Sunday, October 31, 2010

A very fine Cuisine

A friend from London is in town this week, and as (for once...) she did not express the urge to go munch on some sushi, I set about finding a gweilo-friendly Cantonese restaurant with a decent view. I always find it a pity that people coming to our beloved Honkie always seem to be willing to try any of the many Asian dining options available around town (or worse - Western... whatever that means), but that almost none of them ever expresses a desire to try some Cantonese food (or, maybe, as a last resort once they have been satisfied that all the other places are booked solid and that, no, sorry, there will be no Peking duck tonight, my friends...). As I love Cantonese food myself, I never miss an opportunity to inflict some on my overseas guests. To be honest, I cannot really blame European visitors for their apparent lack of curiosity. Unless they are genuinely well traveled, most of them will assume that Chinese food, as is commonly experienced around Europe, is a one-dimensional universe where brightly coloured fried items float in nauseating amounts of sickly sweet starchy sauce (like the ubiquitous sweet and sour pork), where "Cantonese rice" reigns supreme (a dish made of stir-fried white rice with - preferably frozen - green peas, tiny cubes of ham, thinly minced onion, shredded omelette and lots of oil, and which does not exist anywhere but in the perverse imagination of deviant European cooks), calamari in basil sauce (huh ?) and pineapple fritters (errr...). Chinese food in Europe, with the exception of maybe a handful of very high-end eateries, is a truly horrific experience - period... but this misconception can be easily cured by a few days of field therapy in the Fragrant Harbour.

Having left booking to the last minute (for a change... ahem), I was lucky to find a table at a reasonably early hour at the IFC branch of Cuisine Cuisine (Podium 3, Central, HK). The branch at the Mira hotel had been on my radar for a while, but I settled for the IFC one as I did not really feel confortable asking my jet-lagged guest to trek over to the Dark Side on her own. After a quite painful phone conversation with the bookings gal trying to confirm the said booking (do "confirm" and "cancel" sound the same or is my English really that bad dammit !?!), I proceeded to pick up my guest at her hotel and walked into the place with carefully managed expectations. If the booking is already that painful, I thought, what on earth is the service going to be like...  I was wrong - random element, she was, this one... All of her colleagues at the restaurant were professional and efficient, and the service was attentive and friendly without being intrusive. As for the food, it was just delicious, and as we (very slightly...) over-ordered, I ended up with a lot of goodies to take home. I will definitely consider returning and/or trying the Mira branch.

Traditional braised assorted snake soup

I was tipped-off by a fellow foodie that the Chef at Cuisine Cuisine used to be running the corporate kitchen at Hang Seng bank headquarters, which is reputed around town for excellent food (I can confirm this first- hand), and particularly for "house specialties", like snake soup and Buddha-jumps-over-the-wall. The Cuisine Cuisine version above was absolutely delicious, possibly even better than the one I had at Tim's Kitchen a few weeks ago, as it was a lot meatier in taste and thicker in texture. Obviously this was served with the usual condiments (chopped coriander leaves, chrysanthemum petals, fried crackers and thinly shredded kaffir lime leaves). The soup is served only in portions for 4 people, so I luckily ended up with a lot of take-away :-)

Braised gluten puffs stuffed with assorted fungus and vegetables

I love braised gluten, so I could not resist ordering this dish. The puffs were actually medium-thick spongy gluten sheets wrapped around a center of fragrant mushrooms and crunchy veggies, which offered a nice contrasting texture. The brown sauce was surprisingly full of umami for a vegetarian dish. Very good. Note the careful presentation with the nicely carved greens in the sauce.

Honey-glazed barbecued pork

oh-my-gawd... one of the best char siu I have had (recently or ever, possibly). The meat was tender and moist, with a nice fatty bits and collagen, and very tasty (very high-quality meat, obviously, enhanced by caramelised barbecue flavours), and the honey glaze was delish. The balance between meat and fat was perfect. I think this was possibly even better than the one I had at The Golden Leaf back in July, and which had already set the bar pretty high. Wow...

