Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Tale of Spice and Intrigue

A couple of years ago, when I was working for a daily, I stumbled upon the most delicious and fresh-tasting chilli side dish - at the publication company's canteen, of all places. I asked tall, strapping Raju, the canteen operator, what the reddish concoction was made from and he told me: "Pounded fresh chillies and sliced onion cooked in salt."

It was that simple. But it was also simply appetizing. You could wolf down spoonfuls of rice with just this 'sambal'. However, after serving it a couple of times, Raju stopped making it - despite my begging him to do so. He never told me why he didn't dish it out anymore, even though I talked football with him every so often. Since then I've dreamt of eating this fabulous chilli thing, but somehow or other never attempted to make it myself.

The weather these few days in and around Zug, Switzerland, has been hot, hot, hot. As Mrs HBT has said, in summer, whip up some spicy dishes to stimulate your appetite - not that mine ever needs stimulating (as it is, I must eat once every three or four hours due to 'low blood sugar' or hypoglycaemia).

A blogger from Guyana, Cynthia of Tastes Like Home http://www.tasteslikehome.org/ , has inspired me with her mouth-watering salt fish recipes. Today, I decided to break open the last pack of dried salted fish I'd brought from Malaysia and combine her tomato & onion inspiration with Raju's dream sambal into something satisfying yet low-caloried. (Who would have thought Cynthia and Raju would 'meet' like this?)

Tomato, Onion & Salt Fish Argussimo

3 or 4 pieces (roughly 50g) of dried salted fish, soaked in water for 10 minutes
2 tomatoes, cubed hugely
half a big onion, sliced quite thinly
1 red chilli, seeded and sliced thinly
1 tsp chopped or dried parsley
pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs of sunflower seed oil

Heat oil in saucepan. Add onion and stir-fry on medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Squeeze water from the salt fish and tear into smaller pieces, add them to the pan. Fry for another 2 minutes. Add tomato and fry till the liquid is reduced by half. Add sugar, salt and parsley, and cook for another minute. Serve hot with white rice.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bleeding Heart Muffins & Mauled Mallards

Here's another post with a multiple personality disorder. Don't say I didn't warn ya.

Wok&Spoon inspired me to make muffins with those eminently delightful dried cranberries a couple of weeks ago. To add interest, I gave the muffins a 'bleeding heart', which is a small spoon of cherry jam right in the middle. Topped with chunks of almond white chocolate and roasted hazelnuts, the muffins were ready for the oven. I almost forgot the cranberries - they were outside the kitchen by the sofa. Cranberries are great to munch on while watching the news - so I was in danger of scarfing the lot in my quest for interesting muffins.

The muffins were still reasonably soft the next day. Heat one in the microwave on low power for 12 to 15 seconds for an aromatic boost. If you want the recipe, here it is (I developed it myself):

Cranberry Bleeding Heart Muffins

150g butter
7 tbs sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar (or 1/2 tsp vanilla essence)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
a small handful of hazelnuts (or your favourite nuts), medium roasted
a small handful of white choc chunks
a handful of cranberries
4 tsp of your fav berry jam

Cream by hand the sugars into the butter for 2 minutes in a big bowl. Add eggs and mix lightly. Mix the flour with baking powder and salt, and add to butter mixture. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Butter 8 or 9 holes of medium muffin pan(s). Spoon a tablespoon of the batter into each hole. Add half a teaspoon of jam to the centre. Top with more batter till three-quarters full (a bit more if you like to bake dangerously!). Top with nuts, choc chunks and cranberries. Pop into the middle of the oven for 23-25 minutes. (Watch the 'rising show' through the glass front once every 5 minutes for added satisfaction.) Take out of oven and, after 2 minutes, remove muffins carefully with small fork and butter knife. Let cool on a wire rack. Eat two while still warm! (This recipe gives you 8 or 9 muffins.)

(Right) Isn't this the biggest cherry you've ever seen? It's labelled 'XL' in the supermarket here in Switzerland. Very juicy and sweet! Eating it is like a little spot of heaven on Earth.

The picture below is specially for Spiffy who wanted to see Scarface the duck. The Mallards seem to have lost some downy feathers from their heads. Next to these weather-worn wild ducks is a perfectly unmolested Eurasian coot, which is pretty hardy, cunning and quick.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Luckless in Lucerne

(above) The curiously painted front of a restaurant in Lucerne Old Town.

THOUGHT I'd take a break from food and go traipsing again. It was last Saturday and I was foot-loose and almost fancy-free.

Lucerne is about half an hour's train ride from Cham, the tiny two-street town where I live. Unlike Cham, Lucerne is almost always bustling in the daytime with locals and tourists from all over the world.

It so happened the Old City festival was in full swing with all manner of bands playing here and there in the pedestrian area. For instance, one tent had two singers performing Abba songs while a couple of streets away, a bagpipe band was wailing heartily. The organisers had set up tables and benches for beer drinkers and the like. Seated revellers buzzed with chatting and laughter. It was like a mini Oktoberfest.

I had wanted to do some shopping and museum visiting but had forgotten that street shops closed at four p.m. on Saturdays (and the art museum near the train station closed at five). Only the shops in the train station shopping centre opened till seven or nine but those weren't very attractive.

So I skipped town around six. It was uncanny on the train ride home from Lucerne - I opened the book of Somerset Maugham's short stories I carried with me and the spy in the tale I had begun reading was also taking a train from Lucerne. The agent, Ashenden, however, was headed for glamorous Basel; while lil' ol' me was bound for lil' ol' Cham.

The water at Lake Lucerne (above) is crystal clear.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

What's delicious and red all over?

Have you heard of the Japanese man who was convicted of eating his Caucasian dinner guest? Do you secretly admire Hannibal the Cannibal in Silence of the Lambs?

Wait, come back! Just kidding. The photo above is NOT human meat. It's not even meat. It's cut strips of beetroot. Rote Bete or Rande, German and Swiss-German for beetroot, is naturally very purplish red. It is sold shrink-wrapped in plastic in the cold veggie section of supermarkets here. I love it. You don't need to cook it or do anything with it -- but you can if you want -- it is naturally sweet and refreshing, but you need to slice off the skin or it might taste a tad earthy.

In a restaurant in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, I once had a starter of cubed beetroot served in a wineglass with boiled shrimp and whipped cream. It was heavenly. No wonder it was used as an appetizer.

You can cut the beetroot into slices or strips or cubes, and dress it with lemon and sugar (or honey). Or savour it savoury with salt and a bit of raspberry vinegar or cider vinegar.

The first time I had boiled beetroot was many years ago in Montana, USA, in the food service hall of the University of Montana in Missoula. I was immediately taken by it.

The other red thing that I love so much is cherries. June/July is the season for cherries here. If you're pitting cherries with a little hand-held contraption, you need to be careful about white or pale clothing. It's alarming to get splashed with the concentrated red juice. But I love eating cherries au naturel (undressed cherries, that is, not me! Although eating cherries in the nude is not a bad idea, come to think of it, mmm; just take a shower after). Nothing like munching on a dozen of them after a savoury meal.

What are your favourite red things?

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.)