Thursday, 30 December 2010

Olive, Tomato and Basil Sourdough Crispbread (or Crackers)

When you've got nice dips and cheese, you want something to scoop them from their containers and into your mouth. There is a fantastic recipe by Katie for sourdough crackers, but I wanted them there and then (or at least soon) and I hadn't added flour to starter 7 hours ago. You can't just pour your starter into the baking tray, because it's too liquid. Or can you? I like sourdough pancakes or crepes, because I don't have to plan in advance, I just mix up some starter with an egg and then pour the batter into a frying pan. Burst of inspiration and primary school-style curiosity. So I made my batter as usual but minus the sweet additions, then once I cooked my pancake, I cut it up and placed it on the baking tray to crisp up. It worked perfectly!

So if you need a shortcut, or shorter-cut at least...

Anyway, I topped mine with some slow-dried cherry tomatoes, black olives, plain yogurt, and fresh basil leaves. THEN as I bit through all those flavours, I thought why not flavour the crispbread/crackers with this combination?

So I chopped up the tomatoes and black olives, grated some parmesan, and added some dried basil to...THREE types of batter. One with egg white, one with egg yolk, one with both. Might as well make it a proper experiment since I already got myself into it.

Olive, Tomato and Basil Sourdough Crispbread/Cracker
1/4 cup starter
1 egg white OR 1 egg yolk OR 1/2 egg (check below for verdict. I recommend the 1/2 egg.)
small amount of grated parmesan
1 tbsp finely chopped slow-dried cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp finely chopped black olives
pinch of salt, pepper, dried basil
1 tbsp unrefined palm oil (or you can use coconut oil. or olive oil even. but I think palm oil helped it to crisp up?)

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
1. Mix all the ingredients together except the oil to make a batter.
2. Over medium heat, melt palm oil in the pan, swirl about, then pour the batter in.
3. Cook for about 2 min till set, then flip and cook for another 1 min.
4. Cut into desired shapes. Arrange on a baking tray without overlapping. Put into oven for 20 min till crisp.

My experimental crispbreads.

(from left to right) Results of egg white batter, egg batter, egg yolk batter

The one with both yolk and white gives an in between result. It's more like a crispbread. Bit more depth to the flavour than no yolk.
The one with the yolk gives an almost biscuit-y texture, because the batter's quite dense, you get a very thick "pancake". After baking, when you bite into it, you get a "crunch" instead of a "crack".. do I make sense?
The whipped egg white one gives you a cracker, because the batter's more runny, you get a thinner "pancake/crepe", and crispier result after baking. But (I find) less flavourful?
This is how a "crack" looks:

Lastly, if you don't put them into the oven at all, you get a yummy gently tangy flatbread that actually works great for dips too! For that I recommend the egg white one because it feels lighter and has less..egginess? so the flavours are less confused.

Ok that's all. My old science teacher would be proud.

UPDATE: The crispbreads/crackers don't stay crispy till the next day, so you'll have to pop them back in the oven. I guess that's why you shouldn't do last minute work, but still, if you didn't prep your dough the day before, and will munch them up at a go anyway ..why not hehe.

My Golden Rules

1. No processed foods

What is ammonium hydrogen carbonate and soya lecithin (just some of the ingredients I randomly read off a Belvita "healthy" breakfast bar) doing in your food?? It's funny how people industriously scour the packaging for the calorie count, and I do the same, but for the ingredients list. It's simple, if I see any of the bad guys I mention below, or things I can't pronounce without sounding like a chemistry teacher (I really don't like chemistry), I don't want to have anything to do with it. Although, it usually isn't that much of an issue because I go for real, whole foods; there isn't much in an apple except "apple" is there? And to the calorie-counters out there, calories don't matter. Our bodies don't work like machines so energy in < energy out = - energy (i.e. weight loss) is horribly over-simplified.

2. Lots of good fats

I've said the f-word, the horror! The concept of fat has become almost dirty these days. But fat is good for you, yes, including the saturated fat that you peel off your meat or dab off your food. Our ancestors ate their fats and stayed healthy and strong, and it's also about eating real foods, in their whole state. The chicken comes with the skin (and the bones), and the egg comes with the white and the yolk. (I mean seriously, where's the joy in egg white omelettes?) The new vegetable oils are really not great (not all things veggie = healthy), because they undergo radical chemical changes to be produced.

