Monthly Archives: January 2012

For the love of Jamie


Another school week has ended, bringing us to the weekend of Epiphany.  We celebrated the Galette des Rois at CB’s with plenty of food and more presents. There we ate lollipop chicken, hungarian sausages, Italian Panettone and of course, the galette, accompanied by copious flutes of champagne.

Weekends are usually for rest and relaxation.  SS often has plenty of homework to complete and RN just wants to stay home and listen to music.  She said a very funny thing one Saturday morning, a few months back while lying on the floor, still in her PJs, head on a fluffed up cushion and a woollen sofa throw over her legs, “Ahhhhh! I dream of staying home everyday, listening to music in my pyjamas!”  She had her eyes shut, clearly in another world with Andrea Bocelli  playing in the background.  This child of mine!

Today was an exceptionally lazy Saturday.  My plan was for some R&R – reading, listening to music and writing, simply chilling.  Of course when you have a young family and a husband with exactly the same plans, the only R&R I got was cooking the dinner at lunch time! But who can blame the Italian, he had been at work all week and the last thing he needed was for his femme to tell him that she had no plans but to chill which translated into man-talk sounds like this: ‘It’s your turn, honey!’

However disgruntled he was with my R&R plans, he acquiesced and took RN to the movies later, leaving me time to bond with SS. Not exactly the “alone” time that I had planned but that’ll have to wait until the kids fly the nest and the husband takes up golf in his mid 50s. There is hope yet!

I had a plan to start this year on a clean cooking slate.  This plan involved cooking more wholesome, tasty food with the freshest of ingredients, to improve on my repertoire of dishes so that the girls and the Italian would benefit from a wider variety of cuisines.  I also planned to utilise more herbs and spices to add depth to my dishes.

I’ve been a fan of Jamie Oliver for the longest time.  His recipes are so easy to put together and to execute.  From time to time, I would delve into the only cookbook I have of his,”Jamie’s Dinners”, looking for inspiration and pointers.

I thought I would make my own version of Caldereta  since the family enjoyed the last one that manny Ted had made.  Jamie has his version called “Jool’s favourite beef stew’ which I thought I’d copy and adapt to the ingredient in my fridge and dried goods corner.

Ingredients:

Olive oil

1 Onion chopped

A generous sprinkle of herbes de Provence

800 g of stewing beef or boeuf bourgignon, cut beef into cubes of 5 cm

sea salt or kosher salt (I used sel de fleur)

flour to dust

4 carrots, peeled and halved or sliced into big, thick chunks

1 red pepper, chopped into chunks

2-3 tblespoons of tomato purée

1 beef stock cube (pot au feu) mixed into 285 ml of water (of course if you have stock that you’ve made yourself, you win the award)

2 glasses of red wine

3 -4 cloves of garlic, depending on how much you like the taste of it

Piment d’Espelette (optional)

Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 162 degrees C. Put a generous glug of olive oil in a le crueset or casserole pan. Add your onions and herbes de Provence and fry until fragrant, takes about 3 -4 minutes. Toss your meat into some seasoned flour, then add to the pan and brown.  Add water and tomato purée, 2 spoons if you feel it is enough.  Add your stock cube, wine and bring to boil. Add the piment. Put the lid on the pan and bunk it in the oven and let it cook for 2 hours.  Depending on your oven and your meat, this stew should take no longer than 4 hours. I cooked mine in 3.

In the last hour, add the carrots and red peppers and allow to cook until the meat is tender. This ensures that the carrots still keep their crunch and the peppers are not overcooked. Jamie’s version included parsnips which are quite rare in Paris but there are green grocer’s who sell them, and Jerusalem Artichokes which are plentiful here.  He adds all his root veggies at the beginning of the cooking process but I prefer my vegetables crunchy, so I added my carrots and pepper later. The stew is basically done when the meat is soft and yields to the prodding of a wooden spatula.

Serve this over pasta or rice.  I served mine with big pasta tubes.  Jamie says adding a sprinkle of a mix of chopped rosemary, garlic and lemon zest will pump up the volume on this dish. I can see why because this mixture which is his tweak on gremolata releases a fragrance so beautiful when it hits the hot stew that it leaves you salivating for more. No wonder it’s Jool’s Favourite Stew. Lucky her to have married a celebrity chef!

My Favourite Stew

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Two for Pho


In my veritable search for all food Asian in Paris, I came across this unique eatery in the 3rd, just off the rue Turbigo. Actually, it was Christine B who suggested we schlepp there to taste some Vietnamese Pho that mny had recommended on her Facebook page.

