Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mind Boggling Blogs

I have been spending an inordinate amount of time in my study since discovering the world of food blogs. I read ferociously about what other bloggers are cooking on every continent, in every language I can decipher. It is amazing how many talented home cooks are preparing restaurant quality food; and judging from the attached images, many of them seem to be accomplished photographers as well.

Just like making new friends while settling into a new country, some bloggers' prose touched me and virtual friendships are formed, other times I read a blog and vow never to return. For example, Ikumi of Toast and Butter is a lovely lady who lives in Hong Kong and cooks wonderfully for her fortunate husband. From her travel journals and critiques of restaurants, one senses immediately not only her enthusiasm for good food but her appreciation of the dedicated workers in the challenging service industry. Cha Xiu Bao is a cool, no nonsense sort of guy; this multi-talented writer expresses himself equally intelligently and humourously in English and Chinese, on a wide range of topics beside food.

I also love Fiordizucca, this pumpkin flower writes in three languages: Italian, English and occasionally Japanese. Her food is always hearty but healthy. Then there are the rock stars of the food blog world like Clement from A La Cuisine! and Chez Pim. Clement cooks occasionally as a professional and the multi-lingual Chez Pim possesses the stamina to eat across continents. One thing these foodies have in common is that they are not only knowledgeable gourmands but can more than hold their own in the kitchen.

It puzzles me whenever I come across bloggers, mostly affluent ladies though men not completely excused, who are in plain simple terms, spoiled rotten brats! They only ever eat out and somehow feel the need to criticise, in derogative language, whichever restaurant and wait staff unfortunate enough to suffer their patronage.

This sort of behaviour reminds me of a conversation I had with an older Venetian gentleman over a lovely bottle of Amarone di Valpolicella which went more or less like this: many look but cannot see, hear but cannot listen, sample but cannot taste, touch but cannot feel; we should count ourselves blessed if we could manage to achieve all that in our lifetime.

My new addiction to blogging has caused me, on occasions, to forget about eating. Guillermo usually just slips into the kitchen and makes lunch for both of us. A couple of days ago, I tasted his revuelto de berenjena (aubergine omelette) for the very first time. The verdict: I am now free to blog to my heart's content.

I sometimes wonder what it is like being married to a chef; for a start, I don't think you would have much of a social life at normal social hours because your husband would be at work. But if he is a great patisserie chef, like Pierre Hermé, he may create something scrumptious with your favourite ingredient and name it after you in his best selling cookbook.

After reading his book on chocolate desserts, I now have yet another piece of useless information occupying the already limited space in my head: Pierre Hermé’s wife loves Nutella.

Pierre Hermé’s Nutella Tart

1 fully baked 22 cm tart shell*
2/3 cup Nutella
140g bittersweet chocolate (Herme' uses Valhorna Noir Gastronomie)
200g butter
1 large egg, room temperature, stirred with a fork
3 large egg yolks, room temperature, stirred with a fork
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup Hazelnuts

Toast the hazelnuts 10 minutes in an 180C oven. Remove as much skin as possible by rubbing the hazelnuts inside a kitchen towel. Chop coarsely. Raise oven to 190C.

Melt chocolate and butter separately. Allow the mixture to cool till 40C.

Spread the Nutella at the bottom of the tart shell. Mix the egg into the cooled chocolate mixture. Do this gently to avoid incorporating air. Add yolks, little by little, then the sugar. Finally, fold in the melted butter, always stirring gently. This will take a little time. Pour on top of the Nutella and sprinkle with the toasted hazelnuts.

Bake for about 11 minutes. The sides of the filling should be set but the middle still slightly wobbly if shaken (that's how it's supposed to be). Let cool to room temperature.

Any remaining tart, stored in the fridge, will taste great cold, the next day.

* Hermé 's recipe for tart dough:
285 g butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup finely ground blanched almonds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups plain flour

This makes enough dough for 4 tart shells, using the standard procedure to make tart dough. Freeze the rest.

This dough tastes great but is quite fragile, i.e. not too easy to work with. You could also use any other sweet tart crust dough.

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