A blade shines in the darkest of the nights
Happy April Fool's day, everyone! This day celebrated worldwide is however known in France as 'Poisson d'avril' (April Fish). On this day, like the rest of the world, jokes are played on family and friends and the medias are all so full of funny hoaxes - it's hard to know the reality from the jokes. For the children in France, it's the day where they have fun discretely sticking a paper shaped fish on their parents, teachers and friends back.
Dear Readers, you must be like me as curious as a cat wanting to know why it's call April Fish here. Well, sadly the story is kind of blurry, but is connected to the fact that in some part of France, the year-end was celebrated around 1st of April in the Middle-Age, and the end of Lent during which meat was forbidden and fish was the alternative. Oh, admit it, you feel kinda let down like me by the the lack of mystery surrounding this fish day.
Now guess who is all excited jumping out of bed this morning when I went to wake her up? Yes you guessed it right (sorry no price for guessing it right this time) - Little One! You see, it's her first 'Poisson d'avril'. So she was all excited this morning, jumped out of bed in excitement 'Mommy, it's Poisson d'avril' today!' 'We got to hurry up - dress up and make some fish.' Boy, was she fast in dressing up and finishing her breakfast! (record time) Quickly some fishes were cut out and coloured with a sticker tap on. Giggling with excitement, she just couldn't wait to reach school to stick one on the back of her teacher. Said teacher was sportive enough to pretend she didn't see that coming and turned her back for Little One to stick it on it. You should have seen that glee on her face when she did it and said 'Poisson d'avril' to her teacher and giggling non-stop. PRICELESS! I wish I could capture that moment on camera and freeze frame it forever. Then she went into her class and sticked another one on her best friend, Lise, giggling. Ahh... it's so wonderful to see things through the eyes of a 3 year old. Thank you dear daughter for reminding me what's like to be a child again. And who says we, adults, can't have fun like Little One. I dare you to stick a coloured paper shaped fish on your family, friends and colleagues next year - it'll be a nice French touch.
Which brings me to this chicken kebab. Well not, but bear with me, it's a slow day.
(Taken from Moti Mahal's Tandoori Trail by Monish Gujral)
It's flavorful and the cardamom is definitely strong here! Thanks to the thick creamy cheese coating around the kebab, the chicken doesn't feel dry at all and is very succulent. Both Pierre & Little One loved it very much.
I have no idea what type of vinegar the author of the book used so I just replaced it with apple cider vinegar that I have in my pantry. It still turned out succulently delicious.
Grated Cheese - Please do not use prepackaged emmental grated cheese in this recipe like I did. They won't stick to your chicken in the marinate. What it calls for in this recipe is finely grated cheese. Or you can cut pre-grated emmental cheese further up with scissors to make it finer.
If you like kebab, try this too :
Dear Readers, my apologies for not blogging anything new for a week. After my laptop died on me a few weeks ago, I started using my old PC (used to work on this PC before Little One was born) as an alternative but there were a few things I didn't quite bargain for. Like it used to have very weak Wifi signal that would most of the time prevent me from saving my post, but that was finally fixed by Pierre with a €69 plug. However it didn't fix the age of this PC - surfing or even typing something online is something else when we are also used to newer and faster PC. Just to give a general idea: I can type faster than it can print the letters on screen! I can take 40 winks while reading newspaper or blogs. Yep, it's that slow. So please do bear with me for a while until I get a new laptop.
Today, we are going to make a Verrine. I'm sure you have seen lots of cookbooks specialising on Verrine and even had it in the restaurants, as they have become very popular lately. You might be wondering like I did, what precisely is Verrines?
"A verrine is a confection, originally from France, made by layering ingredients in a small glass. It can be either sweet or savoury, making a dessert or snack." (Wikipedia)
So what has today's 'Verrine' got to do with The 4 Velveteers? Well, after our great adventure at making au naturel Red Velvet Cake (hence our name sake - Aparna, Asha, Alessio & I) and enjoyed it thoroughly, we decided to make it into a monthly event to spur each of us to great heights in our cooking/baking arena. For this month, we decided to make a savoury Verrine. To make it more challenging, we decided to do a blind concoction: each of us picked a secret ingredient and the 4 ingredients were revealed at the same time. I picked Salmon, Aparna chose Cheese while Asha decided on Squash/Pumpkin. Now, of course, Alessio being Al, has to throw all of us out of the loop with his pick of Chocolates. Yes you read it correctly. CHOCOLATES!
