mardi, juillet 24, 2012

Classic Tiramisu (with Egg version)

I am one of those Asian mothers who tend to be more negative then positive, I guess.

Scraped your knee or have a tummy ache? Do I look like a doctor to you?

Pick up whatever you have thrown around! For every piece of rubbish I find you'll get a stroke of the cane! (I know that this has registered because they repeat it to each other every time they make a mess)

Get yourself lost when we are out shopping? We'll give your toys to the remaining sibling. And you know what they do to you after that? Remember Slumdog Millionaire.

I've sometimes fantasised about being one of those positive mums who instils confidence in her kids by always being kind and positive. Who only talks/discusses/praises/encourages and never screams/threatens/condemns/ridicules...But life is never the fairy tale you dreamt of living and I've somehow been programmed to be the shrewish sort (yup, blame it on the DNA). I worry a lot about how the mother I am could be affecting my kids, but I'm not as strong as I would have liked to be, unfortunately. I could only shower them with a lot of love and attention when I am not angry or screaming away.

The other day we were out shopping. Baby Boy has become pretty proficient rolling about in his Heelys. And out of the corner of my eye I saw him heeling away ahead of us, not watching where we were actually going. It wasn't a big mall so I wasn't too nervous about it, and being the mean mum I was, I wanted to see 1) if he would realise that he was lost; 2) whether his siblings would realise that he was lost; 3) if he would still dare to heel away without waiting for the rest of us.

5 minutes later Baby Girl suddenly noticed that Baby Boy wasn't with us. I shrugged my shoulders and continued shopping. The Teenager was his usual selfish self and didn't react. But Baby Girl surprisingly told me not to move so that I wouldn't lose her and dashed out to look for her younger brother. She returned a few minutes later holding her weeping brother's hand.

When I realised that he was lost, I didn't think of taking his toys, mum. I was worried that there would be nobody to play with me anymore.

This is the girl who is always jealous of her younger brother. But I guess she must care for him after all.

I had to clear out the fridge since we would be leaving Shanghai tomorrow for 3 weeks. I had mascarpone, whipped cream and organic eggs. I thought I could make my Babies happy by making them a Classic Tiramisu. The version with eggs - even though we are in the middle of a hot Shanghainese summer.

This Tiramisu is lighter than the eggless ones I usually make. And it has a pretty yellow hue thanks to the egg yolks. I should make this more often and cross my fingers we do not get salmonella poisoning. So do try to use fresh organic eggs when making this dessert.

Classic Tiramisu :

26-28 sponge fingers
3-4 expresso cups of strong coffee
2 tbsp grand marnier
2 tsp sugar

400g mascarpone (preferably italian-made)
200ml whipping cream
3 large organic eggs (yolks and whites separated)
2 tsp natural vanilla extract
3 tbsp soft sugar
1-2 tbsp grand marnier

cocoa powder (sifted)

Prepare the strong coffee (I only use expresso nowadays), add in the sugar and Grand Marnier. Pour into a soup plate.

Whip the egg whites till stiff. Set aside.

In a large bowl beat the egg yolks till creamy. Add the mascarpone and continue whipping. Pour in the whipping cream and the vanilla and whip till you get a thick and creamy mixture. Add the soft sugar, pour in the alcohol and whip some more.

Finally gently mix in the stiff egg whites.

Dip the sponge fingers (usually sugared already) very briefly on both sides in the coffee and line the dish with half of them.

Cover the first layer of sponge fingers with the cream and sift a layer of cocoa powder over it. Spread another layer of sponge fingers on top and cover with the cream. Finish with more cocoa powder over it.

Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

vendredi, juillet 13, 2012

Qibao Old Town, Shanghai

Qibao's water town snap

As you know the family came for a visit a few weeks ago. I more or less have the tourist machine oiled and running except that the younger sis had to complicate things by making a 4th child a few months before she was to visit.

The entrance to the ancient part of Qibao

Visiting tourist spots with a 7 month old is a challenge for anybody. Fortunately Hub kindly made sure that we had the car and the driver at our disposal during the duration of their visit, but you still wouldn't tempt fate by driving a baby in a car for hours just to smell stinky tofu in an ancient water town.

Mum with 2nd niece and 3rd nephew

While I did send them with a reduced number of children to Suzhou one Saturday, I felt that 2 weeks in Shanghai warranted a visit to a nearby water town where they would be able to take in local snacks at a glance. BIL is quite adventurous when it comes to eating street food so I had to give him an opportunity to do just that.

