Friday, 30 March 2007

Unsere Besten Maultaschen - Up close und persönlich

Whew, now that I've wolfed down all my Maultaschen, I'm ready to externalise. As I'd mentioned in my previous post, I found a very good recipe online containing the typical pork, spinach, bread and egg stuffing. I thought the bit about the bread was absolutely innovative and would never have guessed that it (apart from the obvious addition and purpose of eggs) was responsible for holding everything together!

Maultaschen do exist in several other flavours, but for a first attempt, I didn't want to stray too far from the model I had. This will be my own version of events, or how I made mine.

For the stuffing, I defrosted 250g of frozen spinach, and with the water obtained from the spinach, softened about 200g of stale bread. Then I cooked 350g of minced pork and added it to the bread and spinach and blended it all very finely. Lastly, I folded in 2 beaten eggs, 1 tbsp each of salt, ground nutmeg and dried thyme.

For the dough, I beat 3 medium eggs with about 100ml of water and added about 400g of flour in gradual doses, kneading until all the flour is absorbed. I don't see why I couldn't have put the flour in the bowl first, then add the eggs and water, 'cos it seems easier, but I followed the recipe, thinking the result would have differed! Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes (I left it for longer because I actually forgot about it with all the multi-tasking going on) before rolling out the dough into very thin sheets.

If like me, you have a Kitchen Aid with a pasta machine fitting, good for you. If you don't, good luck! I've been there before, rolling out pasta sheets with a rolling pin and I have to warn you, you'd regret it if it's meant for guests! All that effort should only go towards rewarding yourself!

Now, to the serious stuff. Cut pasta sheets into rectangles of whatever dimensions you prefer (I'd recommend a breadth-length ratio of 2:3), but I avoided cutting out rectangles that were too long as they became harder to seal.

Spread a layer of stuffing over each rectangle, leaving a border of about 0.5cm on all sides.

As seen in the picture, fold the lower breadth-wise border onto the stuffing, and pat lightly to remove air pockets separating pasta from stuffing.

Fold one more time to form a roll, again patting lightly to squeeze out air pockets.

Wet the other breadthwise border and fold it over the roll, pressing lightly to ensure that it sticks to the roll.

Pinch both sides of the roll to seal in the filling. If you're afraid of the Maultaschen disintegrating during cooking, fold in the sides one more time to get a sort of double seam.

Voilà! Now you have Schwäbische Maultaschen! Leave them to dry for about an hour. Avoid piling them, even if they're well-coated with oil or flour, as the moisture inside will still manage to permeate the pasta sheet and cause them to stick.

Achtung! Regardless of size, I've learned that you need to cook them for 20 minutes, so that the layer of pasta that has been folded into the stuffing gets cooked, too. When I boiled the first batch, I was impatient, and thinking they were smaller than the ones I had in Tübingen, lopped off 5 whole minutes from the cooking time. Ein Fehler! (A mistake!) :) The insides were slightly firm, and admittedly unappetising, so I had to boil them again.

There are many ways to serve Maultaschen, but the most common, as in my first encounter, which turned out to be my favourite, is in der Brühe (in broth):

A clear beef or vegetable broth is best, with a tiny sprinkling of parsley and fried onions. (I had a soup mix, sorry! The fried onions weren't fried by me, either!) Do not be tempted to cook Maultaschen in the broth itself, otherwise your broth would get all starchy and murky.

The other way I prepared them was by cutting them into thin slices (after boiling them), frying them in butter until they were slightly scorched (not unlike Chinese potstickers),

then stirring them in a creamy cheese sauce before topping them off with more crispy fried onions:

I'll definitely be making a vegetarian or salmon version one of these days!

Sunday, 25 March 2007

WFF 7 - Muzzle up!

Many moons ago, I had a love affair with German - the language. Unfortunately, I was swiftly snared by the rules of grammar and those dreaded distractions called gender and boredom. This was way before I knew how to cook anything, so the attraction was strictly intellectual. If I'd never set foot in Germany, I most certainly would never have had the opportunity of discovering Maultaschen (literally, "muzzle bags"), a speciality of the Southern region of Baden-Württemberg. I'm unwilling to say anything disparaging about German cooking, but let's just say that "dainty" is not my favourite adjective when describing German food. Nonetheless, Maultaschen is for me, as dainty as it gets! :) Some call it German ravioli but I demur. There are more folds in Maultaschen, making them bulkier but with more reliable seams. Absolutely necessary when they take about 20 minutes to cook!

