Sunday, 29 April 2007

WFF 10 - On a bittersweet note...

It's finally here, my long-awaited trip home!! I'll have a brand-new nephew to spoil rotten (and pinch), several bloggers to meet, lots of food to stuff my face with and lots of pictures to take! It goes without saying that I'm bursting with excitement, but life being as unfair as it is, something always has to mar my quest for happiness... Thus I have no choice but to start off this post with another mega-rant unrelated to food (well, there will be food at the end! :) ).

Ever since I booked my plane tickets, I had been counting down the days to the 29th - the date of my flight (but of course I only arrive in Singapore on the 30th). Last Sunday, I thought I'd check out Sistic's website (Singapore's entertainment ticketing booth) to see if any interesting concerts were in store... Hoping against hope, I typed "Sonu" (for Sonu Nigam) in the search field. My heart raced when there actually was a result!! I started shrieking when I saw the date and was gushing to myself in excitement that I'm going to rush from the airport, dump my bags, freshen up, and dart off to the concert in a yet-to-be-acquired hot pink sari. I was already looking at seating arrangements and trying to decide where I wanted to sit when I looked at the search result again and it sank in - 29th April, 7.30pm. Wait a minute, that would be 1.30pm in France, Sunday, when I'd still be languishing in the boarding area at CDG instead of touching down! I briefly failed to realise that I'd only arrive the day AFTER the concert! Aaaaarggghhh!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

My hubby was suitably puzzled when the excited shrieking segued into head-banging (and not in a classy heavy metal way), and took a look at the screen. Long uneasy silence. He promptly reminded me that I'd already seen Sonu 6 months earlier and even managed to grab his hand when I crept up to the stage. I was even seated close enough to the stage to take such pictures:

So what? Even though I can watch snatches of his concerts on Youtube, and even if he sang exactly the same songs (which I'm sure he will), something like that is frustrating enough to justify a hunger strike!! To say that I'm really and truly pissed is tantamount to saying I only "like" Sonu Nigam. Sigh. All I'm hoping for now is that he will do some sight-seeing and that I'll bump into him in the streets of Singapore, haha... (3 years ago, on another trip home, the IIFA Awards happened to be held there, and I saw Sanjay Dutt in the flesh, entering his hotel! I was lucky that the year after, it was held in Amsterdam, just 3 hours away from where I am, so got my fill of all my favourite stars!)

Other consolation - Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy will also be in S'pore in May, and their performance will be a week later. I might just make it if I can find someone to go with me to drum up the hooting decibels, heh heh. Somehow hooting at a concert when you go alone seems slightly mental to me. :)

It has been unseasonally sunny here, so I could not stay mad for long. Besides, I'd gone to the market last Sunday and found some beautiful sun-gorged fruit, so ended up doing this to them:

I've always been in awe of people with hands so deft mere fruit become masterpieces, and I suppose if I won the lottery and didn't have to work, I'd flood this blog with nothing but pictures of my attempts at carving, heh heh..

As for this week, hmmm, funny how comments from some of you on my last post dug into my conscience.. ;-) apparently, most of you assumed that I was clearing my freezer to make way for new dishes I would whip up and freeze to nourish that hubby while I'm away for a month. The original plan was for him to go out and buy microwavable meals, which I was in fact making space for, but after all the undeserved praises heaped on me about what a good wife I was perceived to be, I felt like pure scum accepting all that credit on credit, and had to do up a few can't-go-wrong favourites of his that were simple and pretty much made from other processed food, so please, don't make me go back to feeling like scum. I didn't really cook this weekend, I merely assembled various ingredients to arrive at a more elaborate end, heh heh. :)

The pies - tuna
and ham & tomato

Gnocchi - chorizo and 2-cheese & ham

What I did not make from scratch: pie crust, tomato sauce and gnocchi.
What I did do: cut ham, tomatoes and chorizo; cook gnocchi; half-fill 1 ice-cream tub with bottled tomato sauce and another with cream, blue cheese and grana padano. As for the tarts, I followed Michael Jackson's advice to "Just Beat It", haha.

