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A Few of My Favourite Things!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Meet the Bloggers

Ed of Tomato has written an excellent article, "Eat my words: Meet the bloggers: the gastronomes who have set their sites on satisfying our increasing appetite for recipes, rants and restaurant reviews", for the most recent issue of the Australian Gourmet Traveller, in which he espouses grass-roots food writing and encourages the relatively young Aussie food-blogging world. To Ed's credit, although two international bloggers are mentioned - Chez Pim, one of the most widely read blogs internationally, and TSOGB - the main focus is on the growing Australian blog world.

Aussie blogs that scored a mention include: Grab Your Fork, Australian Gourmet Pages, Cat on the Bench, Sarah Discovers How to Eat, The Breakfast Blog, Tomato and yours truly. I have to admit that I'm not so sure about having a photo in the mag though (with full name included!). Until this point, I've been fairly protective of my identity (as, I can see, have many others) and I'm not sure what to think about this...

For those who have come to this site from the GT article, welcome & happy reading!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hello Neighbour

After a long work week, I was finaly able to indulge in some baking: vanilla salted-peanut cookies from the special 'Christmas Cookies' edition of Better Homes & Gardens and melting moments fromThe Best of Singapore's Recipes, Tea Time Delights.

I used my cookie press to shape the melting moments instead of just forming little hazelnut-sized balls of dough as suggested and I have to say that it's easier to press dough out of some of the stencils than others. My wrist and forearm is still sore two days later from forcing the dough out of the stencil with the many small holes! After presing about a dozen cookies, I swapped over to make the ones you can see above.

I sandwiched some of the melting moments with Christine Ferber's Confiture au Petales de Roses, one of three jars of her jams that we picked up in France. I heated the jam, add some gelatine powder and then cool before smearing it onto the flat of one cookie and gently pressing the flat side of another against it.The exquisite rose flavour in this confiture not only complemented the butteriness of the melting moments, but lifted them to another level altogether. I may be tempted to sandwich more of the melting moments together...

Vanilla Salted-Peanut Cookies
3/4 cup shortening, 2 cups packed brown sugar, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt, 2 eggs, 1 tba vanilla, 1.5 cups AP flour, 2 cups rolled oats, 1 cup dry roasted peanuts, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/2 cup flaked coconuts
  1. Beat shortening with eloectric mixer until soft before adding brown sugar, baking soda and salt and beating until combined.
  2. Beat in eggs and vanilla, then flour.
  3. Stir in oats, followed by peanuts, raisins and coconut.
  4. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls ontocookie sheet and bake at 190C for 7-9 min until lightly browned. Makes ~60.

Melting Moments
455 g SR flour, 225g sugar, 225g butter, 2 eggs

  1. Mix flour, sugar, butter and eggs in large bowl to form soft dough
  2. Place into cookie press and push dough out onto cookie sheet
  3. Bake at 150C for 20-30 min until golden.

Gong Xi Fatt Cai

On the eve of Chinese New Year, families traditionally gather for a reunion dinner. This year, we invited some work friends over to have dinner with us at mum & dad's. Mum kindly cooked up a feast for us, starting with Yee Sang, which we tossed enthusiastically to help bring in prosperity and good fortune!

We also had two kinds of noodles, tender octopus, spicy wok-tossed prawns, cold chicken with peanuts (courtesy of A and Ant's Bistro), baked chicken stuffed with glutinous rice, stir-fried beef, shop-bought roast duck and chicken curry puffs:

Following a breather of good conversation, dessert was brought to the table: homemade pineapple tarts, coconut macaroons that we had brought back from Strasbourg, miniature curry puff-shaped, fried sweet that is filled with peanuts and sugar and a homemade snack that I don't know the name of - a thin batter that is either fried of baked in a mould that creates 8 holes in the centre then sprinkled with sesame seeds. Of course, there is always a fruit platter:

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year!

WCB 34

This photo was taken in the middle of the day, when Bella & Tasha can usually be found napping. We recently found out while watching a documentary about lions that big cats sleep around 20 hours each day. Our not-so-big cats sleep for most of the day too, going directly into nap mode after breakfast. Although they will occasionally wake to take a stretch or to have a sip pf water, they can quite easily nap from morning until around 4 or 5pm. They chase each other around for a little after dinner before falling onto our laps in exhaustion to catch some z's, then do some more exploring in the middle of the night before sleeping til dawn. What a life!

I love the way that Tasha has her chin jutting out so that it hangs over the side of the bed. I think she's learning how to pose for the camera!

For this WCB, please visit boo-licious at masak-masak for the round up.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Our Favourite City - PARIS!