In 2005, when I made a trip to Tübingen, a quaint university town where the current Pope hails from, I got out of the car ankle-deep in snow and was not pleased about it. I was starving but not to the extent of yearning blood sausages, and deliberately learned how to say I didn't want any in German! :) Seeing the word " Spezialität" beside "Maultaschen" on the menu in my hotel's restaurant, I decided it sounded safe enough to order, so the fact that I made them yesterday means I thoroughly enjoyed them! These are just the uncooked ones. I will be doing a separate post during the week showing how I folded them and the different ways of consuming them.

How to: I basically got my recipe from here, but tweaked it a bit here and there. The amount of flour I used for the dough was closer to 400g than 500, and I used 350g of pork instead of a mixture of beef and pork. I was very very contented with the result, and it helps to have a Kitchen Aid!

Variations: Exists in salmon and vegetarian versions.

Body Count: 350g of minced pork

If you remember my dear friend from this post, I had a long chat with her last Sunday and I asked her for a few Sindhi recipes. The sweetie that she is, she dictated 4 to me, and to be cautious, I started with the easiest - Besan dal, or better known as Sindhi curry. She practically had me from the moment she mentioned "besan"!

How to: Dissolve 3 tbsp of besan (chickpea flour) in 2 cups (500ml) of water, adding water in small quantities to ensure there are no lumps. Soak some tamarind to get a paste. Chop 3 green chillis, 2 large tomatoes, 2 carrots and about 150g of okra (in North America) aka ladies' fingers (in Asia) aka gombos (here and in West Africa). Heat some oil, and fry 1/4 tsp of haldi (turmeric), 1/4 tsp of methi (fenugreek) seeds, 1/2 tsp of jeera (cumin), a pinch of hing (asafoetida) and a few slices of ginger. Add the besan suspension and keep stirring until mixture thickens. Add vegetables, about 4 tbsp of tamarind paste and let vegetables simmer according to how firm you prefer them. Add salt and curry leaves to taste and serve with a methi pulao (which I was too lazy to make, because as you can see, I have quite a lot to eat! :) )

Variations: My friend says potatoes can be added, and the quantities of the tamarind and vegetables can be adjusted to taste. I didn't have any hing on me, and I believe the curry would have been even better with it.

Body Count: 0 (vegan)

It has been 3 weeks and I still have not gotten over the potato-in-microwave phenomenon, so I had to find more excuses to use the 2.5kg sack of potatoes I bought to that effect. Last week, I mashed hot potatoes with a crumbly cheddar and couldn't get enough of it with my stuffed jalapenos, so I had to make the same mash again this week, but this time, to make cups containing chilli con carne, as in these Chilli pots:

How to: My chilli has always come from this recipe, but I added one diced capsicum. I spied a few cans of corn in my pantry, too, and decided to empty one of them in into my chilli. For the pots, I crumbled 200g of cheddar with 3 microwaved potatoes and shaped them into crusts according to the muffin tins I used. Then I filled the pots with chilli and baked them at 180°C for half an hour.

Variations: You know, I think I should have added some flour to the pots to make them firmer, crispier and easier to handle. Just a thought for the next time I attempt this!

Body Count: 500g of beef.

I'll be darned if I still have to cook during the week after having made this much, but to hammer another nail into that imaginary sealed coffin, I made one more dish - Lor Mai Kai। Literally, it means "glutinous rice chicken" in Cantonese, and it's really just that, with of course, the usual sauce-pects (sorry, couldn't resist it!). Lor Mai Kai is something I occasionally had for breakfast in Singapore, which is significant in that A) I seldom wake up in time for breakfast and B) if I do, I usually skip it anyway. Strangely, though, I prepare it for dinner over here on a fairly regular basis.

How to: Soak about 400g of glutinous rice in water overnight or for at least 2 hours, then drain. Marinate about 500g of chicken meat with a few slices of ginger, equal quantities of sesame oil, dark & light soya sauces and oyster sauce (I'd recommend 2 tsps, but I didn't measure). Add white pepper and corn starch, and mix well. In a wok, heat a few tablespoonsful of oil and fry some shallots (I had pre-fried shallots) until they're crisp. Add rice and a tablespoonful each of Chinese rice wine, oyster sauce, light soya sauce and sesame oil. Add a few drops of dark soya sauce if you'd like some colour, then add about 300ml of water, 100ml at a time, stirring constantly. When all the water has been absorbed, remove rice from heat.

