Category Archives: Family Treasures

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.

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Foccacia Frenzy


Kawan kawan, I’ve been travelling of late.  This time to Bergamo, Italy.  There we celebrated a special birthday – the FIL turned 80 on Friday, 25th November.  We have an octogenarian in the family. Actually, we have two, for my father is also 80.

The trip took us on a gastronomic adventure high on the hills of the Città Alta, the ancient Venetian walled city of Bergamo.  The Upper City which was built in the 17th Century forms the historic centre of Bergamo.  The Città Alta is accessible by la macchina/car, la funicular/cable car or à piedi/by foot.  On Sundays, in order to prevent congestion and pollution, the upper city is only accessible by cable car and foot.  Many stairways, built around the 17th century take residents and visitors on foot to the Upper City.  These footpaths or scale connect the Lower City to the Upper one and can be found dotted at the base of the Città Alta.

Città Alta and Città Bassa with the hills in the background

The family decided to take a stroll up along one of these stairways.  Afterall, what else is there to do on a beautiful Sunday morning in Italy?  The nearest one to the home of i nonni is aptly named del paradiso. I guess cities are built on higher ground for particular reasons – vantage point, fortification and to be situated advantageously closer to paradise.

Stairway to Heaven

At the top very top of the Città Alta is the Piazza Vecchia, the old piazza which is the upper city’s main square.  There, one can find the oldest church in Bergamo – Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore– which was founded in 1137 on another site that was constructed in the 8th Century that was dedicated to Mary. Inside the basilica, you can also find amongst various artwork, tapestries that were partly executed in Florence and the Flanders, depicting the life of Mary. These tapestries date back to at least 1583.

The Life of Mary as depicted on a piece of Tapestry

While the old folks attended mass, the young folks attended to their stomachs.  We strolled along the cobbled main street of the Upper City and found ourselves gawping open mouthed into the window of a  foccaceria.  Christmas had come early for us that day – inside this palace of bread (and not just simply bread but foccacia bread) we witnessed rows and rows of foccacia with various toppings.  Here’s my personal favourite:

A meal in itself - tuna salad on a piece of foccacia

A meal in itself.  For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I like it when meals can be cooked simply and healthily.  A one-pot stew or a dish of veg and meat stirfry – simple, healthy and delicious. And here in the città alta in Bergamo, I found  a meal on a piece of bread. This is a tweak on the open faced sandwich.

There were so many to choose from.  But we were only a couple of hours from lunch.  What do we do?  The answer was simple kawan kawan, we choose the best piece of foccacia that takes our fancies and gobble them up.  Where can we perch to eat this bread?  On the steps of the biblioteca Angelo Mai, of course.

The family getting some bread and sun

At home in London, with the help of a bread machine, I used to make foccacia.  The Italian adores this bread and we have been known to have purchased a kilo of this bread on one visit to Genoa many moons ago.  This kilo didn’t last very long, of course, as we ate it all up in one weekend!

Here’s a simple foccacia recipe that I found and tweaked:

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 (.25 ounce) packet of active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 cups all-purpose organic flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of gross salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with flour; stir well to combine. Stir in additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all of the flour is absorbed. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly for about 1 minute.
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F (245 degrees C).
  5. Deflate the dough by pressing or rolling it out gently, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly. Pat or roll the dough into a sheet and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Make small indentation with your thumb and brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with salt.
  6. Bake focaccia in preheated oven for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on desired crispness. If you like it moist and fluffy, then you’ll have to wait just about 10 minutes. If you like it crunchier and darker in the outside, you may have to wait 20 minutes.

Once you know how to make the foccacia, the toppings are really whatever you want them to be.  Here look:

Fungi and Cipolla

And look again:

Frutti di Mare in the front and smoked salmon with rocket at the back

Isn’t this fabulous, kawan kawan?  No more boring sandwiches in between dry tasteless pieces of bread.  Now you have the foccacia-wich! Bon appetit, mes amies!