Our first visit to Paris coincided with a conference that I was attending. When we emerged out of the train station just at the end of Rue des Acacias, where our hotel was located, we were struck speechless by our first glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe, the structure more imposing than suggested by the ubiquitous postcard pictures. We spent any free time away from the conference on the Champs Elysee, soaking in the Parisian atmosphere. Being our first time in Europe, I was eager to visit all the museums and art galleries in case I never had the chance to return, resulting in our subtly pushing into the long, sometimes 1.5 hour summer tourist queues (terrible, I know, but have you seen the lines?), speed-walking through museums and art galleries and breezing through the other major attractions Paris had to offer. The Contiki tour that we joined following the conference also did not allow us much time in each country we passed through, so we only caught tantalising glimpses of all Europe had to offer. As a direct result of our initial whirlwind tour of Europe, our subsequent visits saw us avoiding museums and art galleries like the plague. On our second trip, we attended a conference in Florence but found ourselves drawn back to what was quickly becoming our favourite city. One evening, we were exploring the St Germain area when A. decided that he wanted to select a bouquet of flowers for me from this place:

So, he made me wait on the other side of the narrow street while he choose some flowers. There wasn't much else to do except watch people lining up and selecting their bread from this bakery:

After an age (and a half!), I was presented with a tightly-packed bouquet of pure white, gloriously-scented roses. We sat down at the restaurant next door for a meal of fresh seafood before walking across the Pont Neuf then along the Seine.

Not long after we had started strolling along the river, A. got down on one knee to propose. To be quite honest, I don't remember a word of the speech that he made (and neither does he, nervous as he was!), but I knew without a doubt that I had found my soulmate in this wonderful man, and so overwhleming was this thought that I promptly burst into tears. Of course, the answer was yes and the last (almost) three years have been amazing!

Fast forwarding to this trip: nowadays, we prefer to limit our visits to one or two cities instead of rushing around like headless chooks trying to fit everything into a short trip. An embarrasing amount of our sightseeing takes place in grocery stores, fresh food markets, delis, pastry shops, bakeries and the like (blush). More on this topic in the next post...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

This post has been a LONG time coming! I've been busy with work and also lazy about posting about our dinner here because these photos do not do any justice at all to the food. Let me quickly add that this is not a reflection on my photography skills although I have a long way to go in this department, but rather a problem with taking photos at close range with a disposable camera.
So, why was I using a disposable camera in the first place? Well, during one of our outings in Prague, we pulled out our compact digital to take a photo of ourselves in the snow. It was very chilly, and I can now tell you from experience that it is difficult to handle a camera when your hands are enveloped in thick, warm woolly gloves. It's easy to have the camera suddenly slip from your hands to hit the hard, icy ground and become damaged...and for you to have to purchase a disposable camera so that you can continue taking photos on your trip...
We arrived in Paris from Strasbourg at around 6:00pm and immediately proceeded to promenade down the Champs Elysee, enjoying the ambience of this romantic city once again. After strolling around for about an hour, we started to look for a place to eat. We wandered over the Pont Royal to St Germain des Pres in search of dinner, but being Christmas night there were few people on the streets and fewer places that appeared to be open. We walked down a rather deserted Rue de Bac past one or two brightly-lit bistros that were silently waiting to be filled. As we turned onto Bd St Germain, we spotted red and white lettering on a black sign that read 'L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon'. We crossed the road, not knowing whether we needed a reservation or even if they were serving meals that night, however we were quickly and warmly welcomed into the cosy restaurant to sit at the bar facing the open kitchen. We ordered a couple of degustation-sized meals and although the photos are not in focus, the food was certainly our main focus that evening:
La lisette sur une tarte fine au parmesan

La sardine au confit de tomates

La chataigne en fin veloute au fumet

La langoustine en ravioli truffe, au chou

L’agneau de lait en cotelette au thym

Le chevreuil, mignonette a l’aigre doux

Our waitress was most agreeable in helping us to make our choices (and relaxed about me taking photos of food & kitchen) and kept a close eye on our progress to ensure that each serving came out immediately after the previous one had been cleared. They didn't rush our meal at any stage, but the pace at which the next dish was served was such that we wished there was more breathing space between. Our dishes were as good as you would expect from any top restaurant, but the goat was a real stand out for me as 1. it's not something that I would normally have and 2. it was so tender and rich that it reminded me of liver, almost. This was closely followed by the langoustine ravioli and the anchovy tart.

PS- A big hello to David & Mark from the Orange County if you are reading this!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Truffled Eggs!

We bought a truffle in Paris. And then we wondered what we were going to have it with and how we were going to have it, given that we were staying in a hotel with no cooking facilities. Well, I knew that I wanted to try it with eggs, so we bought some organic eggs from the food emporium in Galleries Lafayette.

We nestled the truffle with the eggs, wrapped them up and left them overnight: The next morning, I placed them gently in the kettle, filled it up with cold water and turned the kettle on. The eggs were left for a few more minutes after the water had come to a boil before being fished out with a teaspoon. Perfect soft boiled eggs with truffle shaved over the top! I left mine in for a little longer even and had hard boiled egg with shaved truffle.

Next time, I'm going to try frying an egg on the bottom of an iron :-)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Driving to Colmar and Baden Baden

So we were driving to Colmar, just south of Strasbourg, when we saw this on the highway:

Yes that's right, there was a little pony trotting merrily down the highway, seemingly oblivious to the traffic surrounding it. What's more, it was travelling in the fast lane! Every car had to slow down and pull into the slower lane in order to get around it. A police car was driving behind the little pony, trying to encourage it to one side so that cars could drive past and resume their normal driving speeds of >150 - 160km/hour. A. had such a lot of fun driving at these high speeds - we normally get to do 110km/h max.

