The One About The Pigeon

Monday, April 30, 2007

A crazy thing happened yesterday after brunch. While I was putting away the utensils, my son calls out, "Mummy, there's a pigeon in the house!" I wasn't paying attention and mumbled something or other.

The second time he called out, my brain started registering what was being said. What? A pigeon? As in a bird? Yikes!

I hustled out of the kitchen, with dish towel still in hand, to see what was going on. Lo and behold, there it was, big and fat, standing in front of the patio entrance. We had a stand off, whereupon it proceeded to walk straight into the house. Bird - 1, Human - 0. It crossed the living room and stopped at the other end, where the dining area was. And there it stood, pleased as punch. I wasn't pleased at all. In fact, the city girl in me started to panic. Having been born and bred in the city, I am easily unnerved by wildlife, especially birds. As a teen, I watched Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and it left quite an impression, if you know what I mean.

However, that hasn't stopped me from regularly putting out crumbs and seeds on our bird table located more than half-way across the backyard. Far away from the house itself. The table is very popular with the local birds, not to mention our two residential squirrels whom I've christened Chip and Dale. *sheepish grin* The squirrels have wandered onto our patio a couple of times too but never in the house, thank goodness.

Anyway, the calvary came in the form of my husband bearing a broom instead of a musket. He very gently escorted our unwanted guest outside. All this time I willed it not to poop on the slate floors as I'd just laboured over them on Friday. Don't you dare! Or we're having roast pigeon for dinner tonight, I silently threatened.

"I was only trying to score some food!"

So off it potters round the back of the house and parks itself in front of our gate, catching a bit of the afternoon sun as it were. After a while, it wandered off into the garden and then I lost track of it, being engrossed in our game of Uno.

"Alright already! I know when I'm not wanted!"

"Ah, this is the life!"

I never did like unexpected guests.


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Easy Like Sunday Morning

Sunday, April 29, 2007

If any day was Family Day, today was it.

First up, we all had a sleep-in till almost 10am, yes, even the boy, who has a tendency to wake up at 7.30am on weekends but miraculously fail to get up at said time on a school morning. The mysteries of life.

Upon waking up, my husband proceeded to mow the lawn in the garden while I tended to the laundry and ironing. Our son tended to his PSP - Daddy bought him a new game yesterday, the one he's been hankering for forever. Two months is forever in a seven year old's life.

With ironing done, I proceeded to make a late brunch, English breakfast style. It wasn't entirely English since I left out the sausages and threw in some croissants.

Usually I make the croissants from scratch but since I've been there and done that croissant wise (or anything else for that matter), decided there was nothing to prove and popped in some pre-made frozen ones from the Delifrance label instead. I chanced upon them by accident at the supermarket and thought I'd test its quality. 'Made from pure butter' the label extolled. Okay, we'll soon see, won't we? It turned out rather good - crisp and flakey on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside. Mental note to self: This goes on the regular to-buy grocery list.

I also fried up some rashers of bacon, and a couple of eggs sunny side up. And of course, there was baked beans. Breakfast was eaten standing around our open bar counter in the kitchen. Very casual and relaxed, the way a Sunday morning should be.

I'm not a breakfast person and can't bear to see food in the morning. However, not wanting to spoil the mood, I had a piece of toast, croissant and some yoghurt instead. None of that greasy stuff my husband and son were scoffing down. I could feel my hips grow an inch just by watching them eat.

After brunch, my husband pulled out the deck of Uno cards and we all congregated at the patio table for a couple of rounds. Everyone won a game (or two). I remember playing Uno when I was around my son's age and now he's playing it with me. Talk about coming a full circle.

My husband and son then took turns at the PSP while I mosied around the garden, sniffing at the jasmine blooms. I cut a couple of stalks for the kitchen and living room. For the kitchen, I stuck a single stalk into a drinking cup as I wanted the careless, rustic look. For the living room, I put a bit more thought into it. I divided the stalk into tiny blossoms and floated them in a gold laquered bowl filled with water. It's on the coffee table now and gives off an incredible scent if you're in the vincinity.