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Filipino Fry up


Filipino Fry up

Going Native


Once upon time, there was a woman who came from a far away country in SE Asia to work for a Saudi Arabian family who relocated to Paris during the late 1980s.   Let’s call this woman Maria and her employers, the Abdullah family.  The Abdullahs are wealthy tycoons who never travel without domestic help.  Maria was their help.

Maria came with the hope of a better life for herself and the potential to earn more money for her family back home.  With this in mind, she woke up each morning faced with a long list of chores to fulfil and not enough hours in the day to do them all.  She was exhausted. However, Maria  plodded on with her job because she had no way of leaving. She was financially dependent on the Abdullahs who kept her in their apartment every day, without even a day of rest which all employees are entitled to.

One day, a stroke of courage surged through Maria.  She knew that she had to escape the prison that has now become her workplace and home or face the prospect of ill health and death from exhaustion.  With nothing but the clothes on her back, Maria ran away.  She hid herself in a little subterranean hole by a Parisian sidewalk for days until hunger gripped her, forcing her to grab at the legs of a passerby.  Her saviour was an American journalist on a work assignment in the City of Light.  She gave Maria the equivalent of 20€ and set her on the right path.  The year was 1989.

Industrious and determined, Maria soon found work by asking personally anyone on the streets if they might need domestic help.  She had young mouths to feed back home and they depended on her.

Maria is one of the many domestic helpers from the Philippines.  Many of them are sans papiers because they are afraid of tempting fate by legalising their status in France; there might be a chance that their applications will be rejected and they would be sent home. That is because many have saved, begged, borrowed and paid the equivalent of 10,000€ for a passage to Europe, a passage that consists of one month’s tourist visa, in the hope of finding work.  They will be required to work hard for 2 – 3 years, toiling daily, in order to repay their debt. Some of them hold down a series of at least 5 jobs, working in rotation for several families.  For what is their purpose, you ask kawan kawan.

For the love of their children.

This is only a simplified answer, of course but still the most important. Underlying this is the bigger picture – a backstory of colonization, war, bartering between colonial masters, the Spaniards and the Americans, over a landmass that is home to 85 million indigenous people, and later on during independence, a series of corrupt politicians, leaving behind a nation of people who had to seek labour abroad to ensure that their families had enough food on the table.  This was what brought Maria firstly to Saudi Arabia, then to France.

Maria has been in Paris for 21 years, working and saving hard, sending the majority of the Euros she earns back to the Philippines.  For that, she sees to the education and welfare of her children and grandchildren.  Kawan kawan, Maria hasn’t had a vacation in 21 years, she has not set foot on the soil of her homeland in 21 years.

But all that is going to change.  Maria is going home.  However, unfortunately for her, this respite has come too late.  Maria is going home to die.  She has a tumour that is eating away at her brain.  The French medical team working on her has signed her death warrant and has kindly advised her son, the only family she has here in Paris, to send her to a hospice or back to her homeland.

At her hospital bed, Maria sits smiling.  Maria is always smiling, thankful for small blessings and joyful of life itself.  But today is one of the rare days when she is cognizant and recognises her visitors.   Maria thinks she is going home on vacation and she can’t wait.  She can’t wait to smell the dew that collects on each blade of grass in the morning in humid Philippines.  She longs for the local flavours her homeland brings.

As I watch the longganisapopping in my frying pan, I think of Maria.   I think of how happy she will be to taste this native sausage again, with scrambled eggs and garlic rice.

These sausages are native to the Philippines, made from indigenous spices, adapted from recipes left behind by their Spanish masters.  Longganisa’s ancestor is the chorizo.  In the Philippines,  these chorizo related sausages are usually eaten accompanied by rice, fried with garlic, rice so fragrant and extraordinarily Filipino.  Eggs are quickly scrambled to add to the meal.  I was told that this trio: Longganisa, scrambled eggs and garlic rice makes a perfect Filipino breakfast.  This is Filipino fry-up, kawan kawan! If only all fry-ups could be this delicious.

There are many varieties of longganisas in the Philippines, some more garlicky than others, some sweeter whilst others sour. The meat is almost always stuffed in a casing.