I like: (grassfed) Butter, Ghee, Lard and all the other animal fats, (unrefined) Palm oil, Coconut Oil, (extra virgin) Olive Oil, Groundnut/ Peanut oil, Sesame oil (some people are against these nut/seed oils because of the high omega 6 content, but it's been traditionally used in Chinese cooking and I trust my ah-ma and I think it's alright as long as you have a generally balanced diet that doesn't involve vegan nut bars and nut milks for breakfast lunch and dinner)

I don't like: All vegetable oils except those mentioned above, yes including the "healthier" rapeseed or canola oil. Or corn oil. Or sunflower oil.

3. Healthy animals

What does it matter? They all die anyway right? Well, we all die anyway too, but we do care what happens to us before we die, don't we? Similarly, how happy and stress-free these animals were before matter. Or from a selfish standpoint, the health of the animals affect the quality and nutrition of their meat and produce. Do you expect to get the same vitamins and minerals from an egg that is laid by a chicken forced into a cage with hundred others, eating genetically-modified corn, vs a chicken that's been free to forage for food from nature? Just crack open a pastured egg vs an egg laid by a battery hen and you'll see the difference. I know better meat often seems expensive, but hey, I'm a poor student living on a budget and I know it's possible if you go for the cheap, unpopular cuts. I'd much rather have an outdoor bred pig's tail than an intensive factory-farmed pork tenderloin. Or get bones (usually free from a butcher) and make stock. You get so much minerals and collagen and benefits, in fact, my mum (who still makes bone broths every day in a claypot over a charcoal stove) always made sure we drank up the broth, the ingredients were secondary.

Milk and cheese should preferably be raw and from grassfed cows, and I can get raw milk from the farmers' market some weeks, and it's quite easy to find raw cheese. But I'm not anal, I'll get pasteurised organic milk/yogurt for cooking, but always whole (full-fat), and unhomogenised so you see that lovely thick layer of fat cream on top sometimes.

4. Seasonal, local fruits and vegetables

I work at the Pimlico farmers' market on Saturdays. I love it. I get produce that's cheaper, that's fresher, and I get to talk to the producers and find out what new things are popping out soon. I know cooking with cabbages and root vegetables throughout winter seems like a bore, but there's no fun in having an unripe tomato from Spain then. Food should be simply what's available. From a traditional chinese medicine point of view, eating with the seasons also nourishes your body in the right way for the current environment. Anyway, the wait makes the first asparagus of spring or the first strawberries from summer so much more exciting, and meanwhile, I'm forced to get creative. I love my fruit and veg, maybe even more than a vegetarian, and those cartons of super sweet fruit juices and smoothies that add up to "2 of your 5 a day" don't count, so often, that portion of vegetables you see on my photos are like, a third of my actual veggie fix.

5. Grains

This is controversial. So many people are against grains now, there's people e.g. on the paleo diet, saying humans didn't eat grains until recently in history and that our bodies can't deal with grains, so fruit and underground vegetables are the only safe carbs. But I've dabbled with that before and it didn't work out, maybe because I'm Asian. I've grown up on rice and noodles and so have my ancestors. I don't know how far back in history you're supposed to go when you talk about eating like your ancestors, but the Chinese, the Japanese, the Thai, the Indians etc have all thrived on rice and grains, and heck even the ancient Western societies didn't only have potatoes as staple, they had bread and come on, look at the Italians with their pasta and pizza. (That loaf of white Kingsmill that can happily sit on the shelf for a week doesn't count though.) And now comes another biggie.

