Friday, 23 November 2012

Ants Climbing the Tree

I certainly wouldn't say the best thing about this dish is its strange name, but it rather cute. You have a pile of glass noodles (branches), mixed with spicy minced pork (the ants) and garnished with spring onion (the leaves). It's incredibly morish and very quick to boot. I used up the last of my chilli bean paste for this dish, which I was so keen to use up before I leave Australia. It has since become one of my favourite ingredients, and I am considering buying just one more jar so I can make this dish again. 

There are so many different slightly different recipes to choose from when making this. As per usual, I defaulted to using Sunflower's Food Galore blog. The first time I made this dish I used about 1 and a half time the amount of meat, also upping the mince flavouring ingredients, because it needed using. After having tried it both ways, I think I prefer the version with less meat- it feels more balanced. 

*Update- 26/10/15- I made  this recipe after not having made it for a while, and have updated this post with a nicer photo than before.


100g dried glass noodles/cellophane noodles/ mung bean noodles (all the same thing, but it can be labelled under different names)
2 - 3 tbsp cooking oil2 - 3 cloves garlic, chopped1 tbsp of chopped ginger2 tbsp chilli bean sauce/paste, more or less to your taste 120 - 150 g minced pork1/2 - 1 tbsp light soy sauce1 - 2 tsp sugar (optional)1 stick of celery cut into very fine strips 1 chilli, deseeded and chopped 
180ml cup chicken or pork stock or water 2 stalks of spring onions


Soak the noodles in warm water until soft, about 15 minutes, and then drain. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan, and stir fry the ginger and garlic for a few seconds until fragrant, and then add the chilli bean paste. Cook for a few more seconds, stirring the whole time, and then add the pork mince. Continue to stir fry the mix, breaking up the pork mince as best you can. Season with the sugar and soy,and add the chilli. Stir in the celery and cook for about 30 seconds more. Mix in the noodles, and pour the stock/water into the pan. Give it a quick stir, and leave to cook on a high heat until all the liquid is absorbed. Serve straight away with the chopped spring onion sprinkled on top.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Fried Chicken Buns

Finished buns

I do feel more than a little bit of shame that I am posting another recipe that originates from Sunflower Food Galore, but I've had a week where I cooked almost exclusively using recipes from that blog. Hopefully she is of the belief that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I can't ape a dim sum restaurant at home, as there are usually only two eaters and just making a batch of one type will make more than we can eat. If I want the full experience of trying lots of delicious morsels, I do have to eat out. However, I do enjoy the process of making them, especially when I am in the mood for pottering around in the kitchen.

These chicken buns are half fried, half steamed, so you get a golden crispy base, but with a steamed top and filling. We couldn't eat all of them in one sitting; there is something very heavy about dim sum.  I set aside half of the buns, clingfilmed in the fridge, prior to cooking, and had them the following day-they didn't seem to suffer any ill effects from hanging round. Although I would recommend either taking them out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook them, or cooking on a lower heat than usual, as the chicken filling will take longer to cook if it starts off fridge-cold.

Condiments of choice
Before sealing
Buns before cooking

For the dough:
200g white bread flour
100g plain flour
2 tbsp sugar
¾ tsp of salt
¾ tsp of quick acting yeast
2 tbsp of cooking oil

160 – 175 ml of water
For the filling:
350g chicken breast cut into small pieces (I used thigh as I am not keen on breast)
1 ½ tbsp of grated ginger
2 tbsp light soy
1 ½ tbsp of Shaoshing wine
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
2 – 3 tsp of sesame oil
1 heap tsp of cornflour
2 stalks of spring onion, chopped
Few sprigs of coriander, chopped
Small handful of bamboo shoots (optional), cut into small piece (I left these out)
Few woodears, soaked and cut into fine strips – optional (I left these out)
some water and little oil for cooking


Start with the bread dough: mix the dry ingredients together and add the oil. Gradually add stir in the water to make a soft dough. Knead for five minutes until smooth and elastic. Set the dough aside for an hour to rise.

During the dough's rising, mix all the filling ingredients together.

When the hour is up, tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead briefly. Leave for a few minutes to relax, then divide the dough into 12 equally sized pieces. Take one of the pieces of dough and roll into a ball. Stretch or roll the ball into a 8cm circle. Put a lump of filling in the centre of the circle, and bring the edges together to seal. Dust the bottom of the bun lightly in flour, and set aside to rise. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Heat a little oil over a medium-low heat in a frying pan that has a lid. Cook the buns in batches- carefully transfer them to the pan, and cook covered for 1-2 minutes. Check one of the buns, and if the base is pale golden, the drizzle 4 tablespoons of water around the buns and replace them lid. Leave to steam for another 2 minutes, once the water has evaporated add another 2 tablespoons of water and cook for about another four minutes. All the water should be evaporated.
Serve immediately.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Easy Frozen Yogurt

 I was really happy with the results of the instant fruit sorbet, and wanted to see if the method would transfer to frozen yogurt. To make it, I just put a good dollop of Greek yogurt with the sorbet ingredients in the food processor, and blending it to creamy frozen fruit yogurt. I am happy to say it was a successful experiment. If you like a very soft dessert you can eat it straight away, otherwise, put it into a container and freeze. Every half an hour, take it out and stir. Because the fruit starts off frozen this is a much quicker than making ice cream or other iced puddings from scratch.
First frozen yogurt was a straight raspberry one, and second was banana, cinnamon and maple syrup. This was simply 2 very ripe bananas that I had sliced and frozen, blended with about 100ml maple syrup, a pinch of cinnamon, and 150g Greek yogurt. It was delicious with extra, warmed maple syrup on top.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Chengdu Chicken/ Chen du ze jee

This is yet another one of my favourites from Sunflower Food Galore. Szechuan food is often described as 'hot and numbing', this chicken dish certainly is. It is also fragrant, from the dried orange peel. Szechuan peppercorns cause a slight numbing sensation to the mouth, hence the 'numbing' title.

I haven't really touched the recipe, except when I made it the second time I used the liquid from soaking the orange peel in the recipe.

I think this makes an excellent winter dish, especially if you are tired of eating the usual  heavy casseroles and stodge to warm you up.