There's not much "how to" for me to share with you here that doesn't sound like previous posts with tarts, but the tuna tart is one of my hubby's favourites, so apart from the crust, the rest of the ingredients are : mustard (to coat the base of the pie crust), tuna+lemon juice+plain yoghurt and/or cream+grated gruyère or emmental+eggs.

I might not blog much during my vacation, but keep writing! :) Thanks for your encouragement, everyone!

Saturday, 21 April 2007

One and the same salmon

You'd think that someone about to go on holiday would be in a peppy mood.. heh heh, well, you're half right, except for a couple of things I'll save for a minor rant right at the end of this post. :)

For the past week or so, I have been trying to make space in the freezer for the frozen dinners that will sustain my hubby while I'm away, so that means I didn't (and won't) have to cook much since I DO have a magic freezer containing the fruit of my past immoderate labour. I don't mean to brag, but I won't even be able to finish all that I froze before taking that plane! :)

Anyhow, I still had dill left over from last week's sai bhaji, and a couple of eggs that were ageing, so instead of an easy-way-out omelette, I had to do something I had never done before pasta-wise! :) The idea came from a cookbook I'd bought with my very first paycheck on French soil, so seeing mine turn out exactly like those in the cookbook was pure joy:

This is what a sheet looks like against the light.

Am I twisted, or does this make anyone else think of Braveheart? I don't know, seeing the sprigs of dill broken up by the force of the rollers in the pasta machine somehow reminded me of Mel Gibson as William Wallace being stretched 4 ways... oh, never mind!

Since the big thaw was taking place, heck, I also thawed the 1-kg bag of leek I had as well as some salmon filets, to get this extremely simple No-Bake Lasagna:

How to
: Pasta - Sift 200g of flour in a bowl, make a well in the centre, add 2 small eggs, 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp of salt. Break yolks and stir, incorporating the flour. Knead the dough until smooth, cover and set aside for at least 30 minutes. When ready, make very thin pasta sheets, place dill sprigs on one sheet and cover with another sheet. Press lightly to remove air bubbles, then pass double sheets though the rollers again to get a sheet as thin as the original sheets. Leave them to dry for at least 2 hours, then cook in salted boiling water.

Salmon - Fry about 500g of salmon in hot sizzling butter and flake with a fork. Add salt and white pepper to taste and 100g of cream. Blend to get a smooth paste.
Leek - Cook 500g of leek in melted butter until leek is soft. Add about 2 tbsp of flour and stir until flour absorbs leek juices. Blend.

Place a sheet of pasta on serving plate. Alternate layers of salmon, pasta, and leek according to your liking. Can be served hot or cold.

Variations: Salmon & spinach-ricotta, salmon & broccoli, beef & spinach-ricotta, or really any meat and vegetable pairing!

Body Count: Salmon filets

I got impatient with the triangles after a while, so took to making these Double-barrel Cannellonis as well:

Another picture of the lasagna, at an angle that the hubby preferred:

And now, for the rant... :)

I am infinitely grateful to the management in my company for being so wonderful in having let me take most of my leave at one go the way I'll be doing shortly... before Friday, only the people who needed to know I'll be away, knew. From experience, I've learned to stop telling people who don't need to know for one very petty reason - the lame "jokes" or attempts at jokes that follow!!! What am I talking about? You know, "threats" to send me work while I'm away so that I won't be able to enjoy my holiday? I always tell those I A) directly work with or B) report to that I'll be willing to do bits here and there while on vacation, but when this comes from someone who's neither A nor B, I don't know, for some reason, it grates. Besides, that's OLD!!!

That's not all.. tell me who still encounters this - on my way back to my desk from the coffee vending machine, someone would extend his/her arms and "thank" me for the coffee. Am I wrong in wanting to give up the coffee, but without the cup?

