Friday, October 31, 2008

Parasol Mushroom or Coulemelle

Ever since I was introduced to these mushrooms, I've been a fan.

Coulemelle or lepiote elevee or parasol mushrooms, so called because they look like little umbrellas. Since the caps grow to a size of 10-35cm, they are fairly easy to spot. We spotted 5 by the side of the road as we were driving to St Michel last Sunday.

In fact you would only want to pick the big ones cos their smaller cousins are toxic.
Another identifying feature is the ring around the stem called an annulus. I was told not to pick any without the annulus.

They are delicious, juicy mushrooms with a nice meaty flavour. Easily one of my favorites now. I was surprised to find that they are not particularly popular esp with X family - they all prefer cepes. Ah well more for me then.

These are young parasol mushrooms that look like drum sticks.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guess what happened

Guess what happened today as we're preparing for Halloween ?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Teriyaki Pork Chop with linguine

Being away from home & away from food that I crave for, I make do with substitutes or learn to make my own. This has turned out to be a good thing cos very often I've found that it's not as difficult as it seems.

This is one of those examples. If I were back in Singapore, I'd probably be buying expensive bottles of teriyaki sauce or maybe why bother, just hop into any of the many Japanese restaurants & order this.

But teriyaki sauce is really easy to do it yourself. I usually do this with deboned chicken leg but since I had some pork chops in the freezer, I decided to use those up instead. For a change instead of serving it with rice, why not change it up & serve it with pasta. You know I like to walk on the wild side.....

Teriyaki Pork Chop with Linguine

For the sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
2 Tbsp sugar

4 pork chops

1. Put all the ingredients of the sauce in a small pan, bring to a boil then simmer

2. Take 2 Tbsp to marinate the pork chops & set aside for half an hour

3. Fry the pork chops in medium heat until done

4. Turn up the heat & pour the rest of the sauce into the pan. It should start to carmelise. Coat the pork chops with the sauce

5. When done, sprinkle sesame seeds & serve over linguine

St Michel de Boulogne

Most Sundays we have lunch at X's parents who live a 15 mins drive from us in the commune of St Michel de Boulogne (population 130). It's a beautiful place in the mountains that makes you feel that you are a la campagne (in the countryside).
Rene grew up there on his parent's farm which today is owned & run by his brother. In fact a lot of the land still belongs to the family. Typically after lunch, we would take a walk around (to work off all that good food we just had).

This is the church where it all happens - X's uncles & cousins were married here & where their
children were baptised as well.

The Chateau is mostly in ruins but some parts of it have been restored & if you were to click on the link, you'll see that the rooms can be rented out too. Last year a small jazz concert was held there & it was a wonderful experience to listen to music under the stars with the chateau as the backdrop.

We've been having a bit of an Indian summer & if you look closely enough, you'll see a shirtless X in the background.
Can you see what's hidden in the grass ?

Another perfect Sunday afternoon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Salmon Rice

Due to bad judgement on my part, I was left with quite a lot of sushi rice after our lunch on Saturday. I could make more sushi & the internet suggested making tempura sushi rolls using left over rice but I wanted something different.

So what I did was to fry the left over piece of salmon, mash it up, mix it together with the rice. Serve with sprinkling of bonito flakes & strips of seaweed.

A delicious way to use up left over sushi rice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tempura Shrimp

When making shrimp tempura, I could never get it to be straight like those served in the restaurants. They curl up almost immediately I put them to deep fry.

Internet to the rescue - I googled & this is what I came up with.

Remove the shell leaving the tail intact. You can also remove the vein but when making tempura shrimp I don't do it cos you'll see why later. Besides the vein is not harmful & you can bet when eating in restaurants, they don't remove it either.

Cut small slits across the belly of the shrimp making sure to not cut through the shrimp. If I cut the back to remove the vein then this gets a little tricky.

I usually make 4 slits even for a medium size shrimp. I used to do only 3 & it doesn't seem to work as well. More for bigger shrimps.