Mum in Qibao

Qibao Water Town and Old Street (七宝老街)seemed like the place for a short visit since it's actually situated in the Minhang district of Shanghai itself (less than an hour from my place) and is even accessible by metro. It is supposedly more than a thousand years old (Northern Song Dynasty, 960-1126) and was named in ancient times after its famous temple said to harbour 7 treasures. Only a bronze bell dating from the Ming Dynasty and a Gold Script Lotus Sutra written by an imperial concubine of the 10th century have survived to this day, though if you were to ask most people about the place they probably would only think of its snacks. Check out this article about them.

Old food street ahead

The old part of the town is really small. Something you can do with 4 kids including a baby. I am not the kind to tempt fate eating unknown delicacies found in a smelly (no thanks to stinky tofu) street, but felt that I had to mark the occasion by risking gutter oil and bought us a few pieces of fried tofu skin (non-stinky) to nibble on. Also had a pretty good ice Belgian chocolate drink from a modern bubble tea stall while BIL bought baked quail eggs to try.

Quail eggs

A new pan-fried soup dumpling (生煎) shop was running a one-for-one promotion and we found ourselves queuing up for a long time to try out its dumplings. They weren't too bad and were best eaten fresh out of the pan, though minus the promotion I probably wouldn't bother to queue up this long in the heat for them.

Town is known for boiled mutton and red-cooked pork

The town is apparently also famous for cricket fighting since ancient times. Its climate allows for the existence of a few aggressive/fierce breeds of crickets that draw so much interest they even have a special museum for both cricket displays and live cricket fighting shows.

Fried and roasted delicacies

Sweet wine cakes?

Qibao is worth the while if you like (and dare to try) local snacks and do not mind the ubiquitous stinky tofu smells. Otherwise I've seen prettier ancient water towns in my 18 months here.

If I remembered correctly this was a tea house

Shanghai Fried Noodles 上海炒面

Shanghai Fried Noodles

I am like super lethargic nowadays. Shanghai's famous humid season has kicked in and it's hot and wet out there, like a steam room minus the aromatherapy. The house is a haven, an air-conditioned haven, and all you want to do is stay at home, leg over the armrest of the Poltrona Frau and do nothing meditate.

I did go shopping with C and her family yesterday near Huaihai Lu. They were on the lookout for a few good fakes and I happened to know a pretty decent place for such things. Even though I was really touched after the wonderful documentary I saw on Hermes' savoir faire (the last time I was flying), I understand that not everyone has the budget to afford anything from their range of luxury products and sometimes starting off with a good fake could actually lead to one buying the real thing when the desire to own one reaches the right degree (finances permitting, of course).

It was nice going in and out of air-conditioned boutiques for a few hours - until the sky was ominously covered all of a sudden (it actually turned dark at 4pm) and then it just poured. We barely managed to find cover and that was when it was cool to be able to whip out the phone and get the driver to rescue us.

We stayed in today since the kids wanted to lunch at the Face restaurant in our compound and play billiards and I wanted to clean up the mosaic bowl that I've just finished making for SIL. Nowadays I do not even have the energy to cook, so we usually eat out, a chance to bring the kids to different restaurants each day, a change from their horrible school canteen lunches.

The simple mosaic bowl I made for SIL

The last series of cooking classes offered by our compound finished in early June and I missed the last class as the family was here and we had other things to do. I've picked up a few useful recipes and one of them was the famous Shanghai Fried Noodles 上海炒面 that is also known as 葱油拌面 according to the chef.

Cooking this dish actually saw me starting to take some interest in the fresh noodles (and later also dumpling skins) being sold in local shops. I've been snubbing them until now, usually preferring dried Cantonese egg noodles or fresh yellow noodles to be found in supermarkets specialising in imported foodstuff.

The freshly-made local noodles are cheap, count about 2 rmb per one-person portion! I do not know anything about the quality of the wheat flour used, but the noodles do not taste too bad and cook quickly - an important consideration in a lazy housewife's book.

The dumpling skins are often too thick for my liking, but if you are not making Cantonese-style dumplings they will do.

Shanghai Fried Noodles :

fresh chinese wheat flour noodles
dark soy sauce
vegetable oil
sesame oil
a bit of minced pork
spring onions (only the green parts)
red bell pepper strips
chinese leafy greens (optional)

Blanche the fresh noodles in rapidly boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove and rinse them in cold water.