This month challenge is quite a difficult one for me as I'm not a great cook like Aparna, Alessio, or Asha. I still have a lot to learn. To be honest with you, I have never made anything with pumpkin or made a verrine before. The last time I tried to make a pumpkin tart, it turned out to be a disaster but my in laws and Pierre bravely ate it all the same. (Well that's another story) Anyway, I toyed with different mix and layers in my head for weeks. At first I wanted to make a curried pumpkin version to go with fresh salmon like sashmi but my curried pumpkin turned out awful. (had to dump it in the bin) so I stroke off that idea. Smoked salmon came to my mind a little bit too late as we have already done our grocery shopping for the week, so I had to stick to original idea of using fresh salmon. Then my mind was roused by the delicious fragrance of steamed gingered salmon with nice crunchy refreshing cucumber. Now how to pair it with cheese, pumpkin & chocolates was another challenge. Soon the idea of chived mixed with cottage cheese with small bits of dark chocolates started playing in my mind - then came the idea of having something crispy like chips ...voilà pumpkin chips was born. So with all that in mind, I finally set out to make my very special verrine. Hope you'll like it too.
Preparing Salmon layer
Making Pumpkin Chips
Preparing Cheese layer
Assembling Velveteers Verrine
To my great surprise, it actually turned out good. The ingredients really blends well. The crushed layer of pumpkin chips gives a good flavour and texture to the chived cheese. The introduction of dark chocolate bits in the cheese was kinda odd at first but once we get over the surprise, we start to enjoy this new taste and find that it actually fits. The gingered salmon turned out really good. Overall, you have a very fragrant taste with a crunchy yet springy and refreshing savour all at once.
On the hindsight, I think mozzarella cheese would have been more ideal than cottage cheese as mozzarella is more firm and springy in taste which would go better with the soft textured salmon. For the salmon, perhaps it might have been better to steam it as a whole instead of in small pieces, to make it firmer. And also a more generous layer of roughly crushed pumpkin chips on top. I would like to make this again with this adjustment and experiment with making one with fresh raw salmon with a squeeze of lemon juice (perhaps).
When making pumpkin chips, it is best to wipe the plate now and then or else oil accumulates and your chips will turn out to be very oily.
The 4 Velveteers (as we called ourselves) are hosting a monthly event that explores food, cuisine or our passion about something that catches our interests. All of us shares our recipes, experiences and verdicts on our blogs. Every month will be a surprise - we never know what we'll make next. So if you're interested in joining the Velveteers, please feel free to drop by our food blogs and leave a comment and we will get back to you.
Do check out what the other Velveteers have come up with:
Making home-made cheese is something that I have always wanted to do but haven't got the guts for it - fear of failure I guess and wasting milk. So when Daring Bakers' announced that we have to make Mascarpone Cheese as part of their February challenge issued by Deeba & Aparna, I was excited but at the same time a bit apprehensive about it. I mean, making cheese sounds so professional. Can I do it? Will I succeed? Pushing my doubts aside, I said to myself: I've lots of time left before the reveal date. Well, time flies when you are having fun... and before long, the dateline for Dbs' challenge was staring at my face. Cornered, I had no choice but to face my fear. Frankly, it's just so ridiculous that I get all so stressed up about it. It's just making cheese, for goodness sake! If it didn't turn out right, it's no big deal, just try again, right?. But I guess we all have our own weird phobia of failures. LOL!
Facing my fear I did. Although I did try to duck out of it when seeing in the recipe that we needed pasterized cream and not ultra pasteurization or UHT (ultra-high temperature treatment). A search on the net gave me conflicting informations. Some sites claim that it won't give you cheese (can't remember the reasons behind it anymore) while others say that as long as you are making soft cheese like mascarpone, it can be done. Since I have only UHT cream with 30% fat in my pantry, I decided to just use it following Ninja's philosophy: if we don't experiment with it, we'll never know!
