dimanche, février 28, 2010

Hotel Firenze, Fanano, Italy

Hotel Firenze's Restaurant and Pub

We went to Fanano in Cimone for a family ice skating day organised by the PTA. Now, I didn't skate as usual since I do not know how to and have no intention of finding out if I could. But the rest of the family did and Baby Boy especially was amazing as this was the 2nd or 3rd time that he has been to an ice-skating rink and he skated like he has done it all his life. This led, naturally, to comments like, "He doesn't take after you..." True, and good for him. That he's more like his father.

We had a good brunch before we left for the rink, but decided to have a late lunch after the skating so as to be able to spend some time with the B's. Hub has become very friendly with MB's Hub who's the President and CEO of EVO Bus Italy and we like to meet up with them as a family whenever we have the opportunity to do so. RB's cool, interesting and well-travelled - very much a guy after our own heart.

At the entrance

Problem though was that it wasn't easy trying to grab a bite at 3 in the afternoon. We asked around with no luck and finally fell upon this restaurant in the main square of Fanano. It was closed, but I decided to knock on the door (it was locked) and try my luck. They opened up and agreed to serve us if we only order pizza. Perfect.

The baby grand

We loved the place. It's a pizzeria, restaurant, enoteca, museum and pub that is also part of a hotel with spa. The dining hall is so cosy, filled with pots, furniture, porcelain, old typewriters, a baby grand piano, guitars, photos, paintings, wine bottles, bref, all kinds of bric à brac. In fact, it's like a brocante. One that probably does little doposci concerts. They even have a playpen and toys - because the owner often has grandchildren who come and play!

We all had pizzas, the adults shared a bottle of red wine and the men had a grappa each after the meal. The pizzas were good - which made us say that we would love to reserve our meal there next year if we should return to ice skate. And the hotel looked nice too - probably a good place to spend a night or 2 in when you ski at Cimone in winter or trek in the mountains during summer.

My pizza bufala

Hotel Firenze
Via Roma, 29/33
41021 Fanano (MO)
Tel : 0536 68822

samedi, février 27, 2010

LG 50PS2000 - 127cm

LG 50PS2000

I was at a birthday party today and was telling the moms there that we had decided not to buy a new flatscreen TV (while looking at our hosts' 52-inch) because of the suspicious electricity supply in our rustic renovated farmhouse. 10 minutes later, Hub called me on my mobile and announced that he was at Media Markt (where he went to buy an Apple mouse) and had decided to buy a 50-inch LG plasma TV. And could I not leave the party and drive my big car over so that we could bring the TV home?

I was up there in the mountains at Ricco di Serramazzoni with a group of lovely mums and trying not to eat too many of the yummy warm ham and cheese sandwiches. The drive down had been a little scary (I'm not good with mountain roads) and I was a little frustrated having to visit the mall when just a hour earlier I was boasting to a mum about being happy not to be squeezing with half of Modena in the mall on a Saturday. Naturally she started laughing when I told her where I was heading out to. Did the guy do it on purpose, or what?

Anyway, the LG 50PS2000 was what the Hub bought. Even though he had always maintained that Panasonic's plasmas are the best. But at the store he got to compare images on the different plasmas and decided that the LG was a good compromise on both quality and price. We are still worried about the electric current in our house so we're not keen to spend too much on the TV. And thanks to AB's gift of a very nice Samsung LCD a few months ago, we also know that we would prefer to stick to the humble plasma for the warmer colours. We are getting a top-of-the-range Blue Ray DVD player from Harmon Kardon to go with our home entertainment system from the same brand, hence Hub's desire to get a Full HD screen.

I don't watch much TV so I don't really care. I have been trying to tell Hub that it would be more ecological to stick to small TVs (e.g. less than 29-inch), but he spends whatever free time he has in front of the TV so I understand his need to get a big one. And he really loves movies and has an amazing knowledge of both film and music culture.

Back to the party, it was nice. These kids are really lucky, between attending an exclusive International School to having playdates and birthday parties every other week. And we are such devoted parents, ready to make them happy at the drop of a hat, ready to shelf our own plans to allow them to meet their friends and play.