Longganisas can be made at home too, just follow the recipe below. I tweaked this reciped that comes from Filipino chef, Kristine Subido’s kitchen.

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4-1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 tablespoon chili flakes (optional)
1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup minced garlic
8-1/4 pounds ground pork
4-1/4 pounds coarsely ground pork back fat (streaky bacon)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce

Mix all the ingredients together, cover and refrigerate overnight. (You can also add a few dashes of worcestershire sauce to the mixture to give it an extra oomph.)

Form into patties or logs. Pan-fry in a nonstick skillet, with a little oil if needed, until browned on both sides. Makes about 12 pounds.

As I bite into my longganisa, I say a prayer for this dear soul, Maria.  I often think that when one has so little in this world and yet have so much to smile about, then one really does appreciate the small blessings in life.  Maria is going home, and she is thankful and happy that after 21 years, she can see the rest of her family again.

* Please refer to the following post for a yummy photo of longganisa with garlic rice and scrambled eggs.
 ** I buy my longganisas at the Philippine supermarket on rue Boissiére, Paris 16.  Ask for the ones with casings.

Frying the Frikadeller


Kawan kawan, I’ve just returned from a visit to Denmark, where SS learnt about Viking warships and RN had a time of her life being pounced on by a French bulldog.  The said dog belongs to friends who live in Denmark.  The said dog is so happy to be in the company of RN, a little person that he couldn’t help but pounce on her every now and then.  On his hind legs, he comes to almost the same height as RN and he’s not even a big dog.  RN is a little parcel, all good and full of surprises!

In the Land of Danes, I learnt about love and family and the camaraderie of good friends.  I also learnt to make meatballs, Danish way, with glasses of red wine in between.  This recipe was passed down from Mr T’s mother to him.  She in turn learnt it from her mother who in turn learnt it from hers. Hence, if you go down far enough in the matriarchal lineage of meatball recipes, you will see a long line of Viking women guarding and passing down their recipes of frikadeller with pride.  Danish meatballs is as perfunctory as Bolognese sauce or ragù.  And I don’t mean this in a demeaning way, for anything that is made at home is done out of love, even dishes as easy as  frikadeller or ragù.  Frikadeller is something a Danish mother makes when there is a packet of mince and a couple onions lying about the house. An Italian mother would make ragù similarly if said mince and onions are about the house. She will cook and stir a pot of ragù for hours, a meat sauce she will make on a daily basis and perhaps refrigerate what’s leftover for use on another occasion.  Each Danish family has their version of frikadeller as each Italian household has its own version of ragù.

When asked what I’d like to sample in Denmark, I asked for meatballs since I’ve heard so much about Scandinavian meatballs on other occasions.  On visits to Ikea, these are my favourite things to have at their café.  I would purchase a pack or two of their frozen Swedish meatballs for emergency.  They are such good things to have in the freezer when little tykes come to play and stay for dinner.

Mr T who hails from a pure Viking line does not have any sisters.  So his mother who also comes from a matriarchal lineage of Viking women, passed her recipe down to him. He has guarded it with pride until my visit when he passed it to me. I have no claims to Viking blood except having been previously married to an Englishman whose daughter I bore, who has claims of Viking ancestry. If you ask SS, she’ll tell you that she is technically a quarter Viking!  So that makes me technically the keeper of some Viking blood which makes me technically eligible for a good frikadeller recipe, in my books!

Mr T’s version of frikadeller consists of a mélange of pork and veal mince, mixed together with 2 grated onions, a clove of minced garlic and an egg to bind the meat mixture. The tear drop meat balls, shaped by two soup spoons, are then fried in butter until browned and well done.

My version consists of:

500g of minced veal

2 white onions, grated

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp of chives, finely chopped

3-4 fistfuls of oatmeal (I wear size 7 gloves, so take your measurements from there, kawan kawan)

1/2 tbsp of parsley, finely chopped

3 tbsp of créme fluide or milk

1 egg

salt and pepper to taste

I’ve never grated onions before as I’ve never had use for onions in this way.  Let me tell you this, kawan kawan, grating onions cause just as much tears as chopping and slicing them.  I was in floods of tears by the time those two onions were grated.  Even RN commented on how sad I was.  Then she saw the onions and nodded her sage little head in comprehension and promptly left the kitchen. Wise little soul!