At around 4pm, we went for a bike ride around the countryside. My husband chose one of the most hilly routes of Limburg. *ack!* At one point, the incline was so steep, I went on strike. I hopped off my bike and walked all the way up to the top and then got on my bike again. So did my son. It's not like we're in training or anything like that. As if to distract us from our exertions, we were treated to the most glorious view of fields, tilled land and assorted cows and horses. The sky was amazingly blue and clear. We were also treated to the most amazing stench of animal manure, something which my sensitive nose found most disagreeable.

The bike ride lasted for almost 3 hours during which we passed through a few villages. On the last leg of the journey, we made a pit stop by a small cafe in an even smaller village. Bottled water never tasted so good. We rested for about 30 minutes and then cycled homewards.

We ended the day differently. Some of us played with our PSP (yet again!), some of us watched soccer throughout the evening and some of us had a long, hot shower (to ease muscles I forgot I'd possessed until now) followed by a few hours of stitching.

Altogether a beautiful end to the week. I hope you all had a lovely Sunday, too.

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Friday's Feast With A Twist

Friday, April 27, 2007

The feast for today is altogether a different one from my usual meme.

For one thing, it involves real food.

Realising that I have been even more of a corporate widow than usual over the last few weeks and will be again this weekend and the ensuing week, my husband thought it would be a great idea for the three of us to reconnect over dinner. He missed me and I him. We both said so during a google chat session yesterday morning.

So we found ourselves tucked into a very cosily set table in the terrace belonging to a chic Italian restaurant. With the beautiful warm weather, al fresco was the only way to go. For the next three and the half hours, my husband, our son and I ate, talked, drank, ate some more and laughed. We did the whole nine yards, starters, main, dessert and finally, coffee and tea.

Nothing like bonding over servings of osso buccu, carpaccio and grilled gambas. Body, mind and soul were fed tonight. And fed well, too, if I may add.

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Paella Valenciana

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Each time a visit is made to one of the Canaries or to mainland Spain, I will always, always make it a point to have two particular dishes during our sojourn - Prawns in Garlic Oil and Paella Valenciana.

Today I thought I'd be adventurous and try the Paella out myself. I had to improvise with the pan though since I didn't have a proper Paella one which is shallow and flat. I used my wok instead and cursed myself for not fetching one back when we visited Spain earlier this year. I was standing outside a cookware store in Valencia and staring right back at me from the storefront were rows upon row of Paella pans in every size imaginable. Don't forget to come back for it later, I reminded myself. Of course I promptly forgot. I got distracted by Balenciaga shoes an hour later, you see. Next time.....

Well, I did just fine with the wok and taste wise, it is almost what it should be but there's a certain something missing. Guess I can't recreate the feeling of warm salty sea breezes and gorgeous sunsets while dining al fresco by the beach. Oh well, that's what holidays are for.

Ideally, I would have liked to use mussels in their shells but these are out of season so I had to make do with the fresh precooked ones. The shells would have made the dish even more visually stunning.

The other thing is this. I didn't elaborate much on the actual cooking since this was my virgin attempt and I feel I have room, a whole mansion full in fact, for improvement. So until I get at least the right pan and try out other similar Paella recipes, I'm going to quietly practice away and leave the talking to the experts.

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Baked Fusili In Cream Sauce

My son gets put off by exotic looking food and the paella's shocking yellow colour is no exception. So while it was cooking, I made one of his favourite pasta dishes. This evening, he told me he was "hungry for baked pasta. With ham blokjes, Mummy". So that's what I did. I mixed some fusili, ham cubes and a cheese based cream sauce together in a casserole dish. To top it off, I sprinkled edam and cheddar cheese alternately to get an interesting stripey look. Just to amuse the boy. Then I stuck it into the oven for the cheese to become one thick, gooey, sticky mess - the way kids like it.

Good stuff, if I may say so myself.

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Goat's Cheese And Thyme Stuffed Chicken

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I tried a new recipe from the recently procured GoodFood magazine today - Goat's Cheese and Thyme Stuffed Chicken. I don't normally put chicken as a main dish on the table but the photo illustrating the dish looked so hearty and delicious, I felt compelled to give it a go.

