samedi, décembre 25, 2010

Red Bean Paste Tartlets

Red Bean Paste Tartlets

We spent Christmas Eve enjoying a delicious French/Indian/Thai dinner in a lovely English home - which sincerely was very much welcomed. The initial plan had been either (a) to have the family over for Christmas (and where would they sleep? There are no longer any beds in our guest rooms) or (b) drive/fly/take the train to Paris (in the current icy conditions) - just before we go on our ski holiday/move!!!

Hub doesn't realise it at times, but he can be so unrealistic. I may often be masochistic, but I am not mad. Had to put my foot down on his crazy plans and insist that he choose between his ski holiday or Christmas with the family (resources are scarce and so is time). Predictably he chose the former (so much for his sudden need to see his mum and sister). I then proposed a compromise : we would see MIL just before we leave Europe for China. It wouldn't be for Christmas, but we would still have met up before we move to the other side of the world.

I would rub it in ("Imagine if we had followed your harebrained plans...") every now and then this week when I saw him going out in the evenings for his farewell at Ferrari, hanging around taking his time to sort through his things in preparation for the move...

Last chance today to clear out the food in the house. We leave for Risoul (French Alps) tomorrow to ski and will move to Shanghai a day after we come home. Via Germany and France. By train before we fly. Long story, if I survive and have the chance to blog in China, will tell you about it.

Baked a batch of Red Bean Paste Tartelets this evening and it was the Teenager who ate them all singlehandedly. He's ready for China.

Merry Christmas & Happy 2011!!!

mercredi, décembre 22, 2010

Braised Sesame Oil & Ginger Beef

Braised Sesame Oil & Ginger Beef

I still have at least half a bottle of top-quality sesame oil to finish and our days in Modena are numbered as you know. I therefore had the idea to make a big pot of Braised Sesame Oil & Ginger Beef and the result was given the unanimous full thumbs-up by the children. Boy, no dish could be easier to prepare nor to please.

And I prepared it as I was getting ready for Babinette's belated 8th Birthday bash. Which was really more of a big play date, with 8 screaming girl guests and a crying Babinou trailing behind because the girls "were not kind" to him. Poor darling.

Babinette blowing her birthday candle

Once again, I tried to liquidate my food stock with the party. I came up with : Chocolate Brownies (en guise de birthday cake), fried Prawn Crackers with sweet and sour dip, Almond Jelly with canned Lychees, sweets, pretzels, raw vegetable platter, home-made butter popcorn, lemonade...

Now, I'm back to packing - until I have something else to liquidate.

Braised Sesame Oil & Ginger Beef :

1 kg piemontese braising beef (chopped into large cubes)
flour for coating them lightly with
1 large onion (chopped)
4 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger (julienned)
50ml toasted sesame oil
150ml light soy sauce
150ml chinese rice wine
50ml chinese or japanese rice vinegar
3 dried bird's eye chillies (crushed into flakes)
1 tsp ground black pepper
250ml* beef stock
toasted sesame seeds for garnishing

Using a heavy-bottom pot fry the ginger and garlic in the sesame oil till fragrant.

Add the onions and the lightly-floured beef cubes.

Sprinkle the chilli and pepper over the browned beef.

Pour in the soy sauce, rice wine and rice vinegar and coat the beef cubes in them.

Pour in the beef stock, enough to cover the meat*. Cover the pot and simmer for about 2-3 hours or till the meat is tender. Adjust the seasoning if necessary (e.g. add more soy sauce, wine etc).

Garnish with toasted sesame seeds before serving. I served the meat over white jasmine rice and topped it with a runny fried egg. On another day, I served it with ginger and garlic fried rice and it was yummy too!

lundi, décembre 20, 2010

Last Cookery Club Lesson at LY's

Pièce Montée

I am going to sound like a broken record, but I am really fortunate to have made a few wonderful friends here in Modena and it breaks my heart to leave them behind. My only consolation is that there is email and Skype, and since they all have husbands who travel alot for business, maybe they'll have enough miles to get themselves on a plane soon to visit me in Shanghai.

Stuffing choux pastry

LY held her cookery class last Wednesday - though we didn't get to see much cooking, she has prepared almost everything in advance and singlehandedly - and we were busy chatting away anyway to be working much.