Last but not least, when the administrator does something to my computer, thus sitting at my desk, invariably, someone passing by would say "Hey, D (my real name), you sure look different today!". If I'm in a good mood, I'll be charitable enough to pretend I didn't hear it. And even in a bad mood, I'm relatively charitable by ostensibly rolling my eyes. But I desperately want to do more for society besides just rolling my eyes! It is now the year 2007. Is such lameness still acceptable? How can I do my part for the betterment of human evolution?

UPDATE: A few of you have asked me about the cookbook that I have to thank for this pasta idea. Strangely, information on it is rather elusive, there isn't even a name of an author, so I'll just stick its photo here for all to see:

I don't even know if it exists in other languages, but it has 2 whole pages dedicated to sheets of pasta with different squashed herbs like the above example, as well as many other nifty ideas! Now you see why I had to buy it with my first paycheck? :) This one's a keeper!

Sunday, 15 April 2007

WFF 9 : Dill Mangta... sai bhaji and more!

The other day when I made Besan dal, I mistakenly said that it should be served with a methi pulao (fenugreek rice). Oops! My bad! The friend who gave me the recipes (including today's, which I'd distorted to my convenience) kindly pointed out that it would be better for Sai Bhaji, aka Sindhi Palak, a spinach dish I definitely didn't do justice to, as it has just come to my attention that it doesn't look one bit like how the Sindhis do it! Eeek!! (hides face in shame)

Nonetheless, for my efforts, I'll post a picture!

How to
: Would you really want to learn it from me? haha!! :)


Ingredients (quantities to adjust to taste): 3 tbsp channa dal (soaked), a few cloves of garlic (crushed), ginger paste, green chillis, 1 chopped onion, 1 potato (optional), 2 big tomatoes (chopped), 400 - 500g spinach, a pinch of turmeric.

Fry garlic in some oil, then add chopped onion and ginger paste and spinach, fry until fragrant. Add turmeric, channa dal and tomatoes and fry for a few minutes. Add potato and about 1/2 cup of water and transfer everything to a pressure cooker and cover. Cook until channa dal is soft. Add salt to taste and whisk. Garnish with dill weed and serve with a pulao and yoghurt..

Body Count: 0

I still had some duck leftover from the little I used last week on my mini tartlets, and made these Hachis parmentier aux petits pois et canard. Hachis parmentier is pretty close to a cottage pie, except that pre-cooked leftover meat is usually used, and in recent years, adventurous chefs have replaced the usual beef with other meats, and the potato with other floury vegetables. In my case, I wanted to inject some colour into the dish and made it with a base of garlic, olive oil and potato mash, confit de canard in the middle and a broccoli & garden pea topping, garnished with shallot chives and a pea.

Lastly, a desperate attempt at eating light before heading home - a Chinese tofu stir-fry with baby corn and straw mushrooms. The sauce consists of oyster sauce, light soya sauce, water, corn starch and Chinese cooking wine, I believe, THE generic gooey stir-fry sauce. And of course, loads of crushed garlic!

Why do I want to start eating light? Some people being the way they are, ie, ill-mannered, on previous trips home, I've had a few of them telling me in my face that I'd put on weight (yes, of course, I no longer weigh what I did in 1995 when I was still a teen, idiots!), in varying degrees of tact and of indiscernible good intentions. While I know deep down that I shouldn't care what people think, negative remarks on my weight, no matter how unjustified, tend to make me self-conscious, and the last person to say something like that to me had his business card scribbled on and deposited in a very strategic location with an unambiguous exhortation to call for services I have no guts to elaborate on in a food blog, haha.

So no matter how confident I feel now, I hate to admit that the onset of a holiday mood has brought back in full force a habit I thought I'd dumped - snacking on chips. Sigh. I guess I'll have to stick to wearing black, heh heh..