It wasn't too difficult. Prep work took only 20 minutes and consisted of lining a casserole dish with tomatoes, courgettes and sprigs of thyme, stuffing the chicken with goat's cheese and more thyme and finally wrapping each bundle with bacon rashers. After placing the chicken atop the vegetables, the whole lot was sent packing into the oven to cook.

Crunch time came when I put it in front of my husband much later in the evening. He took a bite and when he was done with that mouthful, said I should make this when we have guests over. When he says that, I know I've hit the goldmine.

This recipe is a definite keeper.

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Prawn Cocktail

Monday, April 23, 2007

Found on most posh European menus, Prawn Cocktail is a fancy appetizer. We love this at home and dining out and I'm always on the lookout for a good recipe. Recently I tried this featured on the May 2007 issue of Olive. It's from Boxwood Cafe, part of the restaurant chain owned by Gordon Ramsay, British celebrity chef extraordinaire. Forget that little twerp Jamie Oliver (sorry Jamie fans, no offence), Mr Ramsay's the real thing. Whenever I can, I try to catch one of Gordon Ramsay's shows (reality or cooking) on the BBC channel. The only thing I don't like about him is his penchant for swearing. His sentences are frequently peppered with the F-word. All the time. It's rather painful on the ears but I try to be deaf as he's very charasmatic and has good recipes. Incidentally, his swearing is also his trademark. So.

Anyway, here is the recipe. I promise you won't swear at the final result. If you do, then it was because it was so damn f***ing good. *heh*

Prawn Cocktail

Whisk together 1 egg yolk, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar and 1/2 tbsp English mustard in a large bowl using electric beaters. Slowly drizzle in 250ml vegtable oil, whisking all the time, until all the oil is used up and you have a mayonnaise. Speed freaks can start with 250ml good bought mayo.

Stir into the mayo 3 tbsp tomato ketchup, 1.2 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 1 tsp brandy. Season with a little cayenne pepper, lemon juice and salt (add more ketchup for a sweeter sauce). Shred 2 baby gem lettuces and arrange in pretty glasses. Pile 75g cooked peeled prawns into each glass then generously spoon the cocktail sauce over. Sprinkle with a little more cayenne pepper and serve with lemon wedges and buttered brown bread. Serves 6.

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Star Wars Fan-atic

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Star Wars Saga

I love Star Wars. I really do. People do a double take when I tell them I'm a fan and that I've seen each and every of the six episodes countless times. You don't look the type, they say. Well, now you know.

Thia is my favourite character of the saga:

When 900 years you reach, look as good, you will not. --- Yoda

Master Jedi Yoda

I like him SO MUCH!!! True, he's green, wrinkled, has sticking out pointy ears, stands at 0.66m and is 900 years old. However, he's really nifty with the lightsaber as demonstrated in Episode 3, the one where he fights Lord Sidious. Then, there's the way he speaks - supposedly in English but with grammar as alien as he is. Be still my heart!

Imagine my happiness then, when I discover the movie channel would be airing back to back episodes all afternoon. My husband and son, together with Father In Law, would be driving to Valkenberg to catch the cycling race live which meant I had a whole afternoon to myself. Star Wars here I come!

After a few hours, I started getting square eyes from all that SFX (geek speak for special effects). I also realised that both father and son were running late and we were supposed to be doing a barbecue for dinner. I gave my husband a call and after the pleasantries I got straight to the point:

Me: Late you are. Hungry I am.
Husband: Have you been watching Star Wars again?

Who's your Jedi Master? WHO?

Lay off the saga for a while I must or into the Green One I will morph.

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Baby parpikas sitting prettily on a plate

Midweek, the weatherman proclaimed good weather for all and sundry over the weekend. For once, he was right. So like excited kids, my husband and I made preparations for a barbecue. Me, getting the food together. Him, scrubbing and washing the grill and pit.

First helping

On the menu were steaks, shaslicks, chicken wings and bacon wrapped frikendel. For vegetables, I made skewers of miniature paprikas and red onions. While waiting for the meats to cook, we nursed a cold prawn cocktail. It was all very pleasant - dining out in the patio, the air warm and quiet with a gentle breeze bringing wafts of smouldering charcoal smoke our way. Maybe it's just me but charcoal grilled meat has the best flavour in the world.