Next turn them around & press down lightly to straighten them up.

When done, make your tempura batter & heat up enough oil for deep frying. Once the oil is hot enough (drop a little batter into the oil & if it comes up immediately, it's ready), dip the shrimp into the batter & deep fry.

It should come up looking nice & straight like this.

Other than serving it as a tempura dish with tempura vegetables etc , we also like to use it in sushi rolls. Which is another reason why you would want it straight.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The little straw house

This is the little straw house my friends Katia & Mathieu are building. You'll remember them from here. This is another example of people who are serious about bricolage. They are literally building their house from scratch.

Katia has even documented the whole process in her photo albums in Facebook. They are building their dream house in a dream location. This is really amazing especially to someone who grew up in the city & whose idea of building is that of Lego bricks.

I also love the fact that the materials they used are going to be energy efficient & environmentally friendly. Can't wait to see how their house turned out which is expected to be in spring next year.

Shall we take a walk around the area ?

Apple tree right in their backyard

The Girls enjoying our little walk around La Souche

Katia assured me this was edible
A mushroom called coulemelle
(which is absolutely delicious in an omelette)
Talk about dream location - a mushroom-growing field right by your house

The mushroom was bigger than The Girl's face

Milky Cap Mushrooms

Oh no not another mushroom post....oh yes it is & I can't promise that this will be the last.

These are called Lactarius deliciosus or Milky cap or Les Marseillais.

Ask anybody around here & they will tell you that these mushrooms grow in abundance in our woods. Of course the exact location is a highly guarded secret. I've seen people walking out with baskets full of these & naturally my interest was piqued.

Based on some rough directions (I suppose I was given this very privileged information by virtue of the fact that I live here but it was still scatchy) by Mr Chautard (he who owns the fig tree), I went in search of these mushrooms. It was my lucky day cos within hours, I found about 15 of them.

They grow near pine trees which is why in the pictures you see them all covered in pine needles. The part of the woods that I found them is a little overgrown, full of blackberry bushes with thorns & if one doesn't have a good sense of direction, could get themselves lost. Perhaps that was why I was able to find so many - I doubt too many people have trekked that area.

I broke several cardinal rules that day - I put them in a plastic bag which was the reason they were in less than stellar condition & I forgot my knife *gasp*. A good thing nobody saw me cos given how passionate the French are about doing things the right way, I'm sure I would have been given a earful for my sloppiness. My excuse - I really hadn't expected to find any, I thought I'd just recce the place.

These mushrooms ooze an orange milk when cut which makes them easy to be identified - see how my fingers are tainted orange. But boy do they perish quickly, I didn't have time to prepare them immediately & before I knew it, they were already turning green.

In the end, I cooked them as I normally do with other type of mushrooms - boil them first in water then fried with garlic & butter. They are meatier & don't shrink too much after cooking. I was a little disappointed with my first taste of these mushrooms - they are not as flavorful as say chanterelles or cepes. I just read that they make excellent meat substitutes in vegetarian mock meat dishes so I will prepare them differently the next time.

Cos there must be a reason they are so popular that they get sold by the truckloads to Marseille thereby earning the nickname Les Marseillais.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Where I stock up ?

I'm sure you can appreciate what a challenge it is to find Asian groceries over here. Apart from care packages from friends & family, I really rely on going to the cities to stock up. The local supermarket has a dismal selection.

Everybody has been telling me about this Asian store in Aubenas but maybe it was because of X's ambivalence, I've never actually been in there. I walked past once & all I saw were Indian spices & Chinese tea, so I didn't even bother going in.

So last month I was with Laurence in Aubenas & finally after 4 years, I decided to go in to take a look. Imagine my surprise, when I discovered Aladdin's cave. It's a tiny shop but jam packed from floor to ceiling with an amazing selection of sauces, noodles, can food (yeah enoki mushrooms & baby corn) & all kinds of spices from not just Asia but Middle East.

