May 31, 2011

asparagus season


the season has started in earnest now, for the next few weeks, this white gold can be found in every supermarket, at every self-respecting grocery, and especially at the open markets.

white asparagus, grown under ground so the sunlight doesn t turn them green (and these are totally delicious as well) have their own special place in the world of gastronomy, probably because the season is very short; from about the second week of april until the end of june, so now they are at their best.

they are also very easy to prepare and versatile, but i like to keep it relatively simple. yesterday, i was still wondering what to make for dinner, when i passed a shelf in the supermarket with different sized asparagus waiting to be bought and prepared... one particularly nice bunch called out to me and then i knew what i was going to make: a classic 'asperges à la flamande' with an extra of brown shrimp.

i never boil asparagus, i just cut off the woody stalk at the bottom, peel and then steam them. with thin asparagus and often the green ones, it s easy to bend the bottom stalks and they will break where they need to in order to get rid of the woody part, which can be very tough, even when cooked.


(serves 2 as a main, 3 as a starter)

1 kg thick white asparagus, peeled and woody stalks cut off
70 gr butter
2 hard-boiled eggs, minced
handful parsley, finely chopped
300 gr brown shrimp, cooked and peeled
salt and pepper to taste


1. steam the asparagus (be gentle with them) until just soft but with a light bite left.
2. melt the butter, add the minced eggs and the parsley and season to taste.
3. serve the asparagus topped with the butter-egg-parsley sauce and divide the shrimp among the plates.

delicious with baked or roast potatoes.

oooh, now i think about it, i ll have to make an asparagus soup soon, and roasted green asparagus salad with mozarella maybe, or an asparagus soufflé... as i mentioned earlier, even though the season is short, they are now at their very best and the combinations are endless.

that s the truly fun part isn t it?

May 22, 2011

la quiche et moi

i have a love affair with quiches.

ever since Sam 'wooed' me all those years ago by baking me a quiche, i was hooked.

crispy pastry, soft creamy eggy center and the fillings you can play with are just the perfect combination.

i have absolutely no idea whether our recipe is completely correct, but it works for us, and the pastry is something we even use for sweet tarts too. i recently adapted the pastry recipe just a little. instead of plain cold water, i used carbonated water with just a slightly higher salt content (San Pellegrino), and i believe it makes the pastry just that little bit flakier and crunchier.

for the fillings, as i mentioned earlier, i like to experiment: ham and tomatoes and sweet peas, chicory bacon and onion, vichy carrots and onions and peas, smoked salmon and asparagus... the variations can be endless.

so, this is our recipe for the pastry:


400 gr plain flour
180 gr unsalted butter, very cold, cut into cubes
2 whole eggs, beaten
carbonated water, cold


1. sift the flour into a large mixing bowl
2. add the cubes of butter
3. rub these in loosely, you still need to see bits of butter
4. very quickly add the eggs and mix until the dough just holds together
5. if necessary add some water
6. the most important factor with this pastry is not to over-knead
7. cover in clingfilm and chill for about an hour, or until you are going to use it
8. when using, roll out on a floured surface until quite thin (you should still see the marbling of the butter) and the size you need for the tart tin
9. leftover pastry can be covered again in clingfilm (careful not to scrunch it up too much) and kept in the fridge for another two days or so, or in the freezer.

what i do now is lay the pastry into the tin, prick it all over with a fork, and start playing.

my favorite filling is ham, cheese, tomato and peas merely because this is the one that Sam made me that first dinner date.

i start by brushing a good Dijon mustard over the bottom. then layering with slices of Gruyère, or Emmenthal, or Fontina, then a layer of good cooked ham, slices of tomato, and a handful of fresh sweet peas (or thawed frozen ones). i then mix about 200 ml cream with 2 whole eggs, salt and pepper and cover the filling. this i bake in a preheated oven at 180°C (on a preheated baking tray! for the sole reason that i don t blind bake the pastry first) for about half an hour or until the center puffs up a bit like a soufflé. this will collapse when taken out of the oven, but it s not a soufflé, so no worries.

for some other fillings, i need to do a bit more preparation.

like, for example, the one with smoked salmon and asparagus. when using the green asparagus, i lightly roast these in a griddle pan until slightly charred. when using white asparagus, i peel and steam them until almost soft but with still a slight bite left. the pastry i would layer first with slices of smoked salmon and then with the asparagus in either bite-sized pieces or layered one next to the other. the egg-cream mixture is always the same.

