Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Should a craving for saucy chicken alarm swans?

My Spanish classmate, Clara, came for lunch yesterday with three other guests and today she asked me for the recipe of the sauce that I made to go with the oven-roasted chicken drumsticks and wings. She said she enjoyed a tasty sauce as she usually found chicken too bland to eat on its own.

Has anyone eaten swan (right) before? Yikes, no, it's protected. Anyway, you don't want to tangle with this fella -- this young Mute Swan hisses. (How do I know it's male, or a cob? It has a larger knob growing above the bill, that's how.) 'Show me your knob and I'll show you mine!' this young cob looks like he's saying.

It was marinade left over from the chicken pieces. Thought I should make good use of it instead of draining it away.

In case anyone else would also like the recipe, here it is:

Marinade for 500g of chicken wings/drumsticks:

1 teaspoon salt
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp five-spice powder (if you have it)
2 or 3 tablespoon balsamico or cider vinegar (depending on how tangy you want it)
1 tbs honey
1 tbs fresh or dried parsley
2 tbs dark sweet soy sauce
1 tbs soy sauce

Marinate the chicken pieces in the mixture for at least 5 hours, better overnight. Preheat oven to 195 degrees C. Place chicken on baking paper or aluminium foil-lined oven tray. At 18 minutes, you can glaze the pieces with a bit of additional honey or sugar. Take out wings at 25 minutes. Continue roasting drumsticks for another 6 or 7 minutes.

To make the sauce:

Pour the remaining marinade into a small saucepan. Medium heat with half teaspoon of chicken stock. Mix well 1 1/2 tsp of flour with 6 tsp of water. Add to marinade. Stir constantly on low heat till it boils. Adjust taste by adding salt or water. Take off stove.

These are two of the three wild Greylag geese that have been visiting the Zuger Lake lately. They look singularly distinctive with their orange beaks and pink-orange feet. (No fear, I haven't cooked my goose!)

P.S. Come to think of it, I'm not sure if the Mute Swan in the first pic is male (cob) or female (pen). Both have the knob thing on their bills, but the male one is mentioned in Wikipedia to have a larger knob (but of course!). Guess I can't tell unless I put a cob and a pen of the same age next to each other and compared their knobby bills. Don't see that happenin' any time soon, guv'nor. What?! You want me to get all hitam lebam (blue-black) attacked by the territorial males?! Hissssssss...

If you click on the pic (above) you will see close-up what a scruffy teenage 'girl' this Mute Swan is. So cute though. She's not fully adult yet -- you can see some feathers are still brown-grey. I'm always fascinated by swans' dark grey rubberlike feet in and out of the water. They swim so effortlessly but are comically ungainly on land.

It has been raining off and on for three days. When I braved going to the lake this evening, the wild fowl were extra ravenous. When I threw in some small pieces of bread and accidentally par-burnt roti canai, the swans and ducks rushed for them, knocking into each other's bills and heads. No wonder there is more than one Scarface mallard!

The bully-boss cobs (male swans) were extra mean in chasing away the skinny female ones, trying to pinch them with their knobby bills. Am glad to report I managed to feed all three skinny-necked pens (female swans) while one cob was making funny throaty sounds on the water below my feet. (They were mistakenly named Mute Swans; they do make noises.)

P.P.S. Why do I seem to love these teenage swans so much? 'Coz I have witnessed them growing up from downy grey cygnets since last September.

P.P.P.S. In 'Feathered Friends Flock Together' somewhere below, I've corrected the name of what I wrongly thought was a Mandarin duck. It's a kind of Carolina Wood duck. Now I've got to speak to it in a North or South Carolina accent -- instead of saying 'ni hau?' ('how are you?' in Mandarin) like I used to. Mea culpa. ^_^

Monday, June 25, 2007

Loco for Coconut

The other day, the other half was gently nagging me to use up the packs of dessicated coconut in the larder. "Ah," a light bulb switched on in my head yesterday, "I'll make some Coconut Barfi."

