Under the Mediterranean sun with this in my hand

This vegetable-cum- fruit was reviled to be poisonous. Peruvians called it ‘Peruvian Apple’, the French referred to it as the ‘love apple’ of ‘golden apple’. That is, until the 18th century, when having travelled the waters from Peru to the shores of Naples, then a part of Spain, reaching northwards to the rest of Europe, the tomato has invaded most of European cuisine, and of course the world. It is said Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, brought the fruit after conquering ancient Mexico. Others say the Genoese Christopher Columbus was the first to introduce it to the Spanish Court.

According to Wikipedia ‘…it is botanically a fruit, it is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes.’ And for culinary purposes it has indeed proved to be a versatile vegetable, err, fruit, um …fruitable. Ah never mind.

Summer is almost at an end in some parts of the world, and to enjoy tomatoes is to have it raw, stewed, bottled, pickled, dried, fried, chopped, pureed, processed or baked. And used extensively in Mediterranean cooking, I have kept a recipe through the years, it’s page now yellowed at the corners, with the occasional tomato sauce stains and oil patches. It turned out at the time to be an easy enough recipe. But as with most recipes, it is subject to interpretation, and the original has long since been devoured by time.

And so the sun beats down, and to have a bowl of this with some ouzo… sigh


chicken couscous

1 Chicken, cut into portions

4 oz chickpeas (garbanzos), boiled and drained

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 white onion, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and quartered lengthwise

1 10 oz can whole peeled tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato puree

3 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, chopped

12 oz couscous

4 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter, unsalted

salt and pepper

1 lemon, quartered

  1. In a bowl, mix couscous with the same amount of water and some olive oil
  2. Stir and let it absorb the liquid for 15 minutes
  3. In a stock pot, fry chicken pieces in olive oil until lightly brown on all sides
  4. Add sliced onion and chopped garlic, toss around for a minute, then add the tomato puree. Stir to coat all the chicken pieces
  5. Add clean water until it just covers the chicken
  6. Bring to boil, then lower heat to simmer for 10 minutes
  7. Add the chickpeas (garbanzos), carrot. Add the crushed peeled tomatoes, and let simmer
  8. Transfer couscous to a small holed colander and place atop the simmering chicken stew. Steam for 20-25 minutes until cooked through
  9. Remove colander and add some butter. With wooden spoons, or your hands, fluff the couscous. Season with salt
  10. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add parsley, stir, then remove stock pot from heat
  11. Ladle couscous on plate. Top with chicken, vegetable and some of the sauce. Garnish with a lemon quarter for juicing