Bowl of Grated Sadness

That done, I minced the garlic and added them to the bowl of minced veal that had already been seasoned with salt and pepper.

Garlic and Veal

The grated onions are then added into this bowl, juice and all, with the herbs and oatmeal.  The latter ingredient is very important in frikadeller as this will help keep the meat moist and succulent.

The other ingredients!

Using a kneading motion, make sure that the meat is massaged well with all the ingredients mentioned.

The well massaged veal

In a shallow frying pan, heat up some butter.  Shape the meat mixture into tear drops with two soup spoons and place them one by one gently into the frying pan. Butter browns meat beautifully and once the meatballs have been browned on one side, turn them over gently, trying not to break them.  You will know when the meatballs are done when they are firm and no longer have the tendency to break.

I had to do mine in two batches.  So lots of butter later, and if you’ve done them right, your frikadeller should look like this:

Frikadeller

I think I may have passed the frikadeller test.  But that is not for me to say, of course.  I am waiting for Mr T to comment, he being the true Viking and all.  But having said that, the Italian wolfed his down as did the girls.  Man, those friggin’ frikadellers were mums (yums in Danish)!

When Spaces become Places


Kawan kawan, today begins the first of a series of 6 sessions of a writing course that I enrolled in.  This course is aptly named “The Migrant Soul”.  “What is a migrant soul?” you ask.  Well, it is someone who, like me, has been uprooted from their cultures, countries and homes, and has to find within a different culture and country their own cultures, make a home in yet another country – a home away from home – and to find a place in a space where they are displaced.

Displacement has been a recurring word in my psyche of late.  Being here in the City of Light brought this sense of un-belonging to the forefront yet again.  I thought that I had found a home, a place I could call home at least, in London after having lived there for a good part of 17 years out of the 20 that I’ve passed in England.  Just when I was beginning to feel comfortable, the Italian took on a job that relocated us to Paris.  It was not entirely his fault, of course as I had been making noise his way of my desire to move out of London.  The only problem was – WHERE?

Singapore had stopped being a place I call home for a long time.  In fact, every year that I return during the summer vacation with my entourage of 3 suitcases and 2 infants (ok, one teenager and one child), I feel less and less at home there. This city state where I grew up is fast becoming another faceless city to me.  A geographical location where I stop off en-route to Europe, a continent I must call home.

Home is where the heart is, many would have heard said.  Home is where I feel a sense of belonging, is what I penned today on a sheet of lined paper during a brainstorming moment in the course.  I once read a quote that goes something like this: there are two kinds of people in this world, those who want to go home and those who don’t.

When I was younger and fancying myself a groupie with no fixed abode, I never wanted to go home! Now that I’ve passed that very important milestone in a woman’s live, I’m beginning to wonder where is my home?

Is home a house, a physical space that one can touch, feel, a place made of brick and mortar?  Is home where the heart is?  Really? During my stint working in the travel industry, home was where I could lay my head, and this was usually in a posh hotel somewhere half way across the world from Singapore.  I lived out of a suitcase for a good part of almost 5 years.  Each new destination brought a new adventure and I was very fastidious about making the hotel room a space of my own.  The first thing I’d do was to lay out all my bottles of creams on the vanity area in the bathroom, then I would put my slippers in place and all the towels in a neat pile, redecorating the room a little so that I could claim it as my space.  This became a ritual, a habit of mine as soon as the door to the hotel room shut behind me.  It didn’t matter how jet-lagged I was, I would go through the motions of setting out the creams, piling up the towels and putting on my slippers before jumping into the shower and straight to bed or dinner or whatever it was that I had to do upon landing in a new city…..