Foie gras and champagne - potent combination

It was a feast. We had champagne, foie gras, smoked salmon, bread from France, baked lamb, home-made mashed potatoes, chocolate swiss roll...and a pièce montée! The kind you usually get at weddings. I felt so honoured...

It was lovely seeing everyone again (probably for the last time in Modena) and be able to hug them goodbye one last time. They've also offered me a nice parting gift, something to remember our common love for cooking/baking by.

Very tasty lamb with garlic sauce and mashed potatoes

JW has cooked me a farewell lunch (photos pending as not all turned out), JoW and LS have brought me out to lunch and last Friday I was surprised with a lovely trilogy of presents from MB, CB and JoW...These ladies are really not making it easy for me to leave, preferably without breaking down. But I will be strong - because if you see the casino that is my house at the moment, and just a few days from the move, you know that I cannot spend my day weeping and feeling sorry for leaving.

LY's famous chocolate swiss roll

But I will miss you all. Please promise to keep the club going after my departure.

jeudi, décembre 16, 2010

Osteria Francescana Revisited and the Umberto Panini Museum

Aged balsamic vinegar from Hombre

Less than 2 months ago, Hub brought us to the Osteria Francescana in Modena for my birthday. Believe it or not, we were back in the restaurant last night, this time with a couple who are notables of the city and who kindly offered us a memorable and very interesting evening out.

We were late turning up at Hombre - an organic farm that produces very good Parmesan cheese in Modena. We had no idea what we were doing there, having followed a car in front of us all the way from a factory in Formigine. When you do things like that in the cold and the dark, it felt a little like in the movies e.g. illegal, exciting and dangerous. Except that the Alfa Romeo in front was driven by an old man who looked nothing at all like James Bond.

At the Hombre farm, we were greeted by another old man and his big dog. He walked us to a warehouse, opened the door and turned on the lights. And we saw an amazing collection of vintage Maseratis and a few other cars, and also an amazing collection of old motocycles.

An example of a Panini sticker collection

That was the Panini Museum and our old guide was Umberto Panini himself. As the evening progressed, we would learn more about this amazing man who was a meccanic, inventor and former owner of the Panini Group that is famous worldwide for its collectible stickers, cards, figurines, books etc. How many of us have been coerced into buying packets and packets of stickers during say the World Cup so that our sons could stick them on some book or exchange them with their friends during their breaks?

The car collection in the museum has an interesting story behind it. To make it brief, the Maserati Museum wasn't included in the sale of Maserati to the Fiat Group and the cars in it were about to end up being sold in the UK when Umberto Panini decided at the last minute to buy it and save the Maseratis from leaving Modena and Italy. Many of them were lovingly restored and so they now sit in this specially-built museum just next to the organic Parmesan cheese factory owned by the Paninis.

We were supposed to be given a private tour of the factory too but turned up late because Hub had a meeting and the factory was closed when we arrived. But Umberto kindly offered us a generous slice of his famous cheese and also a bottle of the family's aged (25 year-old) balsamic vinegar!

Turned out that our host and Umberto Panini are old friends, in fact, the former is passionate about photography and publishes his own photo books. A number of them would include the latter hammering barrels of cheese to test its maturity etc. Modena is a small world and they all know each other, from Montezemolo to Pavarotti, Panini and of course our host.

We then had dinner at the Francescana and this time we ordered a la carte as our host and his wife preferred to eat Modenese food even when we were in one of the best restaurants in the world. I had duck liver to start followed by a scampi pasta and a lobster in Riesling mousse. The food was excellent as usual, though I was so busy trying to listen to our hosts and make conversation in Italian that I couldn't remember having any particular sensations about the dishes.

We were given a summary of Umberto Panini's life and adventures (our host is obviously not only a friend but also a fan), discussed balsamic vinegar making, had a quick run-down of Modena and Ferrara's history and spent quite a bit of time exchanging pet stories (not that I have ever had a pet - but thank God my parents and my siblings have a few). It was a surprisingly informative and interesting evening and we were the very last to leave the restaurant (after the Chef himself) so much we have enjoyed each other's company.

I feel very lucky. Just a few weeks from leaving Modena, I have finally been offered a bottle of the traditional balsamic vinegar and by such an important person himself. I am now ready to leave, and to do so with fond memories of this city. Of its notables and its cuisine. But of course also of my wonderful friends who though not particularly illustrous (nor harbouring barrels of the precious vinegar), are notables of the city that is my heart and whose kindness I will bring with me and hope to fall back on as I face a new city, country and life ahead of me.

