Saturday, November 14, 2009

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Ghastly To-Do List. And Halloween Cupcakes To Die For

The to-do list went on and on, even as a sense of foreboding and doubt built, as if it were The Ten Commandments. Only it outnumbered them:  

  • bake 75 cupcakes for three different parties - two Halloween, one a ghoulie-girlie birthday
  • decorate all said cupcakes
  • attend physio for a hand injury (same hand needed for baking)
  • find H1N1 clinic for adults
  • fix punctured car tire (ended up replacing the thing)
  • write three stories
  • organize photos for another story chase up a photo assignment
  • organize craft items for a school party
  • deliver stuff relating to a school fundraiser
  • grocery shopping
  • pack and post a parcel via UPS to a keen Craigslist buyer
  • pick up child and his playdate from school  

    Lots of unknowns. How much would get done today? What happens if I don't finish up? How would I organize myself? How did I get myself into this mess? 

    One thing I knew for sure - I had to get cracking. The eggs complied.

    By the end of the day, 10.00pm to be exact, this is what I had to show for it, in terms of cupcakes anyway. 

    My kitchen comes with it a butler's pantry, with a view (see the last pic) that transforms with the seasons - the autumn one is my favorite.

    Happy Halloween!


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    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Chicken Stirfry with Red and Yellow Peppers and Cashew

    This is one of the fall-back recipes I've kept from decade to decade. It worked as well in the BC days (before children) as it does now - the only difference being in how I use my free time (far more frivolously in those days) and is inspired by the fresh and quickly prepared 'street food' in Singapore.  It's easy, you only need the one wok, and takes 15-20 minutes from start to finish. Just put the rice in a rice cooker before you start chopping the veg and chicken fillets and watch everything come together at the end for a steamy-hot comforting meal on a cold-weather day like today. The red and yellow peppers may be substituted for green beans, broccoli or sugar snap peas. For an alternative method, check out this one on the Food Network.

    • Chicken fillets, 4, sliced or cubed
    • Red and yellow peppers, 1 of each, sliced long
    • Dried red chillies, 4, leave them whole
    • Shallots, 2 large, sliced
    • Garlic, 2 cloves, chopped
    • Ginger, 1 tsp worth, grated
    • Soy sauce, 3 tbsp
    • Brown sugar, 1/2 tsp
    • Corn flour, 1 tsp, heaped
    • Coriander, ground, 1 tsp
    • Cinnamon, 1/2 tsp
    • Cashew nuts, 1/2 cup, roasted
    • Sesame oil, 1/2 tsp
    • Canola, coconut or peanut oil, 2 tbsp
    • Water or stock, as needed
    • Coriander leaves/cilantro, handful

    1. In a small bowl, combine the sesame oil, corn flour, soy sauce, brown sugar and whisk. Keep aside
    2. Heat the wok, add the oil and saute shallot and chillis, adding ginger and garlic once the shallot is softened
    3. Add cinnamon and coriander, saute till fragrant
    4. Keeping the heat up, add the chicken and some of the seasoning in that bowl in step 1
    5. Saute quickly till the chicken pieces plump up, adding a little stock or water if needed
    6. Add the peppers, stir fry till it begins to just soften, add the rest of the seasoning, drop in half the cilantro
    7. The juices will start to thicken at this stage, quickly add the cashews, the rest of the cilantro and combine
    8. Take it off the heat and serve immediately with brown rice and a salad

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    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

    It was nostalgic cooking with butternut squash recently, a much-neglected activity since the early months of weaning both my children. It has literally been years since I have picked up this fruit, preferring instead to make pies, couscous, roasted veg dishes and soups with pumpkin instead. 

    Back in the day, I'd skin the Mr-Peanut-shaped, pale beige butternut, cube and steam it, then whizz it into the most attractive orange-colored puree that the children both lapped up with enthusiasm (from 7 months onwards), sometimes with pear or apple, but mostly unadulterated. There would be gallons of this, and dozens of other purees - avocado and pear, sweet potato, spinach and apple, carrot, lentil, prune and oatmeal, chickpea, apple, pear, apricot, peach, nectarine, mango. Everything would be lovingly chopped,  steamed or baked, liquidized, frozen in ice-cube trays, then popped out into neatly labeled baggies, ready for mix-n-match baby meals. By the time the kids started to eat regular food, I was exceedingly happy and grateful not to need to countenance another butternut squash again for a while.