This year back in Singapore,  I wanted to evoke a sense of home.  To do this, I needed an accomplice – someone who knew Singapore well.  I had the privilege of dining with an old friend, George G.  I wanted to go down food memory lane, so he obliged and took me to the East Coast, to his favourite joint for kon low mien. This, kawan kawan is a typically Cantonese dish of boiled egg noodles tossed in a mixture of soya sauce, pork fat and chilli.  Atop the mound of noodles would be slivers of char siu roast pork and blanched choy sum (a type of Chinese green).  A bowl of chicken soup with wan tons would be served on the side.

Wan Ton Noodles

I remember eating this dish as a child on wooden stools next to big monsoon drains where the chef is an old man in a torn cotton singlet behind a mobile cart tossing noodles and shouting out orders to his assistant, usually his wife or elder child, for the noodles to be served.  For appetisers, we would be given a dish of pork crackling so crunchy and oozing with such flavour that it was so hard to stop reaching for another morsel with my chopsticks.  One could also munch on sliced pickled green chillies that have been soaked in brine and sugar to whet one’s appetite.   The grand finalé is of course the dish itself…. happy sounds of slurping would be heard and sighs of content uttered from around our table.  Daddy likes his noodles kiew kiew as we say in Hokkien, or al dente, as they say in Italy. Marco Polo must’ve had a part to play there, methinks!

This dish is no longer served as I remember it.  A spate of campaigns to encourage healthy eating habits in Singapore sparked off an abhorrence of pork crackling.  One can ask for onion oil instead of pork fat these days, I was told.

Kawan kawan, what is it that makes your space a place?  For me, it will always be something food related.

Family Magic in a Potion


Every year I make a pilgrimage toward the East to eat, play, live… in my childhood home under the auspices of my folks.  These are days I refer to as my flip-flop days, where my toes wriggle free in a pair of havaianas and my legs get tanned by the Eastern sun.  These are happy days, kawan kawan.  These are days where I bask in the love of my parents, becoming once again their little girl, although I am the elder of three daughters.  You know, one’s children never really grow up.  My parents refuse to recognise that I am really a woman with 2 girls of my own and that most crucially, I have passed that important birthday milestone in a woman’s life.  They pamper me with good food, nuggets of advice (all Chinese parents are wiser than their offspring, it must be remembered) and refuse to let me do the washing.  My mother thinks I am incapable so every opportunity she gets, she bundles up the children’s and my dirty clothes to pile them into her state of the art washing machine.  My father fires off strings of advice, like how to deal with pick pockets to the way corn on the cob ought to be eaten.  These are bonding moments, kawan kawan.  I haven’t lived at home for over 20 years.  I only see the folks back home once a year.  So they store up their love, tuck it in a treasure box, ready to dish it out again every year.

My father has always been the foodie in the house.  It is because of him that I have come to love my grub.  He cooks, does the food shopping and cleans the 3 bed maisonette that they have lived in for the past 26 years.  And he is 80 this year.  An old new man, in my books!

This year, being home again was an extra special treat because in order to support me and my new found writing eating career, he offered to share with me that secret recipe he has guarded for so many years – his special chilli sauce.

It’s no easy job making this spicy potion.  Family legend has it that this is the stuff longevity is made of.  The chilli sauce contains so much antioxidants because of the garlic content that it guarantees an immediate boost in the immune system of anyone who partakes of it.  Daddy has to rise early in order to get the ingredients at the basha (market) near his home.  Anyone who cooks will tell you that  all ingredients used should be fresh.  This is what the equation looks like: early rise = freshest ingredients = yummy spicy potion.  That done, he then has to peel the garlic, de-stalk the chillies, skin the ginger and assemble the blender.

Antioxidants

De-stalking  the chillis is no small job: there’s 400 g of chillis to do.  The two types of chillis here are: thai chilli pepper  which is of the African birdseye variety and red chilli pepper.  The smaller the chilli, the stronger the piquancy. Good things come in small packages, kawan kawan and it is no difference with chillis.  If you can’t take too much spiciness, then you can lessen the amount of the Thai chillis and increase that of the larger red ones proportionately.  Here take a look at the Thai chilli pepper:

Hot Chilli Pepper

A lot of lime juice is needed to give the potion its citrus character.  This has to be extracted manually from kalimansi limes found only in Asia.  This lime is known as limau chuit in Malay.  The kalimansi lime is the size of a ping pong ball.  It is yellowish green with a floral lemony scent.  In Europe, you can substitute this with green limes or citron verts or lemon, if you prefer.