Hombre srl
Via Corletto sud 320
41100 Modena
Tel : +39 059 510 660

lundi, décembre 13, 2010

Red Bean Soup (Hong Dou Tang)

Red Bean Soup with Coconut Cream

Digging through the pantry, throwing food out, giving food away and trying to eat everything up before we leave is currently the story of my life. Found a bag of red beans and voilà a pot of Red Bean Soup with Coconut Cream for my enjoyment! I said "my" because nobody else in the family likes it. Though they ought to since we'll be eating quite a bit of that in China soon.

I like to eat my red bean soup with the beans soft but still whole so I didn't mash them up. But I made sure to boil them with pandan (screwpine) leaves and finally sweetened them with cane sugar. Ate it hot with a spoon of coconut cream - yummy!

Natale Bimbi 2010

Kids' last Natale Bimbi at Ferrari

You realise that time really flies when you attended Ferrari's Natale Bimbi or Children's Christmas for the 4th and last time. And to mark the occasion, we turned up first at the party - just before Domenicali and his kids - for once. We were late every time in the last 3 editions of the festa.

For a change, they've decided to hold the party within Ferrari and not in the Fiorano tracks like they used to. This meant that Hub could drive into the company and park in his usual parking place - cutting the mother of all queues building up outside the gates. It was very cold outside so we definitely appreciated that.

The F1 Pilots in Santa Uniform

Baby Boy and his friend Fede

It was the usual free-flow popcorn, candy floss, hot chocolate and pandoro, we had tickets for a few games and then the rides were also free. This year we were spared the need to run out if they should hold the Telethon when we're there (for those who are new to this, they hostage the kids with the F1 drivers this time of the year so that they could appear on National TV to appeal for charity donations) as we turned up for the afternoon session and the Telethon was held in the morning. Appearing on Italian national television does not appeal to us since we have no relatives to watch us on it.

The kids had a great time especially on the bouncy castle - almost impossible to get them out of it. I bumped into KF, LS, CF and a number of other ladies from the school and out of it so there was never a dull moment. After the amusement park, we took a little train that brought us to a creche with live reindeer where the kids were offered a stocking filled with Kinder chocolates. Then the train brought us to the canteen where the children were each given a present for Christmas.

Families collecting presents for their children (until age 10)

Creche with real reindeer

The Ferrari Christmas Tree

Voilà the last magical Ferrari Children's Christmas for us. A good way to end our stay in Modena, don't you think so?

dimanche, décembre 12, 2010

Speak Mandarin When In China

Speak Mandarin

I will be moving to China with an advantage - I can speak Mandarin though of course it could do with some improvement. Think of how difficult it must be for those who couldn't.

On our way back from Shanghai, we had a little problem at the check-in counter at Pudong Airport. We wanted to sit together (of course) and they separated us because we had passports from different countries and my Singapore passport didn't carry my married name (incidentally that got Hub all upset - now he wants me to register our marriage in Singapore, hmm, to think that I've managed to avoid the issue for more than a decade, I'm incidentally very fond of my own sirname...).

We insisted (in English) so the girl at check-in walkie-talkied her colleague (in Mandarin, of course) :

Girl : I've a couple here who wants to sit together. Can I give them seats 3A and 3B?

Colleague : No, the problem is that 3A is spoilt. The TV doesn't work.

Girl : What if the client doesn't mind?

Me (interrupting in Mandarin) : Of course we mind. Why wouldn't we mind?

Girl was of course shocked and you can see it on her face. Why would she imagine that after paying more than 5000 euros for each ticket we would want to spend 13 hours on the plane without TV? And why would she imagine that I couldn' t speak Mandarin when I have a Chinese signature on my passport? And who did she think she was to make decisions for us without first consulting us?

Welcome to China. And to what awaits you if you do not speak Mandarin.

vendredi, décembre 10, 2010

My First Time in China

View from our hotel room on the 38th floor

I must have mentioned before that I have Chinese origins. Though for a very long time my passport said that we couldn't go to China, People's Republic of. Things have changed quite a bit in the last 2 decades - but I have somehow stayed behind and have never cultivated much of an interest in the country. In other words, China wasn't one of my dream travel destinations.