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Easter WFF Part 2 - Not just my stuff

I'll try to make this quick since I'd already covered the stuff I made in my previous post. This post merely serves to show what goes on in a typical French 5-hour lunch and how expandable our stomachs really are! :)

Before we sat down to eat at this pretty table at my in-laws' place,

we gathered for the apéritif, which is not considered part of the official meal - a pre-appetiser if you will - but does its bit to squeeze out stomach space nonetheless, at this table:

From top to bottom: My foie gras (duck or goose liver) macarons - with or without alcoholic raisins, smoked salmon and blinis with tarama, crackers with egg and tapenade (a paste made of black olives), and slices of toast with foie gras and grapes. This is not the first time my MIL and I have had coinciding ideas, in this case, foie gras with grapes!

with champagne, what else? ;-) Remember, there were only 6 of us adults to eat all this, and we weren't even able to clear all these plates!

I had to take a picture of my place setting because no matter how hard I try, I am incapable of such attention to detail, so a round of applause for my MIL! The napkin ring/belt is just precious! As for the little purse next to the green-stemmed glass, it contained a couple of chocolates that mysteriously disappeared when I was attending to my kid!

There was still no need for me to loosen my pants when the cold starter was served - a scallop and salmon tartare with cubes of Madeira jelly, courtesy of my sis-in-law and her hubby. It was really good and I would have been contented to end my meal there...

...but of course the eager beaver that I was, I disobeyed my MIL's instructions to scrap the warm starter, so we had to eat my warm starter (the duck & orange tartlet) AS WELL AS the reason she wanted me to scrap my tartlets - the huge white sausage in the foreground called a "boudin blanc". :) Boudins blancs are made of pork, egg white, mushrooms and I don't know what else, and I like them a lot, but would have been happy to share it with the inquisitive chick instead, hee hee!

Did you hear me say "starter" twice? Yeah, a main dish was also waiting in the wings - a tenderloin on a bed of creamy mushrooms and a crispy crêpe. The side dishes from left to right - string beans wrapped in Parma ham, baked carrots & parsnip and a vegetable patty. See the chick-o-meter? My sentiments exactly! heh heh.. the little guy read my mind! :)

Just in case those pangs continued to act up, we each had a cake, too! :) When my MIL informed us there was a comprehensive cheese platter to be had, the other 5 of us raised our verbal white flags and voted her off, haha! In fact, I didn't even eat my cake straightaway! I came back for it after a 2-hour break!

Errr, it turned out we weren't allowed to leave without having dinner (lunch ended past 4pm), so the cheese platters - I hadn't noticed there were 2 of them, each containing 8 different types of cheese! - made their pungent appearance. My other picture, of the bigger platter, was blurry, what a pity! There were even cold cuts and assorted types of bread to go with it! I have trouble refusing cheese, so indulged in a few of them. Do you know some of those things can contain up to 40% fat?!

Whew... such extravagance! I knew my mom-in-law was finally convinced of our satiety when I saw the Périgourdine - basically a coffee and walnut ice-cream cake with bits of meringue and chocolate shavings that my father-in-law fought with to get 6 portions, haha!

I couldn't help noticing how thirsty I was at the end of the day, and now that I look back on all the dishes on offer, I'm not surprised - where in my belly could I fit in my daily quota of water?? :)

Monday, 9 April 2007

Easter WFF Part 1 - my stuff

I'd mentioned earlier in the week that my mom-in-law loves my macarons, and Saturday, she called to tell me not to bother making the warm starter as planned for Easter Sunday since she went overboard on her purchases. Before hanging up, she asked me in a tiny voice if I could make some macarons instead. Heh heh, I found it rather cute and had to tell her she'd just ruined my "surprise". I hadn't made any macarons in ages because the novelty wore off for me long ago and I have little patience for all that sifting biznazz, but knowing she liked them, I was intending to make some ON TOP OF the warm starter and told her as much. Needless to say, she was thrilled, except that I refused to reveal the flavour and was already halfway through making the warm starter.