The living room with a view

Hub said that we probably spoil them too much as they are getting wild and disobedient. Even my canes - symbol of fear and torture - no longer have much effect on them. When I tell them that I would give them the caning of their lives if...they just laugh and go on like I've not said anything. In fact, they love to fence with my beloved canes, each one of them even keeps one in his/her own room so as to use it against the others! Baby Girl brought one to school the other day for Show and Tell. Like mum said, threatening with no follow-up action doesn't work when used too often. But as modern parents, we try not to use violence on our children (though we still hang on to our canes) and truth is, it really hurts us when we hurt them.

The view

Trying to deprive them of priviledges does not work - because they know that I'll have them restored the minute I'm happy with them (and it doesn't take much for me to be happy with them). And a reward system is not effective either - because they already have so much. Mum said kids nowadays are born smart - meaning we were probably born stupid.

They are still working on the house

Ricco di Serramazzoni is lovely, with views of places as far away as Bologna and Fiorano. This Italian family has restored part of their old house and the result is a really comfortable house with a magnificent view of the lowlands and valleys. Beatrice and Marcus (kids who have left the school) turned up for the party too! The children ran wild in the house while the mums had to shout over and above the din in order to carry out our conversations.

Another ruin to restore

I must have said it a few times about what a nice bunch of mums I have in my class. Nobody ever says anything bad about other people (and certainly not out of hypocracy), everyone is always ready to help each other out and they are all kind and sincere individuals. Wish I could say the same about a few (luckily very minority) of the other women we have in the school community whom I've been observing for a few years now. Thinking of them makes me shudder. One of them, and quite a number of us have to agree, is even malicious (while acting almost like Mother Theresa on the outside). Fancy us having to use this term.

Would be interesting to see how this will look like restored

The house seen from further uphill

Tomorrow we bring the kids to Fanano near Monte Cimone for a family ice skating day organised by the school's PTA. I don't ice skate, but will be happy to watch my family do so as I catch up with the other mums and admire the teachers outside of their classrooms. Hub has already arranged to grab a bite with a few other dads. You know that we're now settled expats.

vendredi, février 26, 2010

Fish Soup (Soupe de Poissons)

Soupe de Poissons

It is not true that French Onion Soup is my favourite European soup once I start thinking about it. I love French Fish Soup too, not just the famous Bouillabaisse, but also the humble everyday Soupe de Poissons.

Out of my 3 kids, only the Teenager is a true connoisseur when it comes to seafood. Before he was even 3, he had his first taste of raw oysters and he has loved them since. I remember making sure that he had his Hep A jabs when he was a toddler because he loved prawns even then. And needless to say, he likes fish soup too.

The French do not waste food. You usually make a Soupe de Poissons with leftover (but fresh) fish bones and heads. Just for the stock - don't worry. And you can also add anchovy filets, red fish, monkfish, cod, prawns, mussles etc into the stock and then mix everything into a soup before you serve it. And you usually serve it with a rouille (garlic mayonnaise with mashed potatoes), croutons and grated cheese.

I made a simple fish soup for my lunch this afternoon. Ate it with home-made rye bread (toasted and rubbed with garlic) and grated emmenthal cheese.

Soupe de Poissons (serves 1-2 persons) :

Olive Oil
1-2 Onions (sliced)
3-4 Garlic cloves (chopped)
300g Codfish filets
1 tin of Sardines
6-8 cherry Tomatoes (chopped)
2 Tbsp concentrated Tomato paste
120ml White or rosé wine
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
400-500ml Fish or seafood stock
1 Bay leaf
2 Tbsp Parsley (chopped)
Half a Celery
1 Tsp dried Thyme or fennel or basilic or rosemary
1 Tsp ground Chilli
Salt and Pepper to taste
Some bechamel to thicken the soup (optional)

Brown the onions and garlic in some olive oil. Add the codfish filets to grill in the aromatic oil.

Add the sardines, fresh tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix well.

Stir in the vinegar and wine. Let it simmer for a few minutes.

