Basil

IMG_2050AWriting this post to honour Doris Andrew, one of Andrew’s family member pass away two weeks ago. I will be missing your laughter, your accompany, your food. All these are going to lived in my memory forever. I remembered you enjoyed the pizza with the fresh basil on the topping, you said the leaf is the fragrance on top of the pizza…. I will be missing you, I love you!

Growing your own herbs is so fun to do at home, if you have some left over herb that you brought from market. I picked those mature leaves for cooking and I remain some of it, so I can plant them in a pot for my potted herbs garden.

I love the fragrance of sweet basil leaves, the smell of the Italian cooking. This delicate herbs has a very unique story behind back to Ancient Greeks. You may have noticed I had been away for long time and I didn’t update my blog. I been reading a lot of home grown produce for the past few months. I found one of the article written by Anne Del Conte regarding basil.  There is a wonderful story of it, and recipe are superb too.

A native of India, basil was known to the ancient Greeks and the Romans and flourished wherever it could find warmth, sun and sea breezes. In Boccaccio’s Decameron, basil is the symbol of love when the noble Lisabetta, whose brothers have murdered her plebeian lover, buries the lover’s head in a pot of basil, a story that is taken up some 400 years later by Keats in his poem ‘Isabella, or the Pot of Basil’. During the Renaissance basil is mentioned by Platina, who suggested using it in moderation. It was popular all over Italy, often kept in pots on window sills as it appears in some Renaissance paintings.

For hundreds of years, basil had been used around the Italian coast in salads, with fish and in tomato sauces. In the 18th century, Corrado is the first cookery writer to mention the use of basil to dress stewed meat and to flavour vegetable soups. Artusi adds basil to his tomato sauce which, he writes, is ‘good with boiled beef and it is excellent to make very pleasant a dish of pasta dressed with butter and cheese, or a risotto’.

Basil gained a wider fame when Pesto crossed the borders of Liguria to become one of the favourite pasta sauces of the world. But that didn’t happen until well after World War II. Apart from pesto and in tomato sauces, basil also gives an extra dimension to a Minestrone or a vegetable soup and it makes a delicious salad with tomatoes and mozzarella, insalata caprese.

There are many varieties of basil, including: the Genovese, with a very strong yet sweet flavour; the Napoletano, with rather crinkly leaves and a minty aroma; the Fine Verde Compatto, with very small leaves and more delicate scent; and the Mammoth, with very big leaves, the best for drying. However, basil does not dry well and its flavour changes considerably. The best way to preserve basil is to layer the leaves with olive oil in a sterilised jar, or to freeze the leaves.

Basil sauce Pesto

This famous sauce has its origins in Liguria, when the basil is sweeter yet more aromatic than anywhere else, thanks to the perfect balance between humidity and hot sun. It is indeed odd that the only speciality from Liguria that genuinely needs a local ingredient should be the one that has travelled all over the world.

There are two fundamental types of pesto: the pesto of the western Riviera and the pesto of the eastern Riviera. The former, which includes the classic pesto genovese, is stronger and simpler, the latter is more delicate, containing less garlic, some pine nuts, grated Pecorino and or Parmesan and other ingredients which make it less fierce. But, after that, there are as many recipes as cooks, and no Ligurian cook would actually know how much of this or that goes into it: it’s all a question of judgement and personal taste. The basil is pounded in a mortar with some garlic, salt and, if added, pine nuts or walnuts, the basil local extra virgin olive oil being added drop by drop. This at least, is the old-fashioned method; nowadays it is often made in the blender or food processor. Connoisseurs say this is to the detriment of its flavour, since the basil is being chopped by a metal blade. which might also warm the mixture, rather than pounded by wooden pestle. There is a more delicate version of pesto, in which some butter or cream is added, and the garlic reduced.

Pesto is traditionally used to dress Trenette, Trofie and picagge; to a Genoese it would be inconceivable that it should be used with any other shape of pasta. The pasta is often cooked with sliced potatoes and green beans and all three ingredients are dressed with pesto and eaten together. Pesto is used also to dress potato gnocchi or to give a local touch – one spoonful is enough – to a Minestrone  all genovese.

Make for 4 pasta or gnocchi
20g/ 2 1/2 tbsp pine nuts
50g fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled
a pinch of coarse sea salt
4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp freshly grated mature pecorino cheese
125ml extra virgin olive oil, preferably Ligurian

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F.

Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 3-4 minutes, to release the aroma of the nuts

Put the basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt in a mortar. Grind with the pestle, crushing all the ingredients against the side of the mortar until the mixture has become a paste. You can use a food processor or blender.

Mix in the grated cheeses and pour over the oil very gradually, beating with a wooden spoon.

