We will be holidaying in Sicily next week. Palermo, then Syracuse. Only one restaurant booked, the rest we will explore as we drive along. I heard the eating is super, will report when we get home. Take care!
The weather, it's cold. There was even a little snowfall last Sunday which lasted for all of ten minutes. It was a good thing we lifted our nose from our lunch, we ate lap mei fan made with two types of Chinese sausages - Lim Chee Guan Singapore regular type and Yung Kee Hong Kong liver version- which we had asked visiting friends to bring over.
As usual, I used my tiny and much-dented rice cooker of my singleton days. While the rice cooked, I microwaved the sausages which had been sliced and put into a bowl with some ginger, covered, for about 2 minutes which resulted in lots of oil spluttering and the bits on the top a little charred. The sausages plus oil were then chucked into the still cooking rice to continue cooking and so that the oils and juices flavour the rice. I doled out a portion for V, but for husband and myself, I drizzled some dark soya sauce and sesame oil for more colour and flavour. Some peas for vegetables and that was our simple lunch, we hardly felt the cold weather bristling outside.
Yesterday I went window-shopping with my friend. At Jean Paul Hevin on rue St Honore, we shared a slice of Mazoltov. It looks like a baked American cheesecake, only taller. Made with fromage blanc of 0% fat matter, as stated on its information tag, yet gratifyingly rich and creamy with subtle notes of orange flower water, closer to Japanese style than American and succeeding at becoming my new obsession. Alongside my old obsession the baba au rhum which I used to like ordering at Bistrot Marius until they stoppped serving it (!). An odd thing which I've noticed is that there is a higher chance of finding this dessert in seafood restaurants, like Vin et Maree which has outlets all over the city. Vin et Maree's version was not bad, but it would have been improved if they had whipped the cream with some rum beforehand so there is that layering of liquor upon liquor.
Tonight though I am not eating so well. Husband is away, he is on a flight to Singapore of all places. V will get a piece of organic salmon for dinner. The dogs will eat roasted vegetables and bifteck which I cooked and froze last week. I am probably going to have the default husband-is-away dish i.e. Comté with some dried natural apricots nicely ripened conference pear. Not terribly inspired, but perfect for watching telly with.
Oh lordy, look at the sky, and the time. Have to go fetch the kid. Au revoir!
The other day the French lady in the Power Plate machine next to mine was telling me how she hates November, citing the rapidly shortening daylight hours, the incessant rains and cloudy days and there being not much to look forward to in this 'in-between' month. I don't dislike November as much as she does but I do worry about another November negative: les grèves, or strikes that is also traditional for this time of the year.
Last weekend, Air France pilots. Tomorrow, train drivers. This Thursday, the teachers in V's school. December 4th, Air France attendants. There was even the sabotage by French Eurostar engineers two Saturdays ago, spoiling the weekend of many travellers including my fourth sister's. We have friends visiting and they are planning to travel around in France and around Europe, we hope they'll not be too inconvenienced.
I am missing London very much. We were there only five days, not ever enough for me. V and I stayed at Sui Mai's flat and didn't do much at all besides meeting up with fourth sister and old schoolfriends for eating and shopping the high street. The first thing I ate was a pub lunch. The Queen's Arm dishes out a terrific bangers and mash, all three types of their home-made sausages distinctly different and filled with only delicious meat and no unnecessary fillers, all sitting on mustard mash and a lovely onion gravy. There was also a sticky toffee pudding, I ordered one to share with Sui Mai but I gobbled 90% of it.
That evening, Sui Mai's husband bought these from the supermarket when I requested for some doughnuts, they were delicious and very cute. I also requested for some supermarket onion bhajis and the dear man, he actually bought home an entire feast, of naan breads, pulao rice, lamb tikka masala, chicken jalfrezi, sag paneer, chicken vindaloo and a selection of pakoras, samosas and of course onion bhajis. It is clear that Sui Mai has a very good husband. And also sadly clear that we'll never get this kind of food in my neighbourhood supermarkets.