The latest food guidelines all promote wholegrains, but I don't agree. We all know wholegrains retain fibre and minerals and all that good stuff, but they also retain the bad stuff, anti-nutrients that prevent us from digesting and absorbing the nutrients from not just the grains, but other foods we eat. To prepare wholegrains (and nuts and seeds and beans), the traditional way is to soak/ferment them (this ebook compiled by Katie from ks explains how), and of course, there's sourdough, my favourite method. But I don't know, I've been thinking a lot about all these traditional cultures and honestly, most of the time, they just eat white rice, or bake or make pasta from white wheat flour. My mum hates brown rice, she finds it hard to digest, even after soaking. I'm a bit (ok a lot) of a nerd when it comes to food, and I guess I'm just really curious, so I've read up on grains in TCM and Ayurvedic medicine. They don't differentiate between the grains in terms of fibre or vitamin content, that's the scientific Western way of doing things. They see grains in terms of energy and the effect they have on our bodies. Brown rice, for instance, is more warming in nature and nourishing but at the same time it's hard to digest and drying and is not suitable for daily consumption. So, yes, I've gone back to the sweet fragrant white rice. I still sourdough whole grain flour for bread and baking etc, because I love the tangy flavour of sourdough, and when I do have wholegrains or cook with beans I'll soak them overnight the traditional way. It's stupid being anal about the in-depth nutritional profiles of food, overlooking flavour and forgetting to enjoy and savour food.

6. Fermented/ preserved foods

Just thought I'll add this since I've just been talking about rice and easy digestion and realised my mum always made me and my sisters white rice congee, eaten simply with pickled cai xin when we had stomach upsets. Just rice and preserved vegetables. Fermented foods aid digestion and boost the nutritive qualities of the food in its original state and besides pickled/preserved/fermented vegetables (think kimchi, sauerkraut), there's also yogurt, and the asian staples, soy sauce and miso/taucheo and even fermented shrimp paste belachan. Oh and of course, my precious sourdough baby.

7. Sugar and Salt

Nothing wrong with them, I've learnt from TCM that it's all about balance, and even in traditional cooking, say, Thai cooking, it's all about the balance of spicy sour sweet and salty.

But instead of the highly refined sugars, I try to use natural sweeteners instead.

I like: Raw honey, Unrefined cane sugar (rapadura), Unrefined palm sugar (gula melaka, a Southeast Asian favourite I grew up with), Molasses (blackstrap, for added nutrients), Fruits!

I don't like: High fructose corn syrup (used extensively in processed food because it's super cheap. but it's 100x worse than white sugar. fructose does not = fruit, corn does not = natural.), and Artifical sweeteners e.g. aspartame (Coke Zero. Doesn't it scare you that something that tastes so sweet has zero sugar, and hence the "all-important" zero calories? I'll rather suffer the effects of sugar overload than those hormone altering chemicals.)

Salt actually contains essential minerals that is required for our body to function, and I read somewhere that one of the signs of a bad chef is an unwillingess to salt his food. Salt is flavour.

I like: Good sea salt (e.g. celtic, maldon, cornish), or Himalayan rock salt, Soy Sauce (that's traditionally fermented and naturally brewed, no msg should be required!)

I think that's all. That more or less covers my health notes, definitely more than less, actually hah.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Fettucine with Walnut Basil Pesto and Slow-dried Cherry Tomatoes

I don't know why I'm even posting this, because there's hardly anything to it. This just goes to show how important it is to keep a well-stocked fridge, not with processed ready sauces, but with your own homemade "extras". I made this right after I made the fresh pasta, so by then I couldn't be bothered to cook up any fancy sauces.

Homemade fettucine (For clearer instructions, check out my homemade sourdough pasta post. You'll need 1/4 to 1/3 the dough from that entry)
generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

1. Cook fettucine in boiling salted water for 3 min, or till desired tenderness. Drain, don't have to drain fully well, then plate.
2. Toss pasta with rest of the ingredients. Done!

This is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

Slow-dried Cherry Tomatoes (Oven-dried)

I love sun-dried tomatoes. That slow drying process removes the water from the tomato, leaving all the flavour behind, so what you're left with is tomato(flavour) x 10. You can get them quite easily at the supermarket, but they're so expensive, so when I saw cherry tomatoes at a reduced price, I figured it's time for some DIY!

London's grey and gloomy these days, but while I may not have the warm Italian sunshine, I have an oven!

500g pack of cherry tomatoes (You can try this with plum tomatoes, it will pack an even sweeter punch!)
1 clove of garlic
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
pinch of dried basil
extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut tomatoes into halves.
2. Scoop out most of the seeds, then salt the insides. Leave them cut side down on a rack, before rinsing and drying. I missed this step, so my tomatoes still ended up with a bit of juiciness to it. But they tasted yummy so I didn't feel too bad. Just can't keep as well, although, I ended up finishing it in a day anyway.
3. Crush the garlic with the sea salt, then add the pepper and basil. Spread over the cut side of the tomatoes.
4. Place tomatoes cut side up on a baking tray in a single layer. Drizzle over the evoo.
5. Put into oven to dry at 100 degrees celsius, for at least 3h, or preferably overnight.
6. Once done, put tomatoes and the tomato-infused oil into clean and sterilised jars, top with more evoo, and seal. It should keep for months if done properly, but you'll probably use it up way before that.
will shrink to this:

So if you've got a lot of tomatoes and a lot of oven space, do a larger batch at a go!