It doesn't mean that I am not interested in my roots. On the contrary, I was the only one in my generation to have written to our cousins in the south when I was still a teenager, and I am keen to visit our ancestral village in the near future. It's just that I'm hotter about Ayer's Rock than the Great Wall of China. And I want Tibet to be free.

We flew to Shanghai last Sunday. On Air France, business class, with foie gras and Fauchon teabags. They had a Chinese interpreter on board, who kept asking me if I wouldn't want a Chinese newspaper. I can read French probably 5 times faster than I can manage Chinese. Told her to check me out again when I'd have gone for torturous refresher Chinese lessons in the near future.

Hairy crabs in Carrefour Jinqiao

How do I feel about finally landing on the Mainland? Cheated, if I had to only use one word to describe it. I mean, what happened to the bicycles and Mao suits? Have I turned up too late? Or is Shanghai just not really China?

There was a chauffer-driven car waiting for us, we were whisked off to our 5-star hotel in Pudong driving on new, modern highways, passing by tall, modern, shiny-new buildings and stopping occasionally to allow fashionable Shanghai residents to cross the roads on their way to work. I felt robbed of an "authentic" China experience; I knew that I have turned up too late.

But I appreciate the rather clean toilets in the few places I've been to. Now I remember why I wasn't hot about China : I was afraid of the unsanitary conditions of their sanitaries. I had just been waiting for them to clean up their bathrooms.

Festive lights in Huaihai Lu, Shanghai

Hub was there to collect his new working computer/email and check out the people who will be working for him soon; We were there to visit 7 schools in 3 days and hopefully also a few houses. The schedule was tight and I was suffering from lack of sleep. And half the time also from indigestion as the restaurants there were very good and we were eating more than we should have.

A house that we may wish to rent

Just in Pudong itself, we could choose from more than 7 International Schools and each one was bigger and more beautiful than the last one. The facilities could include anything from 350-seat amphitheatres to indoor pools, roof-top gyms and a school orchestra/band. In the Middle/High Schools, most have individual lockers, wireless environments and require their students to have their own Macbooks. To think that I still have nightmares of the wobbly overhead ceiling fan in my Primary school classroom, and when I was in Junior College, half the classroom would be flooded each time it rained.

After the 1st 4 schools (and all have at least 2 campuses each), we cancelled the remaining 3 schools to visit and signed the 3 kids up with 2 different schools. The school holidays will be different and both schools are at least 40 minutes apart from each other - but we felt that since the children are so different they deserve to be placed in different schools that will meet their different needs.

The Babies will go to an International School with a Hong Kong/UK-curriculum that offers co-language teaching. The school is known for its good IB results and strong emphasis on Chinese, offering the children compulsory violin lessons, for example, that are said to help fine-tune their hearing making it easier for them to learn Mandarin.

The Teenager will go to a small American International School that offers the IB Diploma. The school campus is new, built for 1000 students and currently only having 220. The facilities are therefore very good (e.g. indoor pool, black box theatre...) and most textbooks are available as e-books (they all have their own Macbooks) meaning lighter school bags. He's 3-4 years away from the IB Diploma exams so we really want to make sure that he would be happy and comfortable in his next school.

The Teenager's new school

We visited a number of houses (about 350-600 m2 each) in a few compounds but couldn't fix on one since there would always be something that we didn't like about the place e.g. the house itself, its garden (or lack of), its clubhouse, location, heating system, kitchen etc. But the relocation agent now seems to have quite a good idea of what we like, so we'll return in January and continue our search. We would stay in a hotel for a few months while waiting for our shipment to arrive from Italy - just as well since I would prefer to explore the city instead of spend my arrival unpacking.

View of Tomson Golf from a house we visited - house was too big and had too much marble for our taste

There is a Peking duck restaurant in the hotel so we dined there one evening. Excellent duck but bad service. In fact bad service is generally everywhere since from what I could see, the Shanghainese are often loud, sour-faced and rude. But as long as the food is good...

Peking Duck

We have been introduced by a family friend to the French GM and President of 2 other MNCs in the same sector and they brought us out to dinner : the former to a lovely Szechuanese restaurant and the latter to New Chinese cuisine (a Tung Lok group restaurant) both in the French Concession. Our relocation agent was impressed with the fact that we've been to these restaurants - since you usually do not know about them until you've been around for a while. He himself also brought us out to lunch on 3 occasions and they were mainly Cantonese restaurants since I've been telling him how much I prefer Cantonese cuisine. I think that just trying to discover all the good restaurants in Shanghai will take us a few years so we're happy to start soon.