Braised beef brisket with leek and special sauce

SO GOOD. The tasty brisket was cut in rather large, thick slices, and was veined with plenty of collagen, which had turned perfectly sticky thanks to a lengthy braising time. Some pieces tender, succulent tendon had found their way into the sauce, which was definitely special and delicious. What a great dish!

Baked assorted mushroom with mashed taro in organic pumpkin

I figured this would be appropriate as Halloween was just over... more seriously, pumpkins are in season, and so is taro, so that sounded like to good a proposition to pass. And good it was, excellent even! The pumpkin was tender and nutty-sweet, and we carved out and devoured large chunks of it. The mushrooms (white caps and rice straw) were mixed with some baby bok choi and broccoli, and topped with a totally awesome runny taro mash, which was perfectly smooth and creamy and tasted almost like a light chestnut puree. Plate-licking good.

Poached fillet of garoupa and bean curd with fish broth in casserole

Slices of excellent fish, poached, skin-on, mixed with creamy tofu cubes and plenty of mushrooms and greens in a very fragrant and tasty, milky fish broth. Very good.

Chilled herb jelly and almond curd with mango sauce

The mango sold me on this one... not. The herb jelly was pretty intense and very, very good. The almond curd was a bit light in fragrance, and would have probably needed to be a bit stronger in order to support the heavier flavour of the herb jelly better. Why the chef felt necessary to smother the whole thing in mango sauce, I am not sure (ah ...*ding* forgot - this is a gweilo-friendly place, of course!!), but this was still a pretty good and refreshing dessert.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Vade retro, modernitas!

Some dining establishments seem to have an uncanny ability to withstand the passing of time and resist any attempt at modernisation. Save for the occasional addition of a seasonal dish, the menu never changes, the plating is stuck at a pre-80s bistro era, when the addition of a decorative salad leaf on your starter plate was the height of sophistication, and the barely polite waiters, as stiff as their starched shirt collars, dance around the room in a swiftly coordinated ballet. The decor probably hasn't changed much since the place was first open, and walking into the dining room feels like being sucked into a time warp. What lies in wait behind these heavy, brass-plated wooden doors, for the happy few who have a membership or connections, is not just fabulously classic and consistently delicious food, but a proper dining experience.

Being a creature of habits, I have always had a particular fondness for such restaurants. They are reliably un-surprising, always keep you in the comfort zone, and ultimately feel like the cozy warm hug of a 4-strand cashmere jumper on a cold winter day. So here I was, once again, making my way to Cipriani (12/F, Old Bank of China Tower, Central, HK) for a white truffle fix de rigueur in this season, courtesy of a friend with no membership but connections who arranged the booking.

The bread basket

There are many fancier versions around town, but Cipriani arguably has the best gressini. The fluffy, buttery conical bread rolls must be gobbled instantly, as they are brought warm to your table. As I do with my croissants, I can never resist peeling the layers off one by one...

Starter: steak tartare

I have been to Cipriani many times over (thanks mostly to business lunch invitations) and I never seem to be able to order any other starter than tuna tartare, beef carpaccio or steak tartare. This version, despite being minced and not hand-chopped with a knife, still retains a pleasant texture thanks to the coarse grounding and the use of a relatively fattier cut of beef than normal, and benefits from a nice chilli kick, although it is relatively light on other condiments (no onions, shallots or mustard, just a touch of black pepper and a drizzle of excellent olive oil), which lets you fully appreciate the taste of the meat. As all tartares/carpaccios, it came with some tiny toasts on the side (crust off, of course) and a dollop of excellent mayonnaise. Terribly old-fashioned and just lovely.

Main: Risotto alla Parmigiana, with shaved white truffles

As usual the risotto was perfect, creamy and full of parmesan cheese aroma. The white truffles were just heavenly - the first whiff of the season is always the most satisfying, after a whole year of surviving on placebos such as truffle oil...

Vanilla cream cake

Cipriani's best cake in my (and a lot of people's) opinion. Come dessert time and 3 or more waiters will flock to your table, each holding one of the freshly made delicacies of the day. Lemon tart, coffee cream cake, fresh berry tart... there is no wrong choice, but the heavenly fluffiness of the vanilla cream cake is a cut above the rest. Thin layers of light genoise biscuit, sandwiched between much thicker layers of vanilla whipped cream, and topped with Italian meringue. Simple and superb.