In secondary school, my fellow Rangers and I were taught by one Mrs Mona Toh how to make coconut candy with freshly grated coconut, sugar and condensed milk. We were told to watch out for the 'change of colour' towards the end of the endless stirring and turning over of the mixture. That's when the aromatic lump sticks together and the sugar content reaches crystallization point. Very dicey, this. If you cook it too long, you get dry crumbly candy. If you take it off the heat too soon, you'd end up with a soft, difficult-to-cut gooey mass.

I looked up my recipe file yesterday and decided to make Coconut Barfi, a Indian sweet similar to school-canteen-day coconut candy but mildly flavoured with cardamom.

Here are the ingredients:

1 1/2 tbs butter (or ghee)
1 cup dessicated or freshly grated coconut
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
3 tbs sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp ground cardamom

Medium-heat a thick bottomed pan, preferably non-stick. Put in 1 tbs of the butter. Add coconut. Stir fry for a minute. Add sugar, milk and condensed milk. Quite constantly stir with a silicone or wooden spatula until mixture is thick. Add cardamom. Continue cooking until mixture sticks together (duration: about 12 minutes). Add remaining 1/2 tbs butter and cook for another minute. Turn out onto buttered small shallow pan (15cm diameter if round). Let cool for 25 minutes and cut into rectangles.

Caution: This sweet is very, very addictive!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chan-mali-chan Roti Canai

(right) Roti canai, lightly panfried for reheating the next morning.

Wokandspoon, who read about my craving for roti canai in Lee Ping's blog, told me about her 'third time successful' roti canai-making adventure and I was inspired to try her recipe:

Since I didn't have margarine at hand, I used butter. These were what I found in my kitchen closest to Wokandspoon's recipe:

3 cups of flour
1 1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground raw sugar
2 tbs sweetened condensed milk (can be replaced with 1 3/4 tbs milk + 1 tsp sugar)
1 cup of water, or a bit less
2 1/2 tbs butter (or margarine)
1 1/2 tbs sunflower seed oil
extra oil for 'lubrication' and frying

Mix flour with salt and sugar in a big bowl. Add milk and stir with fork. Slowly add the water till you have 'slightly sticky' dough. Add butter and oil. Use hand to knead it into a quite smooth dough. Oil hand and divide dough into 7 or 8 balls. Oil them lightly and keep covered in the bowl. Let it rest for an hour.

Go read a book or something. Then you're ready for 'action':
Oil your hands and pat down a ball of dough on a clean oiled marble work top.
Press it as flat as possible. Then, using both hands, hold flattened dough with four fingers on top and thumb below, move your right hand up followed by left hand -- in a wavy 'S' motion.
The dough stretches. Move your hands to another part of the dough edge. Repeat S motion. Put the dough on the marble top and continue pulling and stretching it -- take care the edges are stretched thin too -- making it as big as possible. Fold the top halfway in, fold the bottom halfway up. Do the same for the sides.

Heat thick-bottomed pan to 'medium hot' and put in 3/4 tbs of oil. When oil is heated, carefully put in the folded dough. Try not to pinch any part of the folded dough into a lump. After a minute or two when the bottom is 'spotted' medium brown, hold your pan handle and flip the roti over. After 30 seconds, swing the dough around on the pan to ensure the 'new' side soaks up a bit of the oil in the pan. Remove from pan when the other side is brown too.

Serve hot with a dhal, lentil, vegetable or tangy fish curry.

For roti pisang (below), add thin slices of ripe banana 3x3 on the stretched dough before folding.

To accompany the roti, I made a vegetable curry with lentils, zucchini, mushrooms, turnip, fennel and onion.

Thank goodness, no dough flew off and got stuck on walls and ceiling. Phew!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Feathered Friends Flock Together

One of the best things about living in Switzerland is the many lakes dotted around the country between mountains and hills. On a calm day, the surrounding highlands, some snow-capped for most of the year, are reflected in the water, which can range from an aquamarine green to turquoise. On a windy day, the waves can make even a fish chuck up.