V enjoyed the trip too, especially the train journey and meeting up with her yi-yi and Auntie J. She loved wantons, especially the prawn fillings inside. She went to the Science museum, along with a thousand other kids, and pressed all the buttons and pulled all the levers. She fell asleep in buses and walked a great deal. She saw the Big Ben maybe 3 times. At Gare du Nord, she was a little surprised to see her papa at the end of the platform, she ran happily up to him for a hug. This movie moment, it was on the 1 November. Her mama is, sigh, counting the days until they can do another trip like that.
In the meantime friends will visit and we excited about seeing them again. They will see the Louvre, the Notre Dame, Disneyland, eat pastries and chocolates, take the Métro, visit the markets, enjoy the fresh winds, admire the leaves in their last glorious burst of colours and for their six-year old girl at least, Paris in November will be magical and unforgettable.
After living here for nearly two years I finally found out that yes, besides the all-ubiquitous cooked prawns, fresh prawns are actually available at the Wilson market but they run out fast i.e. by 9 am there would be none left. The official market hours are 9-12 so this sold-out-even-before-opening hours phenomenon I attribute as yet another joke the French play on hapless outsiders, along with their inscrutable queuing system. I mean, come on, it's only raw prawns or shrimps not some rare deep sea specimen, why can't they sell more of it since the demand is already there?
Anyway, back home, Husband was only too happy to peel the entire bunch, so fresh the creatures were still wiggling about, and remove the black vein along the back. He left the heads on at my request, the roe and the stuff inside adds tonnes of flavour and are delicious to suck on. The prawns were steamed with a small piece of smashed ginger & a splash of cooking wine. 10 minutes. While the prawns were cooking we rehydrated some beehoon (dried rice noodles).
The prawns and cooking liquid were tossed with the beehoon, along with a few drops of sesame oil and good soy sauce. A portion was doled out for V and the rest we zinged up with dried chilli shrimps (current favourite is Tean's which is a Malaysian product that Sui Mai brought over when she visited, it's terrific) and voila, we had ourselves a terribly tasty dish of prawn noodles.
We could have added some chopped scallions or blanched vegetables, but it was a Saturday evening and I wanted to watch DVD so we ate the noodles as it was and then munched on some very sweet red seedless grapes from Portugal.
About six weeks ago I found myself in Lafayette Gourmet, and came across what I thought were albino caviar. It turned out to be snail caviar, or in laymen's terms the eggs of snails. The promoter was offering samples and I had a go. They looked so beautiful, glistening like pearls. The membrane pops with a satisfyingly fresh snap when bitten into, revealing tiny shots of liquid that tasted terribly subtle, with hints of sweet,briney, savoury, herbal and woody notes, all very transient. How intriguing. It is not ever going to replace sturgeon's eggs but can hold its own among its other gourmet brethrens.
I noted their email and asked for an image of their product, which they sent to me along with some notes. The company farms the snails in the snail equivalent of Ritz conditions, feeding them vegetable and cereal matter. EAch snail lays about 100 eggs a year, equivalent to 4 g, so for this 100g tub they'll need at least 25 snails. The eggs are then cured in that mythical French salt la fleur de sel de Guérande before finally ending up in their elegant packaging. The company is looking for distributors outside France, for more information please visit their website. No, they did not give me any bribes to say all these, it was simply that this product was such a novelty for me.
In April this year the infamous Gordon Ramsay opened a fine dining in Versailles, just 18km out of Paris. The local food press immediately closed ranks and as one, they savagely wrote him off. Figaroscope rated his eponymous restaurant one broken heart (out of possible 5) while even the free magazine A Nous Paris rated it 5.5 out of 10. Like the Hokkiens say, 'wah piang ah, ooh niah boh?' or 'fxxx are you sure?'
My curiousity piqued, I suggested to husband that we could try it out sometime. The time came two weeks ago when we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary as well as V's third birthday. The restaurant is inside the Trianon Palace, a grand building at 1 Blvd de la Reine now a hotel run by the Westin group. It is a relatively small room sandwiched between a corridor bar on one side and on the other side a more open-air brasserie called La Veranda which is also part of Mr Ramsay's group. White button-hole banquettes seats and vertiginous pendant chandeliers provide illusory depth and height to compensate the lack of floor space. The restaurant was empty when we arrived, two other parties arrived later, it was a Saturday afternoon, the start of the Toussaint (All Saint's Day) school holidays. Little V loved the expansive banquette and delighted in the fancy table setting.