Nothing beats a bowl of steaming hot soup on a cold winter’s day.  And nothing beats a bowl of hot clear broth packed with complex flavours from a stock made with beef, herbs and spices.  This broth, kawan kawan is called Pho. I thank the day that I discovered this tasty soup garnished with beef slices, onions, bean sprouts and coriander (cilantro). Mmmm, coriander! That day was way back in the late 80s in San Francisco. Late 80s? I hear you exclaim.  Well, I’m no spring chicken, kawan kawan. And yes, I waited until the late 80s to discover Pho in America when I’ve been living half my life in SE Asia in a country that is practically a neighbour to the birth place of this delicious soup – Vietnam. When I was younger and living in Singapore, one just didn’t go to Vietnam unless you were a journalist, politician or a local returning home, let alone holiday there……for reasons quite obvious to many people.

My first visit to Ho Chi Min City (former Saigon), Vietnam was in 2007  with my sister from Arizona and her American husband, together with my sister from Singapore and both my parents who didn’t quite understand what the fuss about going to Vietnam was for us younger folk.  I had RN in a stroller, she was a little over a year old and SS was a little over 9 – they were both very excited to be on this adventure.  The trip was significant for its many memories.  For daddy, it brought back bittersweet remembrances of growing up in rural Malaysia and as a young man in Singapore from the late 50s, into and after independence in 1965.  Back then, Singapore was very similar to Ho Chi Min City in 2007.

For my American brother-in-law, it was in the visit to the Ku Chi Tunnels where we were shown propagandistic video tapes of the war from the Vietnamese perspective.  Mitchy M heard Americans being referred to as ‘red devils’ who invaded the land of the Viet Cong. He tasted cakes made from the cassava root, cakes so dry and tasteless, that were consumed by the Viet Cong soldiers, men and women, during their hide out in the jungles.  Mitchy M even crawled through a tunnel so small -“Vietnamese size, not American” as our guide explained – and just about made it back up through the trap door that snugly fitted around him.  Just as well that  Mitchy M is not of the larger build that most Americans are associated with.

For SS, it was the motorcycles that swarmed the streets of the city, beeping their way through them, some with washing machines and various other household goods strapped to the pillion seat. We were told by our very experienced tour guide that we should keep on moving while crossing the road: “No stopping or you’ll cause an accident!” She went on to explain that the motorcyclists will dodge us and there was nothing to worry about. And indeed, true to her words, if we just kept on moving, nothing untoward happened, except for the one time that daddy hesitated and got grazed by a very irate man with his pillion carrying empty industrial size water bottles, one under each arm and one in each hand. Daddy’s hesitance caused the driver to almost lose that very delicate balance that he’s worked out with his pillion and her empty bottles.  I’ll leave you to picture this sight in your head.  Crossing the road in this manner with a 9 year old and a toddler in a stroller was very hairy, kawan kawan but we survived to tell the tale.

For my sisters and me, our memories were of the city’s covered market  where food and goods were sold.  Here we witnessed bottles of alcohol preserved insects, mostly scorpions and the odd snake.  The insects garnished the alcohol, a type of home brewed whisky, meant to induce virility in men.  We bought fruits that we munched on and chewed along the way, discarding their skins and seeds as we went along, like the locals did, leaving behind us a Hansel and Gretel trail of pips and stones. Then we bargained to lower the prices of Vietnamese hats and other souvenirs to take home.  Haggling or bargaining is an Asian past time that a traveller sojourning in Asia has to learn and retain as part of his/her repertoire of life skills. Once equipped with this skill, one can travel in Mexico, Turkey and Africa, armed to purchase any souvenirs at the best price.

The Italian simply took very beautiful photographs.

Then we discovered Pho 101! This was an air-conditioned, sanitised eatery that served the nation’s speciality.

Its Parisian counterpart is a hole in the wall version that sits 24 people intimately.  Christine B and I arrived a little past 12 noon and there were only 2 places left, enough for us.  We sat next to two fresh faced French girls, eagerly waiting for their Vietnamese noodles.  The dry version of Pho is called Bo Bun, served with the same accoutrements and an additional nem, a Vietnamese spring roll.  So, if like these French girls, soup noodles are not your thing, don’t despair!

By the time we had finished, there was a long line of very hungry people, rubbing their hands either to keep warm or in anticipation of their imminent lunch.

When looking for this little eatery, don’t be tricked by two other Asian eateries that come before.  One even has a sign that says Pho.  Persist like we did and walk a couple of doors down to the end of the street and you will find Pho 3, the real McCoy.  You will not regret it.  And come early to avoid the queue.

Pho

Pho 3

5 Rue Volta, 75003

Metro: Arts et Metiers or Temple

Happy New Year – Many reasons to love January


It’s 4 days into the New Year.  The anthracite skies over Paris mark the beginning of the year with its gloomy winter outlook.  A glimmer of sunshine breaking through a grey cloud brings hope of warmer weather to come.  January promises the onset of shorter nights and longer days as we look forward to Spring.