Add the herbs, celery and ground chilli followed by the seafood broth.

Cover the pot and let it simmer for about 20-30 minutes. It should not be too watery.

Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the bay leaf and mix the soup with a handmixer. Serve hot with crème fraîche, garlic croutons, grated cheese and a rouille if desired.

Lemongrass Infusion

Lemongrass Infusion

My 3rd Aunt gave me a lemongrass root to plant a few months back. But it wouldn't multiply, only grow leaves. And one uses the stalks for cooking most things, not the leaves. So I have been cutting off the leaves and cursing each time for the waste. Until I remember that the leaves would make great lemongrass infusions.

Clean the leaves, add sugar and hot water and there you have a lovely lemongrass-scented tea! And it's supposed to be good for our health, so one can drink it to one's heart's content.

We found out more about the Unicef gala dinner today. Dress code is "scuro" (does it mean black tie?) and apparently it will be broadcasted on Italian TV.

jeudi, février 25, 2010

Risotto alla Salsiccia al Finocchietto

Fennel Pork Sausage Risotto
Ever since DC offered me some of his mother's fennel pork sausages from Puglia to try, I've been hooked on them. It's no longer enough to eat grilled sausages, I prefer the ones with fennel in them. And I absolutely do not like fennel normally. It is one of those things.

Once in a while, I would slip a few fennel pork sausages (not as good as DC's unfortunately - but will have to do) in my shopping basket when I go grocery shopping. I have seen sausage risotto or pasta mentioned in some menu once and have been thinking that the fennel ones would surely taste even better. This is how this Risotto alla Salsiccia al Finocchietto came to be.

And I will have to go on a crash diet sooner than expected as Hub just told me that he has been invited to a Unicef dinner gala in 2 weeks and for some reason, I've been invited as well. Arrgh...I have nothing to wear! Or nothing I could fit into anyway. I wonder how chic one has to be and am looking forward to finding out what the gala's all about. Read somewhere that it would be the prizegiving ceremony for the Ragno d'Oro 2010 and that there will be singers like Alberto Fortis, Demo Mura and Raina Kabaiwanska. Not that I know who they are.

Risotto alla Salsiccia al Finocchietto (serves 1-2 persons) :

1 small Onion
2-3 Garlic cloves
300g Fennel pork sausages
1 cup Arborio rice
2 Tbsp Parsley (chopped)
6-8 Cherry tomatoes (chopped)
150ml White wine
Chicken, beef or Vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

Fry the diced onions either in butter or olive oil. Slice the fennel pork sausages and cook them in the fat till nicely grilled. Add the diced garlic when the sausages are grilled.

Add the arborio rice into the aromatic fat and mix well.

Stir in the chopped parsley and tomatoes.

Pour in the white wine and simmer till the liquid has been absorbed by the rice.

Ladle in the broth one ladle at a time and stir from time to time as the rice absorbs the liquid.

When the rice is almost al dente, add one last ladle of broth and turn off the heat. Cover the pan.

Add salt, pepper and parmesan cheese to taste. Serve hot.

I was right, the fennel taste was awesome in the sausage and with the rice. This is going to be one of my favourite risottos.

In Anticipation of Spring

Channel-set Ring with 0.66ct of Rubies

The sun is out today. In 3 weeks, Spring will officially be here. I am as oily as a whale, but I am starting to feel good. Of course this would be before I meet the Teenager's form mistress later. In less than 2 hours.

My sunny disposition merited a tangible manifestation and it comes in the form of a new ring : an 18K white gold ring channel-set with 0.66ct of Rubies. Consider it a belated Valentine's Day gift to myself. I hesitated between this and another diamond ring, but decided to go for colour in the end. I prefer diamonds when they are nice and big.

I will have to cut back on a trip after this, but I couldn't resist it. Hub will tell me that he doesn't like rings like that, but as long as I do, that's all that matters, n'est-ce pas?

French Onion Soup (Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée)

Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée

I love French Onion Soup. It is probably my favourite European soup. And MIL has once shared her special recipe with me. It is from her region (Aveyron) where they alternate layers of caramelised onions and cantal cheese, but today I will just blog about the more common method of making this soup.