Kalimansi limes make very delicious lime juice.  It is best served sweetened and chilled. Kalimansi juice is consumed in large amounts in the Philippines, I was told.

The ginger has to be skinned and cut into blendable pieces.

A piece of blendable ginger

When these ingredients have been prepared, it is time to assemble them into the blender:

Assembly of Chillis

Notice that daddy uses a pair of scissors to cut the bigger chillis into chunks for easier blending.  Then in go the sugar and salt.

Sugar and Salt

Then…..

The juicy goodness

…..the hand pressed lime juice goes into the blender too.

Give the button a push and see it all being churned up inside.

Listen to the whirring sound

Notice this funky blender, kawan kawan.  It only costs daddy 20 Singapore Dollars.  At 1.70 Sing Dollar to the Euro, this makes the blender….. you can do the math….very cheap, indeed!  I just love the Hermés orange handle, don’t you?

Give the mixture a whir a few more times until the ingredients run smooth.

Smooth rider

This chilli sauce goes very well with Hainanese Chicken Rice, minced meat stir fries, vegetable hot pot and lots more dishes.  I eat it with everything and if I weren’t married to the Italian, I’d even say it would go so well with bolognese sauce….. ooops, don’t say I said that!

Here’s the recipe:

300 g Fresh Large Chillis

100 g Fresh Thai Chillis or Birdseye Chillis

150 g Peeled Fresh garlic

120 g Freshly squeezed lime juice.

80 g Chinese white vinegar

30 g Fresh ginger, cut into small chunks

1 tsp Table salt

2 tblesp White sugar

Method:

Cut large chillis into small chunks. Place half the amount of chillis, both Thai and large, into the blender. Add half the amount of garlic and ginger, sugar and salt. Pour in the lime juice and vinegar.  Blend until smooth.  Then finish blending the other half of the ingredients.

There, this recipe is no longer a family secret, thanks to daddy’s generosity.  That is so like my father; he has such a big heart and loves to share.  The more the merrier is his motto.

I did say in my previous post that this recipe grew from daddy’s aghak-aghak method.  But through the years, he has found perfection in precision.  That is also very much my father’s style.  He never stops learning and I am so glad to be the recipient of such a healthy attitude towards life long learning.

I hope you’ll give this a try, kawan kawan.  It is really very delicious.  The recipe makes about 200 ml of Chilli sauce.  This amount lasts me a while since I rely on my yearly summer visits to taste its spicy goodness.

The chilli sauce is best served the next day after it has been refrigerated and it keeps for at least 8 weeks in the fridge.

Plenty of Polenta


Your Honour, I bring to your attention Exhibit A in the the case of Nava vs Polenta.

Exhibit A

You will see before you the photo of the victim, La Polenta.  She has been the property of i Nonni Nava for some years, enslaved in their mountain home that is perched on a hill in the village of Verrand just a kilometre from Courmayeur.

The Mountain Home

La Polenta has been at the disposal of many a Nava grandchildren who fight incessantly at each meal time to rest their little Nava bottoms on her soft cottony fabric.

This yellow cushion has been named after the most popular dish in the Italian Alps. Polenta is a staple in the mountainous regions of Italy, a dish that the Italian has grown up savouring.  Polenta is cornmeal, kawan kawan.  It is eaten accompanied by various stews, both vegetarian and meat filled.  Polenta is to North Italy what noodles are to Northern China.

Polenta is a word borrowed from the Italian language, referring to a dish which consists of boiled cornmeal*.  Before corn was introduced from the New World, grain mush, a gruel like dish from which polenta derived and commonly eaten in the Roman times and after, was usually made with either millet, faro, spelt and also chickpeas.  These starches were subsequently replaced by  ground corn.