In individual bowls, line the base with chicken meat and top off with glutinous rice. Steam for about half an hour or until rice is fully coked. Serve with chilli sauce.

Variations: Black mushrooms or raw groundnuts can be added to the rice. For a vegetarian version, mock meat can be used, with a vegetarian oyster-flavoured stiry-fry sauce.

Body Count: 500g of chicken

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

5 Bloggers and more than 5 Reasons

East Coast Life tagged me with the following meme almost a week ago :

If you had to live on a deserted island for a year, which 5 bloggers would you bring with you and why?

Ulp. As you can tell, I'm still new to blogging and most of the bloggers I have come to know and love are food bloggers, so that forced me to imagine a life outside the kitchen. My fellow taggee Tigerfish will have you know I am capable of losing sleep obsessing over what to make, so that was definitely no piece of pie.

If you could convince me to get on a boat in the first place - because with my kind of luck, if ever my plane chose to stall in mid-air, I doubt it would be over a cushy body of water, and even if it did, I doubt I'd have time to find the life vest under my seat, put it on the right way, find those whistle-looking things for inflating the vest and skitter calmly out of the plane (if the door would open!) to "safety", ie, not into the waiting jaws of a great white - these are the people I'd like to be stranded with for a year:

Trupti of The Spice Who Loved Me - Being a mother of 2 boys (right?) and a vegetarian, Trupti should have sufficient experience in breaking up fistfights (oh, believe me, I might even start some of them! :) ), and would definitely have the gift of turning otherwise exotic vegetation into nutritious dishes, thereby giving rise to said fistfights! :)

J of Eastcoast Life - You dragged me into this, you harvest the firewood, mwahaha!! But on a serious note, J is a recent buddy I made in the blogosphere and we get along so well, you'd have dificulty believing we don't go back a few years! Besides, with her sense of humour and resourcefulness, she would even turn our frowns upside down, finding ways to make our island so comfortable we'll have to fend off rescue ships and throw new shipwreck survivors back where they came from, nyahaha!!

Joji aka The Painted Chef - Multi-talented as far as I know, Joji unfortunately has only so many hours in a day. However, stranded on an island with us, he'd have all day to sketch us in varying degrees of distress (if J turns out less resourceful than expected, and Trupti's cooking fails to please), and find various ways of entertaining himself by carving "Joji was here" on trees for posterity, haha! Also, being the only guy, he would have ample opportunity to add a new skill to his arsenal - Catfight Arbitration! :)

Lydia of The Perfect Pantry - She appears to have encyclopedic knowledge of many food items, I'd bet even of those not found in her abysmal pantry! So we'll have her to thank for not consuming magic mushrooms! Besides, being a professional writer, she certainly could document our travails with Joji's sketches to illustrate! :)

Asha of Foodies' Hope - Going by her blog alone, it is easy to deduce that she is popular (from the number of comments she receives), patient (from all the step-by-step photos and explanations), and accessible despite her popularity (she replies to every single comment! How sweet!) so definitely a pleasant person to have around. Actually, no, I am aware of the fact that she can make a few mean cocktails, so with all that tropical fruit at our disposal, she will be able to distill her own liqueurs and make sharabis (drunkards) of us! Hey, The Stranded Sharabis, sounds like a good name for a band, doesn't it? ;-)

Trupti, Joji, Lydia and Asha, you've been tagged! :) Don't feel obliged to take it up if you don't have the time, it's just for fun!

Saturday, 17 March 2007

WFF 6 - Gee, it's getting stuffy in here!

Am I alone in vapidly going goo-goo-ga-ga over stuffed things? Would you prefer eating whole jalapeno peppers with a heap of cheddar dumped unceremoniously on the side or would you prefer those peppers stuffed with said cheddar, and oozing like lava when bitten?

What is it about disguising one element in other that transforms the appeal of certain vegetables? Personally, I feel that the apparent effort put into filling the cavity of a fruit or vegetable is enough to make the whole (or hole!) look tempting, especially when you make it yourself, never mind if the taste is dubious!