Turn Around Part I

The beginning…Opportunity Cost

The moment the martini glass bottom discretely tapped the fridge, he knew he was nervous.  “Of no particular reason, really” he thought to himself. Into the empty kitchen he lamented, “I mean, we have known each other quite a while.” The silence responded in agreement, as if the outside world has stopped. Even the revelry of spring has quieted, as most have left the city for a weekend at the beach. Through the open window of the third level kitchen, he sat at the sill and gazed on the street below. Cobble stones barely damp from the early evening spring showers, now casting a bluish glow. It is late. But her train does not come in till 23:45h. She said over the phone that she had something for him, and that she would be coming over and spend the weekend.
“Do you have a place to stay?” He held his breath for a moment, expecting an answer that would justify his skipping heartbeat right now.
“I do. I will see you in six hours, d’accord?” Alexandra was coming in from Luxembourg, and the train trip is the most scenic that John can remember, after having spent the holidays there with friends.
That phone call was hours ago. It now read 23:04h on the luminous red clock. Service ended an hour ago, and the porters are just doing the final tasks of cleaning up. John’s chef de partie, Madchan, a likeable fellow from Sri Lanka, left ten minutes ago in the arms of his wife, looking forward to a party his fellow countrymen were having at the local dive. That left the kitchen floor all to himself. And that reminded him of his present situation.
Should he, or shouldn’t he? John has been thinking about Alexandra a lot, especially lately. Something just seemed right the first time they were on the slopes together. Though she was with someone at the time, it felt different whenever she was with John. As far as he could tell, she was relaxed, a little more laid back. And he was falling for her. Maybe because she was always there. Maybe it was the sultry sound of her voice, the pitch between wakefulness and boredom. Probably because John can finish her sentences, despite struggling with the French language. That she could finish his.
But it was significantly more because of that one night. Not long ago. It was after dinner, and Alexandra took John’s hand and decided to go for a walk around Zurich. They took a right from the Mexican restaurant into Niederdorfstrasse, the night was cold. She wrapped her arm around his. He chuckled. Can this be real? This woman I am crazy about, is cuddling up to me right here. But this could be anything. John instinctively tightened his arm, and tried to keep her warm. She looked up at him and just smiled. Alexandra wanted him close, feel him close, just being there. They walked around the Old District, perusing quaint shops, talking about anything. A small marionette posed at a window corner, staring forlornly at the street and passersby. A couple having a tipple on the sidewalk, the beaujolais nouveau bottle just opened and being offered. John Alexandra took tow plastic cups of the young wine, then moved on. After two hours, Alexandra turned her head and looked at John. She felt she knew what she was thinking. So then, she led him to a small cafe. “Tired?”, asked John. “No,” she replied dreamily, “I heard that they make their Chocolate Mousse the classic way here. Heard it was good.”
As they sat down, their orders already taken, Alexandra took John’s hand and said “I like it here.” John looked around slowly, “I like it, too.”
romantic_lunch_large[1] “I mean,” she continued '”here, with you.” John looked back wondered what he can make of this. He knew she was still with somebody else, yet he could barely control his desired for this woman. He smiled back in agreement,though he  felt it was not enough. He should tell this woman. Now. But the moment passed. And just enjoyed each others’ company. They sat there saying everything, and saying nothing, and it did not matter. Because it was enough that they were sharing one night, over a couple of the finest chocolate mousse this side of the French Alps.
Walking back to her apartment, they moved through the night in silence. It was not uncomfortable, but something was hanging over their heads, like something needs to be said between them. She stood there, two steps above him. John held her hands, and looked into those beautiful blue eyes. “I want you to be mine.” he whispered. The look Alexandra must have exhibited may have been of acknowledgement, as if she knew he was going to say that, for John was caught off guard despite the forwardness of his request, but more that she did not seem offended, or at least, surprised.
“I don’t want to hurt you” she said, but still held his hands purposely.
23:30h. Better make it to the banhof, he thought. After the locker room he went out in a light coat as it was still chilly spring evening. At the train station he saw her alight from the train. God, it was good to see her. They hugged just a moment longer, then slowly made their way back to the restaurant, now dark because everybody have left. She sat at the table by the window, the dim lights from the street illuminating chocolate mousse he prepared for her.
“You remember what Opportunity Cost meant during Economics class?” she said. How can he not. It was part of the finals exam. It meant the expense that would be realized in the pursuit of something beneficial. The cost of passing up the next best choice when making a decision. “Yes,” he replied apprehensively “I do. What about it?”
“Well,” she continued. “I want to be with you.” She looked into his eyes, with an earnest sincerity that he has not seen before. “I want you to be mine.”
He paused, not sure of where to go from here. But he knew the nervousness he experienced earlier, and let instinct take over. He reached over, and kissed her.

French Chocolate Moussechocolate mousse

4 egg yolks
1/4C confectioners sugar
2tbsp cognac
6oz semi sweet chocolate, cut into small chunks
3tbsp espresso coffee
8tbsp softened unsalted butter
4 egg whites
1/2C whipped heavy cream

  1. In a bowl beat egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow. It should be thick enough to form a ribbon when whisk is lifted from bowl
  2. Beat in the cognac
  3. Set bowl over double boiler and continue beating until foamy and hot
  4. Then transfer bowl to ice bath and beat until cooled, attaining the thickness and consistency of mayonnaise
  5. In another bowl over double boiler, melt chocolate into coffee, stirring constantly
  6. Beat in butter when all chocolate has melted, until it makes a smooth cream
  7. Fold the chocolate into the sugar and egg yolk mixture
  8. In another bowl, beat egg whites to a point forming soft peaks
  9. Stir in half the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in gently the other half
  10. Spoon the mousse into martini glasses, and refrigerate for 4 hours, until firm
  11. Garnish with whipped cream with a star tipped pastry bag
  12. Grate some chocolate over
Best served to someone special

... and so the story continues...


Share with the world, make it a better place

Sharing Sharing is good. Because competition can only bring us so far. Giving and compassion, faith in the human condition, helping others and selflessness. It is by this spirit that the world is becoming a better place. I ask you, what have you done for the people on your chat list recently? For the guy driving next to you waiting for the light to turn green? For your wife? For you child’s classmates?

