Saturday, 14 March 2015

Adventures In Bolognaise

Emboldened by the relative success of my attempts at making purple carrot soup and mushroom soup, I moved on to another challenge: pasta bolognaise.

So I'm a little late to the bandwagon.

Several meals of lamb bolognaise spaghetti at a nearby café sort of convinced me that hey, this is doable (not to mention the expense). But not with lamb. Not yet.

Thank goodness for the YSK meat mart nearby for this straight-up pork bolognaise I attempted one fine weekend.

First, season the mince. Salt (not a lot), pepper and mixed herbs by McCormick, and work it with the hands until they are all evenly distributed. These three seasonings should be okay for whatever four-legged animal you'd want, or even chicken.

Pork bolognaise cooking away, while the cooked pasta waits
impatiently; sorry, no pictures of the interim steps

Then, ball it up and smack it down into the bowl several times; this tip came from Mom, which I assume was primarily for meat balls, but it's quite satisfying to lay the smackdown on the mince anyway.

Heat some oil in a pan and drop the meat in. No fear of it clumping into a grotesque misshapen burger patty if you stir it often to break up any huge bits. If your meat is frozen (like mine), you might want to cook it just a wee bit longer, but not too long, because it's going to bubble along with the sauce.

Take it off the heat when thoroughly brown and plate it. Might be good also if you lined the plate with several paper towels to catch any fat that would otherwise pool at the bottom or be absorbed by the mince in the lower layers.

Now, the tomato-based sauce.

Toss in one yellow onion, chopped, and sauté until soft. Then add the aromatics: chopped garlic and shallots, and sauté for a few minutes. The kitchen should start smelling real good.

Then, in goes two chopped tomatoes. I didn't bother with skinning or removing the seeds, since they were small (should've bought two more at the market). Smoosh the tomatoes as they cook.

After a few minutes, in goes the stock or water, followed by two heaped tablespoons of Hunt's tomato paste. Stir and let it boil. When the sauce starts to bubble, dump the mince in, and stir. Let it boil a bit, then reduce to a simmer. Depending on how thick you want it, simmering time could take between 30 and 45 minutes. Stir the sauce from time to time.

With this, the number of pasta-serving places I tend to visit
went down by ... three quarters?

In the meantime, cook your pasta al dente. I made the mistake of making the pasta almost after I set the sauce to simmer, but since I was the one eating it...

When the sauce has reduced to your liking, take it off the heat, taste and adjust seasonings. Making it a habit of adding less salt helps. Heap your sauce over your pasta and serve.

It came out fine, because I didn't overdo the salt and continually tasted the sauce at almost every stage of its preparation. Some things to note, though:

  • Probably too much minced pork for one serving. Stomach's not the near-bottomless pit it used to be. Should've also put it on a plate with several layers of paper towels after browning to absorb the excess fat.
  • Used too much water, so the sauce took longer to simmer down. In the end, the bolognaise was wetter than usual and not very tomato-ey. And there's still a small bowl of leftover sauce in the kitchen.
  • Pasta was too soft because I cooked it too early. Should've waited until the sauce was ready first.

This whole dish, sauce and all, took me about an hour and 15 minutes to prepare. Crazy! But worth it, I guess.

Since then, I've made this dish a couple more times, including a version where I blended the cooked sauce ingredients in a blender before bringing it up to a simmer and tossing the mince in. This version cooked a bit faster and yielded a thicker sauce, but didn't taste quite right after I allowed a lot of the meat juice and fat from the mince to drain on paper towels.

The third bolognaise followed the first, albeit with the addition of a little butter and cheese that was shaved from a block of mature cheddar that flew out of London - thanks, Melody! Don't ever do this with the individually packed "cheddar slices" - it won't be the same.

So ... if any of you restaurant owners are wondering why you don't see me around these days - not that you often do - wonder no more.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett (1948–2015)

Oh, bugger.

Author's photo (left) from Penguin UK; The Truth was among the
first - and, perhaps, among the best - of his books that I'd read

I first knew him and his works through my sister's copies of The Truth and Witches Abroad, years before I ventured into journalism (briefly) and publishing. Who knew I'd go into both?

"He will be missed" is an understatement.

...Oh dear L*rd, someone wrote this eulogy of sorts and it's awesome.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Book Marks: Being Opinionated, Fifty Shades Banned

John Scalzi thinks "you won't sell books if you have an opinion a reader doesn't like" is "terrible advice".

It’s terrible advice in part because it's simply not true — there are best selling writers in every genre who express opinions that outrage and annoy whole packs of people, and have since before they were best sellers, and yet they sell books nonetheless — and in part because it's reductive. It's an argument that posits that once a writer enters the stream of commerce, the most important thing about that writer's life is their ability to sell books. Everything else about that writers' life suddenly takes a back seat to that single commercial goal.

So what if a writer is or has written or said something that's "polarizing"? Big deal, Scalzi seems to suggest, and not just because he feels that writers are supposed to have something to say.

To write publicly is to be judged and to be criticized and to be polarizing. If one avoids speaking on public issues in social media only out fear of alienating readers, all one does is possibly delay such judgment. Judgment will happen for what you say and also what you don't say. Judgment will happen for what you write in your books and what people assume you meant when you wrote those words, regardless of your authorial intent. Judgment will happen based on who people think you are based on the fantasy version of you they have in their head, which is almost always more about their own fears and desires than anything that has to do with the actual person you are.

So you might as well say whatever the hell you like, if you like. If nothing else, then the fantasy versions of who you are might be closer to the person you actually are.


After much has been made about the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey - both the books and film - is now banned in Malaysia.

Note that it has been several years since the trilogy was released in the country, where dozens of households might have read or owned at least one volume. That's like closing the barn door after the horses have bolted, headed for the hills, grazed and sired three generations.


  • H is for Hawk: A Q&A at National Geographic with Helen Macdonald, who also sat down with Salon for a tête-à-tête.
  • The longlist for Bailey's (hic!) women's prize for fiction is out. It's a strong one, according to The Independent. The Bookseller has a bit more about the selection and notes that, among other things, half the books are published by Penguin Random House.
  • A conversation with author Hanya Yanagihara and her editor Gerry Howard about author-editor relationships.
  • Peter Hessler went on a book tour in China with his censor. It's just like you'd imagined it.
  • If I get to read Cat Out of Hell I won't review it; after Ron Charles's take on it, who could do better?
  • Jeffrey Archer accuses Bollywood of stealing his bestselling storylines ... which Bollywood tends to do on occasion.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro on memory, censorship and why Proust is overrated.
  • Bill Bryson's new book, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island, is coming soon.
  • Mein Kampf to be reprinted in Germany for first time since World War II as an annotated historical document. Of course, not everybody's happy.