Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Yu shiang cie tze aka spicy sichuan aubergine

Spicy subergine with pot sticker dumplings

 Work, work, work; all about the work. I'm a busy bee and when I get home from I am completely ravenous. So hungry I could eat a horse puts it mildly.  For mid week meals this makes me very happy. It is really quick and whilst I am loathed to use clich├ęs is it packed full off flavour. Creamy aubergine, heat, salty notes and freshness.

I first had this dish at a restaurant called 'Chop Chop'. It is a great little place; always busy with a 100% focus on the food to the neglect of everything else eg the decor. These aubergines were amazing, the highlight to a feast consisting of about 15 dishes. I've tinkered with the different ingredients and I think this recipe is ready to get aired. We normally have it with a little rice or with some pot sticker dumplings. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it...

Almost there...

Sichuan Aubergine - serves 2-4

vegetable oil for shallow frying
2 firm aubergines cut into long batons
a packet of spring onions, halved then cut lengthwise
1 red chili, finely chopped, seeds and all if you like it hot, hot, hot
2-3cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2dsp light soya sauce
2dsp shaohsing rice wine
1dsp light brown sugar
small handful of chopped coriander

Heat a wok on a high heat with plenty of oil and add the aubergines.
They will absorb lots of oil so you may need to add more oil. Oh the guilt!
After about 8-10 minutes they should have gone soft all the way through and brown and crispy around the edges.
Turn down the heat to medium and add the garlic, ginger, chili and spring onions.
Cook for a 3-5 more minutes, until the spring onions have softened.
Mix the soya, shaohsing and sugar together and add to the wok.
Just before serving throw in the coriander and let it cook though for 30 seconds or so to reduce the harshness.
Add more soya as required to taste.


Monday, 25 April 2011

Homemade lemonade

                                                                                                                                                                           Homemade lemonade
A few weeks ago when Z was over for diner we started reminiscing about the old flat we shared in Stockbridge. It was a lovely old place, once grand now just a bit shabby, no chic. We used to dance in the kitchen on a Friday nights and went through lots of cups of teas watching "Come dine with me" on lazy Sunday afternoons.

One summer a few of the posh kids up the street set up a lemonade stall. It was just about the cutest thing I had ever seen and just about the best 20p I have ever spent. It was something of a time gone by, before all the bad stuff you seem to read about in the newspapers every day. It was totally charming made even more charming by the fact one of them was playing his violin next to the stall, practicing his Bach. 

Having been reminded of the lemonade stall and with it being a sunny bank holiday, today seemed to be the perfect time to make my own.

I've done the recipe by ratios as I think this may be easier for people. I will always have lemons but not always 6 of them for example. Increase the proportions as you require. For example, if you have 3 lemons, times the rest of the ingredients by 3.

To make pink lemonade just mash up a few raspberries and throw these in at the beginning.

Homemade lemonade - 1 quantity, serves 2

1 large lemon or approx 100ml of fresh lemon juice
2 heaped desert spoons of granulated sugar
100ml hot water
200ml soda water
ice cubes and mint to serve

Pare the zest from the lemon in big strips.
Then strip the pith off the back of the zest to reduce the bitterness.
Squeeze the lemon juice into a pyrex jug, add the sugar and zest.
Add the hot water.
Have a taste, you may need more sugar.
Leave to cool, or overnight if you are awfully well prepared.
When you are ready to drink it, add 200ml of soda water.
Serve with ice, lemon zest strips and mint sprigs.

I'll be making a second batch for my royal wedding party this coming weekend. Can't wait. I'm off to order some bunting.


Saturday, 23 April 2011

Vanilla fairycakes with all the trimmings

                                                                                                                                                                                   Vanilla fairycakes
Right, my name is up on the baking rota at work and the pressure is on. I’ve just started in a new area and expectations are high! Oh the pressure.

A few years ago I was due to bake for work but had been out gallivanting and didn’t get back till later. I started baking at about half 11 and in my wisdom went to bed with an alarm set for 35 minutes when my cake was due out the oven. That would have been brilliant apart from one thing... I slept through the alarm only to wake up at 5am with the fire alarm. My ring of cake was now a ring of coal. Yes, I had managed to make coal in a domestic oven.  This was my least successful cake of all time.

At my work baking is used as a serious morale booster, we have few perks but cake day is one of them. Chocolate is a definite crowd pleaser but for me nothing could cheer me up on a Monday morning more than a vanilla fairycake except maybe a vanilla fairycake with glitter and sprinkles. Here they come . . .

This recipe is adapted from the wonderful Hummingbird bakery. I’ve changed the order of the mix as I don’t have a freestanding electric mixer and I don’t feel it works as well with a handheld whisk as suggested. I have also halved the butter icing quantities. The quantities given in the book give a ratio of cake to icing as 1:10 (I’m exaggerating here but bare with me) and personally I find it too sweet. Sometimes I need to be sweetened up but not that much.