Last week, I had to make a trip there to buy rice cos my sack of 25kg of rice has finally finished. I know I'm little late on this but gosh, 15 euro for 5kg of rice ? I shouldn't be complaining about the prices cos it's nice to have this little shop close by & to know that I don't ever have to panic if I were to run out of tamarind, water chestnut or sesame oil.

Those are the tins of Chinese tea leaves that greets you as you enter the shop

More spices & provisions from Middle East & India
I don't know what's the deal with photos of the children
I only just noticed them, will have to ask her when I'm there next

1 pl 14 Juillet 07200 AUBENAS
04 75 93 78 46

Monday, October 20, 2008

Steamed meat patty

This really should have been included in my earlier Cantonese food post.

Steamed meat patty or yoke bang is the quintessential Cantonese dish but you wouldn't find this in fancy Cantonese restaurants cos this is what our mother's cook at home. This is what I grew up eating. My mother even used the same stainless steel plates that you see in the picture.

She usually steams the salted fish separately on top of the meat patty with slices of ginger but I kind of prefer it done this way.

Steamed meat patty

350g minced pork
5-6 water chestnuts
half onion, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, diced
salted fish, diced
sesame oil
soy sauce
salt & pepper

1. Put all the ingredients together in a bowl & mix well

2. Place in a shallow tray & steam until meat is cooked. Served with rice

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mad about Mushrooms

This post took a while in the making cos I keep finding new mushrooms photos to be added but I think I'm going to stop for now & if there are any more, I'll just post again else I might never get this published.

Quite a few of you have asked me about my mushroom hunting jaunts so I thought I'll do a post on it. I'm certainly no expert & I'm still learning as I go along. But here's what I do know :

1. Use a wicker basket to carry your mushrooms. The theory is that it will allow the spores of the mushrooms to escape to start new patch & will also keep them fresher. Mushrooms sweat & if you keep them in a plastic bag, you'll reach home with a wet mess (I know this cos I speak from experience).

2. Cut not pick. Although we use the term to pick mushrooms, we actually don't pick them from the ground. You should always cut them at the stem just above the ground. That way you will not disturb the mushroom spawn allowing it to grow back. Besides it would be easier to clean without the load of mud attached to them. There are special mushroom knives out there but a regular knife would suffice. And for mushrooms like the mousserons that have small stems, it's easier with a pair of scissors.

3. The best time to look for mushrooms is when there is warm sun after a bit of rain & preferably when there's a full moon - apparently that's when mushrooms sprout most.

And the most important of all, if you don't remember anything else, remember this

4. When in doubt, don't pick. Only pick those that you are 100% sure without a doubt. For beginners, it's always best to go with someone who know what they are doing. In fact that's how I learn. It's very different comparing mushrooms in the wild to a picture in a book. Mushrooms have many lookalikes & sometimes dangerous cousins. It's better to err on the side of caution - you'd rather throw away what could be perfectly good mushrooms than get really sick.

Just to give you an example - I picked quite a few what I thought were chanterelles or girolles & called Rene to check. But when I told him where I found them, he said they are not known to grow in that type of vegetation. So I threw them away instead.

In France, you can also bring your mushrooms to the nearest pharmacist to have them verified - they are trained to tell you what's edible or what's not.

Very often mushroom hunting will take you into the woods & off the beaten track. Stay clear if hunters are in the vicinity & even if you don't find any, just enjoy your forage in the forest.

The woods behind our house turned out to be very fertile ground for mushrooms. I went earlier this week & here's what I found.

The one on the right's called Amanite tue-mouche
It's rated 2 skulls in my mushroom book ie. dangerous

The one on the right looks like wood ear fungus

These were what I thought were chanterelles. I probably wouldn't have died from eating them but might have gotten a very bad tummy ache

I love how they seem to sprout out of nowhere

These look like something that you would find under the sea

With the exception of the faux chanterelles, I didn't pick any of these. Some of them might be perfectly good mushrooms but until someone tell me otherwise, I'd stick to what I know best even tho it may be limited to a handful of mushrooms. Better safe than sorry.