In a large bowl add dark soy sauce (for taste and colour) as well as some sesame oil to the noodles. Toss well.

Fry the spring onions till fragrant in some hot oil. Use only the green bits as the white bits tend to give out too much water when fried. Remove, drain and set aside.

Cook the minced pork (lightly seasoned) and red bell pepper strips in a ladle of oil. Add in Chinese leafy greens if using them. Pour in some hot water and cover, using the steam to finish the cooking.

Pour everything on top of the noodles, add the cooked spring onions and serve. What is really important in this dish are the spring onions so make sure you are generous with them and that they are cooked till fragrant.

jeudi, juillet 05, 2012

Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce

Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce

It was audacious on my part to serve Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce to an Italian when he came for dinner. But it was the easiest dessert to make and I had all the ingredients at hand.

He obviously hadn't expected me to dare to have made it myself. He asked me where I'd bought it and when told that it came out of the same kitchen he was standing in, looked suitably impressed. Guest was on diet (who isn't?), but offered me the compliment of helping himself three times to the panna. Said it was very good, better than the ones you find in many Italian restaurants! Coming from an Italian that was compliment indeed.

Panna cotta literally means cooked cream in Italian. I made it for the first time in Italy a few years ago and it took a few tries to get it right, from working out the right quantities of everything to getting the boiling point right and knowing when not to over stir it. I knew my panna skills were rusty when I made it a few weeks ago for the neighbours and you could taste lumps in the dessert at the bottom of the glass. That probably came from stirring the cream after it has started to cool. Itchy fingers.

But a few attempts later with very eager guinea pigs in the form of Hub and kids soon helped me recover the touch and I am relieved to say that my panna cotta is now a light, smooth cream that can once again be served to discerning guests. Thanks to Marks and Spencer here in Shanghai, I also have nice frozen (if expensive) raspberries to serve the panna cotta with. Remains for me to experiment with agar agar to try to make a vegetarian version because when you have Muslim friends over sometimes they worry that the gelatine may have come from pork. And if I offer it to my mum, she'd worry that it came from beef. On ne peut pas plaire à tout le monde!

Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce :

1l whipping cream
135g sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
180ml full cream milk
10g gelatine powder

The Raspberry Sauce :

500g raspberries
1 tbsp sugar

If using frozen raspberries, microwave on high for 90 seconds with the sugar.

Mix well and crush with a fork till you obtain a rough fruit sauce. Set aside.

Take note that I usually prepare the raspberry sauce a few minutes before serving while the panna cotta has to be prepared at least 5 hours before hand.

To make the panna cotta, mix the sugar, vanilla and cream in a pot and bring it to a very gentle boil on low-medium heat. Stir from time to time.

By gentle boil it means that bubbles appear on the surface of the cream and it starts to tremble - after you've stirred it from time to time, first to dissolve the sugar and second to help ensure that the heat is spread out evenly.

In a bowl add the gelatine powder to the cold milk and stir well.

When the cream has come to a gentle boil, turn off the heat and pour the milk with the gelatine into it. Stir well.

Pour into moulds or glasses and do not stir the cream any more as it starts to cool.

Leave to cool before covering with cling wrap and refrigerating for at least 5 hours before serving.

Serve the cooked cream with some fruit sauce.

One can of course also serve the panna cotta with other sauces like mango, caramel etc.

Mark Zuckerberg's "FaceBook" Portrait - By RED

A picture speaks a million words and I'm already quite speechless. Couldn't wait to see what this pretty and talented girl is going to come up with next.

Follow the whole creation process on Red's blog.

mercredi, juillet 04, 2012

Seafood Lasagne (Lasagne aux Fruits de Mer)

Seafood Lasagne

The last time I made a Seafood Lasagne we were still living in Paris. In fact we were in temporary dwellings having returned earlier than planned from Spain (2 weeks before I gave birth to Baby Girl) and not being able to recover our own flat from the tenants.

It was for Hub's birthday. I've thrown him a surprise birthday party, inviting his family and best friend SB. He came back from a business trip to find all these folks waiting for him at home. Cool, wasn't it?

One of the dishes I've prepared was this seafood lasagne. It's easy to make and can feed a decent number of people. My version has 2 different layers of seafood with 2 different sauces, and a garlicky cheesy béchamel.

I made this again nearly 10 years later for the lunch I threw the neighbours (8 of them) a few weeks ago. I guess I stopped making it firstly because the Babies do not eat fish and secondly as we've lived 4 years in Italy making it unnecessary to cook one's own lasagne.

It was well received by my guests and Hub had the leftovers to his delight - and asked why I've stopped making it all these years. I should make it more often, it's true.

The Teenager is away in Singapore for 3 weeks and the Babies are now on holiday. I've decided not to cook too much nowadays as we all need to lose some weight, though I've a few friends coming over for lunch tomorrow. I guess the diet will have to wait another few days.

Seafood Lasagne :

rectangular pasta dough (9-12 sheets depending on how many layers you'll be making)
boiling water
1 large zucchini (sliced lengthwise)
100g grated parmesan cheese

200g grated emmenthal, cheddar, gruyere or mozzarella cheese
6-8 fresh sage leaves

The Prawn and Scallop Layer :

2 dozen large prawns (peeled and gutted)
a dozen scallops
olive oil
2 cloves garlic (sliced)
red chilli (sliced)
1 tsp fennel seeds
a sprinkling of thyme leaves
a few cherry tomatoes (halved)
salt and pepper to taste

The Cod Fish and Salmon Layer :

1 large filet of cod fish
1 large filet of salmon
salt and pepper to taste
red bell pepper sauce*

The Béchamel :

olive oil
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 l milk
3 tbsp white wine
a pinch of nutmeg
2 bay leaves
1 tsp crushed black pepper
80g butter
65g plain flour
150g grated parmesan cheese
salt to taste

*Red Bell Pepper Sauce :

1 large red bell pepper
olive oil
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper to taste

2 tsp white vinegar
1 tbsp crème fraiche

Blanche the lasagne pasta sheets in boiling water, remove and set aside.

Grill the salmon and cod fish in a bit of olive oil. Season and cut into large cubes. Set aside.

Fry the garlic and chilli in some olive oil till fragrant. Add in fennel seeds, followed by the raw scallops. I usually salt the raw prawns for 10 minutes and then rinse them in order to have prawns that will not release too much water when they are being cooked. Add the prawns and sprinkle some thyme leaves over them. Toss in the tomatoes and season to taste. Set aside.

Prepare the red bell pepper sauce by cooking the largely sliced pepper in olive oil with the garlic in a small pot, covered and on low heat. When it is soft and fragrant, remove from the heat, add the cream and vinegar, season and mix into a rough sauce with a hand mixer. Set aside.

Prepare the béchamel. Gently boil the milk with the bay leaves, nutmeg and pepper. Remove the bay leaves and set aside.

Fry the garlic in olive oil till fragrant, melt the butter in it and stir in the flour. Pour in the milk bit by bit taking care to stir all the time. The flour needs to be cooked or the sauce will taste horrible. Bring the sauce to the boil gently, stir in the wine, remove from the fire and stir in the parmesan cheese. Salt to taste.

Olive oil your lasagne dish and heat your oven to 220°C/425°F.

Place a layer of pasta sheets in the dish and spread the prawns and scallops over them. Pour some béchamel on them, sprinkle over some parmesan cheese and cover with a layer of sliced zucchini. Top with more béchamel and cover with another layer of pasta sheets.

The next layer will contain the grilled cod fish and salmon, covered with the red bell pepper sauce.

The final layer should be pasta, béchamel, parmesan cheese, sage leaves and a layer of cheese good for melting like emmenthal or mozzarella.

Ready for the oven

Bake for between 30 and 45 minutes - watch that the cheese doesn't burn.

mardi, juillet 03, 2012

Mum, Younger Sis and I - Photo Session in Shanghai

Mum, younger sis and I at Tiziano Villas, Shanghai

Mum and younger sister came to Shanghai last month with BIL and 4 kids in tow. It was very festive for 2 weeks and gave the kids and myself the rare opportunity to spend time with my nieces and nephews.

I could count the number of times I've met my BIL in the past decade and since I've left home I've not really seen my sister. When you think that we used to share a room for almost 2 decades, the separation had been quite brutal.

I turn 40 this October. My sister is 4 years younger, my mum has entered her 60s. I won an auction for a photography session with an expat photographer from Estonia during the YCIS Gala a few months ago and thought that this could be a great occasion for the 3 of us to have a picture taken - as a souvenir.

We are not beauties, have all become quite fat and could probably do with one of those Chinese makeovers. But I still wanted something simple and natural and that was what Larissa our photographer could offer. The shoot took place in the garden of her compound and we turned up in just our own clothes and didn't even bother to bring along a change of clothes or any props. I did draw mum's brows for her.

Unlike my nieces none of us knew how to pose. We were stiff and were told to talk to each other to loosen up a bit. Mum as usual said something funny to make us laugh and then we were laughing and talking so much Larissa had to ask us to stop and just pose!

Here is a selection of our shots. I was wondering if we shouldn't have co-ordinated our outfits a little better, like turn up in jeans and white T-shirts or something like that.

jeudi, juin 21, 2012

Shanghai on the Move

View from the Bund : early 1990s vs today

Shanghai, as you can imagine, is a city constantly on the move. Skyscrapers are now where only farmland used to exist, a street lined with food stalls now contains malls full of restaurants and each time my driver loses his way he would blame it on the fact that "once again the roads have changed". He grew up in Puxi and used to drive a cab in the city, but often looks upset when I tell him to drive us to the old town. I don't blame him, the jams tend to be quite bad the minute you leave Pudong.

Prices too are changing all time, moving upwards at quite a frightening speed. At my junk furniture store, the same wooden stool I paid 150 rmb for in May 2011 now goes for 250. The person who introduced me to the shop paid 100 rmb in 2010. Every bowl of noodle I had this year turned up smaller than last year's in the same shops. I turned up at shops and restaurants now and then only to find that they have closed down. I promised myself not to stock up on anything anymore when we left Italy but I'm starting to have second thoughts now.

I personally do not know where they are going with this though one thing for sure it looks like Shanghai is set to look like another big city like so many others elsewhere in the world. With no real skills or productivity to match, but already becoming more expensive. Filled with spoilt and rude individuals who came out of one-child families. Or young girls on the lookout for the easy way out.

Recently I keep having these thoughts : physically they look Chinese and they occupy Chinese land, but culturally they have lost it a long time ago. Most of the people I've met know even less of Chinese culture than I do and their only religion seems to be money. Even Buddhist temples charge entry fees (and they are not cheap), seriously what happened to being a "place of worship"?

Many people (not just politicians or businessmen, also doctors, policemen, teachers etc) are as corrupt as the feudal lords from their glorious past and anything can trigger a mob reaction in these parts simply because they form such a mass. The thought of having to bribe kindergarten teachers so that they would keep an eye on your child (e.g. not let him stew in his soiled diapers), doctors so that they would give you a bed, surgeons so that they would stitch you up properly, policemen so that they wouldn't give you trouble etc staggers. One foreign guy messed up a local girl in Beijing and now they are cracking down on foreigners in the major cities, you wonder sometimes how safe you are and how well-protected your rights.

Yet Shanghai is the place to be in now. There is much going on, you still get to see the changes and enjoy them, and it's not getting better elsewhere anyway. Hub was saying that we should retire to Singapore in the future. I find that quite disturbing because if you look at how things are back home now, soon there will only be Mainland Chinese people or imported Indian technicians on the island and Singapore is so tiny I do not see how we're going to be able to live with them in such numbers. When I left Singapore in 1995 the population was 2.6 million. Now it's 5.2 million, how can a country's population double in such a short time? I'd rather be a foreigner in a foreign country than be a foreigner in my own.

June 2011

I started out only wanting to show you this before and after photo. I have no idea how that got me off to blabbing about the above. I brought PL and J to Tianzifang a few weeks ago when they visited Shanghai. And discovered that one of the dark dankly places that used to be lived in has since turned into a(nother) clean and new shop!

May 2012

I guess from the outside these houses look quaint and interesting, but the people who live in them must not find them very comfortable. They are not going to continue living in them so that we tourists could take nice exotic photos to blog about or paste on Facebook, and like I'm doing now, wax about how sad it is that all the old places are being destroyed to make way for cold identical modern pads. But I said it anyway.

Tiramisu (Eggless Version)

6 years ago I blogged about making a simple Tiramisu. Looking back at the post, I realised that I got to know the amazing Edith of Precious Moments around that time making our friendship in and out of the blogosphere more than half a decade long! Time does fly, doesn't it?

Over the years, I have been making Tiramisu on and off - and often differently from the last time. I guess that as a person grows older, the food she prepares changes too. I do not make Tiramisu for my solo consumption, so as the kids' tastes and demands evolve, I try to take them into consideration (Hub would say, "What about me?" but like I like to say, "Too bad I'm not your mother!"); myself I have decided that I prefer Grand Marnier to all the traditional Italian liqueurs so Grand Marnier is the alcohol de préférence in my Tiramisu nowadays.

You will have some difficulty finding Tiramisu in restaurants during the warmer months in Italy - because it's more dangerous to consume raw eggs during this period. I have taken to omitting eggs when making Tiramisu (after we started living in Italy) so that it becomes a year-round consumable. The yolks would give it a richer taste and a slightly golden hue and the beaten whites would add some lightness to the cream - but overall I do not think they really change the taste and what is really important is the quality of the main ingredients.

When I have guests I would serve the dessert in individual glasses allowing all to enjoy the view of the different layers. Making Tiramisu just for ourselves, we prefer to have it in a large recipient so that everyone gets large portions - my kids could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

It was funny though to see Baby Boy go, "I really love Tiramisu - but not as much as I love my mother!" (He would then whisper loudly to his sister, "Because mum is the one who made it...") Their friends dropped by to play in the afternoon and I politely offered them a slice - and the Babies dropped whatever they were doing so that they could make sure that I didn't serve their friends too-generous portions of the dessert.

A good quality mascarpone, as I've discovered, keeps for a long time. Mine was a year past its expiry date (left to wallow at the back of the fridge) and when checked yesterday, turned out to be as good as ever. I swiftly dug out a packet of sponge fingers, turned on the Nespresso machine and whipped out a Tiramisu.

Meanwhile I know that I've been away for a long time. Friends and family came to visit in succession so I have been busy. They left last Saturday taking with them the Teenager, so I finally get to breathe a little now and can return to a few of my usual occupations.

Tiramisu (2012 version) :

26-28 sponge fingers
3-4 expresso cups of strong coffee
2 tbsp grand marnier
2 tsp sugar

500g mascarpone (preferably italian-made)
200ml whipping cream
2 sachets vanilla sugar
2 tbsp soft sugar
1-2 tbsp grand marnier

cocoa powder (sifted)

Prepare the strong coffee (I only use expresso nowadays), add in the sugar and Grand Marnier. Pour into a soup plate.

In a large bowl whip the mascarpone with the vanilla and soft sugars and add in the cold whipping cream. Continue to whip till creamy. Pour in the alcohol and whip some more.

Dip the sponge fingers (usually sugared already) very briefly on both sides in the coffee and line the dish with half of them. It is very important not to let the sponge fingers become soggy or the Tiramisu will taste horrible.

Cover the first layer of sponge fingers with the cream and sift a layer of cocoa powder over it. Spread another layer of sponge fingers on top and cover with the cream. Finish with more cocoa powder over it. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Easy peasy.

jeudi, mai 03, 2012

Crème Anglaise

The sauce is Crème Anglaise

This is not about the cake (Fondant de Nathalie) but about the sauce - Crème Anglaise as I've always known it to be called.

When you have made a moist but bitter cake because you've changed your chocolate and it was too strong, you may need this delicately perfumed sweet silky sauce to save your day.

I had guests yesterday, ran out of my usual fondant chocolate and used an unsweetened 100% cocoa table to make dessert, didn't increase the amount of sugar used and ended up with 2 bitter cakes.

The cakes would normally have been eaten up in a jiffy, but the kids do not like dark chocolate. So I had to make a crème anglaise.

We managed to eat out in the garden even though it rained in the morning. They are really intent on waking up the mosquitoes with all that rain lately, Hub actually found mosquitoes and their eggs in the water tank of his Nespresso machine!

Our guests were Thai and German, the latter is also our neighbour and both have kids in the school where the Babies go to. I was just thinking to myself the other day about how where you live (in terms of country, city, school and residence) could determine the kind of people you know.

After more than a decade in expatriation, we have really met all sorts of people. As you may remember, back in Italy most of our friends were fellow top-level Ferrari professionals or top executives from important MNCs like Mercedes, Tetra Pak, Volvo, Audi etc. Here in Shanghai, through the international schools and especially our residence (the budget you have for your accommodation is often linked to your position in/and your company), we are really meeting even more important people both local and foreign e.g. Country Head of Pepsi, top brass from GM, Exxon Mobile, Dow Corning etc often in charge not only of their companies' operations in China but in the region...

But I am pleased to say that no matter how important their husbands' positions most of the ladies I've met are usually very nice and interesting, and our children play together all the time. I'm still trying to get the husbands to meet up and become friendly - but almost all of them travel a lot so it has not been easy thus far.