Confession time here; I actually really hate making buttericing. This is mainly due to the fact I hate tidying up my kitchen after all the mess of making buttericing. The sugar gets all dusted up and seems to get everywhere. Seriously, everywhere! If anyone out there has found a better way to do this please let me know.

Vanilla cupcakes - makes 11 flat ones (like these) or 9 "proper ones"
You will need a 12 hole cupcake tray lined with paper cases
Oven should be pre heated to 170 degree

120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 1/2tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter at room temperature
120g milk
1 egg
¼tsp vanilla extract

butter icing

125g sifted icing sugar
40 unsalted butter at room temperature
15ml milk
few drops of vanilla extract
few drops of food colouring

Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk until light and fluffy, this will take a few minutes.
Slowly add the beaten egg, mixing throughout.
Shift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon.
Slowly add the milk and vanilla and mix up till just incorporated.

Spoon the mixture into the cases.
I find it easiest to use an ice cream scoop for this.
Put in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
They are ready when they are a light golden colour and the sponge in springy when poked.
A cocktail stick should come out clean.
Leave to cool on a wire rack

To make the buttercream icing
Add the butter and icing sugar together using a hand held electric whisk on a medium speed.
Once mixed slowly add in the milk a couple of tablespoons at a time using a low speed.
Once all the milk has been added, turn the speed up to high and beat for a good 5-10 mins.
The longer you beat it the nicer (and lighter) your icing will be.
Add the vanilla, colouring of your choice, sprinkles and glitter.


Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Rhubarb, orange and ginger compote

                                                                                                                                                                         Rhubarb and orange zest

I admit I can be a real grumpy grouch sometimes. I can be cranky and demanding but I can also be easily pleased by the simplest things. Moments of pure, simple warmth that you know you will remember. I’ve had that feeling twice this week, once when the boyfriend came home on Friday night with a little iris plant. He is a deserves a gold star.

                                                                                                                                                                                           Pretty little iris
The second time I had that feeling was sitting on the backdoor step of my Grandpa’s house. We spent a lot of time there when we were growing up and it is always so nice to be back there spending time with him. The particular moment was sitting in the sunshine trimming up the rhubarb I had just picked from the bottom of the garden. Even the trug was beautiful: all wooden and lovely.

Forced rhubarb starts appearing around January and your can spot it by the gnarly, yellowish leaves due to it being grown in the dark. Field rhubarb can be bought from mid April. It will probably have it’s big dark green leaves cut off. Whilst it may be tougher it can be more flavoursome. Either way I’m a big rhubarb fan.

I took me a while to decide what use I would put my wonderful rhubarb to. I really wanted to make the most of this treat. I toyed with the idea of a panecotta with a rhubarb crisp but it has been warm this weekend so in the end the idea of the tartish rhubarb compote with cool vanilla ice cream won over.

This compote is a real all-rounder; it can be eaten with yogurt and granola, as the base for a crumble or even with some roast duck perhaps.

                                                                                                                                                  Rhubarb, orange and ginger compote
Rhubarb, orange and ginger compote serves 4

700g of clean rhubarb cut between 2 and 5 cm strips depending on the thickness of the stalks
150g caster sugar
juice of 1 orange
zest of 2 oranges
2tbs of very finely chopped root ginger
1tsp cinnamon

Put everything in a pan on a medium heat and let it cook down for 5 minutes or so.
Try to refrain from stirring it every 5seconds as it will quick turn to baby food if you give it a battering.
I prefer to give the pan a swirl instead.
You may need to add more sugar depending on your rhubarb.
Mine took about 5 minutes to soften.


Saturday, 16 April 2011

Wild garlic potato salad

                                                                                                                                                                 Wild garlic and potato salad

Spring has sprung and remarkably has remain sprung for the past few weeks. We have been marking the warmer weather by eating lots of salads which is good as I've got to get my bikini on in 3 weeks and counting. The summer holiday is fast approaching.

I had a walk down by the river this morning and came across some wild garlic. I smelt it before I saw it as is often the way with this foraged treat. In my excitement of collecting some for my lunch I managed to grab a handful of neighbouring stinging nettle. Drat or words to that extent.

Wild garlic is available from March to the end of May but is much more pleasant at the start of the season before it flowers. It is normally found on riverbanks and shady hedgerows and is common throughout most of the UK.

                                                                                                                                                                                Wild garlic leaves
Wild garlic is characterised by slender, shiny, elliptical leaves that are almost “wet” to touch. The flower is like a white little star.

One word of warning with regards to finding your own wild garlic is that there is several species that look similar but are poisons and have caused deaths in recent years. These include Lilly of the Valley and Autumn Crocus. However, none of them smell like garlic so if you think you might be able to ward off vampires with your find you probably are on the right track.