I like to make it a day in advance. This way, it is better and it would also be possible to remove any fat from the soup.

French Onion Soup :

1 Kg Onions (around 5-6 medium to large ones)
3 Tbsp Butter + 1 Tbsp Olive oil
3 Garlic cloves
1 Bay leaf
Half a Celery stalk
2 sprigs of Thyme
3 Tbsp chopped Parsley
1 Tbsp Apple cider vinegar or Balsamic vinegar
200ml Red wine
200ml White wine
1 Tsp Salt
Pepper to taste
750ml Beef broth
750ml Chicken broth
Grated hard cheese e.g. Emmenthal, cheddar, cantal, gruyère
Baguette (stale is OK) or pain de campagne or Puff pastry

The key to a successful French Onion Soup lies in how you sweat your onions. In the past, they usually let the onions sweat it out for more than 2 hours to get them caramelised in their own sugar.

Peel and slice the onions and garlic. Put them in a heavy-bottom pot like Le Creuset or Staub, together with the butter (cut in pieces) and olive oil. Turn on the heat and cook the onions uncovered for the first 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.

They should start to turn brown. Cover the pot and cook for another 20 minutes. Also stirring from time to time. It doesn't matter if the bottom of the pot is a little burnt.

The onions should be beautifully brown by now. Add the vinegar and herbs and mix well. I like to cook this soup in layers as I feel that it helps bring out the flavours better.

Pour in the red and white wine, cover the pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Add salt and pepper, then the beef and chicken broth. Cover and simmer for at least another hour.

Getting ready to go into the oven
To serve the soup, heat up the oven to 190°C. Pour the soup in an oven-proof dish (preferably individual) and place a few thick slices of the bread in it. Stale bread is good because it doesn't soak up the soup immediately and turn too soggy. Top with grated cheese and then bake in the oven (upper shelf) till the cheese has melted.

With Puff pastry
Since the Teenager loves his soup with puff pastry, I covered his with a puff pastry disc and baked it for 20 minutes in the same oven - but on the lower shelf. Yummy! This soup is always best when you make it yourself.

Chilli Lime Cod Fish Rice Noodle Soup

Lunch. A simple Chilli Lime Cod in Rice Noodle Seafood Broth.

mercredi, février 24, 2010

Egg Tarts on a Thought

Egg Tarts
More than 2 years ago, I blogged (on my birthday), about one of my favourite egg tarts. Funny how it should be one of those things that you make very often for a while, got sick of and then forget all about for weeks, months and years on end.

As you know, I was working this morning on my menu for next week's lunch. Besides being limited by the spoilt gas stove, I am also a little stressed as one of my guests is a Brazilian father who is also a professional chef. What do you feed a chef?

But having thought of him, I also thought, for some reason, of Portuguese Egg Tarts. And chez Lotus, thought often translates itself to action (except when it comes to housework or exercising) and I found myself taking out eggs, milk, cream and puff pastry from the fridge and turning on the oven. Just as well that plans for lunch (buffet) with ES fell through no thanks to UPS who was supposed to come pick up a parcel (and never did finally). I have bought a few things recently including a Miu Miu skirt, Fendi bag, D&G bra and wallet on the Internet and have decided to return the bag and wallet as they looked too gaudy Italian. Besides, I am hoping to do a bit of travelling come Spring and need the funds. Money is one of those scarce resources they talk about as we know.

And I'm still pushing 70 Kgs which is alot for a short girl like me. Last evening I made burgers, fries, the total for the family so we've already been piling on the calories. But everybody loved their dinner (Piemontese beef!) so it was quite worth it. It'd have to be soup for the rest of the week if we were to recover from this binge.

Baked Coriander, Chilli and Garlic Gambas

Baked Coriander, Chilli and Garlic Gambas

When we were at Club Med Sestriere, they served Baked Gambas that were so good Hub and I had at least 4-5 servings each. I thought that since my gas stove is not working well and the stupid Geometra, after 3 weeks, has yet to send a guy to have it changed to a new one, I will have to modify my menu and work on more dishes that could be cooked in an oven. Yes, I'm practising for my first lunch in 2010. Once the weather improves, we should start to entertain pretty often.