    Fast forward five years, in tribute to those memorable days, to the seasonal bounty of fruit and squash, and to the fact that both children are still good eaters, here's that puree again, reincarnated as a rich and nutty soup for the family, flavored with apple and aromatic spices.

    • butternut squash, 1, skinned, chopped into a few pieces
    • apples, 4, skinned, cored and halved. Drizzle with lemon juice
    • cinnamon, 2-3 tbsp
    • nutmeg, 1/2 tsp
    • ginger, fresh and grated, 3 tsp
    • vegetable stock, 3-4 cups
    • celery, 3 sticks
    • shallot, 1, chopped
    • butter, 1 tbsp
    • olive oil, 1/2-1 tbsp
    • sage leaves, 2
    • lemon juice, 1 tbsp
    • seasoning

    1. Preheat the oven to 420F
    2. Place the butternut squash and apples, drizzled with some oil and with some cinnamon sprinkled over them, in the oven and bake about 30-40 minutes
    3. Allow to cool and chop further
    4. In a large saucepan, saute celery and onions till fragrant, add sage leaves
    5. Add the squash and apples and stock, along with the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg
    6. Allow to simmer, about 20 mins. Remove sage leaves
    7. Season and puree through a food processor till smooth, adding water or stock as needed
    8. The soup may be cooled and refrigerated at this stage
    9. Serve with a drizzle of neutral-fragrance oil (eg grapeseed) and some roasted pumpkin seeds

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    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Cinnamon Cupcakes

    These are immensely popular with adults and kids alike. I thought I'd throw the cinnamon in instead of vanilla, betting confidently that this would keep the kids at bay. But no such luck.

    Make them mini bite-size cupcakes and even the ladies on permanent diets will reach for seconds, even as they protest (feebly).

    (Makes 40 regular ones, about 70-80 minis)
    • eggs, 5
    • butter, 2 1/2 sticks
    • sugar, 2 cups
    • salt, pinch
    • milk, 1 1/2 cups, room temperature
    • cinnamon, 1 1/2 tbsp
    • wholemeal flour, 1 cup
    • plain flour, 2 1/2 cups
    • baking flour, 1 tbsp
    1. Preheat oven to 350F (170C)
    2. Cream butter and sugar till fluffy
    3. Add eggs and continue blending, one by one
    4. Sift together the dry ingredients
    5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in about 3 goes
    6. Using a tiny ice cream scoop or spoon, fill cupcake liners, leaving the top quarter free
    7. Bake 10 minutes, turn the pan around and bake another 10 minutes. Cool.
    8. Frost with vanilla/cinnamon icing
    9. Hide them from the kids ;)

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    Sunday, September 27, 2009

    Pahang Adds Sizzle To Verona Restaurant Scene

    (Review published on Baristanet on Sept. 24th)

    duck roll.JPG
    As someone who was born in Malaysia and has widely traveled and eaten her way through Southeast Asia, I was delighted to hear a restaurant called Pahang, after Malaysia's third-largest state, had set up shop on Bloomfield Ave in Verona. With readers asking to know more about it, I was only too happy to oblige, even as I appreciated the surrealism of the task - little-known Pahang (plucked out of Malaysia), in the thick of Verona (ditto, out of Italy), in New Jersey. A neat microcosm of the three continents I've lived in. Serendipity? No matter, I was ravenous.

    First, some context. Pahang the state, which comprises one million ethnic Malays and indigenous people (known as Bumiputeras), is also a fifth Chinese and seven percent Indian - factors which hugely shape the spicing and variety of the state's cuisine, and of Malaysian food in general.

    The visit to Pahang restaurant was a nostalgic one for me culinarily; for objectivity, I brought along a born-and-bred New Yorker friend who lives in Montclair and, thank goodness, was as motivated as I to find another Asian-food winner in the area. We had recently risked life and limb on Rt 10 to visit Penang on East Hanover, only to come away somewhat let down by our choices that day.

    So, with renewed appetite, we walked into the cantaloupe and avocado-themed tropical-style interior of Pahang, which has been open since May, having parked easily across the restaurant and bought ourselves an hour at the meter for a mere 25 cents.

    We made no reservations for lunch, indeed the restaurant was quiet, being as it was a Monday. More food for us then. I ask if we can have smaller portions as it was our first visit and as we were eager to try a number of dishes. Beyanka, the chef's cheerful wife, politely obliged.

    Perusing the impressive lunch and regular menus, we notice an entire section with several pages of Japanese food, including sushi, wraps and salads. As keen on Japanese as I am, I focus on the cuisine relevant to the restaurant's name.

    roti canai.JPG
    We start with Roti Canai (pronounced cha-nai) - an Indian-inspired flaky bread which also goes by the name of prata, served with chicken curry. This is typical of street food in Malaysia and Singapore, and I felt it could be a benchmark of things to come. The bread was perfect, hot off the griddle, light and fluffy, not greasy, and the tasty chicken curry had tender chunks of the bird in it. Big thumbs-up there.

    duck wrap.JPG
    Second is a fresh duck wrap, stuffed with with mango and vegetables and served with a hoisin-and-plum sauce, which, you guessed it, derives from Malaysia's Chinese influences. The duck was a little gamey (sometimes the nature of duck) but this is somewhat mitigated by the sweetness of the mango and pleasing bite of the vegetables, all wrapped to picture perfection. Gordon Ramsay would be proud.

    gado gado.JPG
    Gado gado is next - a popular street food in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, this is a salad comprising sliced boiled egg, served cold, along with crisp and green, lightly blanched French beans, tomatoes, fried tofu slices, Chinese turnip, Chinese cabbage and topped with a spicy peanut sauce. We both loved this salad and are already determined to make it a regular item on future visits. It's crunchy, fresh, sweet and the variety of textures keeps it interesting. I love that it's a complete meal with its egg and nutty sauce, and would have been quite happy having it alone for lunch.

    beef rendang.JPG
    For our mains, we pick a couple of dishes that are typically Malaysian. Beef rendang, a dark, sweet curry of beef which hails from Minangkabau in Indonesia, is one. I would gather that this dish varies from place to place, for it appeared to lack the tamarind-lemongrass factor I have come to expect, as well as the note of galangal. However, as beef curries go, it was delicious, the portions were generous, and the meat was tender and not grisly. If you've traveled through Asia, you will know that's three points in your favor; it's just not easy to coax quality flesh out of a scrawny cow that's been fed a modest-calorie Asian diet.

    Along with the curry came the Pahang Char Kway Teow, a stir-fried noodle dish chock full of bean sprouts, which the chef happily made substitutions for (I am allergic to shellfish and he used chicken instead, after also offering beef). We were both delighted at the mini wok the noodles were served in, topped off with a chive-blossom garnish. The dish was delicious and the chef mercifully went easy on the stir-fry oil.

    Our meal had condiment companions. One, a fiery little dish of chopped bird's-eye chilis which even I, accustomed to all manner of chillification, shied away from.

    shrimp sambal.JPG
    The second was a crunchy, dry chilli-and-shrimp sambal, like a dry chutney, which I'd recommend that one tries as it is authentically Malaysian. Although, like anchovies, it could be an acquired taste.

    Overall, we were happy with the food, extremely so with the service, and would rate Pahang 3.5 stars out of 5. We were charmed by the boyish-faced chef, Tuck Cheng, 43, who met his wife Beyanka eight years ago, coincidentally, in a branch of the Penang restaurant in Long Island. After a few years of running that restaurant, they were hoping to open a new restaurant in the Greater New York Area. A friend recommended Verona, and one day, while driving through the city, they spotted a For Sale sign by the previous Chinese restaurant occupying the spot on Bloomfield Ave. With no Malaysian restaurant anywhere in the vicinity, they zeroed in and swooped it up.

    Tuck Cheng and Beyanka are hoping to have their online menu up and running soon, but for those of you who have been, like me, on the lookout for a tasty Asian restaurant that does deliveries, your search ends here. Pahang will deliver, free of charge, to Montclair, Verona, Cedar Grove, West Orange, Glen Ridge and Bloomfield.
    (Photos by Bernadette Baum)

    Pahang Asian Cuisine
    575 Bloomfield Ave
    Verona, NJ 07044

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    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    Dulce, Church St's Own Sweet Spot

    (Written for Baristanet, Sept 21, 2009. Click on the title for the original post)

    It all began in Northport, a little village on the North Shore of Long Island, when two sisters and their mom began a weekly tradition of walking to the local penny candy store, each child clutching a dollar in her fist, ready to stock up on whatever their hearts desired.

    "We were raised in a way that we were never denied anything, although we were encouraged to eat healthily," says Diana Tripoli, co-owner of Dulce (which hails from the Latin dulcis, meaning sweet), the candy store on Church St in Montclair that's been open barely a month. "This was such a treat for us, a fun outing, a tangible reward that tasted great and we were also excited by the visual aspect of it."

    That passion for the sweet stuff continued into adulthood, so much so that the comely Diana and her sister Melissa, four years her junior, decided to recreate that piece of their childhood.

    "A year ago, we had this idea of opening a quaint candy store like what we grew up around in Northport. We always liked Montclair and thought it was perfect - it's pretty, full of families, it's a walking town and there's a unique shopping experience here," said Diana.

    They scoped out various possible locations for a store and waited for the right opportunity.

    "We wanted a space that was the right size, not too big or small," says Diana. "Then, we lucked out with this space and when it came up, we jumped on it."

    With a weakness for sweets and attractive visual arrangements, I was drawn by Dulce's lime and aqua window display, with the triple vases of faux rock candy, well before it opened. With a few weeks of business under their (trim) belts, the Tripoli sisters said the response to their store, in the same building as Clearview's Clairidge Cinema on Bloomfield Ave, has been nothing but positive.

    Apart from a location that guarantees regular foot traffic, Dulce, which is decked out appealingly in a shade of retro teal, is a store that has something for everyone.

    Said Melissa, radiant with a six-month baby bump, "We source our candy from different wholesalers and retailers across America, from Ohio, Long Island and California too, to get the best variety."

    Apart from the contemporary plain or filled chocolates, hard candy, lollipops and gummies, Dulce is chock-full of sugarfree, gluten-, dairy- and nut-free candy, and a whole ream of nostalgic sweets such as 5th Ave candy bars, Wax Lips, Gold Mine gum, Chick-O-StickMallo Cups, French Chew Taffy and Mary Janes.

    My two sons, who don't eat candy too often (due to their mom's debilitating penchant for the stuff and temptation avoidance), are already fans, and my older son sent me along to Dulce with a request for almond-filled milk and dark chocolate. He wasn't disappointed. Although I'll have to drum up the courage to tell him I've finished the lot.
    (Photos and slideshow/Bernadette Baum)


    17 Church St,

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    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Rosh Hashana Melon Soup (Recession-Friendly)

    So I copped out on the chicken soup and matzo balls this year. What can I say, it's a recession and I couldn't countenance wasting an entire carcass for what would have been, no doubt, a tasty soup. Besides, the butcher was long on non-kosher sausages and short on chicken bones. Instead, I reproduced a soup I came up with a few weeks earlier when I found myself with two voluptuous melons fast ripening and fast stinking up my kitchen - this is what melons do if you haven't room in your fridge for them - and had to find a non-wasteful way of using them up. (Click on the headline to read more)

    Saturday, September 19, 2009

    Moist and Majestic Honey Cake by Marcy Goldman

    I chanced upon this recipe for honey cake, a traditional sweet for the Jewish new year, while perusing the web nearly ten years ago, amid unhappiness with the dry and otherwise uninspiring offerings I have had the misfortune of plastering onto my hips. The recipe, which yields the most addictive batter which later transforms into a mouthwateringly moist and majestic cake, is by Marcy Goldman.

    Rosh Hashana 5770

    A sweet and happy new year to you all! It's the first day of the ten High Holidays of awe in the year 5770. A friend sent me a joke saying the Chinese year is 4706, meaning the Jews had gone without Chinese food for more than a thousand years, a period known as the Dark Ages ;)

    Pomegranates are traditionally eaten on the second night (tonight), as they are a new fruit, and supposedly contain 613 seeds, the same as the number of commandments in the Torah. I don't know if you've ever ascertained the truth of this, but I gave up on the pommy after digging out 15 seeds with a spoon. Not the easiest thing, especially after chopping up a vat of lamb and several fridgeloads of veggies. With luck, I'll have more patience with those commandments. And hopefully some feeling will return to these fingers soon.

    Stay tuned, the New Year honey cake comes next!

    Check out this gorgeous and extremely large salad our friends Josh and Emily brought round last night, which stars pomegranate seeds that they dug out with grace :)

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    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Lemon Curd Loaf Cake

    Today was a sunshiny lemony sort of day, you know, one of those pleasant days filled with happy events even though it's practically rained for all of it. It started with me tumbling out of bed too early, forgetting about having a Saturday lie-in, and deciding to (lemon)squeeze in a 3-mile run on the treadmill. Quick shower later, I ran to catch the bus to NYC to meet a dear friend, one of the bright sparks of our 3.5-year sojourn in Toronto. Despite the gray skies, the view of the NYC skyline put a smile on my face. However many times I see it, like an idiotic tourist, I am wowed.

    Meanwhile, my husband and two boys hit the neighbourhood bookstore (takes us 30 seconds to get there on foot), where, would you believe it, Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, is doing a reading. Him Indoors was clearly more excited than the boys as he regaled to me later how Julia asked him to play fox to her mouse in a mini dramatization of her book. Meanwhile, I had coffee, cake and chat with good old Corinne, as the boys and hubby traipsed off to meet Buzz Aldrin at Books of Wonder on West 18th St. I met them there and decided against popping in to say hello to the Nasa hero, who has been more Fuzz Aldrin lately (as in lost in space). I prefer to remember him as he was in his heyday.

    Back at the ranch and still abuzz from the day's events, I brew a pot of tea and feel the need to bake. It has to be a loaf cake, and has to be lemony. I decide to add pizazz to a basic loaf cake recipe with lemon zest, juice, curd and candied peel. It was tempting to add poppy seeds but that will have to wait for another time as I couldn't recall when I'd bought the packet I found in my larder. Nothing worse than adding ingredients of dubious date-of-origin (no expiry date to boot) to an otherwise sunshiny cake with fresh ingredients.

    At this stage (pre-baking), the plan is to top it off with a lemon-infused cream cheese and whipped cream frosting, lightly sweetened, over a layer of lemon curd - will decide later (it might only need a dusting of icing sugar) as one doesn't want to gild the lily.

    Okay, this is 50 minutes later, the cake looks amazing! I will allow it to cool and go for the curd and cream frosting. We had it after dinner and it was so moist, warm and lemony, with a lovely crunch on top, where I'd sprinkled some caster sugar before baking. I thought the children would find it too citrusy but no, they wanted seconds. And thirds (denied). Perfect end to a perfect day.

    • eggs, 3, large,
    • butter, 2 sticks
    • sugar, just under a cup
    • baking flour, 2 cups
    • baking powder, 1 tsp
    • lemon, zest and juice of
    • lemon curd, a few tablespoons
    • candied lemon peel

    1. Preheat oven to 360F, 170C
    2. Cream the butter and sugar till white and fluffy
    3. Add the lemon zest and eggs, beat further
    4. Slowly add, in alternating tablespoonfuls, the flour (earlier sieved with baking powder) and lemon juice, till well combined
    5. Stir in some candied lemon peel
    6. Pour half the mixture into your loaf tin
    7. Spoon some lemon curd over, then add the other half of the cake batter
    8. Bake for 50 minutes or till skewer comes out clean
    9. Top off as you wish - with frosting, lemon curd or powdered sugar
    10. To make cream frosting, pour some whipping cream into a bowl, whip till stiff, add two tablespoonfuls of cream cheese and more lemon zest and a dash of sugar. Pour onto curd.

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    Thursday, August 27, 2009

    Apple and Almond Tart

    We are lucky to live in such a hospitable town. During the first ten weeks following our arrival here last September, even as the engine of a new school year and fresh routines began to chug in earnest, we must have had one party invite a week, sometimes two, which petered off (just a little) over the less sociable winter months. Now, in the summer, the once-weekly party habit (this week there were three - did I mention how lucky we are) seems to have resumed.

    At the weekend, we were off to dinner with two other families with young kids. I was told to bring nothing, which kind of threw me. I kept busy, went for a run, took the kids swimming, did some chores, all the while struggling not to contribute in some way when .. oops, I've accidentally baked a pie. I do enjoy showing my appreciation of our generous friends by creating something with my hands. Gauging by the speed of the tart's disappearance, I don't think our hosts minded at all.

    • pie crusts, 2 (readymade is fine)
    • whole eggs, 3, plus white of another
    • sugar, 1 cup
    • butter, 1 stick, softened
    • vanilla, 2 tsp
    • ground almonds, 2 cups
    • apples, 2-3, peeled and sliced thinly
    1. Preheat oven to 350F, 175C
    2. Prepare apples, peel and slice thinly
    3. Keep apples aside in some orange juice to prevent discolouring
    4. Cream sugar and butter
    5. Add the eggs, one by one and beat till white and fluffy
    6. Add vanilla, then the ground almonds to the batter
    7. Pour the batter into the pie crusts, dividing evenly between them
    8. Arrange sliced apples on top
    9. Sprinkle some coarse sugar over the apple slices to help them brown while baking
    10. Bake for about 50 minutes, check it's done with a skewer
    11. Serve warm, dusted with sugar, or with fresh, whipped cream

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    Monday, August 10, 2009

    Black Bean and Corn Salad

    This salad is inspired by one that a friend brought over to a potluck dinner party recently. I was wowed by the bite, colour and tanginess of it, and its fiberful promises. As I guessed at the basic ingredients and remembered only three (corn, beans, lime juice), I have ended up throwing in additional ingredients which seem to work well together. The salad would go beautifully with grilled fish. Enjoy!

    • black beans, 1 can, drained and rinsed
    • corn on cob, 2, microwaved 1m10s each and decobbed
    • large tomatoes, 2, chopped in tiny cubes
    • red pepper, 1, cubed similarly
    • english cucumber, 1/2, cubed tinily
    • shallot or red onion, 1, chopped finely

    • chilli, 1 or 2, green, chopped finely
    • garlic cloves, 3, chopped finely
    • lime juice, squeezed out of 2 limes
    • brown sugar, 3/4 tbsp
    • olive oil, 1 tbsp
    • cilantro/coriander leaves, 1 handful, chopped
    • mint, handful, chopped
    • salt and pepper, as needed

    1. Combine all the veg and beans together in a bowl
    2. Whisk salad dressing with a balloon whisk and pour over the salad
    3. Give it a good grind of salt and pepper, throw in the herbs and toss
    4. Perfect for a barbecue or as a summer meal accompaniment

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    Sunday, August 02, 2009

    Watercress Soup

    So glad to be home! First day back after a lovely two weeks in London on holiday. However much fun was had with family, friends, at restaurants, museums and parks, there's nothing quite like being where one's stuff is.

    I had hoped to blog on the go, but this isn't easily done when one's phone provider is AT&T, who make it impossible for 3G phones to roam anywhere outside of North America without red tape, long-winded permissions and of course, astronomical added fees - all no-nos for busy mums with an eye on post-holiday and recession-trimmed budgets. So, I had no access to email, facebook, twitter or the Internet, and have to admit, felt quite lost.

    Having spent the week's grocery allowance restocking the fridge and larder today, and amid a flood warning as a monsoon stormed outside (not much difference there from this trip to London), I quite fancied a soup. This is a simple watercress and spinach one which I had expected would produce tasty leftovers. Unfortunately not a drop is left - testimony, I hope, to how well it turned out.

    • watercress, 1 bag (4 oz or 115g), washed and large stems removed
    • baby spinach, 3 handfuls, washed and chopped
    • small leek, white part chopped finely
    • shallot, 1 medium, chopped
    • butter, 1 1/2 tbsp
    • potatoes, 2 small ones, washed, skinned and cubed
    • milk, as needed (about 2 cups)
    • stock, veg or chicken (about 1-2 cups)
    • bay leaf
    • ground coriander, 3/4 tsp
    • lemon juice, about 1/2 tbsp

    1. First, saute the leek and shallot in butter on low to medium heat, till softened
    2. Add the cubed potatoes and some stock, stir till potato is cooked
    3. Add ground coriander and bay leaf
    4. Add 1 cup milk and 1 cup stock, bring to simmer
    5. Add spinach, cook 1 minute, add watercress
    6. Taste and adjust seasoning, cook no longer than another minute or two
    7. Add lemon juice if some tang is required
    8. Add more milk and/or stock as needed
    9. Pour soup into a blender and whizz till creamy
    10. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt

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    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Summer Cool-Down Drink: Lassi Two Ways

    Summer's finally here - a bit unusual to be saying this in mid-July but the weather's been a bit dicey with the relentless monsoon rains we've had recently (note the vibrant green of the lawn). Yogurt, a staple in our fridge, is the star here in lassi, a beverage made of yogurt, presented sweet or savoury. The latter may not suit the uninitiated but I find it very refreshing.

    Mango Lassi
    • mangos, 2, skinned and cubed
    • plain yogurt, 1 cup
    • sugar, 1 tsp (if needed only)
    1. Blend together till creamy and serve

    Ginger-Lime Lassi
    • yoghurt, 1 cup
    • ginger, grated, 1/2 tsp
    • zest of lime, 1/2 tsp
    • juice of lime, 1 tbsp
    • green chili, 1/2, chopped
    • coriander/cilantro leaves, a few - to garnish
    • salt, pinch of
    • cummin, ground, 1/8 tsp
    1. Whip the yogurt till creamy
    2. Add all the other ingredients and serve

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    Saturday, July 04, 2009

    Red, White and Blue(berry) Trifle

    Happy July the 4th! Made this to take to our favourite neighbours' today - all at the last minute and didn't have time for a proper photo (try and ignore the missing chunk, more would be missing in another few minutes). Didn't take long at all to assemble, just make sure you've done the jelly or jello ahead of time.

    • jelly, 2 packets (follow instructions and have all gelled)
    • cream, 500ml
    • milk, 700 ml
    • egg yolks, 12
    • vanilla pod, 1, seeds scraped out
    • sponge fingers, about 2 packets
    • strawberry jam, as needed
    • sugar, 4 tbsp
    • corn starch, 2 tbsp

    1. To make the custard, bring the cream and milk almost to a simmer, having scraped the vanilla pod seeds into it first
    2. While cream and milk heat up, whisk egg yolks together with corn starch and sugar in a separate bowl
    3. Once cream has just started to simmer, pour it onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time
    4. Return this whisked egg-cream mixture to the pan on the stove and keep whisking, heat still on, until it begins to thicken
    5. Take it off the stove, transfer to another receptacle and allow to cool further
    6. When cool, assemble the trifle
    7. Layer the sponge fingers, sandwiched together with some jam, at the bottom of a large glass bowl (for visual effect)
    8. Add the cut up jelly/jello on top of the sponge fingers
    9. You may add strawberries on top of the jelly/jello (I normally do)
    10. Pour custard on top of the fruit and jelly
    11. Top up with 250ml of double cream which has been whisked to the fluffy stage
    12. Finally, a few handfuls of plump blueberries right on top
    13. Cool and luscious on a gorgeous summer's day spent with wonderful people!

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    Sunday, June 28, 2009

    Aussie Jelly Bar

    I made these for my older son's birthday because they are so eye catching and, from nine years of throwing children's parties, I know how popular anything is with jelly in it. I love how pretty all the layers look once the jelly has set, and I also wanted to pay tribute to the wonderful baking traditions of Australia, and New Zealand too, where I have had the most delicious homemade-tasting slices, cakes, tarts and pies at almost every random cafe we've dropped into while travelling.

    Be ready to watch the jelly bars vanish as quickly as they arrive at the table!

    Biscuit layer:
    • plain biscuits (like digestives or grahams), 250g
    • butter, 185g, melted
    1. Mix together and press into the base of a baking tin lined with parchment paper and pre-spritzed with Pam spray

    • condensed milk, 400g, or one tin
    • lemons, 2, juice of
    • gelatin, 2 tsp
    • water, 3/4, for the gelatin
    1. Dissolve the gelatin in the water, which should be freshly boiled, allow to cool
    2. Mix the milk, lemon juice and dissolved gelatin well, try to minimize bubbling
    3. Pour over the biscuit layer and refrigerate for at least two hours
    4. Feel free to add a few tablespoons of sugar to this layer, as the entire jelly bar isn't as sweet as the image may lead one to believe

    • *Jello, 85g, strawberry or raspberry flavour
    • boiling hot water, 1 cup
    • cold water, 1 cup
    1. Dissolve Jello in hot water, add cold water, allow to cool
    2. Pour onto lemon layer which should be firm
    3. Refrigerate for three hours or overnight
    4. Cut into squares and serve
    *or any brand of jelly. Zero-sugar jelly is fine too

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    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    The Ducklings (Not, I Repeat Not, a Diva Food Item)

    This is not a Diva posting on Food, but more on Love and Family (see my blurb on the Home page, I'm supposed to be writing on the other stuff too). Family brought home the ducklings and I fell in love. Here's what happened.

    My Third Grader at Hillside worked his charm on me last week, begging to be allowed to bring home a pair of chicks or ducklings for the weekend that his class had been watching grow from pre-hatching days, courtesy of a local farm. Once the little birds get to what he aptly calls the 'leggy' stage, they're sent back to the farm, where I'm sure they are allowed to feed and run freely and live a long and carefree life, safe from insinuations of tarragon or plum sauce, or whispers of the dreaded word, "roast."

    "They're really easy to look after," my 9-year-old assured me, "and there will be many lessons learned."

    He was right about the latter and I dearly hope he learned as much as I did.

    Lesson #1: What goes in must come out. A lot. The minute we walked through our door with the adorable, fuzzy 3-day-old house guests, my son announces, "Oh, by the way, all they do is poo and pee the whole time." No kidding.

    Lesson #2: Never switch your NYT subscription to an online one the week you adopt ducklings. I had to rummage around for old copies of the NYT, stopping short of my souvenir ones of President Obama's inauguration. Those duckies had plenty of riveting reading material by some of the country's top journalists all weekend.

    Lesson #3: Don't be a chicken about handling ducklings. I had no idea this would be challenging. They're not chubby or 'solid' like young cats or pups. Indeed, you can feel every rib under all that blanket of yellow down - a bit of a surprise if you're not used to it. So my son (an expert bird handler by now) had the job of transferring the ducks to a box while I cleaned out every last detail of their post-digested oatmeal and grits. About four or five times a day.

    Lesson #4: Ducks like their oatmeal with water

    Lesson #5: As much as drinking it, they enjoy sitting in their drinking water, however small the bowl

    Lesson #6: Ducklings snuggle and sleep together. They are very sweet this way

    Lesson #7: Ducklings do not quack. They cheep, and they do this quietly.

    Lesson #8: Ducklings grow on you. No matter how much time and trouble their toilet habits caused, we all miss their quiet, snuggly, sweet sunshine-yellow presence!

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Lunchbox Star: The Cheese and Chutney Sandwich

    Another winner for the school lunchbox and one that easily fits into a picnic basket, too. Both my children have recently requested easy meals they can despatch with haste in order to get to the more important tasks of hanging with friends or hanging on a climbing frame (usually upside down, which can't be encouraging for any sandwich).

    Layer up wholemeal bread with double brie, baby spinach and mango chutney (Trader Joe's). Slap 'em together and serve with a side of fruit. I saw not a crumb in either lunchbox after school!

    Some mums might fret about the choice of cheese, but feel free to substitute low-fat (i.e. flavorless, plasticky) cheddar for it. But moi? I'll pick the full-fat one myself, thanks very much. It's not as if we have brie every day or top it off with vats of ice cream at the same sitting.

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    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    Pistachio and White Chocolate Cookie

    I love the green saltiness of pistachios against the creamy white chocolate in in this cookie. Anyone concerned about the amount of (supremely unavoidable) butter might be comforted to know that studies suggest pistachios help to reduce the bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, in your system, while raising the good (high-density lipoprotein). In other words, they're heart healthy.

    They also pack a huge amount of lutein, the antioxidant found in dark, leafy veggies. Before you eat vats of the stuff, take a
    look at the Telegraph's story.

    Add a drop of almond essence to bring out the nut in the cookie (and in you!) .

    • butter, 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks), softened
    • white sugar, 1/2 cup
    • brown sugar, 1/2 cup
    • egg, 1, large
    • white wholemeal flour, 1 cup
    • ground pistachios, 1/2 cup
    • whole pistachios, 1/2 cup
    • white chocolate chunks, 1/2 to 1 cup
    • baking soda, 1 tsp
    • vanilla essence, 1 tsp
    1. Preheat oven to 375F, 180C
    2. Cream the butter and sugars together, add the egg
    3. Add baking soda and flour, cream till combined
    4. Fold in the pistachios and chocolate
    5. Bake about 12 mins or till golden brown
    6. Allow to cool and store in a tin, if the family hasn't gobbled them all up!

    (All text and photos or images are copyright protected. Please do not reprint any stories, recipes or photographs without the author's permission.)