And with that, we declare Barbecue Season open in Cookalot.

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The Apple Does Not Fall Far From The Tree

Friday, April 20, 2007

This morning, while getting my son dressed for school, he made a request.

Son: Mummy, I want some hair gel today.
Me: Okay, sure. After we put on your sweater, I'll fix your hair for you.
Son: I want to put hair gel for Juffrouw* June today.
Me: ...!!!...

So I apply a bit of gel and my son inspects my handiwork.

Son: Mummy, it's not spikey enough. I want it sharp.
Me: *running more gel through his hair* How's this? Better?
Son: *turning his head this left to right and back again* Much better!

Most families have the smart gene, the artistic gene, the athletic gene running through them. I go and give my son the vainpot one.

* Juffrouw = Dutch for Ms


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Stir Fried Ginger Rice

Thursday, April 19, 2007

When I'm tired of cooking the usual Chinese Fried Rice, I turn and reach for my Ginger Rice recipe. It's rather bland save for that bit of bite and flavour from the shredded ginger. This makes it the perfect accompaniment for savoury main dishes like say, Claypot Black Pepper Beef.

It's really easy to make and if you can, use overnight cooked rice. First you scramble some eggs and set aside. Next, fry up some chopped garlic and shredded ginger until fragrant. Next you throw in the rice and stir fry for awhile. Season to taste with salt and soya sauce (optional). Toss in the scrambled eggs from before and fry for a few more minutes, mixing everything well. Serve hot.

Incidentally, this is also post-natal fare for the Chinese woman who's just given birth and observing the custom called the one month confinement period. Something about the ginger having nutritional value and what not. As with most Chinese customs and practices, there's a lengthy explanation attached to it but I won't dissect this particular one because

i) I'm not an expert; and

ii) I went against the grain and refused to observe confinement, much to the chargin of my mother, whose pure bred Cantonese and likes her customs and traditions.


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Impala Kebabs

As you all know, we at Cookalot love wild game. Not just regular wild game like rabbit, partridge, deer etc. but also exotic wild game like kangaroo, antelope, impala, reindeer... you get the picture.

I remember having some leftover impala I'd frozen from our last meal and decided to make kebabs out of it. To retain the full flavour of the meat, I seasoned it with a bare minimum of salt and sugar. Impala cooks very quickly so I only had to grill it for a couple of minutes. This also ensures it keeps its succulence and natural juices. I served it up with a warm spicy steak sauce and toasted crostinis of melted mozzarella, chopped fresh basil, olives, garlic and a healthy drizzle of olive oil.

This is what an impala looks like:

There's a reason why the big cats love them - with flesh so tender with hardly any fatty bits, it's like no meat you've ever tasted.



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Brahma Beer

Brahma Beer is from Brazil and I've been told it's good stuff. I don't know if that's true or not but what I do know is that they make funny ads. Take this gem aired in Argentina for instance. Apparently it picked up a best commercial award:

Even voodoo dolls gotta go sometimes.


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My Kitchen Prayer

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

God bless my little kitchen,

I love its every nook,

And bless me as I do my work,

Wash pots and pans and cook,

And may the meals that I prepare,

Be seasoned from above

With Thy great Blessing

And Thy Grace

But most of all Thy Love.


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Cook(er)'s Block

Monday, April 16, 2007

I have a confession to make.

Of late, I've been going through a lull in the cooking and baking department. A recipe for disaster if you're trying to maintain a food blog like I am.

The thing is, I feel bored. I know there are a gazillion recipes out there for me to try but I just can't get off my lazy tush to do them.

And then I saw these last Friday:

Food magazines! In English! Woo hoo!!! I took a copy of Good Food and Olive each, walked up to the cashier and gingerly placed them on the counter as if making some sort of offering on a sacrificial altar.

Once paid for in blood, I couldn't get back fast enough.

As my husband was home that afternoon to keep an eye on our little terror we call son, I took the liberty of 'me-time' in bed with my new magazines. Flipping through page after page of gastronomical delights, trying to imagine what the different recipes would taste like, I felt myself filled with inspiration. I wanted to jump out of bed and cook. Now. Then there were the delectable photographs - at one point, I very almost chewed off the pages, they looked that good.