I have therefore adapted one of my prawn recipes that I normally cook in a wok or frying pan for the oven. I will serve this Baked Coriander, Chilli and Garlic Gambas with Thai Pineapple Rice next week.

Out of the oven
Baked Coriander, Chilli and Garlic Gambas (serves 2) :

400g of raw Argentinian Gambas (legs and whiskers removed)
6 Garlic cloves
2 large fresh Red Chillies
A handful of fresh Coriander leaves
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/2 Tsp roasted Fennel seeds (optional)
Pepper to taste
Lemon juice

Grind the cloves, coriander leaves, chillies, olive oil, fennel seeds and salt to a rough paste.

Before being baked
Place the prawns in an oven-proof dish and marinate them with the paste. Cover with clingwrap and set aside for at least an hour or 2.

Heat up oven to 200°C.

Bake the marinated prawns for 10 minutes, then remove the oven dish and squeeze some lemon juice over them. Bake for another 10 minutes or till cooked. You may turn the prawns over if you do not wish the top and the herbs to be too dry.

Serve with butter basmati rice, salad leaves or some crusty bread.

mardi, février 23, 2010

Banana Oatmeal Crepes

Banana Oatmeal Crepes with Whipped Cream
Hub mentioned to me the other day that the bananas were looking too ripe. I muttered that it didn't matter. He gave me a suspicious look and said, "We are too fat. No more banana cake!"

Now, not that I am afraid of the Hub. But he's quite good at nagging for a man. And he is getting a little too plump for his height. The Teenager said that soon the father will have more boobs than the mum.

So I made a few Banana Oatmeal Crepes instead. And ate them with whipped cream. I'm pushing 70Kgs soon. Even pregnant I've never weighed this much. But what else could one do during winter except eat?

Banana Oatmeal Crepes :

250g Flour
2 Tbsp Oats
Pinch of Salt
2 Eggs
750ml Milk
1 Tbsp Oil
1 Tbsp Rum
2-3 ripe Bananas
2 Tbsp Sugar
Lime juice
Whipped Cream

Mix the flour and oatmeal.

Make a well in the flour and break the eggs in it. Add the salt, oil, rum and 500ml of the milk and stir well to make a smooth batter. Set aside for at least an hour.

Peel the bananas and crush them with a fork. Add the sugar and a bit of lime juice and set aside.

Before cooking the crepes, add the remaining 250ml of the milk to the batter and stir well. Add the sugared bananas and mix well.

Heat up some butter in a non-stick pan. Pour some of the banana batter into the pan and spread it thinly all over. I added a few chocolate bits which didn't help make it easy to cook the crepe, but I couldn't resist. And I also burnt my crepes because I like it crispy on one side. There was absolutely nothing gourmet about my crepes. They are just plain caloric clumsy comfort food.

I let the crepes cool a little before folding them into 2 and adding loads of whipped cream in-between. I also made slightly thicker crepes and ate them with good ole Canadian maple syrup...This evening I will make the traditional thin French crepes for the kids' dessert and serve them with either sugar or strawberries and cream.

Thicker banana crepes with maple syrup

Come Spring I'll return to the gym.

An "English" Lentil Curry

Lentil Curry with Marmite
Have you ever made a curry with marmite? I love marmite as you may know and thought I should give it a go. It turned out quite well if I may say so. I made this dal curry almost like I would a Dal Makhani - a rich North Indian lentil and bean curry - but since I'm not hot about red and black-eyed beans, I used green lentils.