Polenta is usually classified as a peasant dish but more and more Italian restaurants are now adding it to their menus.  There are virtually no restaurants in the Italian Alps or Piedmont region that do not serve up a dish of polenta with accompanying sauces and accoutrements.  Some fancy restaurants have even deconstructed the dish and serve polenta beautifully plated with the polenta moulded into a neat mound served as an accompanying side instead of potatoes.

In Bergamo, where the Italian hails from, polenta is accompanied by a side dish of small birds that have been oven baked.  In Courmayeur, I had polenta with roast lamb, sausages cooked in a tomato sauce, grilled sausages, oven baked trout, ratatouille and finally, cheese.

One of the best things to do food wise in Italy is to visit a restaurant that has been set up in the owner’s home.  Agriturismo as this is referred to in Italian is an agriculturally based enterprise that brings people to farms for activities such as fruit picking, wine tasting or horse back riding and last but not least, food tasting. In our case, we drove half an hour up the mountains to stuff our faces with polenta and stew with no activities whatsoever except to sit in the sun after a hefty meal.  What bliss! 🙂

This was what we had:

Polenta with slow cooked lamb

The meal was eaten at about 1500 m above sea level, at a small holding with their own goats, sheep, geese, ducks and chickens.  They even had a shetland pony thrown in for entertainment and a sheep dog that herds the pony back down the hill when it so much as dares to saunter up to the fountain for a drink. The meat of the day depends on what the chef decides to prepare.  The pony was off the menu by the way. That day, we had lamb that had been slaughtered and left to hang for 3 days to ensure that the meat becomes tender.  The tenderised meat is then marinated with olive oil, herbs, salt and tomatoes and then oven baked slowly on a low temperature setting until the meat yields easily with a tug between your fingers and teeth.  A dream dish and well worth the bumpy ride up the mountains for.

The Italian showed me how to eat polenta the proper way.  You make a dent with your serving spoon to make a well whilst simultaneously tipping the spoon ever so slightly to allow the liquid to slide into the said well.

A Polenta Well of Sauce

For good measure, I added a bit of tomato and a piece of meat that had fallen off the bone.  Yums!

Polenta can also be eaten with this:

Wild Boar Stew

This stew is made from wild boar cooked its own stock and flavoured by red wine bottled in the Aosta Valley.  The sauce is rich and flavoursome and best eaten with polenta nature or plain.  The types of meat served with Polenta are usually gamey meats.  SS ordered a rabbit stew once .  The meat was bathed in a creamy curry sauce, flavoured with fresh herbs.  There were hints of curry when I had a taste so if you are thinking curry like creamy Korma Chicken, rest assured that it is not.  Although I don’t see why that can’t be eaten with Polenta either.  Hmmm, might be worth a look into.

Stewed Rabbit

RN likes her polenta oven baked with layers of Fontina, a type of medium hard cheese eaten in the Aosta Valley.  Polenta Concia can be eaten on its own or with the stews mentioned above.

Polenta Concia

Occasionally, she would ask for an accompanying dish of sausages stewed in tomato sauce.

On another occasion, I decided to eat my polenta with trout grilled in a sage infused butter.

The Splayed Trout

This came with a dish of ratatouille.

Ra Ra Ratatouille

Needless to say, it was very sedap, my friends!  I am, as you know, a firm believer in 5 fruits and veg a day. I can’t call a meal complete unless it has some fibre in it. This was indeed un repas complet, kawan kawan.

Polenta is a heavy side dish, I concur.  However, it does not engorge my stomach like pasta or rice.  I discovered this only about 3 years ago whilst on a ski trip to the mountains.  Eaten after a morning of skiing, it both helps to regain your energy and to fuel you for the rest of the afternoon on the slopes. And all this with no bloated feeling.  I feel as light as a feather even after a heavy polenta lunch.

Polenta flour comes either finely ground or coarsely ground.  It all depends on your preference.  Polenta is usually prepared slowly over a low fire.  It requires plenty of stirring and can take up to 3 or 4 hours.  Italian women in the mountains have benefitted from generations of cooking polenta.  They have formed arms strong enough to carry hoards of grandchildren up and down mountain trails.  Usually cooked in copper pots and stirred with wooden spoons, restaurants have taken to cooking their polenta in a pot that has a mechanised stirrer. This saves on the manual labour and leaves another pair of hands available to help in the kitchen.  Very practical, indeed.