Volunteer you services to a local church or charity
Bake some cupcakes and share it with a neighbor this afternoon
Somebody may need your books. Freecycle it
Offer a ride. Get carpooled
Have a weekly potluck with friends
Perform random acts of kindness
If someone owes you, ask to pay it forward
Get creative and make things. then give them away
Make real chicken soup for someone who is ill
Say ‘thank you’, and mean it
Teach a lonely friend how to cook. Teach your little brother how to cook
Tell 2 friends where to shop for the best tomatoes
Make a video on how to cut an onion without crying and post it on YouTube
Get your DVD player and TV outdoors and watch a movie under the stars with friends and family
Give your last cookie to the first person you see after lunch
Lend your baking pans to neighbor for the weekend
Help clean up the local playground
Teach a stranger how to spot fresh fish the next time you are at the seafood market
Read to the blind
Volunteer clean up duty at your local park
Start a community garden in your neighborhood, or join an existing one
Help reclaim the sidewalk for everybody
Be a mentor
Have a mentor
Compare notes on ex-boyfriends
Help make a poster for a struggling band
Read up and share information on important national matters
Share your favorite recipes on the internet
Go pro bono for anyone the first time you meet
Offer to train out-of-school youths
Work in a hospital for a whole month free
Share a laugh, share a joke
Donate to the guy who created the freeware that made your life at least twice as good
Participate in discussion forums on-line. Surely you have at least one thing you’re good at that can help others
Form a support group. Join a support group. Help a support group

This is only the beginning. So many things can be attributed to sharing, to one community. It may be utopian, or it may be a little preachy. Think about it. You really have nothing to lose. And so much to gain. Add to the list above. I am sure other readers will be able to use your input as much as I will.


Turn around, part XIII

glasgow winterSnow was falling on that cold November morning. It probably has been snowing since the night before, as a soft blanket of white has rendered additional color to an otherwise depressing gray facade that is Cathedral Street in Glasgow. The cab stood by, it’s exhaust plumes the only movement discernable if one were to chance upon this scene. They stood there in silence, not knowing what to do next, in spite of what will be from then on. The bags were already in the trunk, and he stood still in the falling snow, figuring out what to say. He wore a black heavy coat over the one purchase he made during the weekend in the Scottish city, a woven wool pullover. It kept him warm, but it did not make him feel whole. Facing him, she was also in a warm overcoat, keeping her hands in the pockets. An observer would have described this moment as surreal, the two a strong contrast to the winter shade, his black hair muddled with snowflakes, and her golden tresses flailing wistfully in the light cold wind.
sj They stared at each other for what seemed like eternity, finding the reason for being there. As one from experience could tell, the good things usually never last long enough. His eyes looked into hers, the only true color that made the monochromatic landscape more interesting, at least on her. Blue. I will never forget that color, he thought. And then, at thirty one past six on that cold Monday morning, he knew. Her eyes misted, then a single tear drop formed, and travelled slowly down her left cheek. He reached out with his right hand, ungloved despite the cold, and gently wiped the tear off with his thumb. And yet his hand remained, feeling her soft cheek, and the familiar twinkle in her eye whenever he touches her. She liked the firm affection, because nobody has held her that way before.
“Alexandra, I just want to know.” He said. “I just want to know…”
“Oh, John,” she replied. “You know I did. You know I do
He reached over, and kissed her forehead. She felt his warm lips, and wondered fleetingly if she should let this happen. Then her nose, then her lips were locked with his, feeling every moment. Their arms wrapped tightly around each other. She smelled wonderful, he thought, even at this ungodly hour. She felt safe, secure, away from the all that is harsh that moment. Alexandra did not want to let go. She just wanted to be wrapped in him.
And the moment has passed. They looked into each others’ eyes once more, and knew it was time. The world was slowly turning again, and they needed to get on. John held her hands, and it was as it always has been. But not no more. Her eyes are still misty. But she could not take back what has already been said. She knew if that were she to turn around and regret the decision, it would be different, and unfair for both of them.  
With a slight motion, John made it clear to the driver just a few moments more were needed.
“I will always love you, hon” John said with that same low voice she knew to be his true self. Staring into her eyes, he ran his hand slowly through her hair.
She stared at him, this man that made her life a little more colorful the past few months. As he was turning away, she held his hand for just a moment longer. Then she let go. After shutting the door, he looked back as the cab drove away, away from her. .
And she whispered into the winter “I love you, too”
And they both thought, at that same exact moment, where did it all go wrong?
Turn back the clock six months


The personal chef and the blog

Yesterday was spent trawling the web looking to how to get my recipes indexed on a specific page. Because, to tell you honestly, I am not that adept at HTML encoding, and it seems to me that every other blogger has run ahead of the pack. Formatting the blog that I have painstakingly nurtured for the past couple of years has borne several incarnations, from the a news feed magazine style, to a one column blah, to what is presently a decent attempt at minimalism and straightforwardness.