At first I tried Vera's method cooking the cream on skillet but after like an eternity, still no sign of any bubbles - a cue for me to add lemon juice (I don't have a cooking thermometer, you see... *hint*hint* to whoever wants to get me a gift). So I decided to switch to bain-marie - nope, still no bubbles. Anyway I decided to just squeeze a few drops of juice in the cream to see if anything happens...what can I lose, right? And the cream had been cooking for quite long enough. Well, NOTHING was darn happening! Arrgggh! Stir, stir, stir... can't tell whether it is milk scum or is it really thickening, but something was sure coating my spatula. LOL! I was getting pretty desperate at this point. I mean how long can I cook this cream? I decided to ditch the bain-marie method, put it on direct low heat and a few more drops of lemon juice for the road. Blink! Blink! Like magic, it was thickening. (yes, for a minute there, I doubted my own eyes) Hurray! Did a happy cheese dance 'I'm so excited. Yeah yeah yeah!'
OK, now that I had it thickened... How do I know what's the right consistency? Did a little stove dance: burner, off burner, back to burner as I wasn't sure if it was thick enough. LOL! Anyway, after a while, I decided to stop the musical stove with my mascarpone and let it cool for 20 minutes. Miracle! It had thickened. As I had to leave for grocery shopping, I put it in the fridge to cool while it was kinda warm. Came back a few hours later and found a nice thick textured mascarpone. Did a finger dip - tasted fantastic! I didn't have any water dripping from the sieve like some other bloggers did. By the way, I didn't use cheese cloth for this - don't even know where to buy it here in France so I used the alternative: hub's good old cotton handkerchief. And yes, it's a freshly cleaned one if any of you were wondering. It works like a charm.
(taken from Vera's Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)
Makes: 12oz/ 340gm of mascarpone cheese
I like the tastes of home-made mascarpone better than the one bought from the store. It's creamy and silkenly delicious. I don't really know how to describe but it just taste differently good.
If the above method doesn't work for you, cook the cream on direct very low heat. But be careful not to burn it or else you will get a burnt flavoured mascarpone cheese.
If you don't have any cheesecloth at home, you can also use cotton kitchen towel, a big handkerchief or any coarse cloth. You can also use those newborn cotton nappy cloth that we often us as diapers, light blanket or wipers etc.
Pierre & I are so proud of Little One: she got accepted for Taekwondo class. I know it's nothing special but she is only 3½ years old and the minimum age for this class is 5 years old with a few 4 years old accepted on a case to case basis. Last week, my friend, Sharon checked with the teacher if Little One could join his class together with her son. He was a bit hesitant about her ability to follow instructions, discipline etc. but he decided to give her the benefit of the doubt after Sharon sang praises about Little One. Needless to say, she was all excited and looking forward to this day, talking non-stop about it and practicing her karate chop-chop since last week. So at the tryout on Wednesday, wooed and impressed the teacher she did. When I went to pick her up after her class, he kept praising her and giving me his thumbs up, telling me that she is good as those 5-6 years old in his class. Woohoo! Way to go, Little One! Bullies, watch out! This one will kick your ass if you dare to mess with her. LOL!
To celebrate this occassion, I decided to experiment with the left over dough from my Chinese Steamed Buns. I was curious to see how the buns would turned out if I incorporated some beetroot juice into the dough. The dough was a beautiful pinkish red but after steaming, it lost all the red tone, leaving a dull blotchy looking bun. But with a few strokes of brush of beetroot juice over the hot steaming buns, we got ourselves that beautiful red bun again.
This time around, I tried it out with cheese fillings using Laughing Cow (La Vache Qui Rit). I would recommend to try these cheese: cream cheese, blue cheese (if you like blue cheese), Saint Nectaire, Mont d'Or or any cheese that could melt easily.
It is so surprisingly delicious. The Laughing Cow cheese which is normally very mildly flavoured tasted as strong as some of those strong cheese. Even my father-in-law was surprised. Be careful when eating it because the melted cheese is still hot and it simply oozes out of the bun when you take a bite of it. I'm not a very cheesy person but I love the taste of this creamy cheese filled buns so much that I'm going to make more of it for breakfast. It's so yummy.
I also would like to thank lovely Renee of Flamingo Musings and Asha of Fork-Spoon-Knife for these 2 lovely awards: Happy 101 & Honest Scrap. For being the proud owner of these awards, I have to share some honest things about myself. So here they go in no particular order:
I'm forwarding these awards to some of my favourite bloggers whom I got to know when I first started blogging:
Lately Pierre has been lamenting AGAIN (see my posts on Moghlai Murgh, Beef Madras, Balti Butter Chicken, Prawns in coconut gravy & Grilled Broiled Prawns) about lack of haute Indian cuisine in Clermont-Ferrand (or more generally, France) and yearning for his luscious, lip smacking favourite restaurant, the Shahi Maharani in Singapore. So strong was his longings that even while driving, I would catch him murmuring to himself 'ahhh... if only I can move 'Shahi Maharani here.' with a broad grin on his face. He even suggested (not once but several times and counting) that I ask the manager of the restaurant for a post in their kitchen when we are back in Singapore, so that I can learn how to cook like they do but at home to his majesty desire. LOL! This man has no shame when it comes to his food.