This weekend, all I wanted to eat was finger food, and being the ruler of my own kitchen, I didn't need to ask if anyone minded (snigger, snigger). It started off with these Identity-crisis Jalapeno Poppers. First and foremost, I almost never see chillis for sale at Carrefour, and wasn't even looking for them, so when I stumbled upon them, cheddar inexplicably fell into my basket as well. Except that I wanted at all costs a bhaji coating, but who's stopping me? :)

How to: For 16 peppers, mash 200g of cheddar with as much potato mash (does anyone spot a "phase" in the making?). Add salt and pepper. Slit peppers on one side and scoop out seeds and white centre. Wetting hands, fill cavity with cheddar-potato filling.

For batter: Mix 2 tsps each of besan, rice flour and all-purpose flour with 1 tsp each of baking powder, ground fennel, cumin and coriander. Add water to obtain a thick paste and add an egg if desired.

Heat oil, and when hot, dip stuffed peppers into batter and gently lower into oil. Fry until golden and drain on paper towels.

Variations: Other firm "stuffable" vegetables (capsicum, zucchini, small onions, okra, etc). Egg & breadcrumbs instead of bhaji batter.

Body Count: 0.

Note: This is something I could eat every single day (a very tall order for someone who makes a pastime of getting bored), if it wasn't the greasebomb that it is! I don't know if it was the potato or the batter, but I'd never seen the level of frying oil dip like that!!

The next on the list was totally unplanned. I thought I didn't have any more prunes in the fridge, and when I saw that I did, I remembered the time my mom-in-law came over for a dinner I was hosting, and to avoid coming empty-handed, brought exactly the same apéritif as the one I had prepared - prunes with streaky bacon! We had a good laugh about that, but ahem, somehow mine disappeared faster! :)

I only had lean bacon or very fatty rosette (which is what you see on the right), so what do you think happened? See those paper-thin slices dotted with saturated fat? They're bad for your heart but hey, if the industry continues to thrive, I imagine it only takes you to the threshold of a heart attack and not beyond! Whew!

How to: Folded into a band and tucked into the opening of a pitted prune, rosette, like many other fatty cured meats, confers its delicate flavours on the dried fruit and the fat provides a certain amount of moisture.

Place prune & rosette bundles on a heatprof dish and grill for a few minutes until meat is crisp.

Variations: Any fatty deli meats - bacon, speck, Parma ham, chorizo, you name it. Any dried fruit - fig, apricot, date, or grilled vegetables - capsicum, eggplant, sundried tomato.

Body Count: A few slices of rosette.

Since those prunes got me started on the whole dried fruit trail, I had no choice but to fiddle with a few apricots, to make Peppricots!

2 weeks ago, I'd used 2 other different flavours of Boursin, but didn't take pictures of the box. Today's flavour is black pepper!

How to: Mix a 150g dome of Boursin with a tablespoon of cream. Split dried apricots without separating the halves, and fill with Boursin. Serve.

Variations : Boursin exists in so many flavours, I've lost track. Nonetheless, they're all good for stuffing dried fruit, eg, dates, figs, prunes, etc, provided you have the patience!

Body Count: 0, not even rennet!

I promise this will be the last of the dried fruit foray, but dates were in fact what had been nagging since the start of the week. I'd never bought them before this week and so have never cooked with them, so it wasn't easy coming up with Deglet-Nour date burfi.

These were so easy to make I even managed to hold a phone conversation with a friend while making these, with the phone wedged between my shoulder and ear!

How to: Make a date paste by boiling about 20 dates in enough water to cover them in a saucepan. Remove stones, if any, and whizz to get a smooth paste. In another pan, heat 150g of ghee or butter. When it melts, add 3tbsp of sugar and 200g of besan and stir, breaking up lumps and cooking until besan smells slightly roasted. Add date paste, stir until even, then pour out onto wax paper and leave to cool before cutting into diamond shapes.

Body Count: 0

Note: Sorry to inflict psychedelic sugar dinosaurs on all of you (click to see them better)! As you can see, the date burfi does not have a very attractive colour, and the plate did nothing to help, so I was hoping those dinosaurs could perk things up! :)

I'm running out of breath, so for now, I'll post the last of the series, but will do the how to, variations and body count at a later date. In the meantime, please be satisfied with just pictures of my Grasshopper Tiramisu!