Crème Anglaise :

2 egg yolks
70g caster sugar
250ml full cream milk
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp grand marnier (optional)

Whisk the yolks with the sugar in a large bowl till white and creamy.

Bring the milk to the boil in a casserole and stir in the vanilla.

Whisk the hot milk bit by bit into the egg mixture.

Pour into the casserole and keep stirring over low heat till the mixture starts to boil (but remove from heat once the first bubbles appear). It should be around 85°C.

Strain the mixture through a sieve and put it into an ice bath to cool it down completely.

Keep in the fridge for 24 hours to stabilise the sauce and allow the aromas to mingle. Stir in some liqueur if so desired just before using the sauce.

Goes beautifully with chocolate cake or egg white islands (e.g. ile flottante). I would drink all of it on its own - but must practise restraint, of course. Really yummy.

mercredi, mai 02, 2012

Beef Lasagne

Beef Lasagne

I actually made Beef Lasagne the same evening I was preparing the sweet braised pork which probably contributed to our inability to stomach more food that day. I remember now that it was just after the weekly cooking class offered by our residence (we learnt a spring onion crab dish that morning) which set me off on a cooking frenzy 2 days in a row. Yes, I made black pepper crabs too in the same 2 days because the same cooking class got Judy into a similar frenzy and she bought crabs from the wholesale market and even killed them for us! Fei kept saying that she only got so plump because of me and my obsession with food.

My sage and rosemary plants

I didn't make the pasta for the lasagne myself this time and the packet of Barilla I got from Carrefour was really expensive. I just realised that I've never blogged properly about lasagne probably because it's one of those simple dishes that requires quite a bit of preparation and I've never managed to find enough natural light at the end to have a picture taken. I still haven't, but have decided to blog about it anyway.

Basically making lasagne is about making pasta, béchamel and bolognese/ragu and putting everything together. It's easy, but it does take quite a bit of time and organisation. There is however no need to go the Bologna Chamber of Commerce way and cook your meat in milk etc for the ragu because once you've mixed your meat sauce with the béchamel you wouldn't quite remember how it looked like before.

Fresh out of the oven

Beef Lasagne :

rectangular pasta dough (9-12 sheets depending on how many layers you'll be making)
boiling water
100g grated parmesan cheese
200g grated emmenthal, cheddar, gruyere or mozzarella cheese
6-8 fresh sage leaves

The Béchamel :

1 l milk
a pinch of nutmeg
2 bay leaves
1 tsp crushed black pepper
80g butter
65g plain flour
150g grated parmesan cheese
salt to taste

The Meat Sauce :

500g minced beef
olive oil
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 small onion (chopped)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
a few basil leaves
400ml tomato purée
400g tin of ripe peeled plum tomatoes
1 bird's eye chilli (chopped)
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the meat sauce first. Hand form the beef into patties and grill them till they are brown on the outside. Chop roughly and set aside.

Heat up some olive oil and fry the onions and garlic till fragrant. Add in the fresh herbs, the tomato purée and tinned tomatoes, chilli, salt and pepper. Gently add the meat into the sauce. Cover and simmer while you prepare the white sauce.

Gently boil the milk with the bay leaves, nutmeg and pepper. Remove the bay leaves and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small pot and stir in the flour. Pour in the milk bit by bit taking care to stir all the time. The flour needs to be cooked or the sauce will taste horrible. Bring the sauce to the boil gently, remove from the fire and stir in the parmesan cheese. Salt to taste.

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the pasta sheets. Even if they tell you there's no need to pre-cook them, I'd still do it because the taste of raw pasta is not fabulous.

Olive oil your lasagne dish and heat your oven to 220°C/425°F.

Place a layer of pasta sheets in the dish and spread the meat sauce over them. Pour some béchamel over the meat sauce, sprinkle over some parmesan cheese and cover with another layer of pasta sheets.

Repeat till you've reached the top of the lasagne dish. The final layer should be pasta, béchamel, parmesan cheese, sage leaves and a layer of cheese good for melting like emmenthal or mozzarella.

Before going into the oven

Bake for between 30 and 45 minutes - watch that the cheese doesn't burn.

I was hoping to get a daylight shot of just a serving of lasagne the next day but the kids took the remaining 2 portions with them in their lunch bags so the plan couldn't come to fruition. A German kid also had 2 servings actually, he happened to pass by the house and invited himself to dinner when he saw the lasagne.