500g chicken
2 - 3 tbsp of cooking oil
2 tbsp of chilli bean paste
1 small thumb of ginger
1 small piece of chinese dried mandarin/tangerine peel
1 tbsp of Szechuan peppercorn (whole)
1/2 - 2 tsp of crushed chilli flakes
2 - 3 tsp of chinese black rice vinegar (Chinkiang vinegar)
1 - 2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 tsp sugar
1 heaped tsp of cornflour
 To garnish
1/2 tsp ground Sichuan pepper
2 stalks of spring onion, finely chopped to garnish

Soak the orange peel in some warm water for about 20 minutes until softened. Meanwhile, peel and finely chop or grate the the ginger. Cut the orange peel into very thin shreds, I find it easiest to use a pair of scissors.
Cut the chicken into small pieces.
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the whole Szechuan peppercorns, and fry for a few minutes until the oil is fragrant. Remove the peppercorns and discard. Add the chicken and chilli flakes, and stir fry until the chicken is golden brown. Add in the ginger, orange peel and chilli bean paste. Cook for two more minutes, and then add the vinegar, wine and sugar. Meanwhile, slake the cornflour in a little water (mix together to make a thin paste).
 Add some water- how much depends on whether or not you like a saucy or dry dish. I like to use the orange peel soaking liquid. Add the cornflour paste, and stir until it the sauce has thickened.
Transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle over the spring onions and ground peppercorns

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Simple Fruit Sorbet

I don't make much ice cream or sorbet, because I don't own an ice cream maker, and the hand churned method (repetitive freezing and beating) is tedious, and I haven't had much success with it in the past. So my interest was piqued when I saw read in a Jamie Oliver magazine a recipe for making sorbet by whizzing up frozen fruit in a food processor. I admit a little bit of doubt, it seemed a bit too easy. But it works, and I ended up making some of the most intensely flavoured and fresh tasting sorbet I have ever had.

At home I had frozen raspberries and blueberries, which I was using, but at too slow a pace for someone who is moving out of their apartment in about a month. On Monday I experimented with the raspberries, using some orange juice to help the fruit blend, and the zest of the orange. I didn't use any alcohol, which was suggested in the recipe, as I didn't have anything at home that would go. For those with a better stocked bar than me, perhaps some creme de framboise, or Cointreau to go with the orange would work. I would also suggest perhaps some rosewater, to make one of my favourite combinations (maybe switching the orange for lemon).
Tuesday I did the same, only using blueberries and lime instead of raspberries and orange. Both sorbets can be seen in the picture below.

The only downside of this method is the seed and skin aspect. In the raspberry sorbet in particular, you come across a lot of seeds. I suppose that's the trade-off of having such a quick recipe. I don't actually mind having them in there, but it does stop it from reaching perfection. I am going to experiment with fruit that won't have this problem, such as mango, melon and watermelon. .
Raspberry and Blueberry Sorbets

500g frozen fruit
30g sugar- I prefer icing sugar, as it blends in more easily
Citrus juice- enough to help the fruit blend more easily
Citrus zest
A dash of liqueur to compliment the fruit- optional

If you are making the sorbet in advance, or are think you will have some left over, put the dish or container you want to keep the sorbet in inside the freezer. Take the fruit out of the freezer and leave for about 5 minutes to soften slightly. If there are any large clumps of fruit frozen together, break them up. Put the fruit, sugar, zest and alcohol (if using) in a food processor. Blitz until the fruit has broken down. Add enough citrus juice to bring the frozen fruit pulp together and help it along in the food processor. If it is sticking to the sides of the processor bowl, scrape it down with a spatula, and add more liquid.
You can either have the sorbet there and then ( it will be a bit softer than a normal sorbet, but still good) or put it in the container that you put in the freezer earlier.
If you are eating it later, you will have to take it out of the freezer for a few minutes to soften before eating.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Gan Ban Niu Rou Si- Szechuan Dry-Fried Beef

Another Szechuan beef recipe with similar ingredients to this slow cooked recipe, but with a very different end result. Now I have stocked up on dried orange peel, chilli bean sauce and star anise, I need to find recipes to use them in. While I am fairly confident in making my own way in cooking European food without always referring to cookery books, I need the support of a recipe for South-East Asian food. As is normal for me, I turned to Sunflower's Food Galore for inspiration, and as usual, this blog did not disappoint. 

I have had a run of making recipes from Sunflower's blog over the past week, and this spicy beef dish was the first. I loved it, and I will definitely be making it again soon. I was also very happy with how it looked- without effort it looks attractive too.

In a previous post I mentioned I don't own a wok, as living abroad restricts my kitchen utensil buying. I made this in a big casserole. It worked, but its not ideal. Not for the actual eating, but for making it. The recipe requires you to remove hot oil during cooking, and this would have been a lot easier in a light wok with sloping sides, rather than a cast iron pan with very hot handles. So I have written this recipe as if I have used a wok, because I would certainly not recommend my method!

500g lean beef steak (rump or sirloin) I used rump
2 sticks of celery
a small handful celery tender leaves, roughly cut
1 small or half large red sweet pepper
1 thumb size ginger, peeled 
2 - 4 large dried chillies
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
1 rounded tbsp chilli bean sauce 
about 1.5 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
dash of light soy to taste
0.5 tsp sugar
pinch of ground Szehuan pepper

 6 - 7 tbsp cooking oil


Remove any gristle from the beef, and cut into long, thin strips. Deseed the pepper, and cut into thin strips. Slice the ginger into thin strips too, and cut the ginger into matchsticks. Cut the dried chillies into chunks and de-seed them. I found this easiest to break them up with my fingers, and tap them on the chopping board to remove the seeds.

Heat the oil in a wok, and fry the whole Szechaun peppercorns and dried chillies. Remove once the chillies have turned very dark, almost black. Reserve the chillies for later, and if you like, the peppercorns. If you don't want to be crunching on them, discard.

Turn the heat to its highest setting, and add the beef to the oil, spreading it out in the pan. Do not stir. The oil will bubble up and become cloudy, and eventually settle down and become clear again. Once this has happened, stir the beef until it has browned and crisped very slightly. Push the meat to one side of the pan, and turn the heat down low. Remove all but 1 teaspoon of the oil.

Turn the heat back up to a high temperature, and add in the ginger and chilli bean sauce. Stir fry briefly, and then mix the beef into these flavourings. Add in the reserved chillies from frying previously.

Add the celery and rep pepper, and stir fry until softened to your liking. Off the heat, stir in the celery leaves, and season with light soy, sugar and the ground Szechuan peppercorns.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cherry Tomato Foccacia

This flatbread makes a lovely summery lunch with some feta or goats cheese, and maybe some salad alongside. Like many breads, it takes a while to make, but the level of actual labour is low. Focaccia recipes aren't a new thing to this blog, so I don't post every variation I made. But I felt this was sufficiently different and delicious to merit a blog post of its own.

For the dough:
500g strong white flour
1 sachets dried yeast
2 tsp fine salt
280ml lukewarm water
50ml extra virgin olive oil

For the topping:
250g cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
 Leaves from 10 stalks of thyme, chopped
100ml olive oil
Coarse sea salt, to sprinkle

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine 250 grams of the flour, and all the yeast and salt. Quickly whisk together the water and the olive oil, and stir into the dry ingredients so all the flour is mixed in. Add as much extra flour as you need to make a dough that is only slightly sticky. Tip onto a floured surface, and knead for 5-10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Return to the bowl, cover with a tea towel, and leave to rise until it is doubled in size. This should take about 2 hours.

Once the first prove has finished, punch the dough down and give it another quick knead. Line a baking tray with some baking paper and oil. Roll or press the dough into a rough rectangle, about 1 cm thick, and dimple the surface of the dough all over with your fingers. Leave to prove for another half an hour. Meanwhile, half the tomatoes lengthways. In a bowl, combine with the olive oil, garlic and thyme. Leave aside to macerate. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.  After the final prove, spread the oily tomatoes over the surface of the bread, and sprinkle lightly with the sea salt. Place in oven and bake for around half an hour, until golden brown.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Chickpea Curry

I am about six weeks away from leaving the Southern Hemisphere, so am desperately trying to use up as many spices and other store cupboard ingredients I have as possible. Throwing away food is something I hate, and I want to minimise any waste as much as possible.

This recipe comes from my need to use up what lurks on my kitchen shelves. That description doesn't do the finished result justice though- I liked it so much I made it again the following day, which is a very rare event in my kitchen.

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
a good lump of butter or ghee
2 cardamom pods
1 clove
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
pinch asfoetida
1/2 tsp cinnamon
chilli powder- to your taste
200g tinned chopped tomatoes
1 tin chickpeas, drained
6 tbsp Greek yogurt
1 tsp salt

Heat the butter in a saucepan, and fry the onion, garlic and ginger over a medium heat until golden. Add the cardamom pods and clove, and cook for another minute. Stir in the remaining spices, and then the tomatoes. Turn up the heat, and simmer until the tomatoes have reduced to a thick and pulpy consistency. Turn down the heat, add the chickpeas, and stir to coat in the sauce. Mix in a tablespoon of the yogurt. Once it is incorporated, stir in another tablespoon, and continue until you have used all 6 tablespoons. Stir in a cupful of water, and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until you have a thickened sauce. If it gets to thick to quickly, add more water, and if it looks a bit thin, keep cooking until it has reduced. Add the salt when you are satisfied with the consistency, and if you want to adjust any other seasonings do so.
I would usually suggest finishing with chopped coriander leaves, but feel it is not so much in the spirit of a store cupboard recipe. But if you have coriander in your fridge or garden, then they are a good addition.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Szechuan Beef Claypot

I recently tried Szechuan Beef claypot at Festive Kitchen, one of the many Chinese Restaurants on William Street in Perth. It almost reached my heat tolerance, but not quite, and was addictively delicious- hence my attempt at recreating it at home.

Festive Kitchen has mostly good reviews on Urban Spoon- I like it a lot. I noticed a few negative comments regarding the service, however from both my visits, I found the staff to be very friendly and efficient. As well as this beef dish, I can recommend the soft shell crab, which comes crispy and with an incredibly liberal sprinkling of garlic, chilli and spring onion, and the deep-fried pork leg, which has a gloriously gelatinous half meat half fat quality.
The restaurant itself is a little more expensive than the noodle bars that Festive Kitchen neighbours, but for a treat it's worth a visit.

I found a recipe that looked similar to the dish we had eaten on the blog Yi Reservation. Despite a plethora of Chinese supermarkets nearby, I couldn't find anything labelled Sichuan Chilli Bean Paste, but I did find Sichuan Chilli Bean Sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand), so I bought this and hoped for the best. I also added a little extra than suggested on Yi Reservation, as sauce suggests more dilution than paste. I also left out the radish/potatoes, as the version I had at Festive Kitchen was starchless.

I don't own a wok, and because I am leaving the country in 6 weeks, do not want to buy any kitchen equipment. So instead of frying the flavourings and meat in a wok and then transferring to a casserole, I did all the cooking in the casserole. I have written the recipe out using this method, but for the original way, see the link to Yi Reservation above.

I was very pleased with the result- when I make it next time (and there will be a next time), I will probably add a few extra dried chillies. I stirred in a little extra chilli bean sauce mid cooking to heat it up, but it is also quite salty so I think extra chilli from the start would have been a better solution.
Dried spices

1-1.5kg beef- something suitable for casseroling
2 tbsp groundnut, vegetable or sunflower oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
2 inch ginger
2 tbsp Sichuan chili bean paste/cauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 small rock sugar, or brown sugar
4 tbsp Chinese cooking wine.
1 lite water or beef stock
4 star anise
6 dried chillies
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorn
1 stick cinnamon
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 cloves
1 piece dried orange peel
4 bay leaves
2 black cardamom pods

Chopped spring onion, to serve

Cut the beef into 2-3cm chunks. Blanch in boiling water, and then refresh in cold water. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a casserole, and gently fry the garlic, ginger and chilli bean sauce for about 3 minutes over a low heat. Add the beef to to casserole, and stir to coat in the sauce. Add the soy sauce, sugar and wine, and cook for another two minutes. Add the spices and stock. Bring the pan to a simmer, and then turn the heat down to low, and cook until the beef is tender (1-2 hours).
Sprinkle over the chopped spring onion before serving with rice.

If you have leftovers, you can also turn it into spicy beef noodle soup, simply by adding some freshly cooked noodles to the broth.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Mughlai Lamb Biriani

There are times when I just want to create a meal using what I have to hand in the kitchen, or what looks particularly good when I am out food shopping. But I also enjoy following the instructions of a well written recipe, especially if it is something I would have never been able to come up with myself without guidance. Of course any 'original' recipe that I make now will have been shaped by reading cookery books, and making recipes from times and cultures that are unfamiliar to my own. Layering up the rice and spicy lamb for this biriani and letting it steam reminded me of making an Iranian polo, reminding me of how little is new in cooking, but constantly borrowed and adapted.

My parent's copy of Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery is a long standing favourite for me, everything I have made from there has been a delicious success. We have had it for as long as I can remember, and I have finally made the lamb biriani, a recipe that takes about 6 hours to make, but is worth every minute.

425g basmati rice
6 litres water
3 tbsp salt
1 tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp warm milk
3 medium onions, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1” fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
13 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp sultanas
4 tbsp sliced almonds
1 kg  boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-3cm cubes
250 ml plain yoghurt ( I used Greek)
5-6 whole cloves
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp cardamom seeds (from about 6-8 pods)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
3cm cinnamon stick
1/6 nutmeg, grated (probably about ¼ tsp)
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 oz/ 25 g unsalted buttercut into 8 pieces
3 hard boiled eggs

 Wash the rice in several changes of water, until the water runs clear. Drain and put into a large bowl. Add approximately 2 litres of wate. Add 1 tbsp salt to the water. Mix and leave to soak for 3 hours.
Now 'toast' the saffron threads over a medium heat in an oil-free frying pan. After about a minute or two, they will darken slightly. Remove from the pan, and set aside. Heat the milk to lukewarm- this is probably easiest to do in a microwave. Crumble the saffron threads into the milk, and leave to infuse.

Now we prepare the garnish. Cut two of the onions in half lengthwise, and finely slice into half moons. Put 6 tbsp of oil in a frying pan over a medium high heat. Add the onion rings, and fry until they are crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon onto some kitchen towel to absorb any excess oil. Put the sultanas in the same pan, until the puff up. This won't take very long at all. Remove, setting on some more kitchen towel. Finally, add the almonds, and cook until they are golden. Put with the onions and sultanas.You can set the garnish ingredients aside now in a container while you continue with the rest of the recipe.

Chop the remaining onion coarsely. Put chopped onion, garlic, ginger, 2 tbsp of sliced almonds and 3 tbsp water into a blender or food processor and blend until you have a very smooth paste. Set aside.

In a heavy bottomed casserole, sear the lamb in batches so it is properly browned (not just greyed). As you finish each batch, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. When all the lamb is done, add a few more tbsp of oil to the pan, and fry the curry paste for about 3 minutes. If it sticks, add a little water. Return the lamb and any accumulated meat juices to the casserole. Add the yogurt, one tablespoon at a time, until it is all incorporated. Add a teaspoon of salt and 150ml water. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, and turn the heat down to a low setting, leaving to cook for 30 minutes.

Using a spice grinder, or a pestle and morter with a lot of strength, grind the cloves, peppercorns, coriander seeds and cinnamon stick. Add the grated nutmeg.
After the lamb's 30 minute cooking time, add the ground spices to the pan along with the cayenne pepper. Remove the lid and increase the heat to a medium setting. Let the sauce thicken and reduce to about 300ml, stirring to prevent sticking. Turn off the heat. If needed, skim off any excess fat.

Preheat the oven to 150°C.  Bring 3.6 litres of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add 1 tbsp salt. Drain the rice that’s been soaking for 3 hours and rinse under cold running water. Slowly scatter the rice into the boiling water. Once all the rice has been added, bring the water back to a boil and cook for exactly 6 minutes. Drain.

Put the rice on top of the meat, piling it high in the center, like a hill. Take a chopstick or the handle of a long spoon and make a 1” wide hole in the center of the peak, like a well, right down to the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the saffron milk in streaks along the sides of the hill. Lay the pats of butter on the sides as well and scatter 2 tbsp of the browned onions over it all.

Cover with aluminum foil, sealing the edges well. Bake in the oven for 1 hour.

Towards the end of cooking time, peel and quarter lengthwise the hard boiled eggs.

To serve, gently mix the rice and lamb together. Decorate with the almonds, onions and sultanas, and hard boiled eggs.


Friday, 28 September 2012

Spaghetti and Meatballs

for the sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped finely
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves finely chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
2x800g tins of chopped tomatoes
pinch of chilli powder (optional)
pinch sugar (if needed, see below)

 for the meatballs
500g beef mince
500g pork mince
1 crushed clove of garlic
small bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped finely
3-4 anchovies, finely chopped/minced

1 tbsp olive oil
half a glass of red wine
750g spaghetti or other long pasta
Basil leaves
Freshly grated parmesan.

Start with the sauce. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, gently fry the onion, garlic, celery and carrot until they are translucent and softened. Add the  rosemary and oregano, and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the tinned tomatoes, and sprinkle in the chilli powder. Turn the heat up to a simmer, and leave to gently bubble until it is thick and pulpy. Stir at frequent intervals so the bottom does not burn. Taste near the end- if the tomatoes turn out to be not so sweet, add a little bit of sugar. Be generous with the pepper grinder, but hold off on adding salt until the very end of cooking time.

While the sauce is cooking, mix together the meat, garlic, parsley and anchovies, along with a good amount of salt and pepper. Form into balls a little smaller that a walnut.

 In a hot frying pan, quickly brown the meatballs in batchs, setting them aside as the are done. When they are all browned, put them in the sauce and stir the in gently, being careful not not break them up. With the heat still under the pan used to brown the meatball, pour in the red wine, let it bubble up and cook off the harsh alcohol smell, then pour this into the sauce as well. Let everything cook together over a low heat while you get on with the pasta. Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasoning if you feel it needs it.

Drain the cooked pasta, and mix with the meatballs. Tear up to basil leaves and mix these in too. Serve with lots of parmesan.

If you make a big batch of sauce and only cook a small amount of pasta, I recommend using some of the meatballs and sauce to make a homespun meatball sub. Get a submarine roll, or french bread, fill with reheated sauce and meatballs, and sprinkle with a mixture of parmesan and mozzarella. Bake in a hot oven for a few minutes until the cheese is melty.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Coffee and Hazelnut Cake

Coffee and walnut cake is a classic teatime or mid-morning treat, and quite rightly. But it does surprise me that hazelnut, not walnut, is not paired with cakes more often, the two go together beautifully. Extrapolating from my time as a Barista, people like flavouring their lattes with hazelnut, so a hazelnut and coffee cake should also be popular.

In defense of the walnut, its nubbly and oily texture is far superior to the sharper, drier hazelnut. No matter, they just need a but more work before you add them to the sponge batter. So toast them to make the flavour really stand out, and rub off the unpleasant scratchy skins as thoroughly as you can. They need to be chopped quite finely, to avoid sudden, unpleasant hard lumps as you eat. But that's it, and its worth the small extra effort.

The recipe is essentially a Victoria sponge base, with some instant coffee, nuts and hazelnut liqueur. I looked up Nigella Lawson's recipe, and she uses espresso for a more intense coffee flavour. Not being a coffee drinker (just a coffee cake eater), I prefer the sweeter, more muted version, but you can replace the instant coffee with 4 teaspoons espresso if you like things a bit stronger. Also her icing uses 3 tsp espresso coffee in place of the instant I used.

For the sponge  
75g hazelnuts 
225g  soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing)
225g caster sugar
200g plain flour
2 tsp coffee granules, dissolved in 1tbsp boiling water
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 medium eggs, beaten
2 tbsp Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) or milk

For the buttercream frosting
350g icing sugar
175g unsalted butter, very soft
2 tsp coffee granules dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water
3 tbsp Frangelico
25g hazelnuts, from the 75g above
1-2 tsp cocoa

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line two 20cm sandwich cake tins with parchment, and butter the sides.
In a dry (non-oiled) frying pan, toast the hazelnuts over a medium heat, until their skins darken and they start to release their scent. Transfer them into a bowl- if you leave them in the hot pan they will continue to cook and probably burn. When they are cool enough to handle, rub them with your fingers to remove as much of the skin from them as possible. Chop 50g of them finely, and reserve the remaining 25g for decoration.

Cream the butter until it is very soft and light, and gradually beat in the sugar. Beat in a quarter of the beaten egg along with a spoonful of flour. Continue this until all the egg is used up. Now sift in the rest of the flour along with the baking powder and the bicarb. Fold this in, and then add coffee, nuts and Frangelico. Divide between the two cake tins, and bake for about 25 minutes.

Make sure the cakes are cool before you start decorating. For the icing, beat the butter to make sure it is truly soft. Sift in the icing sugar, beating it into the butter in stages. Once all the icing sugar has been incorporated, stir in the hot coffee liquid and frangelico.
Put one of the sponges face down on a plate. Spread the top surface with about a third of the icing. Place the other sponge, facing the right way up, on top. Spread with the remaining frosting, and decorate with the remaining hazelnuts. Sift the cocoa powder on top.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Perfect Shortbread

I haven't made shortbread in years, but it is one of the few things I remember making more than once when I was small. The memory of eating pure sugar and butter mix sticks in my head more than the actual shortbread, however, and my fondness for it comes more from tartan wrapped packages of shortbread in hotel rooms rather than homemade. Nonetheless, I read this article on how to make the perfect shortbread, and I was curious. It is an excellent recipe, definitely a biscuit that stands up by itself, as opposed to being the foil to cream and fruit.

I did not have any trouble finding rice flour in the supermarket, but if your local doesn't stock it, I would suggest trying a health food shop, or an Asian supermarket.
My notes are in italics.

115g butter, at room temperature
55g caster sugar (I like to use golden for flavour)
Good pinch of salt
130g plain flour
40g ground rice
Demerara sugar, to finish

1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Put the butter into a large mixing bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon until soft. Beat in the sugar and salt.
2. Sift over the flour and ground rice and mix to a smooth dough; if it doesn't come together, add a little more butter. I found I needed more butter here, and used my hands to finally bring in together.
3. Line a 15cm cake or tart tin with baking parchment, and pat, or lightly roll, the dough into a shape slightly smaller than the tin. Alternatively pat out to 1cm thickness and cut into biscuits and put on a lined baking tray. Put in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes until firm.
4. Bake for around an hour (about half that for biscuits) until cooked through, but not browned. Take out of the oven and cut into fingers, slices or squares. I made mine into biscuits, and at 150C in my (very weak) oven they took over an hour to cook.
5. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle with demerara sugar and transfer to a wire rack.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Mini Jam Doughnuts

The last few weeks have been somewhat eventful, and while I have been keeping up with cooking, I have again neglected writing about it. I needed something to shake me out of this non-blogging phase, so I made proper jam doughnuts, something I have always wanted to try.
The deep frying makes the recipe sound complicated, but they are not really that hard. If you keep them small you don't have to worry about overcooking the outside and still having a raw-dough middle. If you don't want to faff about with putting the jam inside you could even just make plain doughnuts. I actually enjoy the process of making mini packages, finding the almost mindless work of filling and shaping relaxing. But maybe that's just me.
I uses Nigella's recipe, as is often my way. I did change it slightly, switching raspberry jam for strawberry (far superior, in my opinion), and adding a little nutmeg and cinnamon to the sugar.
One note- the amount of jam sounds tiny, like me, I am sure you will be tempted to add more. Any extra will make it impossible to close the dough around the jam and you'll end up frustrated (and sticky).

125ml milk
15g unsalted butter
250g bread flour
1/2 packet (1 1/2 teaspoons) easy blend or instant yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt

225g caster sugar
pinch ground nutmeg
1 egg
2 tablespoons raspberry jam
vegetable oil for deep-frying

Warm the milk and butter together in a saucepan, taking it off the heat when the butter is melting. Put the flour, yeast, salt and 25g of the sugar in a bowl. Beat the egg into the warmed milk and butter and pour this into your bowl of dry ingredients, mixing it with a wooden spoon.

Either using your hands, or a dough-hook of a freestanding mixer, knead the dough until it is smooth and silky.Pat the dough into a round ball and put into a buttered bowl, covered in clingfilm and leave to rise somewhere warm, it should double in size and this could take 1-2 hours.

When it gets to that stage, punch the dough down and kneed again to make the dough smooth. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 2cm thickness and cut out circles with a 4cm round cutter. You can re-roll the dough to make more circles. Make the dough circles into flatter rounds in your hands and then put an 1/8 teaspoon jam in the centre and fold in half and carefully roll it back into a a round ball shape. Sit the doughnuts on a baking sheet as you make the rest. Alternatively, you can do what I did and divide the dough into 16 pieces (halved 4 times), and using your palms, shape into a circle about 5cm. Add the jam, and gather up the edges to seal. Keep pinching the dough to make a smoothish sphere.

Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer or saucepan.If you're using a pan, the depth of oil should be about 3-4cm. Cook them in batches of 4-5 at a time, on a low heat. Each batch should take around 3 minutes, turn them over halfway.

While the first lot are cooking, mix the sugar and nutmeg on a plate. As soon as they are cooked, roll them in the spiced sugar and transfer to a plate or mouth.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Ginger Beer

A friend, an exceptionally good cocktail maker, got me into home-brewing ginger beer. Several months ago, while I was in the UK, I watched him painstakingly grate his way through several ginger roots- at least until I felt sorry for him and finished it off- and mix it with lemon juice, sugar syrup, yeast and water, and leave it to do its thing. I put it on my mental to-do list, and eventually got round to it in April.

This is Toby's recipe for ginger beer:

50g grated or juiced ginger root
75ml lemon juice
125ml Simple syrup
300ml warm water

1 tsp yeast

Mix together and fine strain into a fliptop bottle. Leave to ferment for 1-2 days and don't put it next to the oven as I, being an idiot, once did. You may need to add more sugar after this as the yeast eats a lot. Also, this recipe shifts a lot so play with the proportions until you're happy. 

The first time I made ginger beer, I followed these instructions to the letter. It was excellent, not too sweet and with a cold-clearing amount of ginger flavour. 
Since then I have played around with the recipe. I always double the quantities (at least) because there isn't a huge yield, and instead of faffing around with a hand grater, I throw the peeled, roughly chunked ginger into a food processor and pulse for a few seconds. I have been letting it ferment for longer too, up to one week. Personally I think I prefer the shorter time, but others who have tried it are keen on a higher alcohol content. 

My favourite variant has been a coral-pink rhubarb and ginger beer. I replace half the weight of ginger with rhubarb (chopped in the processor along with the ginger) and used half orange, half lemon juice. The flavour was still predominantly ginger, but you can tell the rhubarb is there. 

A ginger and pear version was also good, but does come out a rather unappealing colour.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

I've Been Away....

 My flat has been 3 weeks without gas, making cooking rather difficult. Until our landlady arrived with an electrical hotplate, I made many toasted sandwiches- I probably doubled the amount of toasties I have ever made in my life. The hotplate is surprisingly good, but I missed baking and stovetop cooking.

There were several good meals made with that hotplate, but I haven't enjoyed cooking so much these past few weeks. As a result, I wasn't feeling enthusiastic about cookery blogging either. Now things are back to normal, expect usual service.

Some of the things I have been making over the last gas-free weeks:

 Nigella's Finger Lickin' Ribs
(obviously on the hotplate instead of cooked in the oven)

Nigel Slater's No-bake Passionfruit Cheesecake
 A spatchcocked chicken, rubbed with a spiced butter. The butter was made with
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 30g butter, room temperature.

Pork belly slices, rubbed with olive oil, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. I cooked some apple wedges in butter, as well as some sweetcorn. The sweetcorn was liberally spread with chilli, coriander and lime butter.

Nigella Rapidi Roastini

In essence, fried gnocchi. Utterly addictive.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Rhubarb Crumble Cake

Katie Stewart has a wonderful recipe for mincemeat crumble cake, which is where the inspiration for this recipe sprang from. It's a little bit more involved then making a plain cake, as there are three elements to it- sponge, cooked and sweetened rhubarb, and a crumble topping. I think its worth the extra effort, especially as you can make the crumble topping and deal with the rhubarb a while in advance, just making the cake batter when you're ready to eat it.

I think this cake is best eaten hot or warm, with some thick cold cream on the side.

Sponge base:
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
zest of an orange
100g self raising flour
25g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder

Rhubarb filling:
3 sticks of rhubarb, cut into 2 cm chunks
3 tbsp caster sugar
small knob of butter
juice of half a large orange
pinch ground ginger

Crumble topping:
100g plain flour
50g butter, cut into small dice
75g soft brown sugar
pinch ground ginger
2 tbsp flaked  almonds

Start with the rhubarb. Put all the filling ingredients in a saucepan over a medium low heat until the rhubarb starts to fall apart. It should be a thick, pulpy sauce.

Now deal with the topping: rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, ginger and almonds and set aside.

Preheat the oven the 200C. Line a 20cm round cake tin. Cream the butter until light and pale, slowly incorporating the sugar. Beat in the egg and orange zest, then fold in the flour, baking powder and almonds. Scrape the mix into a cake tin, and spread out (it will be quite a thin layer of batter) Spoon over the rhubarb filling evenly, but don't go right up to the edges, leave about a centimetre. Sprinkle over the crumble topping and bake for around 25 minutes. Enjoy while warm.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Jungle Curry with Pork, Sweet Potato and Snake Bean

Coconuts don't grow in the jungle, hence a jungle curry is made without coconut milk, unlike most other Thai curries. Water replaces the coconut milk, resulting in a far fierier, broth-like curry. I was hesitant about trying it, because really like using coconut milk as a curry ingredient. However, I was glad I made it, the flavours are really intense, and the meat and vegetables components seem to stand out more in a coconut-free base.

Wild boar would be better than pork in this recipe, so if you can get your hands on it, try it. You can use any meat, or make it vegetarian. Just remember to add the ingredients that need the longest cooking time first.

2 tbsp oil, such as groundnut
4-5 tbsps jungle curry paste
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
500ml water
300g pork tenderloin, cut into small chunks
snake beans, a good handful, cut into approx 3cm lengths
fish sauce
palm sugar
juice of one lime
handful Thai holy basil leaves

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the oil. Add the curry paste, and fry it in the oil, until the paste begins to separate from the oil. Add the sweet potatoes, and stir to coat in the paste. Add the water, and cover the pan with a lid. Simmer until the potato is tender. Add the pork and the beans, and cook with the lid off for a few minutes until the pork is cooked through. Turn off the heat, and season with lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce to get a good balance of heat, sour, sweet and salt.
Stir in the holy basil, and serve over steamed jasmine rice 

Friday, 25 May 2012

Chilli con Carne

Despite popular belief, chilli con carne with kidney beans is a British concoction, not American . In the States they do make chilli, and take the whole business very seriously, but the beans are served alongside. Rice as a side dish is also a British thing, saltine crackers seem to be the typical accompaniment in the US.

Bad chilli con carne seems to be almost expected- it's student food, or greasy pub food, but there's no reason for this to be the case. Well made, it's delicious, warming and comforting. I use Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe with little variation. It's never failed me. In his recipe, he suggests making a rich tomato sauce by reducing some tinned tomatoes with garlic until pulpy. I used to do that, but now I just add the tinned tomatoes straight from the can, and cook the chilli for longer, on the lowest possible heat. Both methods work, I just prefer to avoid the extra washing up.

Chilli with sour cream and cornbread

Olive oil, for frying
 1kg minced beef
750g pork shoulder or similar cut, cut into 2cm cubes
500g chorizo, cut into 1 cm cubes
2 400g tins of kidney beans, drained, or 200g dried kidney beans, soaked overnight
2 onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
800g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp cumin
chilli powder, to taste. Start with about a tbsp, and increase accordingly
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 tsp good quality cocoa
pinch brown sugar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
750 ml pork or beef stock, or kidney bean cooking water

If you are using dried beans, drain them from the soaking liquid, and put in a saucepan. Cover with fresh water- about twice the volume of the beans. Bring to the boil, and boil hard for at least 10 minutes. Boiling kills the toxins in the beans, so don't miss this stage out. Turn the heat down to low and cook until the beans are soft, and not at all chalky. Retain the cooking water if you don't have any stock.

Heat a tablespooon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Brown the meats in batches, over a high heat. You will probably need to add more oil to the frying pan. Once a frying panful is done, transfer the contents to a casserole or heavy bottomed saucepan, something that is large enough to hold everything. Cook the onions and garlic in the same frying pan as the meat, over a lower heat, until softened. Add these to the casserole.

Add the remaining ingredients to the casserole, giving it a good stir. Put the pot on over a low heat, partially covered. Cook for at least two hours. Season-salt, pepper, and possibly Tabasco.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Jungle Curry Paste

 The hottest of all Thai curries. Recipe for jungle curry to follow.

10-15 dried thai chillies
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp shrimp paste
2 tsp chopped lemongrass
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
flavourless oil, such as vegetable or sunflower

Put all the ingredients in a food processor, except for the oil. Slowly add the oil to the mix while the processor is running, enough to bring the rest of the ingredients together to a smooth paste.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Halloumi and Spicy Sausage Flatbread

Easier to make then pizza and just as tasty. Good for something to nibble on while watching a film or with drinks. Next day leftovers reheat well with one minute in the microwave.

Makes 2 Flatbreads
For the base

500g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 sachet yeast (3 tsp)
4 tbsp Greek yogurt
2 tbsp olive oil
approx 350ml lukewarm water
For the topping
1 egg, beaten with a tsp of yogurt and a tsp cold water
handful of chopped thyme leaves
handful cherry tomatoes, halved
half a packet of halloumi, thinly sliced
150g spicy salami/ sausage/ chorizo, diced

Mix together the flour, salt and yeast. Beat together the yogurt, oil and water- it will separate, but just mix it up to get rid of the lumps of yogurt. Pour into the dry ingredients, and mix to a dough. Knead, adding more flour or water as required to make a smooth, soft dough. Keep kneading until the dough feels elastic. Form into a ball, and cover with a tea towel. Leave for about an hour, until it has doubled in size.

After the first prove, punc. h the dough down to remove the air (very satisfying). Let it sit for 10 minutes. In the meantime, line 2 baking sheets with some baking paper, or flour generously. Preheat the oven to 200COn a floured surface, roll out half the dough in a rough oval shape (my aesthetic preference) about 5mm thick. Transfer this to a prepared baking sheet, and repeat with the second half of the dough. Brush the egg-yogurt mix over both the bread bases, sprinkle over the thyme. Evenly distribute the toppings over the two unbaked flatbreads, then place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until they are golden and puffy.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Tomato and Basil Sauce

Tomato and basil sauce for pasta is about as far as you can get from ground breaking but my aim is to build up a comprehensive collection of recipes on my blog which are accessible, rather than a Blumenthal-esque towers-of-soup-recipe blog. I sometimes find myself trying a bit too hard to innovate,. and it's times like these I need something classic to remind myself that simple does not have to mean boring.

A decent tomato sauce is not at all difficult, and very useful. You can use it as the base for other dishes- pizza sauce, the lubrication for meatballs and pasta. It's cheap to make and is pretty non-threatening to children who are fussy eaters (though the basil might be a bit too green).

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
800g tinned tomatoes
Good lump of unsalted butter
pinch sugar (if needed)
Basil leaves, a good handful.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, fry the onion until softened in the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Once the garlic has release its scent, add the tin of tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium high, and let it bubble away until thick and pulpy.Stir from time to time, otherwise the bottom will burn. Season with salt and pepper, and some sugar if you think it needs it (I often do). You can add the pepper before this stage, but not the sugar or salt- after reducing it down the flavour will taste too concentrated, so wait until you reach the consistency you like. Stir in a big lump of butter, letting it melt in the residual heat. Just before serving, stir in the basil leaves, torn up roughly with your hands.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Nigella's Cornbread

175g cornmeal
125g plain flour 
45 g sugar 
1 fat pinch of salt
 1 tbsp baking powder
 1 egg 
45 g melted butter  
250 ml full fat milk 

Preheat the oven to 200C, grease a square tin, or other suitable receptacle. I used a 20cm cake tin for the cornbread in the picture. Beat the egg into the melted butter along with the milk. Stir in the dry ingredients, just enough to combine. Don't worry if it is a bit lumpy. Scrape into the tin and bake for about 20 minutes, until it is a deeper golden shade and pulling away from the sides slightly.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Xiangqi Birthday Cake

Jane Asher cake decoration isn't my thing- I can't draw in pen, let alone in icing. Sometimes I forget this on the run up to birthdays and attempt to make cakes that look like something that isn't a cake, and it ends badly. Last week I had the idea of making a board game themed cake for a friend who collects board games.  As is usual, I thought of all sorts of impossible (for me) ideas. Once the mini-madness passed, I settled on decorating a cake like the red general piece from xiangqi- Chinese chess, using chocolate drops instead of icing. Much more do-able, and it made me feel ever so competent.
The cake recipe I used was this one. This is THE chocolate cake, I rarely make any other. I upped the coffee very slightly to suit the birthday girl's tastes a little more- she's a more sophisticated person than myself.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Albalu Polo- Iranian Lamb and Sour Cherry Pilau

I love reading about and cooking Middle Eastern food, in particular Iranian. My recipe book collection has a high proportion of books about food from this part of the world. Unfortunately I am about as far as I could be from my books, but I do have a mental catalogue of the dishes I want to cook. This sour cherry dish is one of them.

I've never seen fresh sour cherries on sale- not only are they not commonly grown, they have a limited season. However, I've used bottled sour or Morello cherries with good results. With regard to the lamb, I’ve used both shoulder and leg in this type of dish, and I definitely prefer shoulder. The quantity of meat is pretty frugal for Western diets, if it bothers you, increase the quantity of lamb.

Now for the most important element- the rice. Cooking rice is a serious business in Iran, alongside bread it is their staple food. The Iranians don't export their superior rice varieties, but keep it in the country. Rice dishes from Iran can be grouped into three types, characterised by the cooking method:

Kateh- simply cooked in salted water with butter

Damy- Similar to the above, but other ingredients are stirred into the rice before cooking, such as lentils

Polo-This is the method used in the recipe below, and the tastiest. You soak the rice for at least an hour, and then par-boil it. You return it to the saucepan, and steam it over a low heat for 40 minutes or so. By the end of cooking time, you are left with very light, fluffy rice and a golden brown crust on the bottom- the tah-deeg. Crispy rice shouldn’t be so tasty, but it is. You break it into pieces and divide it as fairly as you can.


450g basmati rice
One large onion, peeled and chopped medium fine
Olive oil
Pinch saffron strands, ground
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
4oog lamb shoulder, cut into small pieces
1 jar morello/sour cherries, about 500g
1-2 tbsp light honey or sugar
unsalted butter

Soak the rice in twice its volume of cold, salted water. Leave while you get on with the lamb. Fry the onion in a little olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole. Once it has softened, stir in the lamb and spices, plus salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add enough water to cover- about 500ml. You don’t need to brown the lamb like you would for an English stew. Half cover with a lid, and cook over a low heat for 1hr-1hr and a half until the lamb is tender and the liquid is reduced. About 20 minutes before it is ready, add the cherries and sugar. At the end of cooking, you should have quite a thick sauce, reduce a over a high heat if it seems thin. Taste for salt/sugar/spice adjustments.

Put 2 litres salted water on to boil. Drain the rice, and rinse in a sieve until the water runs clear. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the rice and cook for 4-7 minutes, until the rice is very nearly cooked. It should still have a bite in the centre, but be almost ready to eat. Drain, and mix in a little butter. Heat some butter in a heavy bottomed( NON-STICK!) saucepan that has a lid. With the pan still on the heat, line the base with some of the rice-just enough to cover. Spoon over a half of the lamb, then cover with half of what’s left of the rice. Layer the second half of the lamb on that, and finally the remainder of the rice. Shape the top of the rice into a slightly domed shape with a wooden spoon, the highest part in the centre. Cook on a medium high heat for 2 minutes, and then turn the heat down to the lowest heat, put the lid on and cook for 40 minutes. While it is cooking, put a chopping board or baking sheet in the freezer (something metal is best). When the cooking time is up, put the pan on the frozen surface for 1 minute. This helps the bottom of the rice come loose from the pan. Serve, either straight from the pan, or up-end it into a dish, where, if you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a nicely moulded cake of lamb pilaf.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Panang Curry Paste

I've written enough curry paste recipes to be merit being lazy about the method for this one. You just whizz all the ingredients together in a food processor, except for the oil, which you add, a little at a time to the blending mix to make a paste. Make it as smooth as you possibly can.

10-15 dried thai chillies, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
5 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer stalks removed and chopped up.
8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 thumb galangal or ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
Handful coriander roots
4 kaffir lime leaves
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch ground white pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp shrimp paste
Flavourless oil, such as vegetable or sunflower oil- enough to make a paste

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Quick and Delicious Roast Chicken

In this recipe, you can roast a good-sized chicken in a little over an hour. To achieve this, you have to start with a spatchcocked, or butterflied, bird, which is a bird that has had its backbone removed and then pressed flat. You can get a butcher to do this for you, or you can do it yourself. When I first did this I was surprised at how straightforward a procedure it was, and it makes you feel Blue Peter competent.
Having a shorter roasting time then traditional roast chicken means you have a much juicier end result. Cooking it on a rack over some liquid makes for instant gravy, all you really need is something green and some bread to mop up the juices for a low-stress roast.

1 medium roasting chicken- 1.5-2kg, spatchcocked
1 bay leaf
2 stalks rosemary
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
250ml chicken stock
1 glass white wine

If you haven't got a butcher to spatchcock your chicken, do it yourself. Turn it breast-side down, and which a sharp knife or pair of scissors, cut down one side of the backbone, then the other side, then remove it. You have to cut through the rib bones of the chicken, but this is easier than it sounds. Turn it over and flatten the chicken out.
Finely chop the bay leaf, the leaves from the rosemary and the garlic together. Put in a bowl, and mix with enough olive oil to make a spreadable ointment for the chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Rub this savoury mix all over the chicken, underside included. Leave for as long as you can- 24 hours would be great, but if you have to proceed straight away it's not a disaster. Just remember, if you leave it to macerate in the fridge, then take it out in time to come to room temperature.
When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C. In a roasting dish, pour in the chicken stock and wine. Put a rack in the roasting tin, and sit the chicken breast side down on the rack. Roast for half an hour, and then turn the chicken the right way up and roast for another half hour. By this time the chicken should be cooked- if you are not sure, use a knife to make a cut in the thigh- the juices should run clear.
 Let it sit for a few minutes while you skim some of the fat from the juices underneath. Serve the chicken with the roasting tin juices and your choice of accompaniments.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Mead and Butterscotch Sauce

I haven't seen mead used much in cooking, but if it ever becomes a fashionable ingredient, remember you saw it here first.
This is definitely a sauce for the sweet toothed. So far I have had it with vanilla ice cream, but I want to use it to sauce some poached pears, which I think would taste wonderful.

60g unsalted butter
100g light soft brown sugar
120ml double cream
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
A good slug of mead (non-spiced variety)

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and then stir in the rest of the ingredients except for the vanilla essence. Whisk to help dissolve the sugar and break up any lumps.Let it all simmer for about 5 minutes, then take off the heat. Stir in the essence and the mead, tasting to see if you want more vanilla, salt or mead.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Soda Farls

I've lived in enough student housing to be used to living with horrible kitchens. The worst was perhaps in my third year of university, the constant dampness meant I had to keep flour in my room to stop it from moulding. I still have a limited budget for renting, so I have yet to live in my own place with a kitchen I really loved. Sometimes a grudging fondness, but not loved, or even really liked. The new flat I have moved into has a kitchen with very limited space, an overzealous freezer ( the stalactites are nice to look at, but take up too much room) and a very temperamental oven. A temperamental gas oven, I should add, which means any failed attempts at turning it on fills the kitchen with terrifying, flammable gas. For my first few nights there, I struggled to get the oven to even turn on, which meant I had to do everything stove top until the landlady came round and pointed out the lever you have to pull to ignite it. 

Not having an oven unsettled me. I like baking. I especially like baking in a new house to make it feel like home. There are plenty of things you can make only using the hob, but as soon as I was restricted to it, all I could think about were the things I couldn't cook, primarily bread. At least until I found the solution, and the solution was to make soda farls.

Soda farls use exactly the same dough as ordinary soda bread, but instead baking it, you cook them over a griddle on a low heat until they are cooked through. There is something lovely and old fashioned about cooking bread on a griddle, eaten straight away with butter. For some reason I only ever make them at breakfast time, possibly do to with Ulster fry associations.

To make the soda farls, simply make a quantity of the soda bread dough. Have a flat based griddle or heavy bottomed frying pan on a low heat while you are making it. Form the dough into a ball and cut into quarters. Flatten each piece slightly, to a thickness of about 2-3cm. Sprinkle flour on the bottom of the pan and gently place your uncooked farls on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 20-30 minutes, turning over halfway. They are cooked when they are dark golden on the sides and no longer doughy in the middle. They usually end up with a darker, more cooked surface than soda bread when I make them, because the oven temperature is easier to control in an oven then on a stove. But they are still very good.