Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Weekend Feeding Frenzy, Part 1 / many

We're currently going through a slow period at work and more than once a day I'd wish I could use some of the time I'm forced to be in the office to skin and chop my vegetables or to knead my own pastry. What I now qualify as torture is having too much time to surf lots of food porn with at best, Pringles, Coke and candy to quell the lust. My frustration is further compounded by my frequent inability to upload or save posts at work, so I have to resort to writing drafts by e-mail and posting when I get home. Grrrr..

Much as I enjoy cooking (possibly as much as eating my own creations), I also have my hands full with a darling but stubborn 3 1/2-year-old who still insists on eating bottled mash, and a self-replenishing stack of Hindi movies that beckons, so cooking every day while holding a full-time job is out of the question. :) Fortunately I have recourse to things like weekends and a freezer!

This past weekend I acquired a new toy - a mini kougelhopf mould, thus dictating the production of a batch. But a batch of what? I'd been itching for the longest time to use a can of crabmeat, so the canful became crab cakes with a well in the centre that I'd felt compelled to fill up with ketchup and mayonnaise. C'était plus fort que moi!

How to: I beat about 100g of crab tarama with 2 eggs, 2 tablespoonsful of flour, 100g of cream, salt and pepper and gently folded in the crabmeat after draining it. Oh yes, I almost forgot to add that they had to be baked - the usual, 180°C, 20 mins or so.

Variations: Other kinds of tarama, the addition of herbs, replacement of crab meat with other flaked fish.

Body Count: Several, I fear.


I had a packet of filo pastry to use, and while buying the mould, bought a packet of frozen ready-to-use pearl onions, specifically for this caramelised onion and garlic tart:

This is an adaptation of a recipe from The Onion Cookbook by Brian Glover, which suggested this as a tatin, and with puff pastry. Using filo definitely wasn't a mistake, though. In fact it seemed lighter and less work this way!

How to: Fry 500g of pearl onions (or sliced onions) with cloves from 2 bulbs of garlic (try to keep them whole, or at least the same size as the onions) in some butter until onions are translucent. Sprinkle 1 - 2 tbsp of sugar and cook until sugar caramelises, then add 2 - 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, 50ml of water and thyme to taste. Continue cooking until garlic is soft enough to mash with a spoon.

For the filo, fold in the edges until the sheet is 1/3 of its original width to obtain a band. Brush 1/4 of the band with oil and spread grated parmesan onto the oiled surface. Fold pastry over the parmesan and repeat by greasing each upper surface and adding parmesan until you obtain 4 layers. Top off with a layer of caramelised garlic and onions, and bake for about 15 minutes at 180°C.

Variations: For a vegan version, omit parmesan and reduce the number of folds.

Body Count: 0

Lastly... a combination of the two very elements I consume in borderline abusive proportions - tea eggs!

The amusing thing about tea eggs is that I'd never eaten them prior to this, for a combination of reasons despite having known for years that they exist. A quick trip through Melting Wok's blog made it clear how easy they are to make, that they are delicious and definitely not medicinal, as was my previous persuasion. :)

How to: Boil the number of eggs you need for about 5 minutes (from the time the water starts boiling) then plunge them in cold water and crack the shells all over with the back of a spoon to get the veiny look above. Make tea with enough water to submerge the eggs, 1 tsp of salt, 2 tbsp of strong tea, 3 green cardamom pods and 1 star anise (I didn't have any, so used 6 cloves). Boil over low heat for 1 hour or more.

Variations: I added dark soya sauce to the tea for a darker colour, not sure if it's the norm but they tasted alright.

Body Count: 0

PS: I made much more than these over the weekend, I just couldn't find a flattering angle for the dishes that haven't been showcased here - bread and butter pudding, gnocchis with bacon + cheddar + beer and eggplant parmigiana. Photography tips are welcome! :)

Friday, 26 January 2007

Another way with eggs

I shan't kid anyone into thinking I just made these, because those of you with eagle eyes would have spied a corner of this dish lurking in the background in the photos of my leek & gouda tart. Anyhow, the gaudy colours and sunny flavours of these tomatoes-doubling-as-pots make it easy to forget it's winter, so I'd like to do my bit of public service by posting this photo.