A visit from the Egg Fairy

Some people like to pretend being sophisticated palates and to find eggs uninteresting and bland - only the true foodie will see them for what they really are: an endless universe of cooking possibilities. Duck, quail, hen, poached, fried, in omelettes and of course salted, smoked, boiled in tea and preserved, just to name a few options.

Fresh ramen in shoyu and lard broth, with enoki mushrooms, Japanese chilli flakes and a smoked duck's egg

Having finally met a new fellow foodie yesterday night, I was lucky enough for her to show up at our dinner reunion with a cutely packed box of smoked duck's eggs for each of us diners. How delightful and unexpected! A friend of hers made them at home, and we were told to expect a gooey yolk and plenty of delicious smokiness... and that's exactly what we got!

The goodie box, in its cute wrapping.

I had stored the eggs in the fridge overnight, and when I opened the package, the cold eggs already gave a wonderfully strong and delicious smokey whiff, full of caramelised wood. The texture of the eggs was gorgeous - firm white, gooey yolk, with a delicious taste and smell of smoke that had permeated even the yolk. These made an absolutely perfect lunch as topping on a bowl of ramen. The smokey aroma flavoured the hot broth and the combined smell was just divine.

Even if the pic at the top shows only one egg in the bowl, it was promply inhaled and replaced with a second one :-) I am saving the third one for breakfast tomorrow... looking forward!

A big hug to M. and her friend S. for (respectively) delivering and making these delightful eggs.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New table & new faces

Facebook is a great tool for stalking people, even (especially ?) people you have never met, and particularly when these people are kind enough not to lock their photo albums so that "friends of friends" can also sneak a peek at their food porn productions. Tonight, a group of old & new friends gathered at One Harbour Road (Grand Hyatt, Wan Chai, HK) for dinner, and I had the pleasure of finally meeting two of the fellow foodies I had long been stalking on FB. We had a delicious evening, well supported by a fairly large number of gorgeous dishes prepared by guest chef Felix Zhu from Hubin 28 (at the Hangzhou Hyatt), and of course could not help talking about food over dinner! We walked out already salivating at the idea of our next meal together - Friday Lunch Club has 2 new members :-)

I had never been to One Harbour Road (in all honesty, I did not even know this place was on the foodie map...) and the dishes we had tonight were obviously not representative of the classic Cantonese fare this place normally whips up, as the guest Chef had taken over the kitchen. That said, one of the foodies in attendance (and whose tastebuds I fully trust) confirmed the regular menu had a few highlights worth a visit as well, which I will make sure to pay in the near future.

Foie gras marinated in Shaoxing wine

One of my fellow diners once indicated in her photostream that the Chef uses French livers for this dish, which was absolutely delish. The flavours of the wine paired very nicely with the foie, which was very fatty indeed and coated the palate in creamy goodness. This dinner was off to a very good start...
Braised beancurd sheets filled with black fungus and bamboo shoots
I love the texture of beancurd sheets, and these were particularly well done with a yummy filling. The contrast in textures between the crunchy bamboo/mushrooms and the beancurd was nice.

Tossed cold pork knuckle with Chinese peppers
The skin was surprisingly not fatty or even collagen-y at all, just crunchy and slightly pickled from all the condiments (including some fierce green chillies and crunchy seaweed strips) - quite yummy. What possessed me to munch on one of the little green things on top of the dish, I'm not sure... these were fresh (!!) Sichuan peppercorns and *tingle*tingle* curiosity killed the cat's tastebuds for a good five minutes :o)

Marinated beef shank and sweet potato noodle in sesame paste.

Plenty of collagen in the meat obviously, which was nicely chewy as the dish was served cold. I am pretty sure they used peanuts on top of sesame in the sauce, which also had a nice chilli kick to it and also I think some cinnamon. Very good dish.

Tossed gluten dough with black mushrooms in honey

This was absolutely delicious. I love the way braised gluten captures sauces and flavours and this mix of spongy dough with slightly crunchy mushrooms in a yummy sauce was just perfect. I found the sauce had some liquorice flavours to it, which paired very well with the fragrant black mushrooms. The boiled peanuts added a nice nutty touch.