Flying above the clouds

Our first impressions of the city are therefore largely positive (except for its traffic and horrible drivers, not to mention the ugly and very expensive golf course). We know that we can eat out when we want to, find domestic help easily, find some of our favourite food products (but the imports will be very expensive) and there will be lots to do and visit to keep us busy for a while. So I think I can say that I'm looking forward to our coming move to Shanghai - see you there in a few weeks!

mardi, novembre 30, 2010

Finali Mondiali 2010, Valencia

Finali Mondiali 2010 in Valencia, Spain

Hub called from Valencia (Spain) to say that I should have gone with him to the Finali Mondiali 2010. He had just checked into his hotel room at the Westin Valencia and was hoping that I could advise him on what he could do in the city before dinner.

Westin Valencia

I told him that he wasn't a child so I had no idea. A pity as the zoo and the aquarium there are very good.

He called just as I was trying to (1) stem my finger from bleeding me dry (paper cut from moving cardboxes of clothes), (2) cook lunch and (3) scream at the children who were fighting - all at the same time. Why wouldn't I want to go to Valencia with him? But who would look after the children? Plus I had made various appointments with friends that weekend.

He had taken my camera with him so that he could show me some of the going-ons. So here's Ferrari's Finali Mondiali 2010 in a few pictures :

Science Museum

The F1 pilots on stage

Legs, Beauties & Parapluies

Vintage Ferrari

During dinner on Saturday, he was at a table where there were a number of old and/or ugly rich men with 1.8m-tall blondes with big boobs hanging on the arm. I told him that he could find one of his own the day he becomes very very rich - and after he had shared half of his fortune with me, of course. While waiting, he is but a salaried man like most men and must make do with a girl like me. :-)

lundi, novembre 29, 2010

No-Bake Mango Cheesecake

No-Bake Mango Cheesecake

It snowed for the first time this Winter yesterday. We had been wondering about the gentle temperatures up till now - and then suddenly it started snowing. But I love it when it snows, somehow it never gets too cold when it does and in addition life becomes brighter with the white everywhere.

The weekend had been crazy. Hub was away for Ferrari's Finali Mondiali in Valencia so we were alone. First Margi came from Bologna on Saturday morning on an errand and then JB came to play with the Teenager. We were invited to our very first Thanksgiving dinner at KL's that evening - which was lovely with great food, wine and company.

Sunday we were invited to tea at CC's - my first visit to her lovely and cozy house - in the snow. Met her interesting and friendly Hub for the first time too which was a pleasure as he's a guy who loves to cook and eat - and he probably grows the only kaffir lime leaf plant in the whole of Modena. In the afternoon the Babies were invited to a birthday party and it wasn't easy trying to find the place in the snow. And of course the GPS couldn't recognise the address. Nearly drove into CT's car near the party place - but got the last laugh as he wasn't equipped for the snow and was wet bottom up.

View of the garden when we woke up this morning

Reaching home I dug in the fridge and found alphonso mango pulp left over from the mango lassi the other day. Plus a tub each of Philadelphia and mascarpone cheese. Wasn't that No-Bake Mango Cheesecake screaming out to be made?

No-Bake Mango Cheesecake :

half a packet of digestive biscuits or speculoos
50g butter
250g philadelphia cream cheese
250g mascarpone cheese
fine sugar to taste
juice of half to one lemon
grated zest from one lemon (half for filling and half for garnishing)
1 cup alphonso mango pulp

Pulse the biscuits and melt the butter. Mix together and line a paper-lined biscuit tin or mould with the crumbs. Chill in the fridge as you prepare the filling.

In a large bowl, whip the 2 cream cheeses together with the sugar, lemon juice, zest and mango pulp. Taste the filling for sugar as you go along, should be about half cup depending on how sweet a tooth you have.

Fill the mould with the filling and grate the zest from the other half of the lemon over it. Chill for a few hours before serving. If you're hardworking, you could prepare a mango sauce or decorate with fresh mango slices - but I don't usually eat mango unless it cannot be seen - so that's the way I like my mango cheesecake.