There are no rules on what should go into the tomato, so mine is but an example. Origins unknown, so they'll be classified under the convenient label "Fusion" for now. :)

How to: Remove the cores and seeds of 6 giant tomatoes, and keep the tops and flesh if you wish to, but be careful not to pierce the walls of the tomatoes, especially if they're very ripe. Coat the walls of the hollowed-out tomatoes with salt then turn them upside down to drain for at least half an hour (the longer the better).

Dice a medium onion, a green capsicum (I hate the sweetness of red ones) and tomato cores (if using) and crush several cloves of garlic (they lose their zing after cooking, so I don't see the difference between 1 and 10). Slice up a chorizo or cut into cubes and microwave for a minute or heat in a saucepan to remove excess oil. Heat some oil and fry the onion until it gets translucent, then add capsicum, tomatoes and garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, then add enough white wine or Martini Bianco to cover, and let it simmer for another 10 - 15 minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse the tomatoes if necessary and arrange in a deep dish. Preheat oven to 180°C, then proceed to fill the tomatoes halfway with the vegetable mixture, then top off with chorizo cubes. If there's excess stuffing and chorizo, fill in the gaps between the tomatoes like I did. Bake until the chorizo sizzles, then crack an egg over each tomato. Continue to bake until the eggs cook according to your preference.

Variations: Olives, rice, zucchini, bulghur, raisins, dried apricots or dried figs can be used to retain that Mediterranean feel. Otherwise, the possibilities are endless! Anything that can fit into a tomato can and should be tested!

Body Count: 1 whole horseshoe chorizo.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Beaten, not shirred

How do I even begin to describe my relationship with eggs in a few words? "Love" is a derisory litotes, for this flog would not even have come into being without the inspiration afforded by these versatile little ovoids we tend to take for granted. (I know someone out there who doesn't!)

Gratitude and dependency are closer to my true sentiments, which can be expressed as less than 3 eggs left in the fridge = panic. My regular purchases of eggs don't necessarily intersect with an intention to realise specific dishes, but materialise they do whenever eggs abound.

Given that they are sold in cartons of 6, 12, 20 or 24, and the intimidating thought of lugging groceries tens of metres through a hypermarket more than once a week after a trying day at work, 6 seem ridiculous, so I usually go for 12 or 20 depending on how many are still chilling at home. I don't know why it's not the case everywhere, but eggs here have their use-by dates printed on their shells. How neat!

Anyway, when I awoke with a start the day before the last 7 eggs in my fridge were due to "expire" (not one to tolerate wastage, I do lose sleep over how to use my eggs on time!), I agonised for the longest time on whether to make several crèmes brûlées, thus using all the yolks. But there was a mega hitch - I couldn't decide beween liquorice, lemongrass and chicory. That also meant finding some other solution for the remaining 7 whites - macarons or soufflés or angel cake? They all sounded wonderful to eat but unequivocally nightmarish to prepare and I couldn't decide either. All I was sure of was that I wasn't in the mood to slave, so finally settled on making these - flourless hazelnut Moëlleux au chocolat that used up all 7 yolks and whites!

Makes 10 small or 6 biggish ones.

How to: If making 6, grease 6 ramekins and dust with icing sugar (or flour). Preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt 200g of good dark chocolate with 100g of butter in a bain-marie (double-boiler) until the mixture is smooth. Beat 6 large or 7 small eggs with 100g of sugar and 6-8 tablespoons of hazelnut meal (which replaces the flour), then pour in chocolate-butter mixture and mix well. Pour into ramekins and bake for 25 minutes if you want a liquid centre or 35 - 45 minutes if you're concerned about salmonella. Turn out and serve.

Variations: Replace hazelnut meal with same amount of almond meal, or 3 tablespoons of flour. If flour is used, put ramekins in the fridge for half and hour or so to ensure liquid centre, then preheat the oven to 180°C 10 minutes before baking, and bake for 10 - 15 minutes. For solid centres, 25 minutes should be sufficient.

Body Count: 0

Monday, 22 January 2007

It's all in the sauce

This is the third and last installation of my cabbage trilogy. Sniff sniff. (No, don't, if you know what's good for you! ;-) ) I couldn't think of anything more dignified than Okonomiyaki for the final send-off.

According to my Japanese brother-in-law, "okonomi" means "whatever you want", and "yaki" means "grilled", and I suppose it does look that way. The good thing about batter is its ability to disguise and surprise. If only he'd told me the meaning of the word before I made them and sent him the photos, because I sure would have preferred something bolder than the minced turkey I had on hand, I just didn't want to err.