Over the last few months, I've been thinking of taking out subscriptions for a few food magazines but never got round to it. However, I've taken this as a sign and when things are more settled, this is exactly what I'll do.

I am back in cooking form and hopefully, this translates into more appetizing entries here.

Keep your saucepan heated and stay tuned.

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Friday the 13th

Friday, April 13, 2007

Oooer..... so who had an unlucky day today?

I survived unscathed. If anything, I had a lovely day, albeit a busy one. There were errands to run, stuff to do, the usual same old, same old. The mad grocery rush before the stores close for the weekend.

The weather was so sunny and warm, you'd be forgiven to think we were in the middle of summer. And to celebrate our first meal out in the patio, I thought I'd make something casual and fun - Mexican Tacos. My husband likes the baked shells while I prefer the soft tortillas in this case, a gordita. My son doesn't care for it at all so he got a grilled egg and Serano ham sandwich instead. As you can see, I've overloaded my wrap. As usual.

It was messy. It was sloppy. Filling was dripping out every which way. In a word, fun.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

I took a trip down to Maastricht today to collect my necklace. And here it is, in all her pearlescent glory.....

I'm not a professional photographer so I guess I've killed the beauty of it abit. However, do believe me when I tell you it looks at least a hundred times better in real life.

Another futile attempt at a photo. I guess that's why good professional photographers pull in money by the heapfuls.

Again, so much better than an iPod, don't you think?


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From Me To You

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Dear H,

Happy 8th Anniversary. It still feels like the first day.





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D-Day: Operation Easter Brunch

Coloured hardboiled eggs all ready to be eaten.

First and foremost, we had great weather today. It was sunny and relatively warm, almost 20oC. Fantastic! That meant everyone could eat out in the patio and the kids could go beserk in the backyard. And ahem, I could wear my black dress from the Madonna Collection at H&M.

The coffee table.

As previously mentioned I came up with a fusion menu instead of traditional European fare. I had tapas (which I learnt from the tapas bars whilst holidaying in Spain earlier this year), a Greek meatball stew, Kyoto spareribs and a selection of sides.

First up, the tapas:

Fried egg with Serano ham on sliced Ciabatta.

Anchovy with mozzarella and tomato on sliced Baguette.

Argentine beef kebabs on sliced Ciabatta.

Thai chicken kebabs on sliced Ciabatta. I used lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves for this.

Here's my private joke: The Duchess Potatoes. *Haha* Duchess, Dutchess, get it? I couldn't resist sneaking them in on the table. Sort of my own Da Vinci code symbol thingy. Anyway, these are dead easy to make. Just cream some boiled potatoes to a soft fluffy consistency, pipe them out into fancy pants rosettes and then bake till golden brown.

This is duck pate with truffle and champagne terrine. No, I didn't make it myself. Rather, I bought it myself. (Oh dear, I'm being very silly this evening. It must be the fatigue speaking.)

Here's another store bought item which all the in-laws thought I made too. Butter in the form of a lamb. I don't know whether to feel complimented or be worried when my guests start to think I sculpt the bread butter. *Mental note to self: Must ponder on this abit.*

The following are more overview photos:

Not pictured here are the mini croissants, both plain and sausage filled I made specially for the kids. However, the men were gobbling them down like crazy and I had to literally beat them off, saying those were for the children.

Also not shown is dessert of strawberries in vanilla flavoured whipped cream in a wafer bowl. A pity but there's always the next time.

After the food, came the Easter Egg Hunt, followed by the Egg and Spoon Race. It was hilarious seeing the kids in action. They were so dead serious.

A good time was had by all 5 families today and as hostess, I was extremely pleased. I was also more than pleased or should I say relieved to kick off my 4" peeptoe heels when the last in-law went home at 8pm. Yes, I know I have a death wish, cooking and freqeuntly going down to and up from the cellar on high heels.

Tommorrow, being a public holiday, I just want to collapse and do nothing. If it's not microwavable, we're not eating it for I'm going nowhere near the stove and that, is a promise.

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