Keep Stirring the Polenta

Instant polenta flour can be purchased in the supermarkets for those who lack the time but do not want to miss out on the dish.  This shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to prepare.   However, I’ve been told that this type of polenta, although serving its function, is not as tasty as the slow cooked one.  That does make sense because no effort usually equates to no gain, for me, anyway.

Your Honour, I rest my case.  Polenta remains the staple food in the Italian Alps and La Polenta remains a fought after favourite butt rest amongst the Nava hoard.

* Courmayeur and the Aosta Valley is bilingual in Italian and French.

*Polenta is also eaten in the American South, Spain, and various other parts of      Europe.

Costoletta alla Milanese


Kawan kawan, I am back, you’ll be glad to know! La Belle France was on les vacances for summer and so was I.  I spent flip flop days in Bali, Singapore and Heidi moments in the Italian Alps. I am now all fed and loved up and all geared up to feed you with more exciting posts on my eating adventures avec la famille.

The MIL makes the most wonderful costolette Milanese style.  This is the girls’s most favourite thing to eat whenever they are at their nonna’s.  I have never made this dish at home because I don’t like the idea of frying my meat in too much oil.  Besides, it is a treat for RN and SS to eat their grandmother’s costoletta alla Milanese.

I asked the MIL to share her recipe with me and show me how she prepares and cooks this dish.  She was over the moon and honoured to be asked which reminded me of the biblical adage: ask and you shall receive.  So for those of you who are too shy to ask, you don’t know what you’ll be missing.  Ask, ask and ask for more, kawan kawan!

We spent a glorious 17 days in the mountains with la famiglia grande.  The veal that the MIL usually buys is absolutely delicious, a result of free range breeding and a diet of sweet alpine grass.

Free Range Veal

In most costoletta recipes, veal cutlets are used.  But the FIL likes the meat thinly sliced and preferably without bone.  Hence the pink slab you see above.

The MIL slices the meat herself with a very, very sharp knife, then baths them in a dish of beaten egg.

An Eggy Bath

Note the beautiful dish, it is at least 40 years old.  The Navas never throw anything out.  I really like that habit.  They will use something until it is no longer functional and then still think twice about whether that thing ought be thrown away.  They would always choose to upcycle rather than throw things out. I love the idea of upcycling where old things that have become useless are remade into new materials for another use. It is kind of like reincarnation, I suppose, where you come back as another thing.  Upcycling really speaks to the Hindu in me!

After giving the sliced meat an eggy soak, it is time to coat them in bread crumbs. The egg binds the crumbs to the meat so they look like this:

Bread crumbed morsels of yumminess

Afterall, the bread crumbs are the essence of this dish without which this will not be called costoletta. In reality, the costoletta is the Italian version of the Weiner Schnitzel.  Actually the proper costoletta as already mentioned is cooked boned-in as opposed to the Weiner Schnitzel. So that makes Mamma’s version the Austrian one.  Additionally, she does thin the meat out with a mallet after slicing them which is exactly what the Austrians do with their Weiners.

The bread crumbed goodness are then shallow fried in the best and lightest olive oil until golden brown and crispy on the edges.

Frying the Weiners

It is important to salt the bread crumbs before coating the meat.

The final version should look like this:

Costoletta alla Milanese di Nonna Gio

At the Nava household, costoletta is accompanied by a chargrilled sweet pepper stew that the Mamma cooks specially for the Italian, her youngest son.  It is also delicious on a bed of rucola or any salad leaves marinaded in a vinaigrette of olive oil and cider vinegar as the acid in the vinaigrette lightens the heaviness of the fried meat.

I also had the opportunity to taste a version of this dish made with fresh porcini mushrooms since it is mushroom season in the mountains.  It was absolutely yummilicious!

The Veggie Version

Tell me, kawan kawan what is your fav breaded dish.  I am asking in anticipation to receive your comments. 🙂