I was flattered by her compliment and happily went on to make the macarons, but that happiness soon gave way to some slamming of kitchen utensils, hurling of assorted instruments, unguarded language and a serious desire to kick in the door of my oven so that it would never open again. People, you have no idea how miffed I get when my macarons look like this:

instead of this, according to the laws of nature:

Of the two batches I made, only a minority turned out looking like those in the second picture, so my hubby's repeated assurance about his mom liking them for their taste instead of their looks was met with a steely gaze, enhanced by another real and dangerous source of steel - you know, the kind that can cut and cause blood to spill?

Hmmph! Anyway, I was in no condition to attempt a third batch, so went on to make them as planned - with a foie gras filling, and a couple of embedded vodka-steeped raisins (by the way, the yellow one was flavoured with saffron and the brown ones with chicory):

As for the warm starter, fortunately, it turned out satisfactorily enough to not warrant anger management classes for me! These are my very own Tartelettes au confit de canard et à l'orange.

"Confit de canard" is duck slow-cooked for hours in a bath of duck fat (its own and from other ducks, I suppose) and herbs until the meat is so tender, it falls off the bone at the slightest prodding. It can easily be found in cans here and is what made me a duck convert. I'm really not all that adventurous when it comes to meat and I've always found duck a bit strong, but when I first tasted confit de canard, I was willing to give duck a second chance and to taste it in its other incarnations! :) It's a mess, though, fishing out the meat from the canful of fat! Not something I buy often!

How to: For a change, I made the tart crust myself, but won't bother sharing it with you because it was really oily and crumbly, so I'm not sure I'll use the recipe again! I blind baked the crust in individual tart moulds, topped it off with a mixture of marmelade and lime juice, put it back into the oven to caramelise the marmelade, then garnished each tartlet with shredded duck.

Body Count: About 2 duck thighs.

My mom-in-law and I certainly have our differences, but one major thing we have in common is our fear of not feeding our guests enough! :) If you think my previous WFFs are excessive for 2 people, wait till you see my next post (whenever that will be!) on all that we had to eat for Easter, keeping in mind that there were only 6 of us adults, two of whom (my sis-in-law and myself) have bird appetites!

Oh, it being also spring, my MIL spring-cleaned her fridge, too, and so I am stuck with quite enough leftovers to last me until April 17th, I think if my calculations are correct. Great, since I have been staying later than usual in the office these days and have no time to cook when I get home, but not so great 'cos none of the leftovers can be frozen and I am quite sure some things will turn bad at my hands! :(

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Too busy to tell you how busy I am!!

At the end of this month, I'll be leaving for a month-long holiday in Singapore, and guess what? I have a ton of work to clear - work I was supposed to start on in late February, but am only receiving this week! How now, brown cow?

Today's my mom-in-law's 70th birthday, which we'll be celebrating in conjunction with Easter this Sunday, and I only learned yesterday that I'll be making the warm appetizer!! *panic* *panic* My MIL has always loved my macarons, so I'll definitely be making a stack of them, too, but what flavour? *pant* *wheeze* *pant* The ones I've made in the past that she preferred the most were lemon-flavoured, but I find that so ordinary! I still have a few more capsules of powdered saffron, and was thinking of using them, but what goes well with saffron?? Help!!

I'm not good with last-minute surprises, so I'll welcome any suggestions! Suffice it to say I'll have much less time for blog-hopping now until I leave, so pardon me all of you dear friends I've made over the past few months if I don't drop in on you as regularly as before! :( I certainly wish I could, but I'm hoping my job will still be there when I get back, so I'll have to prove I deserve the holiday! ;-)

This said, I'm really looking forward to meeting those of you I've said I'll meet when in S'pore!! :)

I hope I'll still have time to squeeze in another couple of WFFs!


Monday, 2 April 2007

Unwitting WFF 8 - Cooking like clockwork

Hmm, I just realised that I never did specify what constitutes a WFF (for latecomers, that means "Weekend Feeding Frenzy", where I attempt to cook so much on one day of the weekend to avoid cooking on a weekday in a foul mood :) )... Now I will! I'll set the minimum number of dishes to 3, not counting desserts and accompaniments (e.g. plain rice). It's actually quite easy to accomplish!