Update: For as long as I can remember, I've always liked the association of chocolate with mint, and when I became of age to drink, that appreciation moved on to Grasshopper cocktails (crème de menthe + crème de cacao + craem, I think). :) Somehow, the tiramisu version was very watery, so I don't know what went wrong despite doing things the same way I did for the past few weeks! :(

How to: Place a layer of chocolate pound cake at the bottom of each serving glass and drench it with crème de cacao (chocolate liqueur). Whip 2 egg yolks with 100g of sugar until frothy, then add 50g of whipped cream, 3 tbsp of crème de menthe (mint liqueur), 250g of mascarpone and colouring, if necessary. When mixture is smooth, spoon a layer onto chocolate cake and repeat layers (it was too watery for me to do so). Garnish with thin chocolate sticks to create "feelers".

Variations: Way too many! :)

Body Count: 0

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Little treats from Paris, and my inedible stash

Although I live only an hour away from Paris by train, or 3 hours by car, I only go there when I have a reason to, and not when I have an excuse. I do have a very dear friend - a fellow Singaporean and the only Sindhi I've ever known - living in Paris, meeting up with whom can only cheer me up, but we'd been living all our lives apart, and have gone on very well with life without having to meet regularly, so as callous as this sounds, she's an excuse to go to Paris. The last time I made it to Paris, it was in October last year, and I needed Sonu Nigam's concert to coax me there. No offence to my friend, but Sonu Nigam is a reason. :)

Fortunately, my hubby goes there once a month on average, and it so happens that Paris' "Little Jaffna" is just behind the station where he boards the train back to Lille, so almost invariably, that would be his last stop, be it to catch a bite or to run an errand for me. Whenever my stock of Hindi films runs low, I'll give him a wish list. He then turns it over to the DVD-wala, who scurries off to look for my films. I'm seldom disappointed, but in general, I prefer browsing personally.

When he went there on Wednesday, I didn't even draft a list, as I had been behind on my films and my stash was still bountiful. Nonetheless, he came back with these, awwww.. : (click on photo to see titles)

He also brought back these macarons from Ladurée despite my protests, and my unabashed claims of "Why pay people when I can make these at home for nut-Hing!". :) Well, as a matter of fact, I had a macaron phase about 3 years ago and managed to make assorted macarons that my mother-in-law more than approved of (that means a lot to me, seeing what a good cook she is!), but a phase is a phase, and after I realised how easy they were to accomplish, I got bored. I guess I used to make them often not because I liked how they tasted, but merely for their reputation of being difficult to make, which is unjustified. :-P

The ones in black are liquorice-flavoured, and so far, the only ones I've tried. I don't know what the other flavours are as yet. I will of course make macarons one of these days for this blog, but I'll need to decide on a flavour! I don't normally like liquorice candy, but I find liquorice in desserts highly fascinating. I have made liquorice crèmes brûlées a couple of times in the past, but again, that was a phase, and grating liquorice bark can be a noisy affair!

The following photo is not in the right chronological order, but shows some of my other treats from Little Jaffna:

Not surprisingly, when it's my hubby who buys them, he gets fleeced of chutney or chilli!

I don't usually blog about stuff that I didn't make myself, so this post will be relatively short. However, I thought it necessary to showcase my entire Bollywood DVD collection and conduct a poll while I'm at it!

Again, if you click on the photo, you will see the titles very clearly. (Krrish, Dhoom 2, Umrao Jaan 1981 and Malamaal Weekly are not pictured, and "La Famille Indienne" is the French title for Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham). The stack on the left holds the DVDs I have yet to watch.

Poll: What are some of the worst movies you've watched so far? They don't necessarily have to be Desi films, so I'd like to know! For me, from this stack, the TOP 5 films I really shouldn't have bought are:

Biwi No.1
Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

The odd cod

We had been cat-sitting for my sister-in-law since Wednesday last week, and I expected her over for dinner yesterday when she came by to retrieve her cat, Plume, so I did the unthinkable - cooking on a Tuesday! She's a real dearie, so I wasn't too ready to foist on her my leftovers from the WFF. Besides, I only had a few dishes of gnocchi gratin left (the HK/S'pore noodles and beans thoran disappeared very quickly since I packed them for lunch in the office, and I still can't bring myself to finish the last glass of tiramisu because then I'd have to make some more!), and deemed that too stodgy for her.