Drinks were ordered, and snacks came to occupy us while we considered the menu. Cones of fruity ice cream with caviar was startling but I finished mine since caviar is very expensive, at the bottom of the cone was some paler but definitely more yummy cream of salmon. The other snack on a stick was equally weird but not entirely disagreeable.
Husband and I ordered the dégustation menu, substituting the starting dish of foie gras with risotto of white Alba truffles, with paired wines to match the courses. We were served three types of wine during the meal.
The amuse bouche arrived. Soup of potirron (type of pumpkin) with smoked eel and girolles inside, the bread to eaten with some hazelnut butter shaped into a nut. Delicious. A Jurancon Çahaupe 2004 with its rich fruity bouquet and smooth coolness kicked things off to a good start.
The risotto came, the perfume subtle and lingering, a dish to be enjoyed at leisure which is a bit hard with a restless child by my side. They brought house made breads- mini baguettes, 4-cheese buns and an olive studded microloaf- all excellent, served with butter from St Malo. The breads distracted the child, she loved the cheese buns, and all was well again.
We ordered some steamed vegetables for her, in between she would get sample some of our dishes but she did not need a full blown meal. Of the vegetables, she ate most of the courgettes, beans and cruciferous types and while she exclaimed over the pretty colours of the other vegetables she rejected their taste.
Child fed, we could enjoy our second course. The signature raviole de langoustines d'Ecosse, caviar Petrossian, consommé à la verveine. The consommé was meant to be sipped together with the food, it was delicious, the tea flavour supporting but not overwhelming the flavours of gingers and crustaceans. The carpaccio of langoustines lining the base of the plate was delicate and sweet, the crunchy peas nicely bridging the contrast with the impeccable raviole, filled generously with langoustines. The caviar I thought was redundant, its distinct taste was a bit of a rude jolt not becoming of the overall delicate sense of the ensemble. Sometime between this and the next course we were served a Mersault, the white burgundy's refined finish matching the elegant dish.
The room was getting quite warm, the overhead chandeliers and the wine not helping. V & I took a walk around the hotel lobby, there was a medical conference happening and the bar was bustling with weekend guests. Back in the dining room, we were served Turbot de ligne roti et braisé, tian de guacamole et vinaigrette aux fruits de la passion. Faultless if a bit dull. The vegetables were crisp and beautifully crisp and hardly needed the generous sprinkling of seasalt, ooh I am the fussy one no? The tian was wrapped in what I think was peeled tomato which was quite brilliant.
The main courses came, V was surprised and asked, "again?". A final wine of a sophisticated Vosne Romanee 2006 was poured. My choice was Carré d'agneau Allaiton roti, panoufle confite, légumes à la Provencale et jus au thym. Allaiton lamb is one of the finest French lamb there is, and this dish is a homage to the meat. So highly regarded it is that they obviously did not want to tamper too much which resulted in a meat woefully underseasoned. The confited part at the base hardly fared better, it was dry and sad.
Meanwhile, husband was quietly appreciating his Filet de boeuf en cocotte et fricassée de girolles, Wellington de joues braisées, sauce au vin rouge. He kept feeding V bites of the perfectly saignant beef, and then he insisted I try the Wellington, which was a riff thereof, the pastry substituted with roasted potatoes, and when I finally did, wow, this Wellington was pretty amazing. So amazing I suggested to husband that we swap plates, hence the picture of it in mid-consumption.
