Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hi all! I'm in a small Austrian town called Schwaz. There are hills all around, some with snow n it\s gorgeous here. We walked up the hills last night. I didnn't sing do re mi but I did sing praise to God for his glorious creations. I love small towns. We were in Salsburg zesterdaz and it was the place I least enjoyed. Other than being the birthplace of Mozart and where The Sound Of Music was filmed, ther\s nothing spectacular there.

HAVE TO GO. :EAVING for Lucerne where it\ll be cold. bze.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bratislavia Where?

I'm writing from Holiday Inn, Bratislavia, the capital of Slovakia (Slovak Republic). Frankly, I thought Slovakia is Serbia. This trip is doing me good.I§m learning.

We were in Prague, Czech Republic yesterday and I was disappointed at first. It is an old, untidy city and a little dirtier than the recent cities I've been to. Then we went to the Old Square where every lane and corner was charming and lovely. But then it started to drizzle, first time since London, and that was inconvenient. We had the best weather last week in Paris. Hub and I took the metro (easy to use) to Charles Bridge at 9:30 pm and when we turned the corner and saw the magical, fairy-tale sight of the castle and buildings on the hill across the bridge and river, I was totally blown away. It was the most beautiful sight so far. Paris by night is not even half as beautiful! (hooray, I figured out how to use the punctuation marks on this keyboard). I was upset with myself for the 10,000th time for not bringing Yi°ˇs SLR when I couldn't get a good photo of the Prague Castle area from the bridge. Anyone who has a good photo of the castle and bridge by night pls send to me..

We leave for Hungary tomorrow. Have to go, I've been hoarding this computer. Hot off the camera, photos taken an hour ago in Bratislavia:



The next photo was taken in Prague (known as Praha and pronounced pra ha by the locals), after crossing the Charles Bridge into the area around the Prague Castle. The area is old, very quaint and lovely.

p.s. does anyone know of a clean, inexpensive, conveniently%located hotel in Rome? We break away from the tour in Rome and need to get our own hotel.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hi From Delft, Nederlands

Been wanting to post but everyday is so packed, full from morning to evening! We've never walked SO MUCH. My legs hurt so bad sometimes I can't even walk normally, shuffling by the end of the day. 

The Dutch are the nicest & friendliest people, apart from also looking great, with glass-blue eyes and tall, perfect physiques! From the Schiphol airport to Delft, we took the train and bought tickets from one of the tickets machine. We didn't know what 40% discount tickets were but bought them anyway, about 11 euros for two of us, and halfway to Delft, the train inspector checked our tickets and told us that we have to pay a fine of 40 euros each plus the difference in the fares because the discount tickets are only for people with the discount card. We pleaded innocent, he paused, and then told us he'll let us off. Imagine our relief.

Off the train, I sneezed (it was cold, about 4 or 5 C and I hate it) and three pretty young things blessed me. The second day, I was walking and stopped to rest, staring at my shoe because it hurt, a lady came up and asked if my feet was hurting. How nice can they  get! They are so warm, they greet each other with three kisses--left, right and left again. When the guys give your change, they'll wink at you. So cute.

I've so many things to share about my trip but there's no time to blog! We are leaving for Paris tomorrow on a 2-week tour, a change from our original plan of travelling alone. We wanted at first to take the Eurorail but the tickets could only be bought at Schiphol or Amsterdam, and because Heathrow is closed today due to the ash cloud, Schnipol is in confusion while lines in Amsterdam for the tickets usually take 4 hours! We were in Rotterdam (lots of modern buildings, different from Den Haag/The Hague and Amsterdam) today, sorting out the tour and tickets. The tour that leaves on Wed is full so we have to buy a HiSpeed ticket ourselves to Paris where we'll join up with the tour. Everything is so last minute and prices have gone up a lot but the euros' down, from RM4.2 to 1 euro when we started out on the trip to RM3.95 to 1 euro today. Hooray!