I like to begin the year in reflection of the one that has gone by.  January for me is a month of calm after the flurry of events preceding Christmas and into the close of the year.  As much as I insist that I hate January, deep down inside, I really like the first month of the year.  Firstly, I was born in January, bringing my parents much joy on that 14th day of the month close to half a century ago. (I said close!) Then like all children, I proceeded to bring them much grief during my rebellious teenage years.  Mais, c’est normale!  January is also the month when the sales begin, which, for a shopaholic like me, is always something to look forward to.  This year, I made a particularly original resolution (in my opinion) – I will wait until the January sales to buy the presents that I could have bought for double the price in December and give them to my loved ones at the end of January so that they too would have something to look forward to during this month!  C’est genial! That way, I would have saved a bundle and instead of one present, the kids can have two for the same price I would have paid for one! Hah! What a way to beat the crisis!  C’est genial…… again!  Now, why didn’t I think of that earlier?

Ahhhhh January!  I love you for the hope that you bring – Spring is on its way.  I love you for the presents that you promise – birthday ones and packages purchased in the sale.  I love you for the motivation that you instil – it’s the month to detox from the excesses of Christmas.  January, I love you for letting me start on a clean slate – to discover new adventures, to love more and worry less…..to improve on who I am, what I do and to go forth into the year with zeal and renewed energy.

I had another thing to look forward to this January.  Since the children will start school on January 2, we planned to return to Paris on the 1st.  We had brought in the year at an altitude of 1224m above sea level in the Italian Alps amidst melting snow and winter rain.  It was warm in the Alps this year.  Planning ahead at the end of 2011, knowing that our re-entry into the City of Light would bring us near dinner time, I had asked manny Ted to cook us a small supper so that I didn’t have to worry about dinner after a car journey of almost 8 hours.  I was looking forward to some Asian grub.  After days of Italian food, albeit delicious, my taste buds were yearning for the flavours that they know well – garlic, soya sauce and ginger.

Many journeys back and forth from the car to the lift lobby to the apartment depositing pieces of luggage, shopping bags filled with Christmas cheer from Italy and presents from Santa later, I opened the fridge to see what was for dinner.

This was what I found:

A Pinoy Feast

Manny Ted had been cooking up a storm of Pinoy dishes, surprising me with not only Asian flavours but flavours that I had n’er tasted before, flavours borrowed from Europe that have embedded themselves in Philippine’s traditional cuisine.

Notice that the photos show dishes that have already been tucked into, so excited that we all were to be feasting on such delights that I had forgotten to take a photo of them first. Mais tant pis! At least I remembered the camera half way through the meal.

The Italian and the girls loved the beef stew.  This stew, I was told by the Italian was the best stew that he’d ever tasted.  It’s hard to swallow such words (pardon the pun) when you know that the nanny, in our case the manny, has beaten you in the stew!  I guess I have been two stews short of providing the Italian with the gastronomic experience and wonder of having tasted my fine stews.  I noted that this year, I will cook more stews – resolution number…..100.  But who’s being competitive here…. I am so lucky to have someone cook up a stew that my husband likes the taste of.  Resolution number 101 – to be less competitive when it comes to stews.

Caldereta - Filipino Beef Stew

The stew has been slow cooked in a base of tomato sauce, made from pureed and strained tomatoes so that there were no tomato chunks to be found.  Carrots that have been added much later in the stewing process still retained their crunch.  In fact, they were crunchy enough for me to persuade RN to have a bite.  You see, she only eats raw carrots.  SS loved the chickpeas and petit pois that added texture to the Caldereta.

Caldereta, like Bolognese has its variations.  Each family has their version of Caldereta that is passed down from one generation to another.  Instead of beef, one can also use goat or oxtail.  I, for one, am keen to try out the variation calling of oxtail.

I loved the pancit palabok.  To be honest, this noodle dish actually grew on me. Oodles of rice noodles smothered in a crayfish or prawn sauce, sprinkled on top are fried garlic, chopped scallions, chicheron (pork crackling), flaked tinapa which is a type of dried smoked fish and cubed pieces of fried tofu, just to name a few ingredients.  This dish, judging from its staple carbohydrate content, hails from a Chinese background.  It is not typically Chinese in anyway except for some of the ingredients used like bee hoon  which are thin rice noodles otherwise also known as vermicelli.  This is my favourite type of rice noodles and I especially love it added to a seafood broth.

Pancit Palabok is best eaten with a squeeze of calamansi lime juice.  These limes are native to the Philippines and the only substitute for it here in France and other parts of Europe would be the citron vert or green limes.

Pancit Palabok

Kawan kawan, this is a really good start to the new year for me – bring 2012 on!  What a treat it is when there is someone to cook for you.  What a bonus it is when you like what is being cooked.