The weekend started out stressful enough for me (ahem, it had to do with proving I could be trusted with a car), so food wasn't really my priority, but as it progressed, I found myself at the supermarket buying nothing, really, with dishes materialising under my nose! Am I turning into a - gasp! - machine?!?! I didn't even make a decent list of what to cook, or what to buy, but somehow I managed to make at least 3 things! I'm losing control!

Bread is a big part of life here, so when I was at the baker's buying a baguette, (a.k.a. ficelle, a.k.a. flûte, depending on where you buy it), I chanced upon this cute "crown" of bread and ordered one without missing a beat. ;-) Naturally, without having a concrete idea what to do with it! I was simply swayed by the alternating poppyseed and sesame buns.

Fortunately, I always have a few cans of tuna in my pantry to fall back on, and made a tuna salad from a recipe that was passed on from an aunt's friend, to my aunt, to my mom and then to me. Originally, it consisted of tuna in brine, mayonnaise, hardboiled eggs, chopped gherkins, 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped apple. For this time, I skipped the onion and replaced the gherkins with capers. As for the apple, I only eat green apples since they're always guaranteed crunchy. I hollowed out each individual bun and filled it with the tuna salad, saving the crumbs for something indeterminate at the time.

Variations: There aren't many things I wouldn't eat with tuna! Well, except strawberries, I guess.

Body count: 1 can of tuna

Then I remembered I had 6 green apples that had been lying around for more than a week, initially purchased for a potato, apple and camembert terrine. I only needed one for the tuna, but went on to skin the other 5, cut them into sixths and sauté them in a liberal amount of butter. I had cheddar-potato mash and a ready-made pizza crust languishing in my fridge, too, and put them to good use - together. There and then, the idea of a terrine became a pizza!

I spread the mash on the pizza crust, arranged the buttery apple slices on the mash and thinly sliced a whole camembert, which went towards adorning the apples. Baking time - 15 mins at 210°C. It may sound like a strange combination, but I didn't make it up - the recipe for the terrine came from one of the oldest cookbooks in my possession. I merely transferred everything onto a crust.

Body count: 0.

With all the apples used up, there was still a lot of butter left in the pan, which I sponged up with the crumbs from the hollowed-out bread crown. I really didn't want to, but the buttery breadcrumbs ended up as a crab stuffing for raviolis! Last week, when I made Maultaschen, it was the very first time I'd used my pasta machine even though it's been two years that I've had it. Making pasta turned out to be more fun than work, so I was itching to use it again and watch the pasta sheets getting churned out. The Maultaschen experiment was also the first time I'd heard of using bread to make stuffing, so there you have it - Crab & saffron raviolis.

Dough: 350g flour, 3 eggs, 2 capsules of powdered saffron, 2 tbsp of olive oil, salt. The Kitchen Aid did it all for me this time. Ordinarily, I'd knead it myself given the insignificant quantity.

Stuffing: 350g crabmeat, 150g of breadcrumbs, 30g butter (I think), 1/2 a bulb of garlic, crushed, salt and Martini for moisture. I'm unable to specify how much Martini went into it, but I just poured until I got the right consistency. I think I forgot to add salt, though!

I don't suppose I need to explain how to make raviolis, but I boiled these for about 7 minutes or more, and served them with a garlicky tomato & basil sauce.

Body count: 3 cans of crabmeat.

During the grocery shopping trip, I decided to treat myself to a bottle of Amaretto. When pouring myself a shot on the rocks Saturday evening, it suddenly occurred to me that all my favourite drinks came in squarish bottles! Just take a look for yourself to see what I mean:

Coincidence? Clever marketing? I'm not ashamed to proclaim that I get zero help from my hubby in drinking any of these, but I am sure the low levels in each bottle have more to do with evaporation than consumption! Oh, definitely!