One of the best things about living near a lake is the presence of many water birds. My favourites are the ducks, swans and 'bonneted divers' Great Crested Grebe (these have long necks and a sort of bonnet structure around their heads; they dive expertly for fish). Lake gulls and Eurasian coots (black with white beaks) are more common and less enchanting to watch, unless they're accompanied by their young.

'Hi there. Any more bread in your pockets?' One of the cute, not yet all-white, teenage swans gives me its best hungry and enquiring look.

I mistook this Carolina duck for a Mandarin duck, so I said 'ni hau?' to him every time I saw him. His modus operandi is to take a small piece of bread from the grass and dive onto the lake to eat it. Timid, sweet, very low in the pecking order, gets chased by mallards and coots.

Meet Mr & Mrs Mallard. She's always ravenous (maybe because she lays the eggs) and her man often gives in to her as far as getting eats is concerned. In this picture, she's nearer my feet than Mr Mallard -- as usual.

Mr Duck strikes his handsomest pose (below).

In the last photo, a Eurasian Coot swims by an adult swan. The bossier swans often try to prevent the blur teenage swans from getting near me (i.e. the food) but I try my best to throw bread to the skinnier ones on the periphery. Gotta fight that 'survival of the fittest or most beautiful' thing.

Two of the oft-bullied teenage swans have very skinny necks, one of which has something like a tumour growing from one side (I hope it's NOT a tumour though). The one without the 'tumour' is very slow in catching bread -- even the ducks get the better of it, so your timing must be pretty good and your throwing skilful to feed this blur-as-sotong fellow.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bread Baking Made Easy

I had always thought making bread was too difficult, dicey and not worth the effort. How wrong I was. After making variations of 'peasant bread' based on recipes by Jamie Oliver and Rose Levy Beranbaum, here dare I present my simplified version:

Argus's Fool-Proof(ed) Bread

1 packet dry yeast (7g)
210ml tepid water (comfortably warm, NOT hot)
2 tsp honey OR sugar

2 cups bread flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
3/4 tsp salt

2 tsb extra bread flour for working & sprinkling
a handful of 2 or 3 of your favourite fillings (pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, deseeded olive green and/or black, fig, raisin, apricot, walnut, etc)

1. Mix the yeast and honey/sugar into half the tepid water. Mix the flours and salt in a big bowl or a clean marble countertop. Make a well in the centre of the flour mix. Pour in the yeast mixture. Using four fingers of one hand, gradually stir the flour into the liquid until thick. Add the rest of the tepid water and continue mixing till you get smooth & silky dough. Knead dough for 5 minutes. If dough sticks to fingers, just rub it off with a little extra flour.

2. Shape dough into a round and place it in a big oiled bowl or on floured baking paper. Slice the top twice 1cm deep with a sharp knife to aid the rising. Place in a warm, draught-free part of your kitchen for about 35 minutes for its first proofing. When it has risen about double in size, you're on the right track.

3. Place dough on floored worktop (I use a plastic chopping board), punch or press it down a bit for a minute. Spread the fillings over. Roll it up and shape it into a round or oval (or whatever you wish the final shape to be). Diagonally slice the top 1cm deep a few times. Leave it undisturbed on a floured or baking-paper-lined baking tray or loaf pan for about 40 minutes for its second proofing.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 205 degrees Celsius for at least 7 minutes. Peek at your dough. Has it risen double again? If you're happy with its size, place the baking tray or loaf pan gently in the oven and gently close the oven door. If it hasn't risen enough, wait patiently for another 5 to 15 minutes before baking it.

5. Bake your bread undisturbed for 25 minutes. Take it out and tap on the bottom of your loaf. It should sound 'hollow' -- then, voila! it's done! Let it cool on a wire rack for half an hour before slicing and sampling.

It's so delicious when eaten fresh baked with butter, etc -- that's one of the best reasons for baking your own bread from scratch.

P.S. If you scroll down to Bloomin' Brilliant Brownies, you can see the freshly minted pictures of brownies I baked with toppings of cookies and white choc chunks.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bloomin' blooms bowl me over

The little pot of chives (Schnittlauch) on the balcony surprisingly, charmingly, burst into bloom (above) a few weeks ago. Never knew chives sprouted flowers, did you?