Now I'm going to let you in a little bit more just how popular we are at Shahi Maharani. Bear in mind that we only go back to Singapore once a year. Every year, upon arriving in Singapore, we would go immediately to lunch or dine there after dumping our luggages at my parents place. Not just the manager but the staff also recognise us immediately when we stepped into their restaurant saying 'Welcome back. Happy to see you again. How long are you staying in Singapore this time around? How's your little daughter? Oh, she didn't come along with you today? Hope to see her next time when you come by again.' Trying not to turn me off going there, Pierre would sneak in a lunch or dinner there once every week or thrice if he could rassle it out of me. And as our departure for France approach, so is our rising dinning frequency at this restaurant. To a point, the Manager even gave us a discount on our bill and sometimes a free drink. LOL! And on the last day in Singapore, we both would strike a bargain : Lunch at Shahi Maharani, Dinner with my family before we leave for the airport, and he dreaming of his favourite restaurant on the plane.
Since I can't bring Shahi Maharani to him, I told him to choose a recipe from this Indian cookbook that sweet Deeba (upon hearing that how much Pierre loves Indian food) gave me in London when we met at Food Blogger Connect last November. It was filled with delicious recipes and it was hard to pick one out of so many. So he decided to pick whichever recipe that he just happened to flip open the book and honest truth, we weren't disappointed at all.
(Taken from Moti Mahal's Tandoori Trail by Monish Gujral)
The kebab is very tasty and aromatic - simply delicious, even though cardamom flavour is strong with this one! Like all grilled meat, the chicken breast is slightly dry yet very tender. It was so good that we had it for dinner and lunch the next day. We can't wait for warmer weather so that we can grill this outside. This recipe is definitely a keeper!
I didn't have gram flour, so I used cooked chickpeas (from a can) and mashed them. And add some olive oil to the creamy mixture. I also ground some green cardamon pods myself as I don't have it in powder form.
To make ginger & garlic paste: put equal amount of peeled garlic and ginger in food processor and process it. Add a bit of water if necessary to make a smooth paste. Keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freeze it in small quantity for later use. This can be used as marinate for meat, poultry and seafood or added to sauces.
Merry Christmas Everyone ! Hope Santa brought you lots of presents.
Winter for me is a sort of a love/hate thing. It means long cold cold days with sun rising only at 8 am and darkness already falling at 5 pm. Even after 7 years living in Europe, I still cannot get used this short daylight time. I dearly miss waking up with warm sunlight caressing my face in the morning - it's so delightful. The other thing I don't like about winter is the freezing cold - even with the right clothings, I can't go for a walk without my nose, cheeks and hands being frozen after a while. That alone is enough to put me off from going out and make me want to stand by the window with a warm cup of tea.
Other than that, I love winter because it means Christmas is around the corner and that gets me all excited like a little girl again. I don't know about you but for me, Christmas always evoke that magical joyful effects & spirit in me. I love seeing children's innocent eyes widen in delightful awe and wonder of this magical world of Santa Claus - not forgetting that famous line used by all parents (including me) that kids have to be good or else Santa won't bring you any presents.
Now the other wonderful thing about winter is FOOD - delicious sinful comfort food. We not only indulge during this period - we seriously convince ourselves that we need all this food to keep ourselves going during those cold winter days. One of those delightful food I'm going to present to you is called fondue (Cheese Fondue). It is mainly made up of 3 different type of cheese, a base blend cheese like emmental or gruyère (large quantity) and 2 more strongly flavoured cheese like comté or appenzeller, bathed in dry white wine in a earthenware pot called "caquelon" till the cheese melted. Spear a piece of hard stale bread with a fondue fork and dip into the cheese fondue. mmm... super yummy - Something so simple yet so nourishing and fun to eat.
hmm ... how else can I describe the taste ... it simply tastes cheesy of course I love the combination of the 3 different type of cheese together marinated and melted in white wine ... heavenly. It's quite addictive too.