You can puree it to make a delicious sauce, or add it to savoury baked goodies, or simply toss with pasta-- definitely an easy and yummy addition to your kitchen.

Monday, 27 December 2010

"Chunky" Walnut Basil Pesto

I really want a food processor, then I can start making more of my own dips and sauces and spice pastes. But today I was watching a video of how Italians traditionally made pesto. They made it by hand, with a mortar and pestle! The word "pesto" is literally translated as "pounded" so the food processor, which chops up the basil instead of grinding it, is actually less desirable. Time to put my "ancient" kitchen utensils and biceps to good use.

Walnut Basil Pesto
1 clove garlic
sea salt, black pepper
3 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
1 handful of walnuts, lightly toasted
1 handful of grated good parmesan
good extra virgin olive oil
squeeze of lemon

1. Crush garlic with the sea salt and black pepper.
2. Add the basil a handful at a time and continue pounding/grinding.
3. Crush the toasted walnuts with your hands first, then add in and continue pounding/grinding.
4. When you get a creamy consistency (I left mine quite chunky), add the grated parmesan.
5. Stir in extra virgin olive oil till you get a smooth enough mixture. It depends on the dryness of the cheese.
6. Add a squeeze of lemon, to taste.

Authentic pesto calls for pine nuts, but I didn't have any, so I used walnuts instead. It's more fun experimenting with other types of herbs or leaves and other nuts actually.
I liked it, the texture was very rustic, so it's more like a chimichurri. To be honest, that's because I got tired. I still want a food processor...

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Pumpkin Ravioli with Basil Browned Butter

So I went crazy one fine day making pasta with my , and pumpkin ravioli was one of the results. This dish is inspired by Rick Stein's pumpkin ravioli with sage butter. Pumpkin has a mild sweetness to it, which when mixed up with some salty savoury parmesan, hits all the right buttons! I used basil instead because 1. I couldn't find sage at Tesco Metro, 2. My ravioli's rolled out too thick so it's kind of dense and hearty so I needed a herb that's.. lighter? and fresher than sage 3. Basil's great with roasted sweet vegetables. I topped it off with toasted pumpkin seeds for that added texture, plus I just like that you're using the whole vegetable, even though I confess I just used pumpkin seeds from my pantry.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Basil Browned Butter
serves 2

For the pasta dough, check out my homemade sourdough pasta post.
You'll need 1/2 of the dough from that entry. Maybe 1/3 if you roll it out thinner.

For the ravioli stuffing,
1/2 cup mashed/pureed roasted (or you can steam) pumpkin
1-2 tbsp grated parmesan
1 (med) egg yolk
pinch of sea salt, black pepper, nutmeg, dried basil

For the basil browned butter,
2 tablespoons butter
handful of basil, shredded

To garnish,
handful of pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
few basil leaves

1. Mix the stuffing ingredients

2. Place a teaspoon (don't be greedy and stuff too much) of the stuffing about every 5cm away.
3. In between each teaspoon of stuffing, wet (estimate the halfway mark) the dough with water/egg wash. Put another rectangular layer of dough over to seal (press around the stuffing). Cut with pizza cutter if you have one, or just go rustic ;) Leave to dry for 1/2 hour or so.
Please check out my homemade sourdough pasta post for a clearer picture. There are photos!
4. Cook the ravioli in gently boiling salted water, about 3-4 min.
5. While the ravioli is cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan, with the shredded basil leaves and a pinch of salt,

until it foams and browns (careful don't burn!)
6. Plate up drained pasta, pour butter sauce over, top with grated Parmesan cheese, the toasted pumpkin seeds, and garnish with the fresh basil leaves. Enjoy!