Alas, I still feel there is something missing, or something too much. The recipes are from complete, I know, and I am working on that. The content is compelling by average standards. The Layout is as intuitive as I can make it so. But what is missing? What is too much? The recipes need to be indexed somehow, for the benefit of my readers. By category, by cooking technique, by ingredient. I do not know where to begin.

The layout needs improvement. Not saying that it’s bad, (even though I do say so myself) but it could be better.What color? What Font? What about the ads placement?

So I ask the dear readers for help. I need your input. I need your suggestions on how I can make this better for you. So please, for everything that is as  sacred as a complete set of gleaming copper cookware, What is it you want to see, (and things you’d rather not) that would help the Personal Chef make the blog more personal.


Gelato. A base recipe that is a scoop!

Gelato-Rome The Italian dessert that has less fat than normal ice cream. Yes, less fat. Less butterfat to be specific. How is it creamier than normal ice cream? Less air is whipped into it during the freezing process. According to The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto, the extra fat in ice cream can mask the flavor of the ice cream, giving less fatty gelato the advantage when it comes to flavor clarity and intensity. The following recipe serves as a base. What you can do with it is up to your imagination. Bananas. Mint. Rhum. Raisin. Ube? Durian?
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the milk and cream. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally so a skin doesn't form, until tiny bubbles start to form around the edges and the mixture reaches a temperature of 170°F
Meanwhile, in a heat-proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Gradually mix in the sugar until it is incorporated and the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Temper the eggs by very slowly pouring in the hot milk mixture while whisking continuously. Return the custard to the saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and it reaches a temperature of 185°F. Do not bring to a boil.
Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl and let cool to room temperature, stirring every 5 minutes or so. To cool the custard quickly, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water and placing the bowl with the custard in it; stir the custard until cooled. Once completely cooled, cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Pour the mixture into the container of an ice cream machine and churn it according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.
This recipe was posted by Caroline Russock on Serious Eats. Have a go. Let me know how it turns out.

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To be told what’s hot and what’s not, that is the question…

YPE_038 What really is the difference between food fad and food trend? Are they interchangeable? Or are they applied according to one's perspective of what is hot and what is not? Some pretentious foodies use the term 'fad' more than 'trend', food service professionals watch out for the latter. Some are confused.  Others couldn't care less. But here is my take: A trend is something that is coming up to be exciting today, will be hot tomorrow, and will be the springboard for innovation and development in the future. A fad is merely a flash in pan. What is hot now could be 'oh-so-yesterday' the next millisecond. Paris Hilton shallowness aside, some of us do make a monumental effort of being ahead of the pack, not in terms of going with the flow, but being up-to-date on what is happening in the world of culinary wonders and delights. Chefs generally want to know what the other chefs are doing, and see if the direction is in sync or diverging, good way or bad. Foodies, gourmands want something new, something different, comforting or familiar. Other individuals follow what people on television tell them is exciting now. The food zombies and the pretentious foodies kiss the ground Oprah walks on, gets into a frenzy when they could not find the artisanal Olive oil mix that Ms. Winfrey has recommended because they 'just have to have it' for the sole reason that they want to feel that they are in the know. It is really difficult to put into words to describe how one should be part of  a food trend or fad, or merely to be a spectator on the sidelines. I read once on a shirt that seem close to what I mean, but not exactly. It does apply though to what I think of people who are so concerned with keeping with appearances and the Joneses.
'You laugh because I am different. I laugh because you are all the same'
food cart  Now trends and fads can be viewed through different perspectives. And it is the general vox populi that puts whichever on the forefront, depending on what the ‘in’ thing is as of that moment. Like may perspectives, opinions are rife, and based on an individual’s personal experience, would put a chalk mark against what deems to be popular, and what deems to be trendy. In either case, do we follow trends and fads because of what somebody else discovered to be and tells us? Or are we pathfinders who discover it ourselves?  Try the following. Then decide which side of that fence you are on.
Cupcakes were a fad. The delightfully decorated treats seemed more functional than cool. No mess. No cutting. Portable. But do you really want to line up shell out that much money for a piece of cake that is less than the size of a tennis ball? Besides, what satisfaction can you get other than sugary jittery highs?
Street Food. Yeah. It's all the rage now. Because we now look for simple comfort food that screams casual, no stiff collars and no pretentions. Fast Food, but without the synthetic non biodegradable packaging. But street food as we know it has been around for ages. We are noticing it now because we look for the real thing.
Chocolate Fountain. And in their many forms. Usually found lately at many dessert buffet tables, surrounded by diners who can get enough of the addictive goo. The novelty of this that we are free to dip whatever into the falls, and just hang around for the next fix. It’s a messy affair, and magic disappears once you are walk away for more than three feet.
Greenhorn Culinary Schools. Specifically the culinary and hotel management schools that have no tradition and just recently opened shop to join the now popular ‘celebrity chef’ bandwagon. Like the profession, it takes years and years of professional experience and credibility to be able to teach others on the finer points of cooking. If you want to become a chef, go to a reputable culinary school that has an established record. Not one who started as an IT educational institute.
Burgers. Because there are so many burger joints nowadays to cater to every individual taste, you would be hard pressed to find one that does not appeal to your taste buds. But as it nears the numbers of the local McD’s, are we reaching a plateau of over saturation?
Healthy living with Omega 3. Take the pill instead. With the mercury found in so many omega-3 rich fishes and the overfishing problem, it can literally make you sick.
Molecular Gastronomy. The marriage off food and science is not new, this fad has created fancy kitchen gadgetry that rivals even the most adventurous mad scientist. Unfortunately, the movement reduced the enjoyment to mere gimmickry. And not a lot of cooks and chefs have the time to really do in depth science experiments, so do not expect and El Bulli clone to open shop around the corner any time soon.
Frozen yoghurt. That dessert popularized in that Sex in the City series, it has created a following because of it’s healthier benefits over ice cream. It can be tailored to every specific taste and palate, creating more varieties and permutations. Restaurants have started offering up in their menus, and is driving guests to veer away from the usual.
Home Grown Produce. Because fresh produce is healthier option over mass produced veggies inundated with chemicals and GMO. Because fresh produce are nutritionally superior and more advantageous.Because local produce uses less foosil fuel for transportation, storage and preparation. Buy local. It also helps the farmer get most of the profits and by cause and effect improve his quality of life and yours.
Slow food. Real cooking made with tradition. With the sprouting like weeds of every fast food joint imaginable, it is welcoming that real cooking instead of cookie cutter manufactured food stuffs are still around and lately being rediscovered. In essence, to dine at your own pace, to savor every morsel. As more people are looking for value for money, they want to be able to enjoy the food they purchase, with friends and family. Comfort food that heal during difficult times.
Pickled anything. Ginger, Asparagus. Garlic. You name it. Thanks to the Asian community, this new movement in cooking can really add to the repertoire. By itself pickled foods are great, and making it a part of the bigger picture will prove that it will stay for years to come.
The popularity of the butcher. Yes, that guy behind the meat counter that can carve out your cuts the way you want it. Many are now discovering that the butcher is a deep well of knowledge when it comes to specific cuts and they way they need to be cooked. Next to the chef, he is the guy that would most likely know how much marbling you need, or if this part of the cow is good for stewing.
Asian and Ethnic foods. With the dawn of globalization, the rest of the world is discovering the magic of Asian Cooking. The fascination with exotic flavors and ingredients have been fueled by the introduction of such recipes in local communities.
Foodies. Because more and more of these individuals are pushing the culinary envelope. They are knowledgeable now in the ways of cooking and entertainment. Instead of subsisting on TV dinners and instant noodles, foodies emerge as a force that indicates the state of everything culinary.
Healthy Household. Americans are looking to create a healthy household. Approximately 57% of shoppers are making a lot of effort to eat healthier. With half (53%) of adults controlling their diet—61% for weight, 36% cholesterol, 22% blood sugar, 18% high blood pressure, and 14% diabetes. Babies and young children also drive healthier household eating. Popular trends include DHA for brain and eye development and probiotics for digestive health. In recent years, sales of healthful kids’ foods have outsold regular kids’ products 3:14. With 28% of parents admitting that they have an overweight child and one in eight kids having two or more risk factors for heart disease later in life, the number three concern of moms, after immunity and growth/development, is now healthy kids foods.
Food vetting. Yes, sustainable is going mainstream. Food sourcing might be old news to foodies, but a growing number will opt for organics and sustainable practices. That includes eating fresh, local and seasonal foods as much as possible and buying products with sustainable or biodegradable packaging. Farmers markets are hotter this year than last, as people search for food they can trust and vendors they know. And the foodies? They might go for less precious items and make more down-to-earth choices.
Olive oil alternatives. Particularly grapeseed oil. Due to additional health benefits, grapeseed oil is also more wallet friendly, has a higher smoke point, and does not decay as fast.
If a tend turns out to be a fad, or a fad turns out to be a trend, it really is all a matter of perspective. This list is not definitive. Not at all. It just the tip of the whipped cream iceberg. Do you know of a fad or trend that I missed? Would love to hear about it! Post it up here for everybody else to take a gander at.