The creamy-fluffy-crumbly potato acted as a perfect base for the beef cheeks which had been braised to the point of meat candy, chewy and tough and concentrated with flavours that went on and on, so good that if they made a main dish out of it I am sure that it will sell out. The little disc at 6 o'clock is actually beef marrow battered and deepfried, that was also a little wonder in itself. The fricassée turned out to be made with braised cos lettuce, lovely. The piece of beef meanwhile, was eaten slowly, as slow as is possible with a three year old fighting for her unequal (i.e. larger) share. So while the preceding dishes were unimpeachable and toeing the line in all that is proper and correct, and making our meal a bit of a plod, this dish which the manager had not really done any hard sell for, turned out to be an unexpected star. The fireworks flew, and excitement blew through the room, at least in our little corner, even contagiously spreading to the older French couple next door who declared that they were enjoying themselves (they emphasized that they have eaten in many fine restaurants) to the point of taking pictures of themselves non-stop with their flash-enabled camera.
After the beef highlight we were in a pretty good mood, and also feeling very full. It was time to choose a cheese or a pre-dessert. We went for the pre-dessert, a chef's concoction of comice pears ice cream with crystallised pears and exotic fruits and pear liquor. I love comice pears, this was easy to enjoy.
The first dessert was ananas glacé a la meringue, minestrone à la noix de coco. The meringue contained a light coconut mousse studded with crystallised ginger pieces, the combination of shatter-crispy meringue with sharp fruit flavours and velvety cream exuberantly fruity. It was fabulous, and we were not even finished yet, the meringue was sitting on top of some lightly cooked granny smith apples, its sweet and crisp tartness totally unexpected and adding to the party atmosphere. What a standout.
The second dessert, even if it was made of chocolate, could not possibly compete. Crunchy chocolate encasing passion fruit sorbet and hazelnut praline was pretty but not not terribly exciting. We were already too full anyway, even V could only finish part of the chocolate shell.
We ordered coffee for ourselves, and were given a little silver dish containing chocolate popsicles filled with fruit flavoured cold cream. Very nice. Later the chocolate trolley was rolled around, it has big glass jars containing pistachio caramels and a selection of milk and dark chocolates. V chose these marshmallow-like treats, it's called something like 'ta ge da' and was very cute, the inside pinky white and softly melting while the outside is dusted with a fruity powdery film. We made husband try one, he liked it too.
It was a very pleasant meal. The brigade of waitstaff were very patient, helpful and attentive. I asked for a copy of the menu, this they gave to me in a discreet fashion at the end of the lunch in a folder (together with menus for the coming festive season) put into a black shopping bag within which was also nestled a small loaf of passion fruit and almond cake. V got a cake too, and they did not charge us for her plate of beautiful vegetables.
I asked husband if he thought that this places deserves a 5.5 score. He emphatically disagreed, and proffered a more generous mark of 8.5 instead. I am in accord with him, the food was of a high standard and some dishes were magnificient, the service was irreprochable and in general it deserves more attention than the relative disdain with which it is now getting. Good luck Mr Ramsay!
In our household we consider Heinz Baked Beans as a staple. When we get visitors from UK they are usually surprised at our request for baked beans. It's not that it's not available here, Bon Marché has them at an exorbitant price and Carrefour occasionally has stocks, so our supplies are usually quite precarious.
Next, the curious visitors will ask of me, how do you eat it? Well, what we don't do is to put it on toast. I might microwave a small tin and eat it as a snack, but with a regular sized tin I make a dish with cubed pork in a Chinese style. It is a common enough dish in Singapore and Malaysia but not elsewhere which accounts for the surprise when they first hear of the recipe. The sweet, sour and savoury flavours make it an appetising accompaniment to rice, and it is very easy to cook, children in particular will love it. One more thing, don't bother with other brands, only Heinz will do in this instance.
1 tin Heinz Baked Beans.
1 fist-sized chunk of pork, cubed (cut smaller than the ones here) and seasoned with salt & pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
On standby: sugar, white vinegar & tomato ketchup
1. Sautée chopped garlic until fragrant but not brown.
2. Add pork and stir 3-5 minutes until the inside is cooked
3. Pour contents of tin of baked beans in. Stir lightly and let it simmer at medium heat for ~2 minutes. In the meantime add a generous dollop of ketchup, a few drops of vinegar plus a pinch of sugar to amp up the ketchup flavours.
4. Let the mixture dry out a little and become a darker colour, caramelized sauce at the edge of the pan is yummy. Dish out.