Sunday, 11 March 2007

WFF 5 - Edition régionale

I wouldn't deserve to hold on to my titre de séjour if after more than 2 months of blogging, I did not write up a post featuring products typical of the region which has so kindly hosted me for the past few years - the endearingly singular Nord-Pas-de-Calais!

Following my successful experiment microwaving potatoes for mash last week, I had to repeat the stunt to make sure it worked on all potatoes in general, and not only those I had last week. This discovery gave me lots of hope, because for years, I had failed time and again to make gnocchi soft enough to not hurt pelted passersby. Well, guess what? One more point for this express cooking method! Not only was I able to knead the gnocchi dough today without having to keep adding flour, when shaping them into little dumplings, they did not morph back into smooth cocoons! I am impressed beyond words, and for that, it will be classified as another case of "pat my back or sock my eye?".

I don't understand why my recipe books unanimously tell readers to boil or steam the potatoes for gnocchi, because all that moisture is just going to bring out the starch, which is a nightmare for kneading, not to mention a total waste of time!

How to: To serve 6, heat 650g of potatoes in the microwave until they're cooked through (clue, when they stop "whistling" and when pressed with a knuckle, they dent). Sift about 250g of flour (expect to use more for rolling), make a well in the centre, break 2 eggs into the well and add salt and white pepper. Grate the potatoes (or mash them through a sieve) over the flour while they are still warm, then mix and knead to obtain a slightly sticky dough. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then cut into fat strips and then into cubes (add flour whenever necessary). Make dumplings by rolling dough cubes and pressing a fork onto a surface (this helps to "trap" sauce). Cook in salted boiling water until they float.

Variations: Sweet potato. I've also had gnocchi with chopped spinach mixed in with the dough which was good enough to eat without sauce!

Body Count: 0

Gnocchis aren't typically used in kitchens in this region, but I associated them with a regional beer and cheese, a cheese of malodorousness so formidable it is synonymous with a rotting sock - Maroilles! It is more often seen on a tarte au maroilles, and I'm not sure how easily it is found outside France. I live 20 minutes away from the Belgian border, and I don't see them systematically stocked in supermarkets there.

Tip: Having cut up a maroilles a zillion times with my bare hands, I have learned that soap is futile. Wash your hands while rubbing your fingers against anything made of stainless steel, and it will miraculously get rid of any lingering smells! Take this from someone who often handles garlic but hates smelling of it!

As for Ch'ti, it is a word in local patois to signify inhabitants of the region. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but this bottle came from a couple of colleagues who were at my place on Thursday for a gaming session and left this behind! :) It goes very well with maroilles and so I added it to my gratin de gnocchi.

How to: Mix 300ml of cream with 150ml of pale ale, and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat it without boiling, then add cooked gnocchi, diced ham or bacon (300g or so) and onions if desired. Divide into 6 individual portions, then cut up 400g of maroilles and garnish each portion. Bake at 180°C until the gnocchi absorbs the liquid and cheese browns.

Variations: Dark ale is good, too. Cheddar instead of maroilles, endives instead of onions (very regional!!), and cooked potatoes instead of gnocchi.

Body Count: Ham, and possibly rennet in the maroilles.

That's not the end of the regional edition! There's still dessert!

In the meantime, The Painted Chef reminded me this week of another of those dishes I'd been trying for years to "perfect", if it can even be called that. In Singapore, I knew them as Hong Kong Noodles, but apparently, in Chinese restaurants the world over (and in one of my cookbooks), they're sometimes known as Singapore Noodles. Hmmm...

My model of HK noodles is the one I used to eat in my school canteen towards the end of my schooling years. I have made these innumerable times with a mindboggling combination of additions and omissions, and yet it still doesn't measure up! My last resort will be to cook this with half a litre of oil, but I'll save it for the next time. I question a school canteen operator's motivation for adding any secret ingredient too exotic, but I still haven't quite put my finger on whatever it is, so whoever has a recipe that doesn't look like mine, please contact me!

Before I proceed with the underachiever's recipe, I cannot overstate the necessity of char siu (red roasted meat) for these noodles. Unless otherwise stated, pork is used for char siu. I had pork last week, and was loath to have it again, so imagine my glee when I came across whole turkey breasts (I know where to get them, they're just not sold all the time). Mind you, in the picture on the right, all 5 pieces of meat actually came from a single monster turkey breast! I cheated by making these with a powdered spice mix, but Melting Wok will teach you how to do this from scratch!

How to: Soften 400g of bee hoon (rice vermicelli) or dried yellow noodles, or a combination of both, in warm water. Thinly slice an onion and shred a carrot and beat 5 eggs with some water. Chop char siu into cubes or strips. On high flame, heat some oil (preferably peanut) and make several omelettes, cut them into strips and set aside. Add more oil, about 1 tsp of five-spice powder and white pepper, then add vegetables and saute until they go slightly limp. Add 1tbsp each of Chinese rice wine, oyster sauce, dark and light soya sauces (just an estimate - the more the merrier), then throw in noodles and toss until they are coated with sauce. Add omelette strips and char siu and heat through. Serve with vinegar-preserved green chillis.

Variations: Despite hating them, I've added beansprouts in the past out of sheer desperation. Love garlic, but not sure how much of a difference its presence makes. Have replaced 5-spice powder with curry powder before, to no avail. Sesame oil and sugar made an appearance once, but nah.

Body Count: 1/5 of a turkey breast

Without forgetting my masala quota, I also have beans thoran for you. I actually made this on Wednesday but didn't have time to post it earlier. Credits to The Painted Chef again for planting this idea in my head! :)

How to: Finely chop 300g of long/string/French beans. Grind one chopped onion with 100g of shredded coconut and green chilli (I used 2). Crush several cloves of garlic. Heat some oil and pop 1 tsp of mustard seeds. Add ground coconut paste and fry until the raw onion smell dissipates, then add beans, garlic, 1/2 tsp of turmeric and salt.

Variations: Curry leaves can be added.

Body Count: 0

Enfin, le dessert!

If you like coffee for its taste and not just the caffeine, you would like chicory as well. It so happens it's produced in abundance here, as a natural by-product of the endive industry.

On the right are just a few of the good things to be found here. Gingerbread is dissolved in and used for thickening the sauce for carbonnade flamande, one of my favourite beef stews, but I'm not sure I'm willing to make it anytime soon. Bols' Crème de Cacao (chocolate liqueur) is made in Holland, but will be used in the recipe that follows. I confess, I haven't tried Les Chuques du Nord, but they're supposed to be coffee candies with a caramel centre.

I had another tub of mascarpone to spare, so am back with a Tiramisù du Ch'Nord.

How to: Place a layer of ginger bread at the bottom of each serving glass and drench it with crème de cacao, or whatever liqueur you fancy. Whip 2 egg yolks with 100g of sugar until frothy, then add 2 tbsp of chicory, 50g of whipped cream, 3 tbsp of crème de cacao and 250g of mascarpone. When mixture is smooth, spoon a layer onto gingerbread and repeat layers. Garnish with a mini waffle.

Variations: Way too many! :)

Body Count: 0


Lyrical Lemongrass said...

I hopped over from tigerfish's blog. You have a very interesting and informative blog, so I'll probably be dropping in more often for my weekly education. hehe.

Lydia said...

Such an interesting combination of dishes! I've never tried to make gnocchi, or red-cooked turkey breasts, but both look very appealing. Thanks for the recipes.

Shilpa said...

Hi Lyrical Lemongrass, thanks for coming by! Please, I'm not much of a teacher, heh heh! Am only trying to be one! :)

Hey Lydia, I'm sure you can find those reddened cured meats at a corner Chinese restaurant! Thanks for coming by! I really should try to blog a bit more during the week to avoid these chunky posts!

trupti said...'ve cooked up a storm, I need to come and read your posts at leisure...but in the meantime, those noodles do look good to me...I've been searching for a *perfect* Lo-mein recipe but with no luck...your Fajita Pizzas also look good..I make them all the time..I think I have it posted on my blog.

see ya later.