I got word during the day that she'd changed her mind and would come by while I was at work, but it was too late since I'd already defrosted a bunch of grilled Mediterranean vegetables from my magic deep (in all senses of the word) freezer, and came up with this Ratatouille & Chiquetaille pie:

Oooh, that must look like a mouthful, so let's see that again: Ratatouille ( rah-tah-too-y) and Chiquetaille (sheek-tie) pie. There! :) Simple? Well, so was this!

Calling it ratatouille involves a certain measure of embellishment here, for I merely used my favourite grilled vegetables - assorted capsicums, eggplant and zucchini - and smothered them with a mixture of heavy cream and ready-made bottled tomato sauce. Cheating again, I hear you say.. ;-) More dishonesty coming your way...

I'd had cod chiquetaille a couple of times before, but have never attempted to make my own, so once again, I bowed down to the idol otherwise known as convenience. :) While I'm at it, hey, even the pie crust didn't spring forth from my toil!

How to: Dress pie dish with flaky or shortcrust pastry, poke holes in the base with a fork and arrange chunks of roasted vegetables in a single layer. Mix a bottle of pasta sauce with a few tablespoons of thick cream (I like it rich, to counter the acidity of the tomatoes), spoon over vegetables and scatter mounds of chiquetaille onto sauce. Bake at 180°C until the pastry turns golden and some of the chiquetaille browns and crisps.

Variations: I can see roasted garlic doing very well in a pie like this!

Body count: Ratatouille - 0, Chiquetaille - 200g

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

Saturday, 3 March 2007

WFF 4 - Two old favourites and one new flavour

I have a feeling this is going to be one of those very hefty posts expected of a weekend freeding frenzy, so brace yourselves, friends!

But first, a summary... seeing as how I'd been neglecting distinctly "Western" recipes for a rather long time, I suddenly remembered and proceeded to make a stew I used to make so often that I could stomach it no more, and therefore banished to a shelf the magazine that provided the recipe. (Interpretation: my favourite cookbooks are never housed on shelves.) Since I was having a go at old recipes, I tossed in a second one that I'd not only consider old, I'd even say it is so passé and squarely out of season!

As for the new flavour, I made history this week with my maiden ingestion of bittergourd! I have Sandeepa of Bong Mom's Cookbook to thank for the "beginner's" tips on how to subdue the bitterness. :) Come to think of it, we may not have used the same species of bittergourd, 'cos mine was still bitter, but not overpoweringly so.

This said, I was also swayed by the need for a thick "comfort" soup (in order not to overwork my newly-glued tooth), and was torn between this one from Sandeepa and this one from Mandira of Ahaar. Stay tuned to see who won the palatal tug-of-war! :)

Let's get down to business! Photos are presented according to the order of completion, not exactly easy when you multitask, so I'm relying on their order of appearance on the camera!

Pork in cider stew. So easy, it practically cooked on its own! Which is perhaps why I used to make it so often, heh heh.. It freezes well, so things couldn't get more convenient!

How to: Chop 4 medium onions and crush 2 or more cloves of garlic. Heat some oil in a big saucepan on high heat and add onions. When they start to brown, add 1 kg of pork chunks (they don't have to be particularly lean) and fry until all surfaces of the meat are cooked. Scatter 2 tbsp of flour over pork and continue frying over high heat for about 2 minutes. Pour in half a bottle of cider (375ml, to be precise), add garlic, 2 tsp of dried thyme (or a sprig of fresh), salt and pepper and lower heat. Cover pan and let simmer for about 40 minutes.

Variations: For a one-dish meal, add 2 carrots and 3 potatoes 20 minutes before the 40 minutes are up. I've never tried making this with other white meat, so can't comment, but white wine or beer instead of cider is not uncommon.

Body count: 1kg of pork (going 1% of the whole hog?)

Blue cheese, walnut and pear tart. As far as I know, this is an autumn tart, and a few years ago, marrying pear with blue cheese was lauded as oh-so-original, but try serving this today in a restaurant and you'll get a snort. Pity, because I genuinely like it and think this combination is legit. I didn't actually plan on making this, but Thursday, while grocery shopping, I was startled to see pears for sale, so I snatched them away without so much as testing for ripeness. They turned out to be perfect - sweet and firm (but not crunchy) and without juice threatening to trickle down my forearm.