We wandered through its Christmas market and browsed the local produce. For lunch, we had a potato, saucisson and sauerkraut dish that was mixed and cooked in a large pan but I forget the name of it. We enjoyed the hot potato and sausage mix (it was a cold day) but I didn't much like the sauerkraut. I guess I've only just come to appreciate olives and other pickles more recently anyway, so don't take my word for it.

I wanted to bring home that 1.5 metre loaf of oven-baked bread that you can see at the back of this stall, but I didn't think they would allow me to bring it on board the plane. They were also selling pain d-epice by the kilo here.

The next day, we crossed the German border to Baden Baden (I love the name!) and Karlsruhe. We met a girl in Baden Baden who had just returned from Perth and she was so excited to see some visiting Aussies that she showed us the CD of aboriginal music that she bought in Perth and also gave us a free Christmas decoration.

Look at the churros being made here. The man was squeezing the dough into the hot oil and snipping it off at lengths of around 17cm. When they turned a golden brown, they were quickly scooped up, drained and deposited in front of his wife. The churros were generously dusted with icing sugar and filled into paper cones for a line of customers waiting eagerly to get their paws on the hot Spanish doughnuts. As we had already had our fill of other Christmas goodies, we managed to tear ourselves away from this cart empty-handed.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Step-by-step Instructions for Kugelhopf

The Bredel Market in Strasbourg consisted of a number of undercover stalls that sold bredel, bredel and more bredel. This stall was an exception as they were demonstrating how to bake kugelhopf, a light yeasted bread that usually contain raisins and lemon peel and is topped with almonds. The ones they were making on this day contained chocolate chips.

Our compact digital camera broke down while we were in Prague. Although A. was finally able to fix it so that we could take some photos with it at a later stage (ie. I had to place my hand under the lens as I turned on the camera in case in it fell off, then soom to a certain point in order to focus), at this point we were shooting with a Kodak disposable camera (gasp!). When I took photos of the white-haired gentleman who was shaping the bread, he couldn't believe that I was using a disposable camera because he hadn't seen one in ages!

Strasbourg's Christkindlemarkt

Strasbourg, a city that used to belong to Germany but is now part of France, is well known for its French-German cuisine. In addition to hosting France's oldest Christmas market, this lovely city is also the birth place of Christmas trees, the tradition of cutting and decorating of which began in the 1600s.

Having heard about the beauty of their hometown from P & S, who are themselves currently living in Australia, we decided to spend the week before Christmas here. We stayed in a quaint and extremely pretty section known as La Petite France, whose timbered houses could have come straight out of a fairy tale. I felt like Gretel (of Hansel & Gretel fame) and was mightily tempted to try breaking off bits of the gingerbread-like houses to see how they would taste! La Petite France can be accessed by any one of the many bridges that cross the Ill River. In the photo below, you will see the pedestrian bridge that has been roped off and rotated 90 degrees to allow the boat through:

The most well-known Christmas market in Strasbourg is probably the one held under the imposing gaze of St Nicholas cathedral, but it is by no means the only one. We visited at least five other markets around the city area, some small and others large and one, the Bredel Market, which sold nothing but bredel (cookies), kugelhopf and pain d'epice.

We spent our time in Strasbourg wandering the streets, especially the elaborately decorated ones around St Nicholas (one had Baccarat chandeliers hanging overhead for the length of it). We drank vin chaud, pomme d'epice or jus d'orange chaud and ate crepes, the most delicious of which was the one served with lashings of caramel made with salted butter. Here's a picture of the Raclette Crepe that A had for lunch:

We also had to try the Alsatian Tarte Flambee, also known as Flammekueche, a thin crust pizza topped with with bacon, onion and a creamy fromage blanc that is baked in a wood-fire oven (thanks for the suggestion, Fab!):

At the other end of the market, we spotted rows and rows of Christmas trees that were being sold to residents to put up at home & to decorate:

One of my favourite sights was of the men capturing the trees and trussing them up like prisoners:

We also spotted another type of Christmas tree but unfortunately we didn't think one would make it home whole:

Gingerbread decorations and other goodies:

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Snowing in Prague

I had my first white Christmas experience this year! Although there was some snowfall when we were visiting New York last year, that was nothing compared to the beautiful snowfall we had in Europe this year! The showflakes were just drifting down gently to greet us. I couldn't help but stick my tongue out to catch the flakes as we were walking around. Hmmm, do you think people would have been looking at me funny?

Anyway, one of the loveliest sweets we had was in Prague - a honey cake. It was moist, with spongy layers of cake layered with coffee-flavoured cream. It's pictured here with almond toast.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Mint Tea Break

What could be better than sitting in a cosy cafe and having a hot cup of mint tea, with fresh mint no less, after walking around the sity streets of Prague?

Cafe Ebel in the Tyn Courtyard was the perfect place to do this. We watched people having croissants with jam and cream and a big Rhodesian Ridgeback trying hard not the fall asleep in the warmth of the cafe.