Actually, the problem was not so much reticence towards my other options as the dreadful realisation that I was down to my last pack of flour mix and last half-bottle of okonomiyaki sauce, so I had to get it right (if there's a right and wrong to such things)!

How to: If you don't have an okonomiyaki flour mix like I did, don't despair. 250g or so of plain wheat flour with a bit of cornflour and salt or a few drops of Japanese soya sauce easily do the trick. However, if you don't have the sauce, scrap your plans. :) The only "Western" sauce to my knowledge that tastes really close is Marks & Spencer's Brown Sauce, which the label recommends for bacon sandwiches. Do not follow the crowd.

To make 5 single servings, finely slice about a third or quarter of a cabbage and set aside. Mix flour with its weight in water, add 3 eggs and beat to kill off all lumps. Chop whatever meat or seafood you wish to add, and start heating some oil. Fry the cabbage until it wilts and loses some of its volume, then add the meat and cook through. Pour enough batter to just cover the base of the pan and scramble, then press down the pancake with the back of the spoon/spatula/cooking utensil. When batter is crisp, flip the pancake over and cook the other side until it is charred and crisp, too.

Slather with a generous amount of Okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise and sprinkle shredded roasted seaweed, bonito flakes and dried young ginger.

I ran out of the squeeze-bottle Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise and had to use French mayonnaise, which as you can see is yellower, due to the addition of mustard. Just as delectable! Had no bonito flakes and dried ginger, unfortunately.

Variations: Halve the amount of cabbage and replace with onions, add octopus and/or ham and/or bacon and/or shrimp and/or pork, etc. Anything goes! I ran out of turkey for the 5th pancake and it was just cabbage and batter. Tasted just as good!

Body count: 1/2 turkey breast.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Copycat cuisine Part II: A Little Kraut Goes a Long Way

Let me clarify a few things here.. When I say "copycat", it doesn't mean that the recipes in this blog that are not labelled "copycats" are my concoctions.. ;-) It's just that given my proclivity to experimentation or simply my mood-driven cooking, most dishes I turn out eventually do not resemble the recipes I'd intended to follow. This is often due to the substitution or blatant omission of certain ingredients, and this in turn has a variety of reasons - can't find them here, don't have them on me and must at all costs make the dish NOW, or I just don't like them and think the dish would fare better without them. Isn't that what enjoying food is about anyway? :)

So, having bought a whole cabbage for my Sayur Lodeh the other day, and having used only a third of it, I was stuck with the other 2/3 without a prior Plan B and C. I had already thought of making Okonomiyaki, a Japanese stuffed pancake, but that would also require just a third of the cabbage. I was in the mood for something spicy and colourful, so took a peek at Naughty Curry. The fact that they had a cabbage listing totally won me over, so here is my adaptation of their Sunset Cabbage Strips!

Confession time - I didn't have urad dal and curry leaves on me, so I did without them. Instead I sprinkled chopped coriander leaves when the dish was done. I liked the dish all the same!

Variations: This is already a variation. :) Wouldn't dare to tamper further with it.

Body Count: 0

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Growin' up is hard to do...

Hi people,

I'd like to upload something today, but turning 30 has kind of killed my appetite and capacity for whipping up something decent. And also, my fridge is uncharacteristically deserted.. :(

Will be back once I get the groceries!


Monday, 15 January 2007

Copycat cuisine Part I : Nut allergy alert!

The credit for this one goes to Cumin & Coriander. Rarely do I follow a recipe to the letter, but this one seemed an original combination of some of my individually favourite ingredients, so I tried my best to be obedient.

Of course, those who know me know there's no such thing as "enough" garlic, so I went on a spree with it, and the vegetable oil I used for the garlic-chilli dressing was peanut oil since the highlight of the sauce for the pasta was peanut butter (why do things halfway, right?).

Ordinarily, I'd have reached for olive oil (ho-hum) without a second thought but now that the big 3-0 looms large, I alternate between feeling anxious, reckless and blasée. In short, I urgently needed to be surprised, even in a bad way, so peanut oil it was. And a surprise I got indeed!