Doris, this recipe is dedicated for you.

Christmas Soirée 2014

During the year of 2014, it has been a great year for me. When I reviewed it last week, it wasn’t bad at all. Well, as usual I organized a Christmas Soirée to finish the year.

Obviously, the food should be familiar and welcoming. Although I born and grew up in Asia, and I have not experienced a proper Christmas during my childhood until I met Andrews, therefore I tried to embrace and relishing the British tradition in its foreign land of Asia; it may sounds odd and it turned out to be surprised. All of them has the story to tell, such as mince pie, it is used to be large savoury dish back in Middle Ages and filled with chopped meat or liver mixed with diced hard-boiled egg and ginger; until it predominated and the meat was replaced with suet. Even during the Christmas of 1644, mince pie was banned by Oliver Cromwell. How interesting history become.

Every Continent of Europe has it tradition of food especially during Christmas. French have a simple almost seafood palette from oyster or seashell seafood to fish or goose as main course, dessert are usually chocolate, Kouglof. Most people will terrified with the preparation of Christmas dinner, when you think about it, with some help from local butcher, some of the skilled work they can done it for you. Of course with some good supermarket selling good quality prepared food in can or jar that obviously help to ease off the stress of Christmas cooking. Andrews told me about how their grandmother prepared the Christmas dinner, everything from scratch. I’m really impressed with most of the food that Andrews grandmother cooked, the recipe is complicated for to understand.

I think is a good practice to have a family cook book pass down to next generation, so the family will inherited the recipe for many year. That’s all about home cooking, I think restaurant food is based on home cooked recipe and present it in the different way so it look nicer on the serving plate. I believe every household has a good recipe that going to embrace by the family, this make me feel very grounded to family recipe as it is always the basic to start off your fancy cookery. So start to jotting down your family recipe and embrace it. Don’t let the time vanish away a good recipe.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,500 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 42 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Food trip with Andrews

I been not active with my blog for over many months, simply because I had over indulgence with good food on my holiday in United Kingdom, I felt like back to the great food land. Simple food from breakfast porridge to fresh charcuterie, from farm of Yorkshire to London cosmopolitan city to seaside of Bridlington.

Not only I enjoyed the food but the architecture as well. As being art student many years ago, these only can be seen from books of history and reference but until I saw it, stood in front of me, it does made me teared for good because that is the power of traveling, it helps you to relax and appreciated the history of human; celebrate we had been through so much from wars and evolutions.

The understanding of food history was in my part of this itinerary, how the food had changed the Britain from proper local produce food to factory made, and now every celebrity chef working very hard to revert to the real culture of real food and support the local community. Encourage to make your own bread, managing leftover food, buying fresh produce from the fish monger & butcher.

I like cosmopolitan of London simply because of there are culture diversity in the city, not only British food, but other culture as well, as a food lover diner like me is really spoil of choice.

I going write about few places I went for delicious meal in London and Liverpool as well as at East Riding of Yorkshire – Hull, where I spend most of my time with Andrews Family.

Arrived at Manchester airport and took a two hours train to Hull to meet Andrews, not only I got a good welcome nibbles at mid afternoon in September, on the same night I had been treat with their home cooked dinner, a simple homemade Italian pasta, and finished off with some beautiful cheese. It is very exciting walking in town and seen everything remain the same apart some shop had closed down, new shop pop-out. Surprisingly, there is one little cafe doted at the Humber street and over watching the marina, this place called Thieving Harry’s a very unusual name for a cafe, the food is simply delicious, they are very passionate about their coffee, they understand proportion is very important in a cup of coffee, they measured from ground coffee to the amount of liquid pouring into your cup, and still keeping the coffee temperature hot, it does take sometime for them to prepare your perfect coffee. The setting of this cafe is using the old fruit warehouse, obviously it added the character to the cafe, wooden floor, and well maintain the existing walls and ceiling, it does still lightly smell of fresh fruit; even their crockery is remained as retro, so you felt relationship is very close to your childhood, some plates reminds me of my mother using that for my dinner.

I departed to London for short visit, and stay in the smallest hotel room you couldn’t imagine but  First place I stopped by for lunch is at Princi 135 Wardour Street, this Italian restaurant is pack with working-class people during lunch hour, because of their good & freshly cooked food. They made everything from the premises from crunchy grissini wrapped with parma ham to luscious dessert.  I’m lucky to get it for a quick lunch, I had the pizza, fresh salad, sandwich and of course Italian tiramisu as well.

In the evening, I went to Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in at Frith Street enjoyed the most fabulous evening I ever had for many years, Tierney Sutton sung at that night, her soulful voice does lift the night up, the way she sung every song are incredible and easy. The rule in jazz club are not allow photography therefore I can’t snap any picture of the place and food, that will keeping you curious to visit this wonderful place. I’m surprised most of the famous jazz singer came here to perform as well such as Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Jamie Cullum etc. Do you believe the piano need tuning in daily basis for performance every night.

Walked in British Museum seems like a place that kept a lot of knowledge, I came to visit the eight identified mummies and understanding the life style in ancient Egypt. From this mini exhibition I learned the dietary of ancient Egyptian, the food they consumed and how they suffered from dental abscesses, atherosclerosis, tooth decay and gum disease; from these point of evidence shown the diet of ancient Egyptian had sugary products and high fiber foods that may caused they suffered from these disease. Imagined the pain that they are they must had suffered with a lot of pain compare to our dental treatment these day are far beyond their comfort. We are lucky in that sense we are not dying from dental abscesses.

A well-known restaurant – The Ivy, located at West Street in London, Unforgettable lunch I had in The Ivy, from their good service to the delicious food served on the perfect lined table, the waiter were always keeping an eye on every table as soon as you are running low on your drink or even water they will quickly fill it up. To started off with fresh sliced bread with their home made butter, then follow by crackling pork belly, it is really crackling in your mouth indeed when biting on it. The crispy skin and succulent,  with green bean on side. I finished off with Mayan chocolate, the bitter rich chocolate does made me felt like I having Mayan chocolate in Guatemala, when mixed with the luscious vanilla ice cream is just wonderfully, it goes well with the bitter of the chocolate. Remember their signature design of the diamond glass at the window with colour dotted around the diamond.

Walked around in London admiring their patisserie shop is a good treat to my eye. Some of them look like a Christmas ornament, and very inviting to bite it. Admiring the architectural and understanding the reason behind these building, the ornament and the detail of it some are related to food, such as grapes, pineapple. When you think again in Roman time, the wealthy people celebrate some occasion with grapes, apples and laying on couch and eating them. Building like this usually are commercial building such as arcade was to show off the wealth of the person or the company who built it.

I wishing my return for more enjoyment of good food and visual enjoyment of the architecture and it does refreshed my mind, I believed travel does good for mind and soul.

Cookie Competition

Exciting news, I’ve just entered the cookie competition that Belle Grove Plantation http://virginiaplantation.wordpress.com are running, wish me luck! I hope my Special Spiral Cookies will do well!

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Madeleine

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In the picture doesn’t it look promising to you? But this little cake has a history behind, as I know it was from France. Here is a article from a writer named Albert Jack.

In the remembrance of Cakes Past: The Petite Madeleine

She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines’. which looks as though they had been moulded in fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place… at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…

Small sponge cakes baked in distinctive shell-shaped moulds, madeleines are now among the most recognizable cakes in the world compared to financiers and visitandines thanks to Marcel Proust (1871-1922) and his In search of Lost Time. Eating a madeleine (in the passage from the book quoted above) sends the narrator off on a very long journey into involuntary memory. But who was the original Madeleine that they were named after? Some sources suggest that she was a French pastry chef working for the deposed king of Poland, Stanislaw Leszczynski. Forced by an assassination attempt to seek exile in France, he and his family moved to the Chateau de Commercy in the commune of Commercy in north-eastern France. When in 1755 Madeleine Paulmier became his pastry chef, she supposedly invented the cake to cheer up the exiled king.

But the cakes are much more likely to be named after a very different Madeleine, for Madeleine is also the French name for Mary Magdalen, the former prostitute and follower of Jesus. Several orders of nuns have taken her name and that, twinned with the cake’s distinctive scallop-shell shape (the points out above), would suggest that the cakes were originally baked with more religious purpose in mind, and scallop-shell been worn as a protector in those day, perhaps to remind those who ate them that while, like Mary / Madeleine herself, we are all sinners, we are also pilgrims on a hopeful journey to find God.

No matter what happened in the past of madeleine, now we remembered a little story about it and pass it on to the next generation. Let’s bake it and enjoy! Stay tuned for my recipe update tomorrow, you will going to have a lift by madeleine.

Baking mood in rainy day

P1140975AI just could not believe sunny the day was in the morning, as I woken up to start my day with a routine coffee and bread in the morning, and suddenly cloudy sky and shadowed the ground then the cloud burst, pouring! As hearing the rain drop on ground and roof.

A jazzy song pop up on the radio and that’s it , a mood on indulgent baking had set. My cat even curl up to sleep in a tiny box to keep warm. As this moment I going to make some French tea time treat – Madeleine. As the batter need to stay chill overnight for the best result, I will post the finish picture tomorrow. Do stay tuned for that.