Next time, I would try rolling out my dough much thinner, (and hence try out the sage butter? I've not tried deep fried sage leaves before) but for now, I'm happy(:

This is an entry for Presto Pasta Nights hosted by Tastes of Home.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Moroccan Quinoa Stuffed Chicken Breast wrapped in Bacon

'Tis the jolly season, but for me, it's when I start missing home and my family. We don't traditionally celebrate Christmas anyway (but wait till Chinese New Year. that's when we go all out with the festive goodies!), but my sister's born on the 25th December, lucky her, so we still have some kind of a family celebration in the form of food. What else is miserable about Christmas is I haven't got a whole party of people at your house, so I don't have an excuse to buy a whole turkey to stuff and roast. Then again, I'm a secret introvert, so I was perfectly contented stuffing a chicken breast instead.

Although I say Moroccan, I've got cured pork, roast bird, cinnamon, ginger, nuts and sweet dried fruit... Merry Christmas!

Moroccan Quinoa Stuffed Chicken Breast wrapped in Bacon
serves 2
2 chicken breasts, skinless
4 slices of bacon (or if you've got deeper pockets, try parma ham or pancetta)
pinch of salt, black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

For the stuffing
2/3 cup cooked quinoa
1 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp chopped dates
1 tbsp chopped toasted almonds
pinch each of cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 egg yolk

For the dressing
Equal amounts of
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
(a white sauce would be nice usually, but not with the Moroccan-style stuffing; balsamic vinegar adds a bit of sharpness to the dish. plus sweetness. plus it's easier haha)

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Mix the stuffing ingredients together and set aside.
3. Lay the chicken breasts flat on the chopping board, and then cut a slit across the chicken breast through the centre, but don't cut through fully, so you can open it up (i.e. butterfly).
4. Place clingfilm over and pound so you get them flatter and.. wider. It looks like an open book now.
5. Flip over, so now the chicken breasts are on top of the clingfilm. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
6. Place half the stuffing on one side of the "book" for each chicken breast. Roll the other half of the "book" over so you kind of get roll/ wrap?

7. (opt) Chill in the fridge for half hour or even longer to firm up.
8. Remove clingfilm, and wrap 2 slices of bacon around each chicken breast. The bacon helps to hold it in place also.

9. Put into the oven and bake for about 40 min, or till juices run clear.
10. Leave to rest for a while, before cutting up into pretty circles or you can also leave it as it is. Drizzle some evoo and balsamic vinegar over, and garnish with parsley.

The bacon is a must! It helps the lean chicken breast meat stay juicy, and flavour-wise, it adds all the right contrasts. Salty bacon v.s. sweet raisins and spiced quinoa. Crispy bacon and cunchy almonds v.s. tender chicken. Ho ho ho!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Homemade Sourdough Pasta!

I've wanted to try making my own pasta since tasting a sample of fresh pasta. For any of you keen to try, Jamie Oliver says to make your pasta dough with a 1 egg: 100g flour ratio knead into a ball, flatten and you can do whatever shapes you want after that. Sounds not too difficult, but not something you'll do when you're in a rush to just get food into your stomach, so I kept putting it off.

Then I found this recipe for sourdough noodles from Jenny and I just had to. It's a great way to use up extra starter and encourage yourself to not neglect your baby(: If it sounds weird, actually it's not that weird, it's inspired by the traditional Russian pel'meni, a stuffed dumpling.

Updates Dec 2011 (my 5th time making): I've decided to follow Michael Ruhlman's philosophy about how cooking is really about ratios. I followed the standard pasta ratio, weighed everything, replacing the amount of liquid egg with the liquid sourdough starter. This works every time!

Homemade Sourdough Pasta
80g (~ 1/4 cup) sourdough starter (100% hydration i.e. fed equal amounts of water and flour by weight)
60g flour (You can use any kind, as long as it's this amount by weight. see note 3 right below on what type I tried.)
about 30 ml water (You may not need all of it. This will differ depending on type of flour used.)

1. Mix wet ingredients together, i.e. starter and half the water.
2. Sift the flour, then make a little well in the middle for the starter , and slowly mix all in, adding more water if needed. But dough should feel kind of dry at first, see note 1 right below.
2. Knead into a ball, continue working it till it feels smooth and springy. Let it rest, covered, overnight.
3. Dump ball on a floured surface, roll out very thin, trim edges into a rectangle, cut into desired shapes.
4. Leave to dry for half an hour before dropping in boiling water, or dust with some flour and freeze in a sealed bag/container.