We start out early tomorrow. Goodnight!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Re-Post: Men Tiao

I should be in London by 12th May; pray that the ash cloud doesn't act up, not until after I reach The Netherlands on 14th May. Or better yet, pray that all the ash'll disappear. Meanwhile, here's a scheduled re-post. This is a recipe I think everybody should have! You don't have to make it fancy, just noodles, slices of meat and some greens. It's a quick dish but so filling and tasty. If I could, I'd copyright this, it's that good :)
Men tiao

I've always wanted to post this recipe because each time I eat this, I'm thinking of all those single or away-from-home students who'll appreciate this because it's so quick to cook yet absolutely delicious. If you are tired of instant noodles and don't have time to soak your mi fen or rush out to buy fresh egg noodles, this is it. All you need is an egg, plain flour and water and you'll make slippery-smooth, soft yet el dente noodles in less than 5 minutes! No kneading or rolling, no pre-cooking of the noodles and most of all, no additives or preservatives (other than what's already in the flour). Slice some meat and veg and you can prepare a very tasty bowl of wholesome, home-made noodles. Serve it with a chili-lime-Maggi soy sauce dip, or Sichuan hot chili and peppercorn oil, and it's comfort food, especially on chilly days.

This is what my Shanghainese MIL cooks now and then for lunch, and we love it. Sometimes she cooks it with pork slices and Taiwan bok choy and sometimes minced pork and xue cai, a preserved veg. Today I used seafood (squid, fish and prawns), pork liver and watercress. Basically whatever I have in the fridge so I don't need to run out into the hot sun. I love knowing that every morning for the rest of my life when I wake up, it's not going to be -20 C and snowing, but it's been scorching hot these couple of weeks and I miss dark, gloomy, rainy days when I can sit out and sip my coffee.

It does take a bit of practice to get evenly-thick strands of noodles and I got my MIL to demonstrate making men tiao for us today. I wonder how many of you out there has eaten this noodle before? If not, try it, you'll thank me I'm sure!

Men Tiao (serves 2-3)
250 g plain flour
1 egg
3/4 to 1 cup water (depending on the flour used)

1. Mix everything together in a bowl until batter is very smooth. It should be very thick.If too thin, the noodles will be too soft and the soup will be cloudy instead of clear. MIL said it's best if you leave it to rest at least 1 hr. I have had an experience where I used flour with higher gluten (like Blue Horse) and an hour later, the batter was too sticky to use. So, I usualy leave it for 15 min. before cooking but I have also used it straightaway without any adverse results.

2. Meanwhile, you can prepare your soup ingredients: any meat slices and veg. Season the meat with sesame oil, white pepper, salt and a little bit of cornflour.

3. Put 6-7 cups of chicken stock/water into a pot (you can fry some shallots in oil until soft and then add the water/stock, for extra flavor if like) and when it boils, add the pork if using that. If using seafood or beef or chicken, I like to put them at the end after all the noodles are in so that they don't toughen.

4. Now hold the bowl and tip it until the thick batter is at the rim of the bowl. Using one chopstick, 'cut' the batter and let it drop into the stock. When batter has dropped off the chopstick, dip the chopstick into the water/stock to wet it so that the next noodle will drop off easier.



5. Repeat until all the batter is done, stirring the noodles now and then so they don't stick together. You must have your soup at a full boil (mine wasn't because I cooked it in my outdoor kitchen and it was rather breezy today) and work quickly so that the noodles cook at the same time. Do not cook more than this amount of batter each time or you'll take too long and the soup will be cloudy.