Lentil and Vegetable Curry :

400g-can organic whole Green Lentils
2 Potatoes (cubed)
1 large Carrot (sliced into small chunks)
A few hard-boiled Eggs
1 Onion (chopped)
2 Tbsp Ginger-Garlic paste
1 Tsp Cumin seeds
1/2 Tsp Fenugreek seeds
1/2 Tsp Mustard seeds
1 Tsp ground Turmeric
2 Star anises
1 big fresh Red Chilli (sliced)
1 Chilli padi or 1 Tsp red Chilli powder
2 Tsp Garam Masala
6-8 Cherry Tomatoes (chopped)
6-8 Curry leaves
1 Tsp Marmite dissolved in 1 cup hot water
300ml full cream Milk
50ml Cream
Salt to taste
Fresh Coriander leaves

Heat up some butter in a reasonably deep non-stick frying pan and fry the onions, ginger-garlic paste and spices till fragrant. Add the chilli, curry leaves, potatoes and carrots. Mix in the lentils. I used canned organic lentils to spare myself the soaking and long cooking time. If not using potatoes and carrots, double the amount of lentils used.

Add the tomatoes and pour in the marmite broth. Mix well, cover and leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Stir in the garam masala followed by the milk and peeled hard-boiled eggs. Leave to simmer for another 20 minutes.

Add salt to taste and stir in the cream. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot, warm or even cold. Goes well with Basmati rice or chapatis.

lundi, février 22, 2010

Monte Cimone - Le Polle, Italy

The main slope at Le Polle (view from the restaurant)

I suspect that the best cure for (even acute) constipation is altitude. At around 900m, I told the Hub to stop the car so that I could add my bit to nature. And after that, I kept visiting every toilet I could find at Le Polle (Monte Cimone, Modena). And the ski station's only at 1280m.

The weather report said snow everyday last week and sun on Sunday. We thought that it would be perfect for skiing. A colleague recommended that we ski at Le Polle, a quieter station at Monte Cimone - situated at less than 1.5 hours from our house.

View from my ski chair - they are modern and even have covers

There was almost no parking left at the station when we arrived. And Hub's ski suit's zip tore. Since it is a quiet station, none of the 4 ski shops were selling ski suits. Should we turn back? Then we saw the First Aid station. And he went in to borrow a needle and thread (for sewing up human flesh) and I sewed up his zip for him with it. Luckily, he didn't need to go to the toilet too often during this trip.

I've never skied at a station like this before yesterday. Those slopes were covered in ice. At least 90% of the whole Monte Cimone ski area. Your skis couldn't carve in the snow, they just floated over the icy slopes. Meaning that it was difficult controlling your speed and the only way to ski was just to cross your fingers and keep moving. The minute you reach the edge of the slope, don't pause, just turn. I've rarely skied so fast. It was scary.

And the whole ski domain with its 50km of slopes has almost only red and black slopes. Beginners must have a difficult time trying to ski there. But once we were on it, we noticed that actually most of the red slopes would only pass for blue in the French Alps. Though under yesterday's icy conditions, you do need to be pretty good at skiing or at least have some sang froid to survive. Hub said he was surprised that I didn't fall on such icy slopes. Actually I was very nervous, but decided that after the trouble getting there (the roads were narrow and windy) and the money we've spent renting the skis and paying for the ski passes - I couldn't possibly give up like that.

Trees on the side (view from another ski chair)

We skied at Le Polle and also at Paso del Lupo (1550m). We would have gone on to Cimoncino (1430m) if not for lack of time. The highest point we were at was 1880m and all slopes there were at least red, but wide and rather easy if not for the iciness. The Teenager said Monte Cimone was like one big ice skating rink.

View of Cimone

Baby Boy had one big fall, he was skiing on a few bumps at high speed and literally flew off one. Thank god he was fine. A snowboarder saw him fall and had the fright of his life. 2 policemen also came by to see if everything was OK. But the boy just squeaked and then got up and flew off again. We had to keep telling him to slow down.

Baby Girl fell in the middle of one slope classed black and red (one short part was steep - when you ski downhill, your bum almost touches the ground) and on slopes like that, once you fall, you usually have some difficulty gathering enough courage to pick your self up quickly and move on. It took Hub at least 15 minutes to coax her down that slope. The boys had gone down the same slope very quickly and spent the time napping on the slope below. I could understand her fear, for at one point, I gave up trying to ski normally (it was steep and icy) and just dashed down.

