Wednesday, May 31, 2006

 

Great minds think alike...


... and fools never differ!

Apparently, my egg-centric (sic) Madeleine, has spurned interest hitherto unfathomed. Venerable egg-sperts (re-sic) have last week decided that... TA-DAAAA: THE EGG CAME FIRST

However, sorting out philosophical and biological questions is very well, but do they even know how to poach an egg? I rest my case. And I'm glad to say that I am using fewer egg-related puns than CNN journalists.

PS: thanks to Dad who always reads EVERYTHING in the news, for making me aware of this life-altering 'discovery'

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

 

Madeleine Challenge - Time for Gunfight @ Egg Corral

Thank you to Baronne and her mum for getting the recipe to me over the long (but not long enough!) weekend. Not long enough, as time is always too short when Husband and I spend time in Auvergne with my parents, relaxing, BBQing and being spoilt as usual. So thank you to my parents as well, of course.

Now to amy part of the Challenge...

As I (briefly) mentioned in my previous post, I am terrified at the thought of poaching an egg. Those of you who know me might be surprised that I willingly volunteer information that I might be scared of anything at all, but there you are. And no, I don't fear fear itself. I have just never succeeded in poaching an egg. Ever. So the time has come. It's me or the egg! And I've got more hair, 2 arms and 2 legs, so I should stand a fair chance, don't you think?

I have tried the "leave the eggs out of the fridge 24 hours before" rule, the "create a whirlpool in the water before you crack the egg in" policy and even the "buy this stupid gadget and your eggs will be perfectly poached" scam. To no avail. So there is only one thing left to do this time: buy the freshest eggs around, but unfortunately, that means waiting for my weekly foodie fix at Borough Market. On Saturday. Which means 4 'sleeps' before attempting this daunting Madeleine. Did I hear someone say procrastination?

Meanwhile, I will be busy translating the recipe received and you could all maybe be so kind as to leave somme comments with fool-proof egg-poaching suggestion. 'Egg poaching for Dummies. " Or Dummy, in this case.

Friday, May 26, 2006

 

Madeleine Challenge: "Baronne, I need help!"

For my next Madeleine, I need the help of my teenagehood friend, Baronne. Or more specifically, of her mum. At this stage, Loreal will know what I'm fishing for... Yep, you are right: I CRAVE the recipe for Oeufs en Meurette. I just have one overwhelming fear: it involved poaching an egg. YIKES!

This weekend I am going away, to visit my parents. And when I come back on Tuesday, I hope that Baronne will have convinced her mum to part with this delectable and mouth-watering traditional French recipe. Are you up to the challenge? If so, please send me an email with the recipe, so I can translate it and tell another Madeleine.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

 

Madeleine # 4: Mechoui al Harissa

Dedicated to my two loyal readers, Baronne & Loreal

This Madeleine has so many memories encoded in its DNA, that I really don't know where to start. It has been a staple of our family celebrations for almost as long as I can remember. So not knowing where to start, I did what every self-respecting independent woman of 30-something does. I called my mum.

It turns out that the 1st time she prepared this, was at the suggestion of my dad's boss in Burundi (who was from Madagascar). My dad's boss had a knack for inviting people to big bashes, and at the last moment something would "go wrong", so everyone would end up going to my parents' house and my mum would prepare a fantastic feast. Again.

For this 1st bash of the sort, my parents made one major mistake: they ordered the meat a bit too fresh. "Fresh", as in alive. With soft fur and a liking for eating out of your hand. Needless to say, the lamb - because that's what it was - did not end up on the roasting spit. It was our pet for the next 2 years, and even moved house with us.




So my mum ordered one of the lamb's less fortunate and especially less alive colleagues, and thus started our Mechoui tradition. For those of you who have been to French village fetes, or have travelled in North Africa, you will know this dish, and that's also why we call it a mechoui and use harissa. What the Malagasy term for it is, I have no clue, but I'm sure it tastes the same whatever you call it. A rose by any other name and all that.

Of course, I tend to avoid preparing a whole roast lamb in our 2 bedroom flat in central London (landlords are not as accomodating as they used to be...). But a smaller piece of the beast does the trick nicely as well.

So tonight, it's lamb shoulder al harissa (or any other chili + garlic + olive oil paste). You need enough harissa to cover the whole roast, including "crevasses".

So this morning I mixed the harissa with some more olive oil, then massaged it into the lamb shoulder (sore or not). I then popped it into a plastic bag and left it in the fridge.
Don't worry, most of the 'hotness' will burn off during the roasting.

Today I am trying to slow-roast it, according to my
guru,
Nigel Slater's recipe.
That means roughly 1/2 hour per 1/4 kg, at 160 degrees.

First roast it in the oven as it is for 35 minutes. Then add some water, baste the meat as you add it, and return to oven for as long as it needs, basting every 20 mins. Roughly.

I usually prepare couscous to go with this, but I felt adventurous today, so I'm serving it with a cannellini and chick pea mash, seasoned with onion slices cooked in olive oil with cumin and hot paprika.

Since that first mechoui, many others have followed, prepared by us or not.

A few of them will remain as Golden Madeleines: seeing the whole butchered lamb hanging in the Mauritanian sun all day while we were busy riding camels and donkeys, then eating it at night with the bedouins. The liver - supreme delicacy - had been prepared in a hole in the sand, charred on the outside and raw on the inside and served to the honoured guests (yippeeh!); the jaws-with-teeth-with-grass-still-in-them were served to my mum and I; and my foolish grand-father needlessly bragged to the bedouins that in Saudi Arabia, he had eaten the eyes as well. The bedouins, being perfect hosts, obliged the excentric old man and gave him what he was so obviously craving. Not to be short-changed, they offered my dad the other one. An eye for an eye...

Although I must say that the bedouins make up for the lack of spice (not even salt!) by being the most elegant and generous hosts I have ever met: sitting on the floor, around the whole lamb (often stuffed with couscous), we would first wash our hands in the basin proferred by a slave (yes, that bit I could definitely have done without!), before being handed a pocket knife. We would then cut off pieces, but in true bedouin fashion, it is considered rude to cut off a piece for one self, so you would find a particularly nice morsel, cut it off and present it to the person you wished to honour. We have tried it at home, but it does get messy across the dining-room table!

Another memory is many an Easter celebration in Auvergne, where my mum and I would marinate the meat (it's best done with the hands, just make sure you don't have an itch anywhere before you begin the messy massaging!) before my dad would tend to it on the roasting spit, bought for the occasion.

One particular Easter stands out, when the weather was anything but spring-like, my fairly new boyfriend (and now husband) was there as well and it started snowing, so Dad + Boyfriend grabbed the lamb and ran for dear life, dropping the lamb half way, while my increasingly excentric grand-father was playing the tuba, sitting in a night-gown in the living room. Actually, that is a fairly typical family gathering, as far as we're concerned, so I'm not so sure why it stands out.

Probably because it was snowing at Easter...


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

 

Madeleine # 3: Susan's Boiled Peanuts

Susan was our maid and my nanny when we lived in Kenya. She was from Uganda, but had fled Idi Amin's regime, like so many others. And like so many of her fellow country-men and women, she was very well educated. I owe her my first grasp of the English language, learnt listening to her stories and her commentary of the news when my parents were out in the evening. And the news was often fascinating, albeit heavily censored, as this was from 1980 to 1982 during the border dispute with Tanzania.

Susan came to us with her 2 children, one evening, looking for a job. Djungu, her eldest son, was the picture of a starving African child, with a bloated stomach and legs that could not carry him despite his 3 years of age. My dad gave him some UNICEF powder mixed with Fanta every day, and within 10 days, Djungu was running around like the rest of us. This was the ancestor of PlumpyNut, I guess. Which brings me to my third Madeleine. Susan's lovely hot, boiled peanuts. Plumpy Nuts, indeed!

Take as many peanuts in the shell as you wish to eat, put them in a pan of water with lots of salt and boil them for 2-3 hours, then leave them to cool slightly in the water.

Drain and serve with a nice beer (for the adults) or ... Fanta (for the kids).


I made some this evening, and the memories started to flood in, as I had hoped they would.

Eating ugali (maize meal) in Susan's hut. Not something I did alot, as I found it decidedly bland. But I loved when she cooked sukuma weeki, an indigenous type of spinach. Sometimes she would treat my parents and I to the best Ugandan food, but as I was only 8 years old, I did not think of taking notes of the recipe. But I do remember tilapia filets cooked with tomato in banana leaves and helping to knead chapatti bread (something to do with twisting it around my thumb, although I'm not sure why).

Susan also had a little girl. She must have had a proper name, but we all called her Shillingi - "Treasure" in Swahili -because it was derived from the local currency, the Shilling.

Thinking of Susan also reminds me of our house in Nairobi and how the black cotton soil in the garden would prevent the water, which was pouring down during the rainy season, from being absorbed by the earth. The whole garden was transformed into a slippery mud bath, which was hilarious to navigate bare-foot, while 'helping' my dad dig trenches to drain away the water.

Some less funny memories come back as well, uninvited. Hiding beneath the windows and crawling around the house, during the attempted coup in 1982 against the president Daniel arap Moi, who lived just around the corner. Just around the other corner was Nairobi's biggest slum, Kibera, where much of the unrest understandably was happening (for a glimpse of Kibera, I recommend watching the movie The Constant Gardener). This would be my first encounter with the violence and political turmoil of Africa, but by no means my last. How my parents succeeded in making me at the same time feel safe, while also explaining things so I could understand them, is still a wonder to me and something for which I thank them.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

 

Madeleine # 2: Herb Water

When my mum first discovered The Madeleines Project, she mused that the next Madeleine would be exactly what I had in mind: Herb Water. It sounds medicinal, and if you asked my grand-father, he thought it tasted like that as well, hence the nickname he awarded it. For some people, chicken soup is something to be ingested when sick; for my cousins and I, it meant HOLIDAYS!

Our grand-mother's ready-made chicken broth with meatballs and dumplings was proof that the holidays had started. And yes, you read correctly, it was ready-made (but not Campbell's, despite the photo), bought frozen and reheated. My paternal grand-mother cooked alot of things really well and especially enjoyed everything sweet, but somehow the biggest treat for her 3 grand-children was something she didn't make herself. Unfortunately, she is not around anymore, so I can ask her how it all started and why she didn't make it herself. All her 3 grand-children lived abroad: 1 in Africa and 2 in Austria. We would spend 1-2 weeks with our grand-parents during the summer, often without our parents. What a treat for all of us (and maybe for our parents as well?)

Whether summer or winter, arriving at the farm involved some cast-in-stone rituals: the Danish flag would be waving (as opposed to the everyday pennant), celebrating that one or all of the grand-children was arriving; the fridge and freezer would be full of chicken soup, meatballs, dumplings, frozen red hot-dog sausages and hot-dog bread, as well as lots of cheese (courtesy of my grand-father working in the dairy industry), the pantry would be stocked with colourful sodas. In summer, in the little vegetable garden the rhubarb and strawberries were ready to be picked by greedy little fingers.

As I am writing this, 2 chicken carcasses are boiling away in a pot with some carrots, an onion with 4 cloves in it, a leek, some parsley and 2 celery sticks. Recreating industrial food is a tall order, and I don't think I'll come close to the REAL McCOY this time, but a project is a project is a project. I don't live in Denmark anymore, otherwise I would gladly have cheated and popped down to the supermarket to buy the whole thing. But then I would have had nothing to write about. And seeing the recipe for the dumplings in the quintessential Danish recipe book (thank you, Anja, for thinking that no married household should be without Froeken Jensens Kogebog), I feel quite sure that I'll have more than enough material for this posting. In theory, it goes like this:

75g butter

2 dl water

100 g flour

2 eggs

1 tsp salt

Bring the water to the boil with the butter, then add all the flour in at once. Whisk until it doesn't stick to the spoon or the pan anymore. If the batter is not smooth at this point, return on the heat for a moment. Then let it cool a little (can they make up their mind?) and add one whisked egg at a time, without letting the batter become too liquid (easy peasy...)

Season the batter with salt, form little tiny dumplings and cook them in boiling water. It's easiest to shape them with a pastry bag (please remember that I don't like anything sweet, and therefore have never used a pastry-anything. Ever. And don't own one), but a tea spoon will also do (pfew! I have one of those. Somewhere...). The water must not boil, and the dumplings
must be in a single layer. Then give them 3 quick 'up-boils' (VERY lose translation from Danish), while being held under water with a slotted spoon, and cold water is added between each up-boil. If the dumplings boil, they will become crumbly.

At this point, it is only fair to let you in on a secret: I have always hated the dumplings... The meat balls, yes, the dumplings, even non-crumbly and nearly-boiled 16 zillion times: NO! I don't even like them now, neither does my husband. So here is my dilemma: to dumpling or not to dumpling. I'm really struggling: in the name of authenticity, I feel that I should try 'dumpling' (being a well-mannered little girl, I ate them, but I never grew to like them) at least once in my lifetime. On the other hand, these are my memories, and am I really twisted enough to recreate even the bits that I never liked? Besides, I have just tasted my chicken broth and although it tastes lovely, it doesn't have any Madeleine-effect. So, I think I must admit defeat on this 2nd Madeleine.

Yes, maybe I am just a little bit lazy today, so in order for you to forgive me, I'll tell you what to do with the left-over Kim Chee UN Style, in case your taste buds are feeling a bit tender by now. And your social life is in tatters. Last night I tried adding some KCUNS to mashed sweet potatoes which I served with pork chops. Big success! I confess, I had KCUNS left-overs too. So now I know that it keeps at least 7 days in an air-tight container, even though we've had some every night for aperitif this week...

Sometimes nostalgia is maybe best left alone. Or maybe emulating grand-mothers is one thing, but emulating the food industry quite another. I won't attempt to make my own 'Chemical-Ali' red hot-dog sausages either, although there are PLENTY of good memories attached to them!

What I also remember now is why I came home from each and every holiday in Denmark with considerably more luggage, than what was in my suitcase... I sometimes think my parents could have saved the flight tickets and I could just have rolled all the way from Northern Denmark to somewhere around the Equator.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

 

Teaser...


Just thought I'd let you know that I am working on Madeleine # 2: Herb Water

Come rain or come shine, high tide or low, some things were always constant at my Danish grand-mother's...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

 

Madeleine # 1: Kim Chee UN Style


Hot, humid weather. Tropical rainstorms at 8 pm on the dot every evening. Burning feeling on the tongue. Breath to kill a rhino from 100 m. Cleared sinuses. Sunshine. Surprise treat... Yep, it's definitely my mum's infamous Kim Chee UN Style!

Now, don't think for a moment that I'm eating fermented Korean cabbage. I'm not disparaging it, I just haven't tried it - yet. And I doubt any Koreans (North or South of the 38th parallel) would call this stuff Kim Chee. That much they could probably agree on. The real one is prepared in a variety of ways, one of which is
this.

But I'm digressing. The challenge of this first Madeleine is that - although I cook alot - I have actually never prepared KCUNS. It looks easy enough when my mum prepares it (as does most cooking), but would it be as easy to replicate? There's not even any heating involved, so I'm not sure it can actually be called cooking.

Logically enough, I start by a phone call to the Recipe-Owner, to know what I need to buy on my way home from the office. Tonight is KCUNS night!

Then, standing in front of my beloved Magimix food processor, I stack all the ingredients, in the quantities I think they should be in. Phone / Reality check to mum. Nope, MUCH less of that and HEAPS more of that. And that one, just at the end, to taste. And the last one you can leave out. Sometimes. That's about as precise as it gets. So, let's get started:


2 medium carrots, peeled
equivalent weight of raw white cabbage (or other
crunchy, non-coloured cabbage)
1 medium green pepper, deseeded
juice
from 1/2 lemon
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 anchovy filets (tinned)
1,5 tbsp tomato puree
harissa or other chilli paste
dark soy sauce (to taste)
mild oil (sunflower or peanut)
Bread, thinly sliced, toasted
crisp

Put all the ingredients down to (but not including) soy sauce in a food
processor and WHIIIZZZZ! You can't whizz it too much, so take a few more
WHIZZZES for the road.


Taste. It needs to be so hot you think it's too hot, but it actually isn't (bearing in mind you'll have to eat in just like that, on bread). If it's not there yet, add some more chilli. Then pour in some soy sauce while it's whizzing. You are aiming for the consistency of tapenade (olive dip), so if it's too coarse, add some oil.

At this point, taste again. Which I did. And it was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Re-dial mum. Try to describe the taste by phone. Hear my dad in the background saying to leave the ingredients to settle for a while. This from a man who hardly knows where the kitchen is! But, as with Caesar, I must credit him with the final touch.

When I spread it onto the toasted bread 15 minutes later, it's all coming back to me. After-school treats (I have never liked sweet things, not even as a kid), then summer holidays as an adult, at my parents' home in Auvergne. Seeing my mum appearing with a tray, a stack of toasts, some knifes and cold white wine or beer. And a cheeky grin.

Back to the recipe. Pour into a nice bowl, and serve with the toasted bread. To
people you know REALLY well. Who have no dinner plans for the next week or so. Or need to be around other people. In the foreseable future.

I know you can keep it in an air-tight container in the fridge, but I don't know how long. We've never managed to have it around for more than 2 days, tempting us every time we open the fridge.
At this point, I know you are scrolling down to see if I ever explain where this malodorous things comes from, and why I call it like that. Gotcha!

Between the ages of 10 and 12, I lived with my parents in
Burundi. My dad worked for the UN (see, we're getting there!). We were fortunate enough to be there during one of this beautiful country's peaceful periods. There had been ethnic genocide in the past, and there would be again soon. So this particular childhood memory does not lead to international politics. I can't promise that it will always be so. But that, as they say, is another blog entirely.

One of our neighbours was an Egyptian lady, Samira, whose husband also worked for the UN. This is as far back as we can go, recipe-wise. We don't know where she got it from. But she passed it on to my Danish-French mum and her best friend, the American ambassador's wife, who was Vietnamese. My mum's memories of KCUNS is of eating it with her friend Tuy Camh, after playing tennis. As if being physically active in 40C and 80% humidity was not enough to make you sweatty and hot, they had to add chilli and garlic!
Together, I suspect they made a version of their own, which is the one passed on to yours truly.

I can't guarantee tropical showers and exotic memories, but I would still suggest that you give KCUNS a try anyway. Bon ap├ętit!

Monday, May 01, 2006

 

Welcome to the Madeleines Project!

No, my name is not Madeleine. The Madeleine in this blog is a cake, a small shell-shaped French cake eaten at tea-time or 'Quatre heures' when children come home from school (I don't know if French children still come home from school at 4 pm, but bear with me). In my case, I used to eat them with my grand-father on road trips. And road-trips since then are incomplete without them.

So is this a blog about tea cakes? No, far from it. The Madeleine in the title is someone else's: Marcel Proust's, to be precise. And they are in plural. In
'A la recherche du temps perdu', the main character experiences reliving childhood memories, by biting into a madeleine cake. Long forgotten, but cherished memories.

And this is where the 'project' part comes into play: my ambition is to take you on a trip down my very own sensory and gastronomical memory lane. Around every twist and turn. And dead end. Up the hill to gaze over yet another forgotten landscape. Round the bend for a new surprise, unearthed as I was looking for something else entirely. Will you join me? Still not sure? I guess you want to know where we are going... Well, I'm afraid I simply cannot say. We will go to exotic and far-away countries, as that is where I have lived. But our trip will also take us to colder climes and maybe even to countries I have yet to visit. I think it sounds exciting! Still not enough to entice you? You want hard facts...

Let me see... It's a bit like the chicken and the egg, I think. I will probably start with one dish, tell you of what it reminds me, and try to recreate the exact taste. Most probably with some help from friends and family, if they happen to be the owners of the recipe. If not, I will have to put my trust in my tastebuds and my culinary skills. And Google. And my mum. One recipe might trigger more taste memories, or I'll have to wait (and you along with me) until the next epiphany.

I'll give it a try, and I really think you should too. Who knows, you might even pick up a tasty recipe along the way...

1st stop on the Madeleines Express is: "Kim-Chee UN Style". So now you know what I will be up to in my kitchen until the next posting.

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