Sweet potato starch sheets with spinach and sesame sauce

Nice chewy texture and nutty flavours. That said, the sauce tasted very much of peanut to me (on top of the sesame) and the spinach was very discreet...

Not sure what the name of this dish was, but the taste and texture were very close to the French fromage de tête - plenty of fatty bits, skin and savoury jelly in between tender, flavourful meat chunks. Delish.

Martinated yellow fish in preserved black beans

Chunky slices of tender yellow croaker, pan-fried, then served cold  with fermented black beans after marinating in soy sauce, ginger and chilli oil. Delicious.

OHR's take on beggar's chicken - this version was a de-boned half chicked, filled with bamboo shoots and pork, wrapped in lotus leaves and baked in the traditional coating of clay (which then gets broken at the table by the guests)

Beggar's chicken, clay removed and lotus leaves open - the smell was wonderful.

Beggar's chicken, plated.

This version was very different from THL's from a fragrance, taste and texture point of view. Where THL's tends to have a lot more "earthy" flavours due to its mushroom filling, this version was more meaty (due to the pork in the filling) and lotus-leafy. The meat (as usual) always ends up being a bit stringy and dry (especially the white meat) but this was nevertheless absolutely yummy. I found it a nice touch that the chicken had been deboned - ready to munch, no sorting out to do on your plate...

Traditional pork "Dongpo" style

aka Khufu & Khafre :o)

Traditional pork "Dongpo" style

The Khafre pyramid, revealing its deliciously crypt filled with fragrant preserved veggies. This dish was absolutely divine. Thin layers of moist pork, full of collagen goodness which got more sticky as it cooled down (and a teeny tiny bit of fat too...), wrapped around crunchy vegs. The flavours were just heavenly and the textures perfect - and the presentation was absolutely beautiful. Now that's what I call a dish with the "wow" factor!

Pan-fried smoked duck fillet & glutinous rice
Very very yummy. The duck meat was packed with flavour, and the glutinous rice topping was crunchy at the surface and moist inside. Delish.
Braised beef tendon and beancurd in chilli sauce ("Ma Po" style)

I absolutely loved this dish. The tendon was sticky and very slightly chewy as it should be, the tofu cubes were creamy and the sauce... aaah the sauce!! Three of my favourite things in one dish: collagen, tofu and chilli - could not ask for more :-)

Braised crab coral with tofu and puff pastry

Braised crab coral with tofu and puff pastry

So good! Packed with flavourful crab roe and creamy tofu cubes - and nicely presented.

Lotus seed paste puffs

Although the waiter apparently introduced these as puffs, the pastry was actually not puff or choux pastry but very flakey, crumbly and buttery - yummy (the filling was very good too).

Sesame puffs

Not bad either...

Steamed black sesame pudding

Sticky-chewy, not too sweet and packed with black sesame flavours. Pretty nice.

Condensed milk & chestnut soup

I made a special request for this dessert to be ordered (total chestnut junkie, I am...) and it was absolutely delicious. Served warm, with a creamy taste of condensed milk and plenty of chestnut goodness, and not too sweet. I would love to learn how to make this at home...

Pomelo, sago and mango in coconut cream

A classic, nicely done.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Dinner Party @ Froggie's

I moved homes a few months ago and having been very busy with decoration my new nest, I had not got the chance yet to organise a proper foodies' gathering at home (let alone a proper flat warming) - this first dinner party was long overdue, so I invested quite some time into the preparation of the food, hoping to create enjoyable and lasting memories in my guests (no complaints received to date...).

As appetizers, I whipped up some warm foie gras with peeled Kyoho grapes on brioche toast, as well as toasted baguette slices with some Rougié goose foie gras pâté. I also made some mini Roquefort and pear quiches.

Mini Roquefort and pear quiches

I also wanted to test my new-ish oven on more delicate dishes - I am quite happy about its baking performance, but still had to put it through the ultimate test: the cheese soufflé. As it turns out, it failed the test - the door is not insulated enough, so that the soufflé cooked faster on one side than the other. Part of it was still very gooey inside and had to be left aside. The rest of the soufflé was pretty good still, and was gobbled up in no time. Going forward, I will have to stick to individually sized soufflés, to make sure they cook evenly.

Cheese soufflé

For the salad that accompanied the soufflé, I prepared some semi-dried tomatoes, to add a bit of umami to the veggie. I am not a big fan of the so-called "sun-dried" tomatoes sold in supermarkets; most of the time, they are too salty, contain preservatives, and have a very sharp taste that makes them difficult to associate with any foods at all, so I prefer to prepare my own at home when I need them.

Semi-dried tomatoes
 The main course was a veal stew in apple cider, served with pan-fried apples and gnocchi in sage butter. I unfortunately did not have the time to make the gnocchi, a mistake I will not make again as I am never happy with the taste of store-bought gnocchi (and these were no exception).

Veal stewed in apple cider, caramelised apples and sage butter gnocchi
(picture courtesy of Peech)

For pudding, I made my usual chocolate marble cake, and after the delicious failure a few months ago, I could only hope for the best this time... it turned out ok, still not quite as marbled as I would like it to be, but definitely a huge improvement on the first try.

Chocolate marble cake - the outside is looking promising...
... but there is still a bit of work to do :-)
(picture courtesy of Peech)

Mini Roquefort and pear quiches (makes about 12)

Crust (“pâte brisée”):
125gr flour
1 egg
75gr unsalted butter, at room temperature
A pinch of salt

Some butter and flour for the forms

1 ripe pear, peeled and deseeded then poached in light syrup and cut in 0.5cm cubes
60gr Roquefort or other blue cheese, crushed with a fork (Stilton or Gorgonzola would work equally well)
10cl liquid cream (“crème fleurette”)
1 large egg + 1 yolk
salt, freshly ground black pepper

·       First, make the dough for the pie crust, as it needs to rest for at least 2 hours in the fridge before being used. In a bowl, put the flour and salt.
·       Add the butter cit in small cubes, then between your thumb and the tip of your fingers, start crushing each cube in the flour, until the mixture takes a powdery consistency.
·       Add the egg, and knead the dough until the consistency is smooth. Be careful not to over-knead, as this would make the pie crust hard after baking.
·       Roll the dough in a ball, dust it lightly with flour, cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

·       Brush a 4 x 3 mini-muffin tray with melted butter and place in the fridge.
·       Preheat the oven at 220°C

·       Using a rolling pin, roll the dough until about 3mm thick, then cut out circles and place in the muffin tray; put back in the fridge.
·       Prepare the filling: in a bowl, beat the cream and the eggs with a fork until homogenous and slightly frothy, add salt and pepper to taste (try to be light-handed on the salt as the cheese has plenty already).
·       Take the tray out of the fridge again, place ½ tsp of pear cubes and ½ tsp of cheese in each mini-tart and cover with a couple of spoonfuls of the eggs/cream mixture (or up to about ¾ full).
·       Pop in the oven and bake for 12 to 15mn at 180°C.

Cheese soufflé (serves 4)

25cl whole milk
50gr unsalted butter
40gr flour
100gr grated cheese (comté, gruyere, beaufort, emmental or any combination of these)
4 eggs
salt, freshly ground black pepper, freshly grated nutmeg (to taste)

·       Preheat the oven at 220°C.
·       Generously brush a 20cm soufflé mold with melted butter and place in the fridge.
·       In a saucepan on high heat, melt the butter until boiling and add all the flour at once. Remove briefly from the heat and stir vigorously with a whisk. Put the saucepan back on the heat and let the mixture dry for a few seconds until it forms a ball, the reduce the heat to medium and start adding the milk, one tbsp at the time, waiting for the previous tbsp to be absorbed before adding a new one. Once all the milk is incorporated, the sauce should have the consistency of a thick Béchamel.
·       Reduce to low heat, leave to boil for a minute or 2 and season.
·       Remove the saucepan from the stove and stir constantly until it is about lukewarm (this will prevent the formation of a “skin” at the surface as the sauce cools down).
·       Separate the egg yolks from the whites, add the egg yolks and the cheese to the sauce and reserve.
·       Whip the egg whites “en neige” until stiff peaks form and add to the sauce, 1/3 at a time, lifting the mixture with a fork rather than stirring it.
·       Bake for about 25mn, until the soufflé rises over the rim of the mold and is golden. Make sure never to open the oven door during baking – the soufflé would fail!
·       Serve with a green salad.

Semi-dried oven roasted tomatoes

Roma tomatoes (or other sweet variety)
Balsamic vinegar
Salt, freshly ground black pepper

·       Preheat the oven at 110°C.
·       Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
·       Quarter the tomatoes lengthwise and lay on the tray, skin side down.
·       Drizzle with the oil and vinegar and sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper.
·       Bake for 1.5 hours or until the tomatoes are dried; discard the thyme before using in salads.

Can be kept in the fridge covered in olive oil for up to a month.

Jarret de veau au cidre / veal stew with apple cider (serves 4)

4 thick slices veal shank (about 1.2kg in total, bone-in)
1.5 liter French dry cider
4 white cardamom pods, crushed open
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 sprig rosemary
50gr butter
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Flour for coating

·       Place a few tbsp of flour in a plate and coat the veal slices on both sides, shaking off any excess.
·       In a cocotte, heat the butter and brown the veal on both sides; remove from the cocotte and set aside.
·       Add the spices in the cocotte and stir-fry until fragrant, then add the veal back in.
·       Cover with the cider, season, bring to a boil and simmer for about 1.5 hours, or until the veal is tender and the meat starts separating from the bone.
·       Serve with apples caramelised in butter and a sprinkle of sugar and gnocchi in sage butter.

 Chocolate marble cake

2 eggs
8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
125gr baking chocolate (Valrhona 68%)
20cl crème fraîche
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp strong coffee
250gr cake flour (not the self-rising type), sifted

·       Preheat the oven at 175°C.
·       Line the bottom of a 22cm rectangular cake pan with a baking sheet, and thoroughly coat all sides with melted butter; place in the fridge.
·       In a bowl, beat the whole eggs with the sugar until fluffy.
·       Add the vanilla extract, then the flour in 3 steps, alternating with the crème fraîche.
·       Separate the batter equally in 2 bowls.
·       Break the chocolate in small pieces and put in a bowl with the coffee. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, then carefully place the bowl with the chocolate on top of the boiling water until it melts (this is called a “bain-marie” in French cuisine). Remove the bowl from the bain-marie as soon as the chocolate is melted and keep stirring until it is about lukewarm, then add to on half of the cake batter.
·       Layer the batter into the cake pan (½ vanilla, ½ chocolate etc…).
·       Bake for about 40mn. During the last 10mn of baking, keep a close eye on the cake as the top chocolate layer can burn easily.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A tale of two potatoes

Cooking is a wonderful way of achieving flow (see the eponymous book by the brilliant Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). It has this particular quality of absorbing all your energy, thoughts and attention for any length of time you choose to devote to it. It is a great remedy against the little heartaches and great despairs of everyday life, and many of us find solace in the soothing whisper of a stew gently bubbling away on the stove ... preferably in a cast iron Le Creuset or Staub cocotte, but that is not the subject of our post today ;-)

Two-potato vindaloo with mint and cucumber raïta
 If cooking is my therapy, then cooking Indian food has to be my catharsis. I am admittedly a spice junkie, I always keep a heaping stash of chillies in the freezer (in case a craving for spicy food comes in the middle of the night when honest grocers are closed...) and my spice rack is ridiculously overcrowded (and subject to the occasional landslide). I tremendously enjoy Indian food (the spicier the better), and particularly Indian vegetarian food, because I do not know of any recipe that does not involve some dry-roasting, grinding or pounding of spices, the fragrance of which will promptly fill your kitchen (or, if, like me, you always forget to turn on the extraction hood when cooking, your whole house) and I cannot think of any more comforting soulfood than spicy veggie grub.

Dry-roasted cardamom, cumin and coriander seeds, ground with cloves, paprika, turmeric and cinnamon

A former vegetarian myself, I have never really steered clear of this way of life and even though I am eating meat again, it is mostly on social occasions, like the (not so) occasional meal out with friends, or dinner parties at home. I love my veggies, and I love my tofu, and I cannot remember the last time I cooked meat for myself at home. The hard-core carnivores among you will think this is sad, but cooking vegetarian food is actually in my opinion a lot more challenging than cooking meat - one needs to put a significant amount of extra effort in building and pairing the flavours, whereas with meat, you can get complacent and lazy, as even the most simple pan-frying will deliver a dose of umami. Veggies like to play a lot more hard to get in the umami department, and this Frog likes a challenge in the kitchen...

Two-potato vindaloo, gently bubbling on low heat
Having a bit more time on my hands than usual these days, as I am enjoying a lazy 2-week staycation, I am spending a lot more time in the kitchen, and today's spice craving caught me as I was (yet again...) flipping throught the pages of Yotam Ottolenghi's brilliant Plenty cookbook. "Two-potato vindaloo" sounded right up my alley. Potatoes and sweet potatoes, stewed in a hearty spices mix consisting of cardamom, cumin and coriander seeds, dry-roasted together and then ground in a mortar with cloves, paprika, turmeric and cinnamon, which are then added in the cocotte to a mix of shallots, brown mustard seeds, fenugreek, curry leaves, chillies and ginger, before tomatoes, cider vinegar, the cubed potatoes and some red bell pepper are added and left to gently simmer for about 40mn.

Mint and cucumber raïta, WIP...

As usual, I could not resist making some substitutions to the ingredients in the original recipe (I figured ghee would be more tasty than vegetable oil, especially in an Indian recipe, and that the caramelly fragrance of gula melaka would make the dish ever so slightly better than just plain caster sugar). I also changed the proportions in the spice mix according to my taste (less cumin, more turmeric, paprika and chillies) and made some mint and cucumber raïta on the side, should there be any need to douse the flames... I savoured a couple of bowls of the deliciously fragrant and spicy stew watching a few episodes of Anthony Bourdain's new "No reservations" DVD - what a delicious way to spend a lazy afternoon at home :-)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Watching the English (Kate Fox)

Anthropologist Kate Fox sets about decoding the “Hidden rules of English behaviour”, with hilarious consequences. This little gem of a book is packed with typical English humour, and delivers some quite cunning observations about the behaviour traits that are quintessential to Englishness. Applying a truly scientific method, the author proceeds with some toe-curling field experiments (at least to a true Englishman...), like queue-jumping. Whilst she observes that Britain is a political construction and a cultural patchwork, she also notes (as Orwell did before her) that such differences “fade away the moment any two Britons are confronted by a European”. She goes on to portray England as a “highly class-conscious culture”, and the English as a nation of “curtain twitchers”, having “rules about complaining and making a fuss”, afflicted with “social dis-ease”, “home-fixation” and “privacy-obsession”, practicing “assertion by negation” and allowing “the triumph of etiquette over reason”, who value “the importance of not being earnest”, are “what they do not eat”, have a “mastery of wit, irony and understatement”, take “great vicarious pleasure in their pets’ uninhibited behaviour” and whose male specimen are allowed to “express [only] three emotions” (that is, surprise, anger and elation) in their efforts to socialise, whilst its female subjects “achieve intimacy by other means, such as gossip, compliments, and reciprocal disclosure”. Even if she sounds quite unforgiving to her own people, I have to admit that I would agree with her on all counts. Having lived for 3 years in London, I finally found in this book a reasoned analysis of the English peculiarities I find in turn quite enjoyable and/or frankly frustrating (this Froggie is still trying to master the use of understatement…). Ms Fox, as a true Englishwoman, certainly does have a mastery of wit herself, and her book will bring a smile on your face with almost every page turned (just to mention a few nuggets – “An Englishman’s home is his castle but the real king is his dog”, “satire is what the English have instead of revolutions and uprisings” and “one of the Ten Commandments of Englishness: when in doubt, joke”). Whether you enjoy the company of the Rosbifs (like this Frog) or dislike them, read this book – it will only make them (even) more likeable. And if you are English, read it too… just for the cringe factor ;-)