How to: (Apologies for those who can't find the products mentioned in your country of residence.) Preheat over to 180°C.

Dress a pie dish with shortcrust pastry and stab holes in the base with a fork (to allow the pastry to "breathe" during cooking). Spread polenta over the base (to absorb pear juice - optional). Halve 4 pears, and slice each half into 4 lengthwise. Place pears face down on the pastry and press lightly so that they fan out.

Beat 150g of walnut Rondelé or Boursin with two eggs and pour over the pears. Bake briefly until the mixture sets, then beat 150g of blue Rondelé or Boursin with another two eggs and pour on top of the first set layer. Continue cooking until the surface of the tart is golden.

Variations: For a stronger taste of blue cheese, I crumbled another 150g of blue cheese over the tart 5 mins before I switched off the oven, so that the cheese only melts but doesn't burn. Add walnut kernels for exra walnut taste.

Body Count: 0

Mandira's Spicy Roasted Sweet Potato & Onion Soup.

Ideally, I shouldn't have much to say about this one, but I cheated somewhere and am coming clean. :) My sweet potatoes were deathly pale (the lady in the shop was sure they'd be orangey when I asked), so I added turmeric. When that didn't help much, I added red food colouring, which looked really awful, so more turmeric came in. :)

Body Count: 0

While trying to overcome my disappointment over the colour of the soup, I had a candy break. See what my hubby brought home for me from an errand! Awwww.. Yanka used to be a famous chocolatier right smack in the centre of Lille, but they'd moved more than a year ago and few people knew where they went, or whether they went bust. It turns out their new outlet's just a walking distance from our place! Aren't these berlingots just pretty?

When I felt I'd sufficiently regained my strength, I finally tackled the 2 bittergourds I'd bought yesterday. Not surprisingly, this being my first time buying and manipulating any ever, I underestimated the width of a bittergourd cavity, and so the stuffing I'd prepared was just enough to fill one. Not a bad thing, though, since I'd had 2 stuffings in mind, and the last-minute discovery allowed me to try both! :)

I hereby present my bharela karela (stuffed bittergourd) - with a coconut stuffing (the initial plan) and with a potato stuffing (the afterthought)! Drum roll, please!

Prepare bittergourds by slicing them into 3-cm high logs and scooping out the seeds. If you prefer them less bitter, soak them for at least 10 minutes in salted water, then rinse and pat dry.

Coconut filling: In a bowl, mix 200g of grated fresh coconut, 2 tbsp of besan (chickpea flour), 2 tbsp of ground groundnuts, 1 tsp of chilli powder, 1/2 tsp each of cumin and coriander (seeds or powder), some chopped coriander leaves, 2 tbsp of sugar, juice from 1 lime, and enough water to make a thick paste. Fill bittergourd pieces with this mixture and shallow fry.
Variations: see below

Body Count: 0

Potato filling: First and foremost, you will need to boil and mash 3 largish potatoes.

Er, for years I'd known of people (e.g. my mom) who cooked their potatoes, brinjals and other hard veggies by microwaving them and generally regarded them with disdain for defiling the sanctity of the cooking ritual. I was tired, and like I said earlier, I only learned at the last minute that I didn't have enough coconut stuffing, so when I saw the last 4 puny potatoes I had, I swore I wasn't going to boil water and wait half an hour just for them to cook, so dumped them in the microwave (didn't even rinse them, that's how rash I was!). Huh, 3 minutes later, they came out all perfect and fluffy! Wha..??? That's it, the next time I need mash, that's how I'll prepare it!

Anyway... Heat some oil and fry about 1 tsp of jeera (cumin) seeds until they pop, then add mashed potatoes, 1 tsp of haldi (turmeric), 1 tbsp of amchoor (mango powder), 1 tbsp of cumin & coriander powder, 1 tsp of garam masala and salt and chilli powder to taste. Mix well and add water if necessary.

Mix a few tablespoons of besan with chilli powder and salt to taste. Stuff bittergourds with potato masala, then roll them in the besan mixture. Shallow fry until a crisp coating forms.

Variations: see above :-P

Body Count: 0