You may see Hub and Baby girl in the middle of that slope. A skier above looked down and decided to ski on another slope hidden by the forest on the right.

Once I was down and waiting, I noticed that nobody skied on our slope. Everybody was smarter and took the easier and slightly less icy slope on the right. Hub said it was my fault. Apparently I had mentioned at some point (during lunch!) that the slope looked interesting and that we should try it. But how was I to know that it would be this icy?

The boys taking a rest while waiting for Hub and Baby Girl

We were the last people in the mountains at Le Polle at closing time. Why wasn't I surprised? Hub made us grab one of the last ski chairs up to the top at 4:35. But it was nice having the mountains to ourselves and the descent was long (600m if you could ski straight down - which you can't), but not as long as some of the ones he had made us do at closing time elsewhere (shudder). Baby Girl cried all the way down the slopes, by the way. She had not gotten over her fall on the last run. But since we know that she has a long memory, we just let her be.

I'm not hot about Cimone, at least not when it's icy. Pity as it's nearest to us. Maybe before the ski season is over, we'll try another of the few ski stations recommended by another colleague - Corvara or Brentonico.

vendredi, février 19, 2010

Coca Cola Chocolate Cake (Take 2)

Coca Cola Chocolate Cake (Take 2)

In France, when my children had tummyache and eventually diarrhoea, my doctors would usually prescribe - Coca Cola. I do not know if they were paid by the company to do so, but in any case, I've always given my children Coca Cola when they are sick and they are very happy with it.

Needless to say, I drove to the nearest store in the rain this morning to buy a big bottle of Coca Cola. I try not to keep soft drinks at home, so you can be sure that this bottle was a treat. That also gave me the idea to give the Coca Cola Cake another try. But I've decided to try out Precious Moments' version as the ingredients and method looked similar, but not the proportions. Hers had more butter and eggs, for example. So here's Coca Cola Chocolate Cake Take 2.

As I have finished my self-raising flour and golden castor sugar, I had to make a few adjustments.

Coca Cola Chocolate Cake :

250g Flour
1/4 Tsp Baking Soda
2/3 Tsp Double-acting Baking Powder
200g Organic Cane Sugar
100g Castor Sugar
3 Tbsp Cocoa powder
200g Butter
250ml Coca Cola
120ml Milk
2 large Eggs
1 Tsp Vanilla extract

Heat up oven to 180°C.

Sift the flour with the baking soda and powder. Combine with the sugar and cocoa powder in a big bowl.

Melt the butter in the microwave oven on high for 30 seconds. Add the Coca Cola and microwave for another minute. Stir to mix well.

Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture and stir well. Add the milk, eggs and vanilla extract, stirring all the time.

Fresh out of the oven

I used a 25-cm silicon mould so my cake will not come out thick for sure. I was too lazy to dig out my other moulds.

Baked the cake for 50 minutes, then without opening the oven door, I turned off the heat and let it bake for another 15 minutes. Took it out of the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before I unmoulded the cake.

Cake turned out moist, not too sweet and tasted like a cross between a honeycomb kueh and a cake. Interesting. And the kids liked it, especially the bit where they got to eat it with a glass of Coke.

Poule au Pot

Poule au Pot under Puff Pastry

I often have dreams in which I had time tables to respect. I have left school a long time ago now, but the fear of missing a class, of being late for one or of not wanting to attend it because the subject is boring or difficult - still haunts me. On a few occasions, it was Advanced Maths or Geography and in my dreams I would have somehow skipped the lessons and then it would be time to sit for the exams. I would wake up in a sweat and only when I remembered that i) I had aced all my exams from PSLE to the A Levels and have gone to University; ii) I have never done Advanced Maths; iii) I held the Geography book prize having topped the whole school in the subject - then did I heave a sigh of relief and go back to sleep. But the sensation would still have been horrible and I would wake up later wondering how one could read into that.