The thing about fondue is that it needs 2 other strong cheeses to give that nice strong flavour. However, if you can only find 1 strong flavoured cheese, it will do also. Necessity makes law I guess.
Some add a bit of corn flour into the cheese fondue to thicken the mixture but we prefer sans it. If you don't have the above cheese, you can use emmental (the base) and 1 or 2 other stronger cheese like old cheddar cheese or beaufort.
Nowadays, one has a choice between owning a traditional caquelon (warmed by flame using liquid fuel) or an electrical fondue pot. With a powerful electrical one that goes up to 1000 watts, one can make the fondue directly in the pot instead of over a stove and then transferring it onto a stand over a burner.
Little One caught a bug after New Year and was sick for 3 days. It was no fun for her and me. You would think with her being so sick, she would be calling out 'mama' all the time .... oh no no no, the first word Miss Cheeky cried out while being so sick in bed in the middle of the night was Babar (the elephant) - her favourite story character. Each time she woke up, it's 'Babar' or 'mama, Babar' - meaning she wants to watch her favourite DVD Babar. Since then, it is always Babar, the first thing that is on her mind when she wakes up. I think we made a mistake when we introduced her to Babar.
Back to cooking, today I'm going to share with you a very nice recipe that involves lots of eggs and cheese. A Soufflé is easy to whip up yet delicate to bake. It's spectacular looking but must be eaten immediately after taken out of the oven or else it will crumble under its own weight (and that would be a pitty !).
It turns out very beautifully even when we removed it from the mould. For me, the taste is a bit like scrambled eggs with cheese. I simply love it. The texture is like soft bread that melts in your mouth. Little One who doesn't like cheese nor eggs was tugging in her share mouthful after mouthful.
One warning though, this soufflé is more nourishing and filling than it looks. After a few mouthful, I was already full. Given the ingredient list, it's not entirely surprising, eh ?
Soufflé goes very well with white wine like Bourgogne or Alsace. Other cheese than emmental should work, it might be interesting to experiment here.
Gougères [goozhair] are savory choux pastry with cheese - a specialty from Burgundy (France), traditionally made with Gruyère. These are mainly served as aperitifs.
My first taste of gougères was made by my mom-in-law who is quite a great cook. At the first bite, I fell in love with it immediately. It is so rich in flavour and I love that crunchy cheese toppings with the softness inside. It is very hard to stop eating it after the first one - which is probably a tragedy for your diet. Ever since then, I have always wanted to try making some myself but I didn't have the time and also I thought it was very difficult to do. Surprisingly it wasn't as complicated as I thought. In fact, it is very simple and easy to do and it doesn't take very long to get the batter ready for baking. If I can do it pretty quickly even with my baby girl clinging to my legs all the time, you can do it in a shorter time than me.
This recipe is taken from my mother-in-law's favourite cook book which is an old classic : Cuisine et Vins de France by the famous Curnonsky.
(taken from Cuisine et Vins de France - Curnonsky)
My mom-in-law said : "wow! Ils sont beaux. Mmm...félicitations. Ils sont bons et très bien réussi. Bravo!" (translation : wow! They turned out so beautifully. Mmm...congraulations. They are very good and perfectly done.) Didn't get any complaint and the whole batch disappeared in a rather short time, so I guess it was a success
Pierre and I felt that it would have tasted even better if we had added more cheese. And that the last batch of gougères baked with grated cheese on top tasted best as it had a very nice cheese aroma and crispy top.
Be warned: making these puffs using a wooden spoon needs a lot of muscle work. I did it like my MIL - use an electric mixer. I was tempted to do it manually but my MIL warned me that I will have a sore arm if I went down this road. Thank goodness, I listened to her: I could literally feel the pain of my poor hand held mixer - it was going fast at first and then laboured with great pain. My arms got tired just holding on to it !
Cheese: any type of strong cheese would do. We used cantal for our gougères because of its somewhat strong flavor, but you can experiment with whatever you have around (old blue cheese is also an option). The cheese can also be grated instead of cutting it into small cubes, making the puffs more homogenous but loosing the chunks of melted cubes.
Regarding eggs, my MIL used 6 big eggs whereas I used 8 medium size eggs. And the beating of the eggs, I followed my MIL advice - beat them all together at once. Glazing of the gougères is optional. My mom-in-law (MIL)and I baked ours without glazing and it still tasted very good. As for the thick cream, my mom-in-law always bakes hers without it. I baked mine with it just to see if there is any differences but I found none.