Vinegar
3 Tbsp Brown Sugar
2 Tsp grated fresh Ginger
65ml Tomato Ketchup
1/4 Tsp Salt
Ground black pepper

Marinate the minced pork for an hour. Form into balls with your palm.

Mix the ingredients for the sauce and bring it to a boil stirring all the time. Then simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside.

Lightly oil a frying pan and grill your meatballs on all sides till they are browned. The inside could still be pink as you would finish cooking them in the sauce.

Heat some oil in the wok. Fry the onions, garlic, peppers, zucchini and red chilli. Add in the meatballs and stir-fry for a minute. Add in the lychees, then pour in the sauce, stirring well to coat the meatballs in the sauce, cover the wok and simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Serve hot on steamed Jasmine rice.

jeudi, novembre 19, 2009

Tomato Bufala Tartlets

Tomato Bufala Tartlets

Brisée pastry dough, Cherry Tomatoes (ripe), Mozzarella di Bufala (good quality), Sage or Basil Leaves. Olive Oil, salt and pepper. 200°C, 20 minutes. Yummy.

Indonesian Layer Cake (Kueh Lapis)

Indonesian Layer Cake

It is Baby Boy's turn to have fever today. Now I have 2 kids at home and had to cancel today's Grade 1 lunch. Can only cross the fingers that the Teenager doesn't catch the fever as he will be going to Munich next week.

Baby Boy loves Kueh Lapis, so I've decided to bake him one today when he's feeling miserable - from not being with his friends and from having to endure the suppositories for the fever. I felt quite queasy whenever I gave him a suppository, couldn't help thinking of how horrible it must be for those children who were sexually abused. I do not know about other children, but mine really hate having the suppository stuffed into their rectums. But they do not know how to swallow a pill and dislike swallowing syrup either. Meanwhile, I find the suppositories quite effective in reducing fever quickly.

Kueh Lapis :

10 Egg yolks
190g Sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla essence
220g Butter (softened at room temperature and beaten)
1 Tbsp Brandy or Rum
2 Tbsp sweetened Condensed Milk
130g plain Flour to sift together with
1 Tsp Mixed Spice (ground cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, nutmeg & allspice)
6 Egg whites

Grease springform pan and line with greaseproof paper.

Heat oven to 175°C.

Whisk egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla essence till creamy. Beat in the butter and brandy, then stir in the condensed milk followed by the sifted flour and mixed spice.

Whisk egg whites until just stiff. Pour egg yolk mixture into the egg whites and fold gently.

I heated my grill to moderate with fan when the oven is hot and placed my empty tin under it for 1 minute. Then I removed it, pour in a ladleful of batter and spread the batter evenly by tilting the tin. Grill for 5 minutes, remove tin and repeat operation until the batter is used up. Then return to bake mode and bake at 160°C for 10 minutes. Cool before eating.

As usual, whatever I bake or cook doesn't ever come out looking remotely nice. And from the look of things I can't even cut straight either. But this cake is quite edible and will require more adjustment to the oven settings, probably I will also cut down on the number of egg whites, use something to press down on the cake and remove the bubbles, and use a smaller cake pan (so that I can have more layers). In any case I'm on kueh lapis overdose. Have experimented with 2 lapis in 4 days...

Update 01/06/2011 : Made a more successful version here.

mercredi, novembre 18, 2009

Silken Tofu and Cauliflower Egg Hor Fun

Silken Tofu and Cauliflower Egg Hor Fun

When I left London a few weeks ago, I had in my luggage 2 precious packets of silken tofu. Made in Singapore. Stuff that I took for granted when I was living in Singapore and that I hoard preciously today because I cannot find them where I live. I took out one packet and made myself a plate of Silken Tofu and Cauliflower Egg Hor Fun for lunch. Bliss.

This morning I paid 25 euros for a test at the pharmacy to check what intolerance I have towards food. A Swedish mom had hers for free, but I, of course, had to turn up after the promotion. Anyway, apparently I can tolerate most food, except hazelnuts, walnuts, cucumber, coffee, alcohol, parmesan and pecorino cheese.

This is good to know, except that it doesn't help explain the buttons that I am currently having all over my person and I can't really eliminate food from my diet that could have made me fat because of intolerance. I suppose that I had better go see my doctor.

Harumi's Baked Cheesecake

Harumi's Baked Cheesecake

For Christmas last year, MIL offered me the cookbook Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking. I am normally not hot about Japanese cooking, though I make Japanese dishes occasionally for the family, especially Hub and the Teenager who love sushi, tempura, yakitori, miso and udon soup. This morning, stuck at home with Baby Girl and having entered all my cactuses and other plants from the cold, I decided to bake a non-Japanese cheesecake using her recipe. To warm up the kitchen.

I like the idea of baking cheesecake, and I do it from time to time for the Hub, but somehow I never eat it. It's one of those things. This one turned out well, with a fine biscuit base and dense, creamy interior. Foolproof, like she claimed it would be.

Harumi's Baked Cheesecake :

For an 18 cm springform tin

100g Digestive biscuits
40g unsalted butter
250g Cream cheese
90g Sugar
2 Eggs
200ml Double cream
3 Tbsp sifted plain Flour
1 Tbsp Lemon juice

The butter and cream cheese have to be at room temperature.

Line the cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Put the biscuits in a plastic bag and roughly crush with a rolling pin.

Mix the softened butter with the crushed biscuits.

Make the biscuit base. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Beat the cream cheese till soft then add the rest of the ingredients, in order, mixing each one thoroughly first before adding the next.

When the mixture has thickened, pour into the cake tin on top of the biscuit base. Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool before removing from the tin.

mardi, novembre 17, 2009

Home-made Squid Ink Tagliatelle

Squid Ink Tagliatelle

Squid Ink Pasta is not something that you can easily find in the supermarket or in restaurants where we live. Now that I know how to make it myself, I can have it anytime I want it. Not that it's good news for the diet.

Will cook this batch with prawns this evening. Hub looked at the drying pasta (all over the kitchen) and said that he would like to learn how to make them too. Said it normally costs so much to buy them fresh, so it's really good that I know how to make it myself now.

Squid Ink Pasta in the making

Am stuck with Baby Girl, she has a fever and all. I think half the school is ill. We haven't heard anything about the flu vaccination in this country. But it's normal, we're in Italy.

Home-made Lasagna with Cepe/Porcini Mushrooms

Lasagna ai Funghi Porcini

One good way not to forget a cooking lesson is to try it out on one's own quickly. I therefore set out to knead and roll out some dough for lasagna and squid ink tagliatelle this morning. Dinner this evening was therefore Fresh Lasagna with Cepe/Porcini Mushrooms.

Lasagna al Ragu (with one stray mushroom)

Actually it was Lasagna ai Funghi Porcini for the parents and Lasagna al ragu for the children. And I baked both in the same recipient.

2-in-1 Lasagna

There are 2 ways basically to cook lasagna using fresh pasta. The first and better way is to cook the pasta 30 seconds in salted boiling water, rinse it in a cold bath and dry it with kitchen towels; the second is to use it directly in making the lasagna (if it's thin enough). I took the easier way out this evening.

Pasta for lasagna in the making

The bechamel I prepared myself (40g butter, 40g flour and 500ml milk) and hors feu I stirred in grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper for extra taste.

My lasagne is composed of a layer of bechamel followed by a layer of pasta, followed by a layer of the mushroom or meat filling, more bechamel, another layer of pasta and so on. The top-most layer was pasta and bechamel and some grated cheddar. 35 minutes in a hot oven pre-heated at 180°C.