I'll confess I was prepared for the worst, and was even reluctant to sit down and eat, buying time taking pictures and fussing over my hair, hoping a dingo would come and carry the noodles away. When I finally reminded myself that I'd sought to inflict the surprise on myself in the first place, I grudgingly poked a forkful of spaghetti into my mouth... Whoa! Did I get that right? I had to have a second forkful to believe it! The richness of the peanut butter was unexpectedly welcome, but nonetheless easily offset by the piquancy of the chilli and garlic. Perfecting the balance of sweet+salty+spicy isn't always a given, but I managed to and it was purely divine. And that was when the noodles were already cold! I can't imagine how I'd have gagged in pleasure had I eaten them hot off the stove!

This is definitely a dish that will make repeat appearances on my table! Thanks, Stefanie (if you're reading this)!

Variations: I'm sure asparagus would be just as gag-inducing. Just guessing, though, since this is my very first time making this.

Body count: 7 shrimp in this picture

P.S.: I happened to pair this with my last glass of Retsina from the bottle, and it also turned out to be a pleasant surprise!

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Eating a salad with less mess

Is an explanation even necessary for this one? ;-)

Anything that can be consumed as a crudité can be folded into a flour tortilla (I find corn tortillas less pliable) इस तरह से (is tarah se - in this way) and dressed with a vinaigrette of choice, either within the roll itself or on the exposed cross-sections. Or, if you tend to make up for the lack of calories in the worst imaginable way as I sometimes do (no, I do not wonder why I can't seem to lose that last kilo), why not dump a tubful of cocktail sauce or some other member of of the same whisked egg yolk + mustard + oil family? Sin by all means! *evil grin*

Vegetables used in this picture: thin beetroot slices, coarsely shredded raw carrots and lettuce leaves. The dressing had shallot bits, yogurt, red wine vinegar, salt & pepper, olive oil, lemon juice and mustard.

Variations : my other favourite combination is rocket + grilled capsicum + sundried tomatoes + parmesan, but almost anything goes!

Body count: 0

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Sayur sorry you missed my Sayur Lodeh

There is something deeply gratifying about coming home to a warm stew on a rainy winter night, and all the more so when the ingredients needn't be cooked to a pallid sodden shadow of what they were before they left the grocer's custody. When the calorie count is inversely proportional to its come-hither index, you know this one's a keeper!

That's what I thought when I had my bowl of Sayur Lodeh:

Frankly, I'm no authority on whether it should be considered a curry or a stew, if these are even mutually exclusive food groups. The flavour is evocative of a curry, but the cooking method is what I'd term stewing. At the verge of a boil, carrots, string beans and cabbage (in that order, since carrots take a notoriously long time to cook) are plonked into the fragrant curry thickened with just enough coconut milk to make the broth translucent. The whole vat should then simmer until the vegetables just start to lose their crunch.

Fried tofu squares and softened glass noodles are added towards the end as well as more coconut milk if desired. I'd like to say "Serve immediately", but as with all curried things, I'm often inclined to let Sayur Lodeh sit around and age so that the vegetables imbibe the character of the curry and shed some of their inherent individual flavours. If you live in a tropical climate, do let it sit in the fridge. 2 days is my minimum prescription.

How to: I'm not sure everyone has patience for this. Write me! :) I'm still trying to work out the shortcuts!

Variations: Adding cakes of compacted rice (called ketupat in Malay) turn this into a one-dish meal, and transforms its name to Lontong. Hard-boiled eggs and shrimp go quite well with it, too.

Body count: probably 20 or more tiny prawns perished to provide a tablespoonful of belachan for flavouring the curry.

Friday, 5 January 2007

This, I can make at home, for nut-Hing!

For those of you who know the BBC comedy series Goodness Gracious Me, you will know who says this so convincingly! If you're only getting initiated today, you will hear this sentence being uttered in the first skit, by the adorable little matriarch (and also towards the middle of the 10-minute video - Youtube is a boon!).

The same can be said of what I made over the weekend.. paal kova, an Indian sweetmeat with milk as its main ingredient, using a recipe from one of my dear friends (you know who you are :) ).

Unfortunately, overconfidence got the better of me. While I remembered the main ingredients being milk powder, ghee and sugar, in 2, 3 and 6 tablespoonsful, you guessed it, I mismatched the ingredients and quantities!

I now believe 2 should have been for the ghee, 3 for sugar and 6 for milk powder. I got the ghee and sugar mixed up, so while I didn't mind my paal kova with less sugar, I was disappointed that it got crumbly since I had to add more milk powder to absorb the oil, and subsequently real milk to curb the crumbling. My nose told me to add cardamom, and who would have thought? Friability aside, it tasted pretty much like what I wanted it to - the ones I usually buy by the kilo (at roughly 17€ a kilo) from Ganesha Sweets in Paris (16 r Perdonnet)! I can make it at home! For nut-Hing!

How to: Melt 2 tablespoonsful of ghee (or butter, but unsalted, and don't let it burn), add 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cardamom, 3 tablespoonsful of sugar, then 6 moderately-heaped tablespoonsful of milk powder, one at a time. Remove from heat and mix well, then put in moulds. Cut up into squares. Makes about 8 squares.

Variations: Add chopped pistachioes, cashews or any other nuts. Saffron, ginger or cinnamon to replace the cardamom. Very thin sheets of silver or gold leaves are also used to decorate these sweetmeats on special occasions.

Body count: 0 (assuming no cows died during milking!)

A couple of gems

I hadn't paid Thomas Green a visit for months, but needed a Dr Pepper fix the other day, and found other rare treats...

On any given day, I wouldn't mind a handful of Maltesers, but I'm a total sucker for anything that looks like a new snack on the market (even if that means a minor twist to an old snack or new packaging), so the fact that White Maltesers found its way into my basket was purely mechanical. No complaints, but I doubt it'll take off. The malt ball doesn't taste all that different from the white chocolate coating, so the lack of contrast may disappoint some.

Horlicks was something I grew up with, but apart from Thomas Green's, the only other place I can find it in these parts is at an Asian grocery store. For me, Horlicks isn't merely a wholesome beverage, but something to roll other food in. I don't remember when I hit on the idea, but I used to cut up bananas into bite-sized pieces and roll them in Horlicks. Since the slightest hint of moisture makes Horlicks cake up, you can imagine the monster snowballs I can make with these banana bouchées!

The mince pies were an afterthought. The purchase had nothing to do with fondness, but rather nostalgia for the good old days when Marks and Spencer had an outlet here. Paid for it with a terrible toothache! Aie! Do they have to be packed with so much sugar?

Body Count: 1 - me :)

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

No cheese please, we're Chinese

Welcome to my blog everyone!

Before the little I've written so far has any capacity to cause any bristling within any ethnic community, this is just my attempt at a food blog (flog). Since I live in France, and English is the language in which I express myself best, the name came to me naturally, being a take on the Frog & Rosbif pub in Paris, which is iconic to me in the way of intercultural harmony. I mean, two former colonial rivals comfortable enough with each other to name a pub thus without either item actually being on the menu? (frog - what the English call the French for their appreciation of frogs' legs; rosbif [roast beef] - what the French call the English for preferring their steaks well done)

Which makes me wonder about inverse food discrimination - name-calling based on things you don't eat... Maybe I live in a sheltered world, but I've yet to hear of a nickname for someone who doesn't like a certain kind of food. Here in Lille, I sometimes get second looks. Alas, it's not because I'm traffic-stopping material (well, depends on how desperate the traffic is, I guess), but the friendly ones will tell me that they don't often see Asians in cheese shops, much less cheese in Asian chops! Why's that? The rot (think roquefort, stilton, fourmes d'ambert and gorgonzola)? The smell (maroilles, Vieux Lille)? The lactose intolerance (all of the above?)? I couldn't tell them either! I'm in it for the taste, and perhaps subconsciously for the calcium, but that's all I can münster...

It never crosses my mind to look out for other Asians during my ruminations in the expansive cheese aisles, but for this very first post, I'd like to sign off with 2 pictures of my leek & gouda tart.

How to: Sautée about 1 kg of leek in salted butter until limp and set aside to cool. Dress a pie dish with a sheet of pastry (when I do make my own, it's with a mixture of flour and polenta, which never gets soggy!), garnish with leek, add cubed gouda (I used cumin gouda for this one), then pour over a mixture of egg and cream (2 eggs for every 150g of cream? it's all a matter of preference, less cream for a firmer tart) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 30 minutes or so.

Variations: Blue cheese works just as well!

Body count: 0 (the eggs weren't going to hatch into anything anyway)