Shilpa said...

Hi Trupti, indeed, I saw one of your posts weeks ago for tortilla pizzas, and made a mental note to make them. I made them again when my colleagues were at my place, and they thought it was a damned good idea! :)

Sorry, but I suppose "Lo Mein" is an Americanised Chinese dish, so can't help you much there... not even sure what it's upposed to taste like to give accurate advice!

tigerfish said...

Aiyoyo, how can you manage to cook so much and store so much? Your freezer like a bottomless pit, ya. I cook 2 simple dishes from scratch in a day and already exhausted.
Making gnocchi does not seem easy (you know I hate to knead).
Oh yes, that noodles really look like my canteen food too! I used to like canteen plain bee hoon and sometimes, will lick (yes...lick) the plate off the last strand.

eastcoastlife said...

Oh my God! I'm on a diet and I see these!!!! Have mercy on me la!

The gnocchi looks so yummy. Everything looks so super yummy, especially when I have been eating watery porridge for the past week. sigh... don't torture me leh!

I need to go on a diet becos I spent a fortune shopping for clothes in Hong Kong, so by hook or by crook must fit in.

eastcoastlife said...

Wah shilpa!
You're in France!!!!


Shilpa said...

Hi Tiger,

I'm surprisingly fast in the kitchen, lah, so can do all this fairly quickly! :) Yah, my freezer is the kind that has 3 drawers, so it contains a lot of past dishes, herbs, chilli and ice-cream! :) That way, when I don't feel like cooking, I only need to thaw!

I hate to knead, too, but I was determined to succeed in making gnocchi lah! You're right, they aren't all that easy to make, but when you microwave the potatoes, everything falls into place! :)

Aiyoh, you mean the noodles that good until you lick the plate ar?! Haha! I won't tell you which school I'm talking about (malu lah), but it's not simple fried bee hoon, lah, they called it "HK noodles". Basket, I think I'll go and pay them a visit when I go back in May, ask the uncle for his secret ingredient! Hopefully he's still there!

Eastcoastlife, thanks for coming by!!! :) Haha, why you eat only watery porridge these days? Saw the picture of you in cheongsam, so don't know why you need to go on a diet! :) Eh, if you can't fit into those clothes from HK, I see whether I can wear them then buy them from you! I going back for the whole month of May, so excited!!

Sandeepa said... much to go through...and I pick up "Hong Kong" Noodles. Even here I have seen them as Singapore Noodles. They call it "Chow Mai Fun" and the small lettering says Singapore Noddles with etc.. etc., is this the same thing ?
I love it though but haven't seen them use the roast meat, maybe because I have always tried the take outs and not a propah Chinese restaurant.

Sia's corner said...

hi shilpa, came to ur blog from trupti's and my, my!! u have so many recipes per post here. loved that presentation of tiramisu. i guess i'll need to come back n read everything in leisure. there r so many things to check:)

WokandSpoon said...

Wow, you made char siu turkey breast! That's a really good idea.
Where do you get the time to create all these dishes?!

Mishmash ! said...

Hi Shilpa, thoroughly enjoyed ur regional edition. how does the gratins generally taste? are they creamy and bland? Liked ur twist to the tiramisu :) Bonjour !


Melting Wok said...

shilpaaaaa..aiyo, I just read bout you making the bbq turkey, was gonna ask to hurry up, there u r !! :)) woww, tt with the hong kong chow mien def be perfect match !! hey, u could stir fry the leftovers with gnocchi hehe, just like the chinese gnocchi with taros with dried squids, dried shrimps and ground pork, remember ? yummyyyyyy !! :)

Shilpa said...

Dear Sandeepa, I wish I could help, but you know, in S'pore, as far as we know, there's no such dish called "Singapore noodles".. :) so I don't know if it's the same thing as "Chow Mai Fun", especially if that's what it's called in America, haha! So confusing! Hmm, as for the roast meat, I guess some restaurants just aren't very generous. Verdict - home made is always the best! :)

Welcome, sia's corner, and thanks for leaving me a note! Sorry for getting long-winded, but please do come back when you're bored and have no other blogs to read! :) heh heh!