Last night I dreamt that I went to an Ivy League University on a scholarship to do my post-Grad. And that I had time tables to respect that I didn't (of course). I woke up with a fright, needless to say. I suspect that I somehow regret not having gone the more traditional path for a Singaporean - that is to study in the UK, USA or Australia instead of in France. But then I probably wouldn't have met dear Hub, would I?

The Babies have just come out of their stomach flu so we will be having just soups, grilled meats and rice for a few days. Last evening I made a Herbal Ginseng Chicken Soup with Grilled Moroccan-style Chicken Breasts. The Teenager enjoyed his dinner very much - which was ironic since I made it specially for the Babies. He was the one who enjoyed his lunch the most today too - moral of the story, I should just cook for the boy like he's having stomach flu everyday.

Hot Dog and Cheddar Rolls

For lunch today, we had Poule au Pot and Hot Dog and Cheddar Rolls. Poule au pot literally means hen in a pot. So you buy a hen from your butcher and make your soup with it. I served the soup in porcelain ramequins and covered them with puff pastry discs. They then went into a hot 180°C oven for 20 minutes.

Poule au Pot

Poule au Pot :

1 Hen
200g Cooked Ham (in a thick block)
1 Onion pricked with 5-6 whole Cloves
2 Celery stalks
2 Carrots
2 Potatoes
1 Turnip
Half of a Leek
A quarter of a Cabbage
2 Bay leaves
1 Garlic clove
1 Rosemary or Thyme stalk
Wheat Vermicelli
Salt and Pepper to taste

If you are going to serve your Poule au Pot like a Pot au Feu and eventually with a bechamel and mushroom sauce, keep the vegetables in large chunks. But served in ramequins like I did, I prefer to have them cut into bite-size cubes.

Wash and pat dry the hen. Salt it generously inside and out. I stuff it with the garlic, cooked ham, bay leaves and herbs with the idea that the ham will keep its taste and texture better this way. But it's just a feeling.

Put a pot of water (enough to cover the hen) to boil and put in the hen and the clove-pricked onion. Lower the heat and simmer till the hen is cooked and the soup runs clear. At this point, you would usually add the vegetables and then continue cooking till the meat falls off the bone. Since my vegetables are in small pieces, I decided to wait a little longer. Simmer till the stock is reduced by quite a bit.

About 20 minutes before serving, I added the vegetables to the soup followed by the vermicelli. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the soup with the vegetables, the ham (cut into small cubes) and if you wish, the meat from the hen. Or keep the meat to be eaten cold with a bechamel and mushroom sauce, I find that it is better that way.

Cooled soup in ramequins

Let the soup cool before covering with the puff pastry so as not to melt it before it is being baked. I do not know which I actually like better - the soup or the puff pastry. :-)

jeudi, février 18, 2010

Transforming more Leftovers

Baked Milk and White Chocolate Buns

I went out into the garden to leave some leftovers for the neighbour's dogs and discovered that the soil in all my pots had been dug out and thrown around on the ground. This upset my intentions of starting to plant again come Spring. I am reminded of the beasts living in the vast fields surrounding my lone house. What were they looking for in the pots?

Would you be afraid if you live in my house? I have seen a family of at least 3 deers moving just metres from the house; I know that loads of wild hares hang out in my garden; at least 5 or 6 pheasants like to stay in my driveway, not to forget grouse (Hub said they are good to eat). I also have lots of pigeons, the woodpeckers visit at 6 every morning and the late gardien had mentioned seeing a fox once. Then there are the dogs, cats (I always hear mewing outside at night), scorpions, grasshoppers and big predator birds.

But I've always felt safe here. I find strength and comfort in my isolation. I will miss this big old house the day we leave. And I do not think that we'll find anything as big elsewhere.

Baked Sausage Buns

Soto Ayam (Turmeric Chicken Soup)

Anyway, speaking of leftovers, I had some left from the mantou and marmite roast chicken session. Before giving the chicken carcass to the beasts, I decided to make a Soto Ayam out of it as there was still alot of meat left. And the mantou dough when left out a few hours longer, continued to grow and grow and I managed to make a few Baked Milk and White Chocolate Buns and Baked Sausage Buns out of it! It's really nice not wasting food.