Wild garlic potato salad serves 2

Enough new potatoes for 2 people I like a bit of “Charlotte”
20 new wild garlic leaves, finely sliced
10 sprigs of flat leaf parsley, finely sliced
2tsps small cappers chopped
1tsp dijon mustard
1tsp wholegrain mustard
2tbsp white whine vinegar
6tbps extra virgin olive oil
rock salt and pepper to taste

Half or quarter the potatoes depending on the size.
Boil in a pan of salted water for anywhere between 8-15 minutes depending on how fresh your potatoes are.
Keep tasting them until you feel they are ready.
In the meantime add all the other ingredients together in a bowl and mix.
Drain the potatoes and add in the dressing.

Brilliant with smoked fish such as smoked salmon or hot smoked trout.

Enjoy and don’t go getting yourself killed, forage at your own risk!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Drunken cherry truffles

                                                                                                                                                                           Drunken cherry truffles 
Its party time! For a 60th birthday party this week I decided to make truffles but wait, no ordinary truffles, drunken cherry truffles with gold leaf. Gasp.

In making these truffles I realised 2 new things about myself. Firstly I will never have a career as a chocolatier and secondly I will never make it as a gilder. It took me to sheet 3 of the gold leaf before I managed to get more of it on the truffles than my fingers. I was a real life goldfinger!

I’m not a neat person, my hair is always messy and shoes are always scruffy. My food is a reflection of this. I could not make these chocolates look perfect but somehow I don’t think that  matters too much.

Uber rich and destined to give you gout these truffles should not be underestimated. I can only manage 2 in one sitting and I like to consider myself a bit on a glutton when the mood takes me.

Chocolate truffles were first made in the 1920s by Auguste Escoffier.  As with the best inventions in life it was apparently an accident. He thought the little misshapened balls of ganache looked like summer truffles. There you have it, the story of the truffle.

Drunken Cherry Truffles makes 25 – 30

100g very good quality dark chocolate
2 bars of green and blacks sour cherry chocolate, broken into very little chunks
150g double cream           
1 shot of cherry brandy, regular brandy will be just as good
a few sheets gold leaf

Heat the cream in a pan till just it is almost at boiling point.
Put the sour cherry chocolate into a glass bowl and pour the hot cream over the chocolate.
Put the glass bowl over a pan of boiling water, being careful that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
Once the chocolate has melted add in the booze or more to taste.
Leave to cool for 3 hours in the fridge. The mixture is now a ganache.

Melt the dark chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan boiling water, again being careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl.
Roll the ganache into little balls.
Dip these into the melted chocolate, manoeuvring them with cocktail sticks.
You may need to heat the chocolate up again to keep it smooth and silky.
Once the chocolate coating has set you can attempt the gold leaf.
The trick I think is a bit of patience and a paintbrush.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Dong fan noodles

Dong fan noodles

Last year the wonderful Z and I decided to expand our culinary horizons by attending a Chinese and Thai cookery evening class. It was a funny place, 10 random people thrown together over some random food. There were some good highs and some low lows. The lowest point was a dish called Nayan Chicken. It involved an ingredient called nam yue which is essentially fermented bean curd with red rice flavouring. My western palate did not appreciate it, so strong and salty. I even read somewhere that it can give you nose cancer (unreliable internet source et al). Getting back to the topic in hand, I was intending to write about dong fan which is a tasty little noodle dish (one of the highs).

The dish has 4 main selling points - 
1 - It's a quick dish to make taking 15 minutes from start to finish.
2 - It doesn't have an endless list of specialty ingredients, everything can be found in the supermarket. The white pepper really does give it an extra depth so I reckon it's worth the whole 32p it costs. 
3 - It's an easygoing dish; it will pretty much take what you chuck at it. Works great with left over roast pork. Equally if you don't have any coriander et cetra it won't be a disaster.
4 - Great as leftovers. You will be on the receiving end of lunchbox envy if you show up with this little number. Beware!

Fish and dark soya sauce
Dong Fan - adapted from Lai Choo Law
serves 2

I small packet of vermicelli
1/3 of a small white cabbage - finely sliced, hard middle bit removed
1 large onion - quartered and finely sliced
2tbs vegetable oil
2-3 dried chilies crushed
1 carrot, halved and halved again then finely sliced
20 raw prawns - de shelled and de veined 
1/2tsp white pepper
1/2tsp dark Soya sauce
fish sauce to taste (approx 1tsp)
1 handful of bean sprouts
2 chopped spring onions
few springs of coriander

Soak the vermicelli in hot water until soft, drain and put to one side.
Heat a wok with the oil and fry off the onions and cabbage, let it soften and get really brown. This will take about 10 minutes.
Add the carrots and chili and after 2 minutes add the prawns. They will take about 3 minutes to cook.
About a minute from the end add the noodles, bean sprouts, spring onions, coriander, pepper, soya and fish sauce.


                                                                                                                                                                                          all done