Shilpa said...

Hi wokandspoon, I guess my inspiration for often replacing pork with poultry comes from the many halal restaurants in S'pore that make very convincing Chinese-style dishes! Alas, I didn't invent it! :)

As for the time - hey, I have a 35-hour work week like everyone else in France! Mwahaha!!

Bonjour Shn :) yes, my gratin was creamy, but far from bland! The cheese itself provided some salt, but I also added more salt to the cream. Glad you liked my tiramisu! My hips are going to pay for it, but I just went out and bought another 2 more tubs of mascarpone today, so expect to see a "grasshopper tiramisu" soon.. have yet to decide on the flavour for the other tub.. ;-) requests are welcome!

Shilpa said...

Halo MW!!! I don't know why the link I added to your recipe doesn't work, even when I click on it on your site.

In your expert opinion, does anything seem missing from my HK chow mien (is that what it's called in the US?)? I can't seem to make it taste like the one I had in school years ago leh... so frustrating! And I really wonder how much oil I need to keep adding, because mine are not even half as oily as the school noodles! :)

Err, sorry, what Chinese gnocchi with taro, squid, shrimp and pork? Something you cooked? I looked through your whole blog and didn't see it, so please refresh my memory! :) Nothing to do with nam yue, right? Sorry I have such poor memory...

eastcoastlife said...

You coming back to Singapore?! Aaah, want to come to my blogger party? But must wear your school uniform - whether secondary or JC also can. On 5th May. Email you the details later this week. hehe...

Melting Wok said...

Shilpa, your HK chow mien is perfect already, no need hanky panky more to it, simple breath of wok, with the right ingredients, enough oil, sweet soy sauce should just do it. Btw, I'm having the same problems as before :( uploading pix, and publishing at the moment, and I got all the 404 errors :( Hope to get it fix soon :(

Shilpa said...

Hey ECL, thanks again for the invitation! :) U very funny!

MW, thanks, but I have to reveal something really shameful - my wok is a Tefal non-stick kind, so I think my noodles will never have that "real" wok taste! :P I hope you get your blog fixed soon!

Sushma said...

Did you cook all this... they all stand out... loved the recipe for Gnocchi and the tiramisu ..Actually they all look so tempting.. definitely would try Gnocchi sometime soon

Shilpa said...

Thank you, thank you, Sushma! :) Yes, I made all these things on Saturday, I usually cook a lot on the weekends to avoid cooking during the week. If you do try making gnocchi, I really recommend microwaving the potatoes instead of boiling.

tigerfish said...

shilpa, your freezer very big arh! No wonder can store so much food :O
Canteen bee hoon so-so lah, but I was always hungry during recess time...and that small plate of bee hoon not enough.

BuddingCook said...

impressive listing of recipes as always. :)

amilcar terence said...

well, i just want to precise that i'm one of the colleagues of shilpa, shilpa - who is nice - forgot tout de même to say i have gagned very easily to the videogames. i've même pas gagned the right to eat the tarte au maroilles. what a pity! the tarte looks very appétissante...

Shilpa said...

Hi buddingcook! Thanks! :) You're doing pretty well yourself!

Tiger, aiyah, so sad! The plate of bee hoon not enough because you spent all your pocket money on Chickadees izzit?? hahaha..

Hi AT, I know who you are, and sorry, but I think I was the winner, ok?! And by the way, that is not a tart, but a gratin!! Haha! You think you can beat me again at the videogames? Tu rêves, Herbert!!!

Jyothsna said...

Bonjour Shilpa! Ca va? You have cooked so much!! Wow! I liked the local flavours you write about, its always interesting to know about dierent cuisines. I love tiramisu and had blogged about a date flavoured one a while ago. Check it out.:)

Shilpa said...

Dear Jyothsna, I just went and took a look at your date tiramisu and I am impressed!!

There are many pictures, but if you counted the real number of dishes, there were only 3, excluding dessert! ;-) There will definitely be more regional features and many many more tiramisus to come! :)