Can anyone help me identify these flowers (above) I saw outside the Notre Dame in Paris? Yes, I know I need "Horticulture for Dummies".

The picture below was taken in the back garden of a bed & breakfast my friends and I stayed at in L'Hayes des Roses, at the edge of Paris. It was such a charming little place. The landlady, a young one named Sophie, made her own orange marmalade and it was so delicious we ate great lengths of the baguette just so we could eat more of the jam.

When I'm 'retired' I'd like to own and run a nice B&B somewhere by the sea. Where do you think I should have it? East coast of the Malaysian peninsula (I wouldn't paint it pink like the one in the photo though. ^_^ ) or some island off Thailand?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Notre Dame -- Our Lady in Paris

The ceiling of the Notre Dame (right).

If you stay quiet and look closely, you might see some 'ghosts'. Yikes.

Two arches inside the cathedral. Despite the numerous tourists, the atmosphere is one of calm and peace.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Broad on bread

Here's a couple of pictures of the bread I baked from scratch. Thanks to Mrs Rose Levy Beranbaum and Jamie Oliver, I've learnt a few things about baking bread:

1. Keep your yeast alive! I sweated over the temperature of the water to mix the dry yeast in with the honey or sugar. I've figured out 'tepid water' means water that you can stick a clean finger into and it should neither feel cold nor hot, justly slightly warm. If it's too hot, the yeast will 'die' and your dough will not rise much.

2. Kneading is fun and therapeutic. It's not hard work at all. Just five minutes of folding, pushing and prodding the dough before the first proofing.

3. Add your fav ingredients (olives, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, chopped apricots, walnuts, etc) before the second proofing and shape dough into the final form you want. Slash the top half an inch deep two or three times with a sharp knife so the dough relaxes and rises nicely again. Place it onto a generously floured baking tray or loaf pan if you want it to be a more upright bread shape.

(At top is a 'window pane' montage of the wharf at Ascona, Ticino, in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Blown over by Bloomin' Brilliant Brownies

Jamie Oliver's website has a wonderful rich chocolate brownie recipe that has been a big hit with my German language classmates, Austrian teacher, and my partner. I made a batch for an in-school birthday party for our Russian classmate. It was also to celebrate our Italian classmate's going-away-to-have-a-baby.

I've adapted it to make it less fattening. Here it is:

JO's Brilliant Brownies

200g butter
200g dark chocolate (make it white choc for a 'blondie' variation!)
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts or whatever nuts you fancy
1/2 cup your fav dried fruit, chopped (dried cherries, apricot, figs, etc)

3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten

Melt butter with broken up chocolate in a big saucepan over low heat. Add nuts/fruit. Sift and mix together flour, baking powder and cocoa powder, mix the sugar into it, and add the dry mixture to the melted choc mixture. Add eggs and stir lightly until incorporated.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 350 degrees F. Line 12"x12" pan with baking paper and pour in mixture. Bake for 25-27 minutes. Take out of oven and let it cool in the pan. Cut into squares/rectangles. Texture is moist and slightly gooey.

(Brownies can taste loads better than they look. Mr Oliver suggests serving them with creme fraiche whipped with a bit of orange zest. I had some maple walnut ice-cream in the freezer -- it was bee's knees served with microwave-warmed brownies. Come to think of it, it was the whole hive's knees all put together -- so good it tasted. Heh.)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Think of France

A couple more pics to 'entertain' you with.
The ceiling of Napoleon's apartment (right) -- elaborately beautiful: Josephine could have just lain back and thought of France.

What do you think the second photo is?

Scroll down for the answer.

Hee hee.

In the Louvre, touching sculptures is forbidden. I saw a Chinese-looking visitor leaning against the pedestal of a sculpture for his picture to be taken. Out of nowhere a museum officer came to tell him off.

Ha ha.

(Here's the answer: the view from right below a huge-ass chandelier in The Louvre.)

My old living-room

My old living-room
In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

A cherished dream

A cherished dream
To live on a pale beach by a crystal clear sea. (This was taken on the east coast of Johor state, Malaysia.)