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.