Images speak louder than words and I am studying graphic design after all heh, so:

For stuffed pasta
I love stuffed pasta, love biting into that little nugget of surprise wrapped up in the dough. There are so many things you can stuff them with! Get crazy!

I don't have a fancy pizza cutter so they don't have pretty edges, but oh well, rustic ;)
See my too-thick first attempt, Sourdough Pumpkin Ravioli with Browned Basil Butter!

They're like mini pasta hugs! Oh if you're wondering about the odd pointed crown, I should have made them on circles of dough instead. But it's cute still, heh?

For ribbon pasta/noodles
Noodles have that reassuring "slurp" quality and I love them perhaps even more than the stuffed ones. Remember to flour the surface well, or the dough will stick!


For Linguini, cut thinner strips.
For Lasagne, don't cut (sounds good and lazy. will try it the next time I make extra mince sauce).

Or if you're even lazier, just tear into rustic mishapen pieces. See Sourdough Mee Hoon Kueh.

Verdict: Sourdough pasta has a deep, rich, yeasty flavour with a slight tang to it. Really really good. Texture-wise, there is less of an al-dente bite to it as compared to normal dried pasta made with semolina, but a more comforting toothsome quality to it than your usual 00 flour.   It comfortingly of a hearty handmade noodle. 

Updates (Feb 2011, June 2011, Dec 2011):
1. Very crucial to knead the dough well. Once you've made your dough, you need to work it with your hands to develop the gluten in the flour, else your pasta will be flabby when cooked, instead of springy. You can tell, the dough will suddenly become smooth and slightly elastic.
2. The dough must be very dry at the start, don't be tempted to add more liquid!
3. I've tried this with spelt and with white whole wheat before, there's a slight difference in texture. 00 flour is the often recommended type of flour you should be using to make normal egg pasta.

This post is an entry for Simple Lives Thursday by GNOWFGLINS.

Simple Garlic and Herbed Cheese Tortellini

This was another result of my crazy pasta-making day. Tortellinis are usually stuffed with meat or cheese, and since I've got homemade cream cheese, I stuffed mine with the garlic and herb-flavoured cheese. When I say simple, I really mean simple. Because I don't have any cream or sour cream or any leftover meat sauce on hand, and I was hungry after spending much longer than I expected on making the pasta, I simply tossed it with olive oil and finished it off with parmesan and fresh parsley.

Simple Herbed Cheese Tortellini Ravioli
serves 2
I'm sorry it really doesn't seem like much of a recipe.

For the pasta dough, check out my homemade sourdough pasta post.
You'll need 1/2 of the dough from that entry. Maybe 1/3 if you roll it out thinner.

For the tortellini stuffing,
1-2 tbsp grated parmesan
1 tbsp garlic powder (you can use mashed/pureed garlic. oh oh roasted garlic puree!!)
1 tsp each of dried parsley and mixed herbs
pinch of sea salt, black pepper

To finish,
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
handful of chopped fresh parsley
handful of grated parmesan

1. Mix the stuffing ingredients
2. Place a teaspoon (don't be greedy and stuff too much) of the stuffing below the (estimate) diagonal halfway mark of each square (should be circle, or you get that funny pointed crown!) of dough.
3. Wet the edges with water/egg wash(press around the stuffing). Wrap the two pointed edges together and pres to seal. Leave to dry for 1/2 hour or so.
Please check out my homemade sourdough pasta post for a clearer picture. There are photos!
4. Cook the tortellini in gently boiling salted water, about 3-4 min. Drain and plate.
5. Drizzle olive oil over generously, top with the parmesan and fresh parsley. Enjoy!

This is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Homemade Yogurt Cheese and Greek Yogurt

It's so easy to make your own cream cheese (yogurt cheese, actually) and you need hardly any equipment, even less ingredients, and even lesser effort.

Homemade Yogurt cheese/ Greek yogurt
Ingredients (easily reduced or doubled)
1 cup plain whole (full-fat please) organic yogurt

A large bowl or container
A sieve
Cheesecloth or a thin cloth or a kitchen towel

1. Set-up as below:
2. Do nothing.
3. Leave it for a few hours and you get thick creamy Greek yogurt.
Leave it overnight and you get 1 cup of firm yet creamy plain cheese (and 1 cup of whey).