or chicory and bacon: i slice the chicory very finely and sauté this with a very thinly sliced shallot. once softened and lightly browned, i set aside to cool slightly, and in the same pan, i fry off some lardons until nearly crispy. layer this mixture of chicory and lardons and cover with the egg-cream.

serve with a green salad and glass of chilled white, it always works.

note on pastry: this is actually the basis of rough puff pastry. once the butter, flour, eggs and water has been mixed together it can already be rolled out (remember, it should be marbled with the butter, so don t overwork it) until its length is about three times its width. fold one third to the middle and fold the other third over this, make a quart turn, roll again, fold again, and do this about 4 times. then cover loosely in clingfilm and chill. it creates the layers you would get in a puff pastry.

hmm, i think i ll just go and prepare some pastry now, ready for tonight when we get back from our sunday outing to the museum, or to the harbor, or downtown, or...

May 20, 2011

ladies nite

every few months or so, three of my friends and i get together to share news, gossip, laughter, pain... and food. we ve known each other since our children were in kindergarten. but i hadn t seen them for a while until about two years ago, and we decided to meet up again more often.

usually we d go to a restaurant, but last night i cooked us a dinner, since one of us had had another baby, and it was just easier and more relaxed this way.

it would have been easy to opt for a pasta, but i just felt i needed a lot of veggies, prepared different ways. recently i d seen a few recipes that just clicked for me: James Martin s grilled scampi with a coriander marinade, Jamie Oliver s courgette salad with bocconcini (mini-mozarella to you & me), Gordon Ramsay s chocolate fondants (or moelleux, as they often say here).

as a starter, i went easy and just flamed a few different colored paprikas until blackened, then rubbed the skin away and was left with softly smoked strips of pepper. these i dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and some chopped chili and basil leaves.

another starter was a charentais and a honeydew melon, just cut into chunks and served with prosciutto, sprinkled with lime zest and some lime juice.

had to adjust the recipe for the scampi, one of us is not really into coriander, but hey, tastes differ and that s the fun part. so i opted for a marinade of lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, grated garlic, grated onion and parsley. just combined these and tasted for extra seasoning, then marinated the little creatures with their heads still on for about 4 hours. the scampi were then griddled and brushed with some chili jam that my mother-in-law had made (which reminds me, i still have to get that recipe from her).

to go with the scampi i thought the green of Jamie s courgette salad (from his book 30-minute meals) with the little soft balls of mozarella would work perfectly.

and for dessert, i just had to try and make this, a chocolate fondant or moelleux! never made it before, and i d seen it fail so many times on different cookery programs, so i was very apprehensive. but my girlfriends, bless them, they would have gone for anything as long as it was something with chocolate ;-)

phew, they came out perfectly... and i really have to thank Gordon Ramsay for his recipe.
i just halved the ingredients and that was just right for four ramekins. all i needed to do was to add some warmed raspberries and a little whipped cream.

once in a while, it s good to get together... and share...

May 8, 2011

mother s day, son s day, mabo doufu day

it s Mother s Day today. well, in many parts of the world it is. i was brought up with the thought that Mother s Day is the 15th of august, but that s my catholic upbringing, and since i also went to international school, might as well celebrate today too. although, for the life of me, i don t know why every day isn t mother s day? LOL

i can t celebrate with my mother, but i can celebrate with my son. he s all grown up now, has the prettiest girlfriend, and i hope all will go well for him in his/their future. that s all a mom really wants for her kids, isn t it? that they grown up to be happy and contented people.

happy and contented is what he also was when he got this for dinner: mabo doufu. i tend to make it the Japanese way, although my ingredients list is probably not classic, the taste is there.

classic mabo doufu calls for minced pork, or a mixture of beef and pork. however, my son s girlfriend is vegetarian, so i tried making one with aubergine and shiitake and gave some more structure to the tofu by first coating it with some cornstarch and frying it. also added some coriander... and it all worked out a treat. i adapted a recipe by Harumi Kurihara, one of my favorite Japanese chefs.



400 gr firm tofu
2 small aubergines, cut into cubes
200 gr fresh shiitake mushrooms (or any other favorite mushroom), sliced
some soy sauce, pepper, sake and sesame oil
1 tablespoon of hot Korean style miso paste
1 tablespoon of dashi stock powder
5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon mirin
1 chilipepper, finely chopped
thumbsized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 or 4 stalks of spring onion, finely chopped
sesame oil
small bunch of coriander, finely chopped
Szhechuan peppercorns, toasted and ground


1. wrap tofu in kitchen paper and leave in a sieve to remove excess water.
2. meanwhile, marinate the aubergine in a mixture of soy sauce, pepper, sake and sesame oil (i used about a tablespoon each of the wet ingredients and just added a pinch of pepper).
3. in a small bowl, mix together the miso paste, 100 ml water, dashi stock powder, soy sauce, sugar, sake and mirin. set aside.
4. cut 2/3 of the tofu into cubes, toss into some cornstarch and shallow-fry to get a light crust. leave to drain off some of the oil on some kitchen paper.
5. cut the rest of the tofu into cubes as well.
6. now fry the ginger, chilipepper and the garlic, add the marinated aubergine and the sliced shiitake and cook gently until soft.
7. add the miso sauce mixture.
8. leave to cook for another for a few minutes, then thicken with some cornstarch which has been diluted in some cold water
9. add the soft tofu and the fried tofu.
10. finish off with the ground Szechuan peppercorns, the chopped spring onions and coriander.

serve with plain cooked rice.

my son is more of a meat man, but i think his girlfriend and him will appreciate this one too. they better! haha...

May 1, 2011

trip down memory lane

cooking class, or home economics class, do they still give that in schools? i remember having them when i was a teenager, i think for the first time when i was 13 or 14 years old. we were expected to keep notes of the recipes we were taught, which i did, meticulously it seems, because i still have that notebook, in which i kept writing down recipes that i found in magazines, or in books. it hasn t stopped since.

then, miraculously, some years ago, while cleaning out boxes at my dad s old apartment, which we rented while he was still back in Japan, i found another old notebook: my mother s! how amazing is that? to find that she too had made notes on recipes, written them down, just like i would do many years after she had passed away. it was and still is a comforting thought. to know that we share(d) more than just genes... a love for cooking (and, haha, perhaps a need for keeping things as organized as possible in chaotic times).

i only wish i d been smarter and instead of only learning how to speak the language, i should have taken reading and writing as well (my written Japanese, i m ashamed to say, is not more than what a second-grader would know).

anyway, my mother s notebook is one of my most precious treasures, i have promised myself, hopefully with the help of my sis-in-law, and my Japanese friends, to translate her recipes.

in mine, i found a recipe for a cake that uses no eggs, but vinegar and oil. i could call it vinaigrette cake just for fun, but at the time, because we did make this in class (i remember being so amazed it worked) our teacher called it Krazy Kake, so that s what it shall be.



11/2 cup plain flour
1 cup sugar (i used half light, and half dark muscovado sugar)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (the recipe called for 1 whole teaspoon, but i think that s too much. so even just a pinch might be fine)
3 tablespoons pure cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons vinegar
5 tablespoons vegetable oil (i used rapeseed)
1 cup water


1. sift together the first five ingredients into a baking tray (i used a round non-stick cake tin)
2. make three wells in the dry mixture and put the vanilla into one, vinegar in the second, oil in the third.
3. pour the water over everything.
4. mix everything until smooth.
5. bake at 350°F (i guessed 175-180°C) for 35 minutes or until the center is light and springy to the touch.
6. cool and ice cake in the tin.

that last bit, about cooling and icing in the tin is not quite what i did. after about 10 minutes cooling i turned the cake out onto a cooling rack.

meanwhile i made a sort of ganache by whipping 150 ml cream with 1 tablespoon icing sugar to soft peaks, and adding 100 gr melted dark chocolate. this i left in the fridge to set a little and then iced the cake with it.

to finish it all off i just sprinkled some dark chocolate shavings over the top.

as i mention in the ingredients list, the recipe calls for a WHOLE teaspoon of salt (remember, this was 1978 or 79)! and so i did follow it to a tee... which meant the cake had a fudgie salt caramel flavor. please, feel free to use the whole amount of salt. however, if you want to be more health-conscious, i really would advise to just add a pinch, i will definitely do so next time.

i wonder if some of my old classmates might remember this one, it would be fun to know.