6. Add the seafood/chicken/beef, let it boil and add the veg and switch fire off. Season to taste with salt.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cynthia McCorkindale

Three years ago, while passing by a music CD shop, I heard a beautiful voice singing a French song. Since then, Cynthia McCorkindale's Bistro Blue has been my favorite CD to play on happy days and on nights when we have dinner parties.  My family knows that mom's in a happy mood if they hear Cynthia's songs. The CD has been taken from my car into the house and from the house into the car so many times that it's quite scratched by now. 10 out of the 11 tracks in Cynthia's Bistro Blue album are in French which I don't understand but somehow can sing along with, especially when driving alone. If you see me in my car and I'm dangerously oblivious to everything outside, rolling my shoulders, smiling and talking to myself, you can be sure I am singing and moving to Cynthia's songs. Cynthia has a beautiful voice and sings in a style that's  soothing, sensual, mellow, fun, capitvating (am I repeating?) and flirtatious, in an alluring but nice way. I'm not a musical person at all but my music taste is discerning and simple: whatever music that pleases  me, whatever music that moves my emotions, I'll enjoy it.

Two months ago, I received a mail from Cynthia McCorkindale.  Cynthia had found my mention of her Bistro Blue album in my post on my friend's wedding anniversary and wrote to thank me.  I checked her email address and found that it really was Cynthia who wrote, and I wrote back after which I was too excited to fall asleep all night. A few emails and weeks later, Cynthia sent me 4 CDs (2 of Bistro Blue and 2 of Meant To Be Blue, her first album which is filled with beautiful melancholic blues) with a hand-written note. I was SO touched. I love Cynthia's voice and music and to know that she actually took the time and trouble to send me her CDs just makes me feel so special and blessed.

Thank you, Cynthia, for your generoisity and kindness and for making my life happy through your songs. 

Here's Cynthia's La Mer (the sea), a song from Bistro Blue, a song that evokes feelings that I can't adequately describe. Happiness, fun, hope, all things good life promises. And oh, France and things French.  Which is what I'm looking forward to as I fly off to London (and Europe) in two hours. I'll be posting my travels for my own records and also to stay connected to you. Pray that the volcano shuts up & the euros to continue to fall :D. Au revoir!


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pizza Fritta (Yes!) & A Monte Cristo Sandwich (No!)

A version of the Monte Cristo sandwich not dipped in batter and fried.

Don't believe anyone who tells you a Monte Cristo sandwich is like a croque monsieur because it's not. A Monte Cristo sandwich is a ham/turkey and cheese sandwich dipped in an egg, flour and milk batter and deep fried. That sounds like typical greasy American diner fried food which can be very tempting to some but gross to me. I searched for a healthier version and found it in Saveur. The bread is French-toasted, then sandwiched with slices of ham, turkey and cheese and then pan-fried. Because the recipe said to press the sandwich while frying, the resulting sandwich tasted like the heavy compressed piece of French toast that it was. Disappointing so I won't give you the link to the recipe. Next is a totally thumbs up recipe.

I had leftover dough from the breakfast pizza yesterday and when he came home from school today, Wey wanted to make his own pizza. He said he would fry it and then grill it, according to page 59 of Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie's Italy'. The boy reads cookbooks at bedtime and has stored up many recipes to try.  I was doubtful but didn't want to interfere with his culinary creativity/curiosity so I left him alone in the kitchen. A while later, he came to me with this:

Pizza fritta knocked my socks off (sorry, that's how I felt too Jamie except I wasn't even wearing socks)

This is pizza fritta, fried pizza. I thought it tasted better than baked pizza although it was oilier. The golden fried pizza bases looked like naan and yu ja gui but were pillowy soft. Absolutely delicious! According to Jamie, this is how the first pizzas were made: fried in a pan and then grilled to melt the cheese.

Just roll your dough on a lightly floured surface into a small piece (say hand-size) about 1/4"/0.5 cm thick,  it doesn't have to be regular circle, let it rest 10-15 minutes and fry in 1/2 cup of oil in a small pan. Turn over afer 30 seconds and fry another 30 seconds, remove and place on a kitchen paper to catch the oil, then put on a baking tray. Smear each base with a spoonful of tomato sauce, top with (buffalo) mozzarella and dried oregano or basil leaves and put  under a hot grill (Wey used the toaster oven grill) until the cheese is melted. Wey was resourceful and used whatever ingredients he found in the fridge. Thanks to Wey, I've discovered pizza fritta!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bacon & Eggs Breakfast Pizza

Bacon & eggs breakfast pizza: individual 8" pizza, crust was too thick but filling for a growing teen.

This is featured right now on Saveur's website and it looked brilliant and yummy so I made it straightaway. The recipe comes by way of Smitten Kitchen, the blog that won Saveur's Best Food Photography Award this year. Smitten adapted the recipe from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. Gotta get the cookbook, for the recipes and the photos of Big Sur. I love the Big Sur area: the missions, the rugged coast, the 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach and the famous golf club, Carmel and the restaurants nestled among the trees overlooking the Pacific. I just don't get the fuss about The Lone Tree.

This breakfast pizza has just eggs, bacon and cheese and no tomato base. I wanted to add some shiitake mushrooms but couldn't find any locally grown ones and we don't like the ones from China because they are too heavily scented. If I was running out of time, I'd use flatbread--pita, chappati--but I wasn't so I made the simple pizza dough (just bread flour, salt, yeast and water, no oil or sugar unlike the usual pizza dough) according to the recipe, left the dough in the fridge overnight and got up at 4:30 am to take the dough out. Actually that was my plan but I couldn't get up so Hub did. It's good to be married to an early riser if you aren't one.

One ball of dough is to make one 12" pizza but I found that makes a crust that's thicker than usual.  If I were to do it again, I'll make it a 13 or 14" with 4 eggs.  I made two 8" very thick-crust pizzas with one ball of dough so if you like your pizza thinner, make three 6" pizzas with that amount of dough.  I made little changes to the recipe for my convenience. I decreased the salt in the dough and also needed to add extra water . As usual, since I know my yeast is good, I dumped all the dough ingredients into the mixer bowl without waiting for the yeast to froth. Since I don't have a pizza stone, I baked the pizza on the lowest rack and cranked my oven to the highest temperature it can go, 250 C. That temperature is still too low for this pizza because the eggs were just nice by 7 minutes but the crust was still underdone. I don't know if  it was the size of the eggs because my eggs weren't large. To counter the underdone crust and overdone eggs, next time I'll bake the pizza with the cheese first and then crack the eggs over halfway through, or just make sure to use large eggs. The smaller pizzas were okay at 6-7 minutes with the fan on. I fried the bacon and got the cheese and garnish ready the night before so the pizzas took about 10 minutes to prepare and another 7 minutes to bake. So it's a little more work than cereal and milk or grilled cheese sandwiches but I think Wey found it a fun and tasty change to his usual breakfast. I hope Nathan, who car pools with Wey, likes it too  (I let them eat in the car). Hub said it was very good too, and it was, but if you, like me, thought this is pizza, you'll be missing the tomato sauce.

p.s. When Wey came home from school, I hounded him about this morning's breakfast and he said the pizza was excellent "with a capital 'E'". How can I not love him to bits??


Bacon & Eggs Breakfast Pizza (makes 2 x 12" pizzas)
1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast
2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup lukewarm water, plus more if necessary
1/2 t salt (reduced from 1 t)
6 strips bacon, fried until crispy & cut into small pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups grated mozzarella
6 large eggs
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 scallions, thinly sliced (I replaced with basil leaves)

* In warm weather, I prefer using cold water so that the dough will not be a shaggy mess but in cold weather, do use lukewarm water. Add more water by the spoonful if the dough is too dry, add flour by the spoonful if too wet. The dough after kneading should be soft and smooth.

1. Make the dough the night before. Put the flour, water and salt into your mixer bowl and use a dough hook to knead the dough until it is soft and smooth, about 7-8 minutes. Divide the dough into two balls and with your palm over the dough ball on a lightly floured work surface, roll each into a tight ball. Dust a cake pan with flour and put the dough balls inside, then put the pan into a plastic bag, seal it and leave it in the fridge overnight. This'll give time for the dough to relax so that it's easier to stretch.

2. Take the dough out to warm up about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before using it. Switch on oven to the highest temp, about 230 to 250 C in most home ovens.

3. Dust your work surface and roll each piece of dough ball into a 12-13" circle.  Place the pizza  base on a well-floured pizza pan or oven tray, patting out the pizza to stretch it but leaving the edges thicker than the center. Use half the ingredients for each of the pizza: first the cheeses, then the bacon and finally, crack the eggs over. Season with freshly ground pepper and salt (I forgot so I did this after the pizza was done). Alternatively, top the pizza with the cheese and bake 4 minutes, then remove the tray (careful!) from the oven and crack the eggs over and bake another 4 minutes so the yolks are still runny. Or use large eggs as recommended.

4. Bake the pizzas (I found they cooked better with the fan on) until the crust is browned and the egg still easy/runny (less than 8 minutes esp. if you have the fan on) and remove from oven. Sprinkle the parsley, chives and shallot over.

Please refer to Smitten Kitchen's recipe if you are baking on a pizza stone.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nam Yue Pork & Wood Ears

Not very convincing by looks, 'wood ears' cooked with pork and nam yue is a very tasty home dish not found in restaurants.

Ew. Does look like an ear. Woods' ear. Wood ear I mean.

Not exactly pretty, wood ears are crunchy and tasteless so they take in the flavor of the ingredients they are cooked with.

'Wood ears' are fungus, like mushrooms, and they grow on wood and without much imagination, they look like ears.

A smaller, more delicate type of edible fungus similar to wood ears is cloud ears. Because cloud ears are thinner and more delicate, they are used in quick stir fries and vegetarian baos while wood ears are stewed. Both types of 'ears' are usually sold dried although the wood ears in these photos are fresh. It's the first time I cooked fresh wood ears and they turned out exactly like the dried ones except fresh 'ears' are fresher. Duh.

Many Chinese herbalists and medicine shops swear by the medical benefits of eating wood ears. Among the miracles wood ears supposedly can do for your body are lowering of cholesterol, blood pressure and the whole works it seems. Personally I eat wood ears for the crunch and the fact that they have lots of fibre and hardly any calories. So yes, like kelp, wood ears are good fillers for days when you are hungry but you weigh more than before you went on the diet and you look like a blimp even when you stand sideways.

Traditionally the meat for this dish is belly pork but if that's too oily for you, or pork isn't your kind of meat, use chicken thighs. I would leave the skin on but trim off the thick, fat-padded parts.

Nam Yue Pork & Wood Ears (serves 4) 
400 g pork belly with skin, in 2 cm-thick slices
300 g fresh wood ears (or 50-70 g dried*)
2 pieces nam yue (use less and add more later if necessary)
4-5 T nam yue sauce (the soaking liquid)
1/4 bulb garlic, unpeeled & smashed
1/3 cup water

* soak in water for 15 minutes, pick away the stems and wash several times. Tear into smaller pieces. Do same with the fresh wood ears.

1. Heat a casserole glass pot and add the pork without oil. Fry until the pork has turned white.

2. Add the nam yue, mashing them, and stir into the meat, about 1-2 minutes. Add the nam yue liquid and  stir another 1-2 minutes and then add the water, stirring to mix well. Do not add more water as the pork'll give out liquid too. Cover and let simmer for about 45 to 60 minutes (stir in between) without adding anymore water unless all the water has dried up which is unlikely with a glass pot. If using dried wood ears, add them when the pork is 90% tender. If using fresh wood ears, add them when the pork is done because the fresh wood ears can turn too soft. Stir through, let it come to a boil and switch the heat off. Let the stew sit for at least 5 minutes for the sauce to permeate the pork and wood ears.

3. Re-heat the stew and serve hot with plain rice.
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