To be on the safe side, the cream cheese should last until the expiry date on the yogurt.
The whey can keep much longer, a month or so. Do not discard the whey! The whey is very useful for soaking your grains, or for making your own fermented vegetables, or just replace it with the liquid in stews or soups for a health boost!

You can add also anything you want to flavour it!

Garlic and Herbs Cream Cheese
1 cup of cream (yogurt) cheese
2 tbsp garlic powder (you can use mashed/pureed garlic, but careful, it won't last as long. roasted garlic would be divine.)
1 tsp each of dried parsley and mixed herbs
sea salt, black pepper

Compare this to the garlic-and-herbs cream cheese you find on the shelves:
Dried garlic, icing sugar, parsley, garlic oil, tapioca dextrin, stabiliser, vegetable oil, whey powder, basil.

Here are some other combinations you can try:
Sundried tomato and Basil (see how to make your own slow-dried tomatoes!)
Black Olive
Onion and Chive
Raspberry/ Strawberry/ Blueberry (for a sweet treat)

Any ideas? I've heard of the weirdest flavours.
You can even leave it plain, for a very versatile cream cheese. (cream cheese and smoked salmon! if I ever afford the latter..)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast

I don't usually have chicken breasts, because they just cost so much! The legs and drums cost 1/3 the price of breasts, and honestly, they do pack more flavour. But since I recently cut up a whole chicken, I have chicken breasts to work with. The tricky bit about roasting chicken breast is it can end up very dry and bland because it's so lean. So you should try to keep the meat moist and the skin on, or another trick would be to wrap it in something fatty, like this Moroccan Couscous Stuffed Chicken Breast wrapped in Bacon.

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast
1 chicken breast, with skin
pinch of salt, black pepper
a bit of parmesan
olive oil, butter

For the stuffing,
2 tbsp grated parmesan
handful of spinach leaves, chopped roughly
2 button or chestnut mushrooms, chopped small
1 tsp garlic powder
pinch of nutmeg

1. Preheat oven at 180 degrees celsius.
1. Saute spinach and mushrooms with a small knob of butter and a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg, for abut 1 min (they will get more cooking in the oven later). Drain, because you don't want all the liquid to make the stuffing too runny, but reserve the liquid (don't waste the flavourful butter/juices!).
2. Mix all the stuffing ingredients together.
3. Carefully lift up the skin of the chicken and push the stuffing in between the skin and the breast. The skin will stretch, so you can stuff more than you expect, but don't be too greedy!

4. Place stuffed chicken breast into a greased baking dish, skin side up. Pour the reserved cooking liquid over the breast
5. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle the top with a bit of parmesan, and dot with some butter/olive oil.
5. Put into oven for 45 min, or until the skin is golden and crispy.
6. After removing from oven, let it rest slightly before cutting into it and adding some parsley if you want!

Crispy skin and melty inside always works(: I like it when there's something special hidden in your food, like in stuffed pastas or dumplings.

I cut up a whole chicken!

It's so much cheaper to get the whole chicken rather than individual chopped up parts, but I've never really done it, because in the past,
1. I didn't want to get my hands dirty
I don't mind it now, I think if you get serious with cooking you have got to be willing to understand what you're cooking by feeling the flesh, the bone, the fat, the skin..
2. It's just stressful facing a whole chicken
So, to prep myself mentally, I watched a lot of youtube videos beforehand.
I have a diagram for anyone keen to try it out too:

3. My freezer is TINY.
My flatmate's going away for a holiday, so the freezer's actually got space. It's now or never.

And I did it! It wasn't perfect, there were bits of meat still clinging to the bones so I just scraped them off, minced them all up, and got me a small portion of minced chicken that will come in useful somehow.

People say they cannot afford free-range, but like getting pre-packed chicken breasts which costs £7.78/kg. A free-range chicken costs £3/kg. Free-range chicken thighs and legs costs £3.34/kg. This is what i get usually, and actually the meat is more flavoursome than breast meat. All the same, I can't wait to try recipes using the breast cut of the chicken this time though! Oh another perk, I get the leftover carcass for making chicken stock!

Hurray for "auntie" mathematics (: