Sunday, 27 February 2011

Crispy Honey Roast Pork Belly with Onions (Marco Pierre White-adapted)

I'm a nerd when it comes to what I love. I google and research and spend all my free (yes I lie. fine, I confess. even when I'm supposed to be studying.) time on it. It being food. And I have my cooking idols too, and like any fan girl I watch all the cooking shows they do. Everyone knows the usual famous British chefs, and I love them all too, but I recently discovered Marco Pierre White. He's the original British celebrity chef, the youngest chef at his time to be awarded 3 Michelin stars, and our favourite Gordon Ramsay was trained under him. He hwas actually quite hot, albeit 20 years ago. He still has that bad boy charisma and humour to send me gushing to disinterested friends (and sisters) hee hee hee.

Watch him talk about pigs and fat women and then watch the pleasure he takes in cooking, then come tell me I'm being a fangirl. Anyway, that second video practically made me salivate and I knew I had to go roast a pork belly.

There are many different tips out there on getting the perfect roast pork belly with crispy crackling.
For this one, I followed Marco Pierre White's recipe, but had to make changes to the roasting times and temperatures, and the glaze because people have commented it's too sweet and really quite unnecessary. i.e. What I really got out of his recipe are his tips for really crispy crackling for a roast pork, like rubbing oil over the scored skin first. A little disappointed in my new favourite chef ):

Crispy Honey Roast Pork Belly with Onions
300g pork belly, skin-on (originally 1 kg, but, I'm not feeding a whole family here.)
generous sprinkling of sea salt, black pepper
clarified butter (or you could use oil)
2 small brown onions, halved, skin-on
2 bay leaves
sage leaves (which I didn't have)
cold water

For the glaze
1 tsp coriander seeds
(2 star anise, which I didn't have)
1 tbsp honey (his recommended amount is really too much)
80 ml of water

1. Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees celsius.
2. Score pork belly skin (my butcher did it for me). Rub the clarified butter or oil over the pork belly skin.
3. Pour some cold water into a roasting tray, then place the pork belly on a roasting rack over the water. Roast for 2 hours at the bottom rack of the oven.
(My crackling didn't become crispy, so I turned the heat up real high to 220 degrees celsius for an extra 20-30 min.)
4. Meanwhile, bring the ingredients for the glaze to a boil and let it simmer and reduce till you get a syrupy consistency.
5. When the pork belly is done, leave it aside to rest in a warm place (It's important to let all roasts rest. It makes all the difference really. This allows the juices to return to the meat. If you can, I recommend letting it rest for the same amount of time the meat cooks. )

6. Over medium high heat, melt some butter and fry the halved onions, cut side down. A few minutes later, add the bay leaves, just to brown slightly, before transferring to an oven for about 25 min.
7. Boil to reduce the tray of water (plus collected porky juices/fat) by about a third, till you get a nice gravy sauce.
7. To serve, glaze the crispy skin with the honey reduction. Cut the pork belly into thick generous slices, arrange the roasted onions around it, and drizzle the meat juice gravy over.

Crispy skin, juicy meat, with the flavour and richness of the fat running through the pork, and then that caramel sweetness of the onions and honey. Salivate.

Crack, cut, crunch!

Friday, 25 February 2011

How to turn soup into sauce

Ok this is very technically not right, but I'm not a chef in a fancy French restaurant, so there's no one to faint at this or fire me on the spot. What I do when I make (western-style, duh.) soup, after I blend the ingredients and before I add the extra liquid to turn it into the desired consistency, I set aside a bit. That thick velvety puree is wonderful as a sauce spooned over meats or fish or vegetables that are simply grilled/poached/steamed and you get a great sauce consistency without the need for flour or other thickeners!

Creamy Celeriac, Hazelnut and Parsley Sauce
refer to my previous post on Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup ;)
plus chopped fresh parsley

You can try adding some mustard to make a mustard and celeriac sauce, which will go brilliantly with stronger meats or even game.
This velvety sauce was poured over a simple pan-fried salmon steak.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Celeriac and Halzelnut Soup

Celeriac. Must be THE ugliest vegetable I've ever seen. Just look at its knobbly and twisted surface; it's no wonder most people avoid it. But peel away (actually more like cut. it's got really thick skin) the outer layers, and you have a beautiful cream-coloured inside,that gives off a sweet nutty smell and flavour, a bit celery-like but much milder and without the fibrous texture.

Anyway, I picked this thing up because I like to get the odd vegetables at the Farmers' Markets. There's not much fun in getting something you can see in the supermarkets anyway, is there? When I don't know what to do with a new root vegetable, there are 2 fail-safe ways I usually turn to: roasting, or turning it into soup.

Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup
serves 2-4
1 medium celeriac, peeled and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and diced
small handful of hazelnuts, soaked overnight and skin-off
2 cups vegetable stock
about 1/3 cup whole milk (raw)
sea salt and black pepper to taste (about 1/2-1 tsp)
1 tbsp evoo + 1 tbsp butter

To serve
fresh parsley
couple of hazelnuts, lightly toasted

1. Over medium heat, sweat the onions in the evoo and butter, till translucent
2. Add the celeriac, potato and hazelnuts, and saute for 5 min more.
3. Add the vegetable stock and seasoning, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 20-30 minutes (depends how big you chopped the vegetables), or till they're all soft.
4. Remove from heat, and blend, adding in the milk till you get a smooth creamy consistency.
5. Meanwhile, lightly toast a couple of hazelnuts (skinless) over medium high heat in a dry pan.
6. Check soup to adjust the seasoning if necessary, before serving with the toasted hazelnuts and parsley for some freshness!

Garnish with the lightly toasted hazelnuts. (to both add crunch and to hint to the person drinking the soup that there's a secret ingredient inside!)

This soup is really velvety and smooth, with that mild, sweet nuttiness coming from both the celeriac and the hazelnuts. I just love that pretty cream colour too. Funny how a while ago I just said it's the ugliest vegetable ever.

By the way, I saw spinach at the Farmers' Market! Could it be...... spring is coming!

This is part of Weekend Herb Blogging.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Homemade Coconut Butter

I just love coconut. Adding coconut milk to any soups or curries immediately imparts a sweetness and fragrance. Apart from butter, I think this is one of my (not so) secret tricks to elevating any dish. And if you're worried about saturated fat, you really ought not to be, because our body needs saturated fat in order to be healthy. Coconut oil is also high in lauric acid, which is the only other source of which is found in mother's breast milk, and the medium-chain fatty acids actually BOOST your metabolism, so contrary to popular belief, coconut does not make you fat nor does it cause disease.

So, when I chanced upon Heather's recipe for coconut butter, I just had to try it! It's really easy and requires nothing that you can't get from the supermarket.

Homemade Coconut Butter
unsweetened dried coconut flakes (try to look for those without added preservatives or anti-caking agents)

1. Blend until you get it to pouring consistency. Be patient.
If you have a food processor, just leave it on to do its work.
If you only have a hand blender like me, well, flex your thumb.

This is not going to work.

It's working, it's working..I think?

It worked, It worked!

Refrigerate for a few hours to let it set and solidify. Coconut butter will be solid at room temperature, you can warm it up a bit by running hot water over it (closed!), but it will never be like butter. It's more like...all-natural nut butters you get, which can be a bit dry. I might add some unrefined coconut oil the next time while blending, to get a smoother spread.

Oh and it's not for cooking. I thought at first I created virgin coconut oil that I can use for cooking with and save myself some money, but when I added it to a hot pan, it toasted (very very yummy smell though). So, think peanut butter vs peanut oil. Coconut butter has the oil plus the..actual body? fibre? of the coconut, so use it for spreads (albeit a rather tough one) instead, or you can blend it with dates etc to make desserts or bars. I just eat it straight from the jar (:

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Chicken in Tomato Yogurt Curry (Dahi Murg)

This is kind of like butter chicken, but the addition of yogurt (dahi) instead of cream makes it a little lighter and tangier, plus having the chicken marinate in yogurt really tenderises the meat. I'm not sure if it follows a real Dahi Murg recipe (if there even is one), because I tweaked a butter chicken recipe to make this, but I believe with Indian food, and all that wonderful combination of fragrant spices, you can't really go wrong and you can't really say there's a "right" recipe out there.

Chicken in Tomato Yogurt Curry (Dahi Murg)
serves 4
500g chicken pieces (I use chicken leg meat, because it has more flavour and texture and most importantly, is cheaper.)

For the marinade
2 cloves of garic, minced
2 cm ginger, minced
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
75 ml yoguty

For the gravy
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp chilli powder
half 500ml can of chopped tomatoes (or tomato passata for a smoother, less chunky sauce)
1 1/2 tbsp ghee (or butter)

To finish
1 tbsp butter
150 ml pot yogurt
cilantro leaves

1. Combine marinade ingredients and mix with the chicken. Leave for at least 3h, or overnight.
2. Over medium-high heat, par-fry the chicken pieces till the outside is nicely seared. Set aside.
3. Now the gravy. Melt the ghee or butter and add the onions and garlic till onion turns translucent and garlic is lightly browned.
4. Add the rest of the spices, stir for 1 min or so just to let their fragrance come through but not burn. Then add the canned tomatoes and bring to a boil.
4. Return the chicken pieces to the pot along with the chicken juices and remaining marinade and let simmer for 15-20 min.
6. Remove from heat, and stir through the butter to give the curry gravy that extra silkiness and sheen, and then the yogurt. Garnish with the cilantro leaves, and serve with roti/naan/basmati rice (it's good enough to go with plain rice, but try it with my Spiced Basmati Rice if you can!)

Oh I just love creamy curries, and while not as rich as the dish it's inspired from, this curry has extra tender chicken and that extra tang from the yogurt to balance the heat and spice. Indian head-wiggle (:

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Curried Roast Chicken Leg with Spicy Sweet Potato Chips

I love curry, I cook curry a lot, I eat curry a lot, I hope my sister marries an Indian one day. I don't know why I've not been posting more curries. This is still not a curry, but those wonderful aromatic spices and flavours help to add the much-needed kick to a standard roast chicken (leg) recipe. Together with sweet salty spicy sweet potato chips it's a really easy roast dinner. (When I came to the UK, I learnt that chips aren't the thin wafers in a can of Pringles. Those are crisps. A chip is a fatter fry/ skinnier wedge. Well, at least according to the British).

Curried Roast Chicken Leg with Spicy Sweet Potato Chips
Serves 1
1 chicken leg, skin-on, bone-on
1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed clean and cut into fat sticks
1 large banana shallot, halved, not peeled (you can use a normal shallot. or even a small onion.)
2 cloves garlic, smashed, not peeled
1/ 2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
sea salt, chilli powder (to taste, about 1/2 tsp)
1 tbsp melted coconut oil + 1 tsp butter (you can replace the oil with evoo, or unrefined palm oil)

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees celsius.
2. Make the spice paste/marinade/rub.
For the chicken: cumin, turmeric, and half of the coriander, chilli powder, salt and coconut oil.
For the sweet potato: cinnamon, half the coriander, salt and chilli powder, salt and coconut oil.
Rub the spice paste all over the chicken and sweet potato, lifting up the chicken skin a bit to rub some onto the flesh too.
3. In the middle of a roasting tray, place the halved shallot cut side down, and the chicken leg on top of it. Scatter the sweet potato and garlic around the chicken, be careful not to overlap!
4. Put into the oven and roast for about 45 min, or until the chicken skin is brown and crisp, and the chips are tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Cucumber and Mint Raita (optional, but just do it.)
serves 4 (save the extra or quarter the recipe)
250 ml plain whole yogurt
1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped very finely
handful of mint leaves, chopped very finely
pinch of cumin powder
pinch of salt

1. Sprinkle salt over the cucumber and then leave to sit and drain and squeeze out all the water from the cucumber.
2. Mix all ingredients together.

Finally, garnish the dish with fresh coriander, and serve with a dollop of cucumber and mint raita.

This chicken is just oozing with juicy spicy savouriness, and the shallots and sweet potatoes are bursting with sweetness, all balanced by the refreshing yogurt and cucumber. Yay now go wiggle your head bollywood-style.

This is part of Seasonal Sunday.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Whole Mackerel on Balsamic and Thyme-Roasted Beetroot, with Sauteed Beet Leaves

Here's my last beetroot recipe for the Valentine's day line-up, this time a main course, not just a starter or side. This is a true celebration of the whole beet! Did you know it's not only the beetroot you can eat? You can eat the beet leaves too, it's actually related to the chard, which I love. Also, I want to take this opportunity to show you how you can work with more than just salmon fillets, but the whole fish. Mackerel is a wonderful oily fish that's rich in the same omega 3 fatty acids as salmon, and tastes amazing, but for a fraction of the price of salmon.

Whole Mackerel on Balsamic and Thyme Roasted Beetroot
serves 2
2 small/medium-sized mackerels, gutted but leave the heads and tails intact. (Nothing's wrong with your eyes, I only used 1 mackerel, because it was just for me)
2 small beetroots, peeled and chopped into large chunks (actually on second thought, if you slice it into nice circles, you can do a more classy presentation!)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt, black pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees celsius.
2. Toss the chopped beetroot with the balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp of evoo and 1 tbsp of thyme leaves. Roast for 20-25 minutes, till beetroot caramelises on the surface, but the inside is not totally soft.

3. Season the mackerels well with sea salt and pepper (esp the cavity), and tuck 1 sprig of thyme into the cavity of each mackerel.
4. Place the mackerel on top of the beetroot, and return to the oven for another 20 minutes, till the flesh is opaque, and the skin gets crispy. (You can turn the heat up, and change to "broil" for the last 5 min to get that charred effect if you want!)

5. Pour a tiny bit hot water just to deglaze the roasting dish and get the caramalised balsamic-beetroot juices off.

Simple Beet Leaves Saute
This is done in the same way as my Two-Kale Stir-fry, which is the no-fuss method I use on most greens when I just want a simple side.
Bunch of beet leaves from the 2 beets
2 cloves garlic
1/2 small onion
2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp butter
a little balsamic vinegar (instead of lemon, so the whole dish is more harmonious)
sea salt, pepper (to taste)

1. Remove the stalks from the beet leaves. These are harder and take longer to cook.
2. Melt butter with the 11/2 tsp of evoo over medium-high heat, in a large frying pan.
3. Fry the garlic and onion till golden/translucent, not browned.
4. Add the beet stalks first, turn up the heat, then add a splash of water (which quickly turns to steam) and the salt and pepper. 2-3 min later, add the beet leaves.
5. After the beet leaves have wilted and all the liquid is absorbed, remove from heat, add the extra tsp of evoo, and balsamic vinegar. Mix well and serve!

Serve the sauteed beet leaves with the roast mackerel and beetroot, drizzling the beet/balsamic roasting juices over, and sprinkling a few fresh thyme (leaves only) over. A fish cooked whole has has a more moist, flaky flesh, and it looks so impressive on the plate, don't you think? Or maybe it's just me. If you're worried about the head scaring your date off, you could always behead the fish I guess.

This entry is part of Tuesday Twister and Real Food Wednesday.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Traditional Beetroot Soup (Borscht)

After that very stylish pink soup, here's a more traditional non-creamy beetroot soup, where the beetroot is left in rustic chunks, in its lovely sweet red juices. Borscht is a soup very commonly found in many Eastern European countries, and there are so many ways of preparing it depending on region, but you can never really go wrong with this sweet and beautiful root vegetable.

Beetroot Soup (Borscht)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 large beetroot, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 small tomato, chopped
1/4 cup homemade stock (I used chicken. traditionally, it's beef stock)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
(opt) 1 tsp red wine vinegar/apple cider vinegar

To serve
1 tbsp plain yogurt
fresh dill

1. Saute the onions in the evoo till translucent.
2. Add the rest of the ingredient, bring to a boil and let simmer for 45 min.
3. Serve with a dollop of yogurt and fresh dill. (chives will work too)

This ruby-coloured soup is just bursting with sweetness, and earthy flavours, balanced by that sharp tang of the yogurt and the freshness of dill. Its clean yet hearty flavours are perfect for winter, plus, again, isn't it nice to see something bright and colourful when it's grey outside? Boo london skies.

Friday, 11 February 2011

A Very Pink Beetroot Gazpacho

How gay can soup get? This brilliant pink cold soup would be a perfectly kitsch starter for Valentine's day. I also just found out it's an aphrodisiac for the Romans, and a symbol of love for the pagans ;) You might be wondering about that unnatural pink, but it's totally natural-- it's beetroot! Art lesson: red beetroot + white yogurt = pink soup.

Beetroot stains everything it touches red-- the chopping board, the knife, my hands..

This gazpacho is inspired by the Polish borscht, usually served cold on a summer's day, so even if you don't want a showy pink starter for Valentine's day, keep this recipe in store for the upcoming (I can always hope) spring/summer! Instead of just boiling the beetroot as in most recipes I've seen, I roasted them for even more concentrated sweetness.

Pink Beetroot Gazpacho
serves 2-3
1 tennis-ball sized beetroot, skin-on, washed
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
400 ml natural plain yogurt (adjust to get the right colour/consistency)

To serve
1 tbsp chopped chives

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Toss the beetroot with the evoo and thyme, and place in the oven. Roast for about 1h, or till the inside is tender when pierced.
3. Peel off the skin, chop the beetroot up, and add to the blender with the yogurt and a bit of water till you get the desired consistency.
4. Serve with the chopped chives scattered in the centre!
Or to go all out kitsch, you can save some red beetroot puree and use that to draw a heart ;)

I'm in a bit of a beetroot mood in the lead-up to a lonely Valentine's day, so bear with the upcoming spammage of beetroot recipes hehe.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A Colourful Winter Root Salad/Relish

Think winter-- and I doubt the words "colour" and "salad" come to mind. Yes, this little dish is the complete anti-thesis of winter, but I didn't use anything that wasn't in season! I wanted to give these winter root vegetables an image makeover; they can be more than just stodgy things in thick stews.

Colourful Winter Root Salad/Relish
1 carrot, shredded
1 turnip, shredded
1 beetroot, shredded
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
The proportions are very much adjustable to taste.
No oil in this dressing, because you want it really light and sharp.

1. Shred them all. For me it was a test of my julienning skills.

2. Mix it all up, and let it sit in the fridge for at least 20 min so the flavours all marinate.

You can add a pinch of sugar, but I find the sweet root vegetables (esp the beetroot) sweet enough. It's even better the next day, because the sweetness leaks into the juice/vinegar, and you get a very lovely sweet/tart dressing.
This is really refreshing with smoked fish (guess what I was inspired by? the yusheng/lo hei for Chinese New Year!) or heavier roast meats.

The 2 chives there are totally for show heh, just to add a 4th colour.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Would you rather have worms or chemicals on your vegetables?

Just a random question. Which brings me back to a random day at the start of winter, when I came back home happily from a new farmers' market, with very very cheap organic kale. Suspicious? No, really, these exist, and you support your local farmer at the same time.

This bag of kale had hidden surprises.

So, once I got home I happily announced my prized find, opened it, to discover--worms! And not just one, but I saw at least five. Everyone who knows me know I have a phobia of such creepy crawlies-- spiders, worms, ants even, and butterflies are just caterpillars in disguise. I scream, hide under the blanket and come close to tears. So, imagine my horror! Good thing for me, my lovely flatmate bravely came to my rescue and washed these creatures off the kale in the sink, then tossed the "drowned" worms into the bin.

Then we both happily went out, each on her own business. I came home first, and started chopping vegetables for dinner, and then turned round to toss the odds and ends into the bin-- and saw a fat green monster right at the bin. ?! They didn't drown?! At a loss, I just turned back to my vegetables, praying that monster stays put till my flatmate returns. 5 min later, I turned round to check--phew still there-- then almost screamed when I saw a fat black one the size of of my finger on the floor. I did the bravest thing I could do without coming too close to it-- I threw a box over it. There. At least it's caged up. And I went back to my vegetables (I know I'm weird, but the worm was also directly blocking my way out of the kitchen. And chopping vegetables is calming.) 5 min later, I turned round to check again, and saw the wretched creature outside the box, crawling all over it actually. That was it. I hopped past it (yes.), found the insecticide and sprayed the 2 worms so much that another little one I didn't notice near the bin also curled up and died. (I didn't breathe until I opened the windows.) My flatmate came home and was very proud of me.

And that was it. The day I overcame my fear.

And despite still shuddering when I just think about that day (not exaggerating), I'm glad I know my vegetables weren't smothered in that same scary chemical I used to kill those worms.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Claypot Rice with Chinese Sausage and Shiitake Mushrooms

Tucked away in the back of my kitchen cupboard, is a claypot, left by the landlord/previous owner of this flat. But it's the first time I'm looking at it with devious eyes, because it's Chinese New Year and I've got lap cheong from my roommate's mum.

Cooking rice in a claypot means that the rice gets slowly simmered in low heat, absorbing the delicious porky flavours of the sausage and the savouriness of the dried shrimps and mushrooms. The best part about claypot rice is the caramelised crust at the bottom, much like the Spanish paella. The crust gives the rice a hint of smokiness (of course, in the past, when this was done over a charcoal stove, I'm guessing that smoky flavour would be much more divine), and texture.

the prized crust

This is a Chinese cured sausage, called lap cheong, and is kind of like a sweet version of Italian salami or Spanish Chorizo. Its combination of sweet and saltiness adds a lot of dimension to the rest of the dish.

fyi, in that jar of unknown squidgy things, are marinated shiitake mushrooms.

Claypot Rice with Chinese Sausage and Shiitake Mushrooms
serves 4
2 cups of long grain brown rice, soaked overnight or longer (I ran out, so I had to use short grain, hence the stickier rice in the photos ): )
1 link of Chinese sausage, chopped diagonally into long coins.
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 handful of dried shrimps
2 stalks of spring onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cm piece of ginger, chopped finely
1 tsp olive oil + 1/2 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp good (naturally fermented/aged) light soy sauce
1 tbsp good oyster sauce (i.e. made of real oysters, not oyster flavouring, and without MSG)
1/2 tbsp Chinese rice wine (shaoxing/huadiao)
1 tsp sesame oil

To serve
dark thick soy sauce and sesame oil (to taste and very optional)

1. The night before, soak your brown rice and shiitake mushrooms. 30 min later, slice the mushrooms and add the marinade ingredients to the mushroom-soaking water and let the mushrooms continue soaking up the flavourful liquid (that's a trick from my mum. usually recipes call for the chicken or whatever meat is being used to be marinated, but forget about these equally meaty and juicy mushrooms).
2. The next day, put the dried shrimps and some warm water into the claypot, for about 30 min.
3. Drain the rice and add the rice into the claypot. Drain the mushrooms too, but do not pour off the mushroom liquid! Add the liquid into the claypot.
4. Add enough water to just cover the rice by 1 cm. Now your rice is ready to cook in the shiitake and shrimp-infused stock! Place the claypot over medium heat on the stove, lid on, and allow it to slowly heat up. Watch it! Once it comes to the boil, reduce it to a simmer for 15 min.
5. Meanwhile, add the olive oil and sesame oil to a hot pan, and add in the chopped garlic, ginger and white parts of the spring onions. Saute till fragrant, then add the Chinese sausage, and saute till you see it ooze out some of its own fragrant oils. Add the drained mushrooms and cook for 3 min more.
6. 15 minutes should have passed. Open the lid, you should see the rice having holes on the surface. Spread the sausage and mushroom mixture over the top of the rice, close the lid, and let everything infuse and cook for 15 min more.
7. That's it, serve straight from the claypot, with the chopped green parts of the spring onions scattered over! (note be careful don't set the pot over a cold surface immediately, or it will crack)

To eat, dig your spoon in, mix it all up, and drizzle over as much of the dark soy-and-sesame-oil mixture as you want (that's how they do it in the claypot rice shops in Singapore. It's totally to taste, and I found I didn't have to add any because the rice was already so flavourful, but it's up to you!)

This is such a wonderful one-pot meal (though I will still have it with some vegetables at the side because I cannot do without eating something green, spring onions not enough). And of course, it's so convenient plus the claypot keeps the whole dish warm for a long time after serving. The flavour-infused fat from the Chinese sausage plus the shrimps and shiitake adds so much umami, and there's a wonderful contrast of savoury and sweet flavours, and fluffy and crunchy and springy (from the shiitake mushrooms!) textures.

Thank you landlord.

This is part of Malaysian Monday.

My Chap Chye (Nonya-style Mixed Vegetable Stew)

I love Peranakan food, it's that combination of fragrant spices influenced by a Malay background and the use of very Chinese ingredients and techniques that give rise to dishes that you really don't find anywhere except in Singapore and Malaysia. Not many people even know about this wonderful cuisine, so that makes it all the more unique. I need to do more recipes from home. My (chinese) new year's resolution maybe!

Anyway here goes for a Nonya Chap Chye (mixed vegetables stew), which is quite common for Chinese New Year, Most of the vegetables are actually dried, so I have them stored in my pantry, (brought over from home), and I can cook this anytime I want. There are so many variations of Nonya Chap Chyes out there, some with ginkgo nuts and black moss ('fat choy' which sounds like 'fa cai' which means to strike it rich, hence very popular for Chinese New Year). Some add oyster sauce/sugar but I don't see the need to. I like that natural sweetness of the cabbage, brought out by the extra sweetness and savouriness of the fermented beancurd and dried shrimps. This is my chap chye, the way I like it/do it ;)

My Nonya Chap Chye
serves 3-4
1 head round cabbage (not Napa), cut into large pieces
1 small handful of dried black fungus (aka wood ear mushrooms), soaked to rehydrate
1-2 long sticks of dried beancurd, soaked to rehydrate, then cut
4-6 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked to rehydrate, then halved *save liquid
1 small handful of dried lily bulbs, cut off the hard tips, soaked to rehydrate *save liquid
2 tbsps dried shrimps, soaked to rehydrate *save liquid
1 bundle glass (mung bean) noodles, soaked till it becomes soft
1 tbsp fermented beancurd paste (aka taucheo)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
dash of white pepper

1. Prep ingredients about half an hour before by by soaking the 2nd to 7th ingredient in warm water for about 20 min. Meanwhile, chop up the fresh vegetables.
2. Over medium high heat, fry the garlic and onions till fragrant, then add the taucheo, fry 1 more min, then add the cabbage and stirfry till it's softening.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients, along with the *soaking water, plus enough water to cover. Cover, bring to a boil and then lower the heat and let it simmer for 15 min.
4. When the vegetables are all cooked, add the glass noodles, and let everything cook for 5 min more, uncovered, so the liquid reduces and concentrates in flavour. Not more than that,because these noodles will greedily absorb everything up then you'll be left with no sauce/stew.
5. Check seasoning, adding the white pepper to taste. Yum yum served now, or as leftovers the next day.

The dish looks like a grandma's patchwork quilt, but of vegetables! And indeed, it's those kind of traditional homecooking that brings warmth and a smile to your face (:

This is part of Muhibbah Monday.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Roasted Leek and Potato Soup

Like I said earlier, it's time to eat lots of leeks! This is not a Chinese recipe of course, (but still auspicious!), and very yummy, perfect this season. Leek and potato soup is a classic combination, but to give it a lot more oomph, I roasted the leeks first to get all those caramelised leekiness. Along with 2 secret ingredients, it's not just a leek and potato soup.It's an extra baking tray to wash, but so worth it I promise you!

Roasted Leek and Potato Soup
serves 3-4
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, cleaned and chopped into about 5cm large pieces
1 med floury potato, peeled and chopped
1 med onion, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups homemade vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp+1tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp butter
1 heaped tsp dijon mustard
sea salt, black pepper (to taste. I used around 1 tsp of salt)

To serve
extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
snipped chives

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Prepare the leeks by trimming the ends and root, slice lengthwise then run water through to wash off the soil in between the leaves. Then chop into about 5cm large pieces.
3. Arrange chopped leeks and garlic on a baking tray, tossing all with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Roast for 30-45 min till the leeks turn slightly brown.
4. Meanwhile, sweat the onions in 1tsp each of olive oil and butter, till translucent and slightly golden.
5. Add the potatoes and the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 min.
6. Remove the roasted leeks and garlic and add to the pot, scraping all the caramelised yumminess in too (you can use some hot water or liquid from the pot to help deglaze the tray). Simmer for another 10 min.

7. Add the milk and remove from heat. Using a blender, puree the soup, adding more hot water or stock if necessary, till you get a smooth creamy consistency.

A creamy silky soup just bursting with the flavour of caramelised leeks, with just that hint of roasted garlic and dijon mustard<-- my secret ingredients.

Stir-fried Leeks with Beef and Beancurd

It's Chinese New Year! Back home, my family's probably having a feast with lots of abalone and sea cucumber and roast duck ): The Chinese New Year fare is not only about the expensive or rare ingredients though, often it's the simple vegetables that shine. I love leeks, and as my mum happily informed me, that's going to bring me lots of wealth. Leeks are 蒜苗/大蒜, which sounds like “算” (suan) i.e. count i.e. you will have lots of money to count. You could do it minus the beancurd too, or with extra vegetables like carrots, but the golden beancurd represents happiness (white tofu not recommended..white=death.) We Chinese are weird.

Stir-fried Leeks with Beef and Beancurd
serves 2-3
200g beef flank 
1 medium leek, sliced into about 5cm long pieces
100g firm beancurd, chopped into medium pieces
1 red chilli, sliced thinly
2cm ginger, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp of groundnut oil (or you can use lard/unrefined palm/coconut oil)

For marinade 
1/2 tbsp tapioca/potato/cornstarch
1/2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp good (naturally aged) soy sauce
pinch of five-spice powder
few drop sesame oil

For sauce
4 tbsp of homemade stock
1 tbsp good (naturally aged) soy sauce
1 tsp of Chinese rice wine (shaoxing/huadiao)
1 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1/2 tsp of sesame oil
pinch of sugar
1tsp of tapioca/potato/cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp water (to thicken)

1. Slice the beef thinly against the grain. Mix well with the marinade and then leave it aside for 30 min.
2. Meanwhile, you can prep your ingredients, wash the dirt off the leeks and chop everything up. Also, mix the sauce ingredients except the cornstarch and water so later you can have a relaxing stir fry.
3. Over med-high heat, add half the oil and fry the firm beancurd for about 5 min till light brown and set aside.
4. Over high heat, add the rest of the oil and flash-fry the beef for 1 min, then remove from the pan (sorry no wok) and let drain and set aside.
5. Add the ginger and garlic to the hot oil, fry till fragrant. Add the leeks and chilli and cook till the leeks soften.
6. Add the sauce, which should help deglaze the pan. Let it come to the boil, then reduce the heat.
7. Stir in the cornstarch slurry a little at a time till you get the consistency you want. Note: it will thicken after it cools, so don't go pouring everything at a go!
8. Add the beef and beancurd (finally all the ingredients are happily together!) and stirfry for 2 min or so, making sure everything's coated.
9. Serve over a steaming bowl of rice (:

The beef, prepared this way, is really tender, oozing with juices and flavour-- no need for expensive sirloin steak cuts (: