Friday, 22 April 2011

Tea Leaf Eggs 茶叶蛋

Remember my dozen eggs? The best way to use up old eggs, is to make a batch of hardboiled eggs, because they not only peel easier, but can keep in the fridge for about a week or so and serves as my emergency real-food protein snack when I feel a bit peckish. Since Easter was coming up, I thought it'd be a great time to create some naturally patterned and coloured tea leaf eggs.

Tea leaf eggs are a favourite traditional chinese street snack. Apparently, in Taiwan, tea leaf eggs are common in their convenience stores, and my taiwanese friend just loves them. It's commonly sold as street food, especially in pasar malams (makeshift markets) in Singapore too. The key ingredient here is the star anise, which, along with the other spices and the fragrant tea, perfumes your kitchen with tempting aromas.

Tea Leaf Eggs 茶叶蛋
4-8 eggs, however much you can fit in the saucepan/ can eat
2 black tea leaf bags, or 2 tbsp loose leaves (if you have chinese tea e.g. my favourite oolong, or pu-erh, or tie guan yin, or assam tea, it'd be even better!)
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 cloves
1 tsp five spice powder
1 tsp sugar (unrefined cane sugar)
4 tbsp soy sauce (naturally brewed, I use tamari, which is wheat-free and more intense)
2 cups water

1. Make the best hard-boiled eggs i.e. 15 min.
2. Crack the eggshells with a spoon.

3. Return the eggs to the saucepan with all the ingredients added, bring to a boil, and let simmer for 2h. If you can, let it marinade overnight for better flavour and colour. (Or even longer. I like them more 2 days later. And even more 3 days later.)

4. Serve with a little of the broth/brew.

By cracking the eggshell, you get a beautiful marbled appearance, and the flavour and aroma of the spices seep into the cracks and infuse the egg. 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Soft-boiled Egg with Sesame Roasted Broccoli Soldiers

Since I posted a tutorial on poaching eggs, I thought it'd be great to have a tutorial on boiling eggs, fit for Easter.

I don't like being exact when I cook, and many times I just eyeball the measurements, in fact I'm quite happy just adding "a dash of this" or "a sprinkle of that" or "a glug of this" or "a drizzle of that", but the only way to get eggs boiled to the perfect level of done-ness you want is by careful timing.

Boiling Eggs 101
Put room temperature eggs in a single layer in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, and once boiling, take the pan off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for
4 min: Soft boiled eggs (whites are set, yolks are still runny)
6 min: Medium boiled eggs (whites are firm, yolks are half runny)
15 min: The best hard boiled eggs (whites and yolks are firm, but yolk is still creamy i.e. see photo below)
17 min: If-you-like-it-real-cooked hard boiled eggs (whites and yolks are firm)
Any longer: Rubbery egg whites and yolks with a grey ring around them
Immediately remove to a bowl of ice water, or keep changing a bowl of cold water, to stop the cooking process.

Hard boiled eggs on some noodle soup I made last time

This is based on countless kitchen experiments. I've tried bringing the water to a boil first before dropping the eggs in (nope. you risk cracking the shell), bringing both eggs and cold water to a boil but letting them simmer instead of sitting in hot water (nope. I find it difficult to determine exactly when the "simmer" starts), starting with cold eggs (nope. shell cracks.) etc etc.

Some other tips:
1. Use old eggs, and save the fresh ones for poaching. Fresh eggs are harder to peel.
2. Jamie Oliver has a brilliant way to peel eggs fast. Roll the egg on the counter to create cracks all over, and then peel under running a running tap.
3. Use the right sized pot, big enough to hold the eggs in a single layer, but not too big that the eggs can roll about and crack each other up (no I'm not trying to be funny, no pun intended.)

Now that we've got the egg sorted,

Sesame Roasted Broccoli Soldiers
Ingredients (can easily be doubled or quadrupled)
Broccoli, cut into florets but make sure stalks are roughly equal
For about 1/4 head of broccoli,
1/2 tsp tamari soy sauce
1/2 tsp of sesame oil
extra virgin olive oil, enough to coat
sesame seeds, to serve (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Toss broccoli florets with the tamari, sesame oil, and evoo. Spread in an even layer on a greased baking tray.
3. Roast for about 10-15 min, or till lightly browned at the edges. Scatter sesame seeds over.

The intense umami flavour and sesame aroma of the roasted broccoli is addictive enough on its own, but I like mine dunked in egg yolk, a twist on the classic British egg and toast soldiers. I don't have a fancy egg cup, so I just served my soft boiled egg in the egg carton >< SInce it's spring you can also try it with roasted asparagus spears instead!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Perfectly Poached Egg

Seductive quivering blob asking to be poked.

It's easter this sunday, and I have a dozen fresh local eggs, so this week's going to be an eggs-tremely eggs-citing eggs-perience. Sorry, I couldn't help it hehe.

It'd be a shame not to poach fresh eggs, because fresh eggs really make all the difference between a perfectly formed poached egg and one with the whites running all over the place. Poaching eggs is one scary kitchen task that I took very long to finally dare to do, and being the foodie nerd that I am, researched extensively on. Here's a Guardian article which compares the methods. And after a few delicious (ugly poached eggs are still poached eggs) flops, here's the method I swear by:

Perfectly Poached Eggs
1 fresh free-range egg
a pot of water
a tsp of vinegar

1. Bring the pot of water to a boil, and then reduce to simmer. Add the vinegar.
2. Meanwhile, crack the egg into a shallow bowl (or if you dare, you can just do it straight into the water later, but I'm chicken.)
3. Stir the boiling water vigorously (with a whisk if you like but nah) until you get a whirpool, then gently slip the egg into the centre of this whirlpool.
4. Once the whites form around the egg yolk, take it off the stove and just let it sit in the hot water for a couple of min, or till the whites are set but soft, but the yolk is still raw (tell by sight, not touch!!)
5. Immediately remove with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and serve (e.g. with wilted spinach and generously buttered sourdough toast) or transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop it cooking then reheat in a pan of simmering water.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

How to survive on real food on a student budget

Baked beans- the sad symbol of student life?

I'm a student living in a tiny kitchen on a tiny budget, but I like real food and free-range eggs and meat and seafood that's not been intensively farmed and fed chemicals. It is possible, and in fact I reckon I spend less than my peers on food!

Tip 1: Cut out the processed, packaged foods. They not only do nothing for your health, they rack up quite a sum in your grocery bills. 

Tip 2: Get down to the farmers' market. I started working for London Farmers' Markets part-time and it's the best job ever! You can get locally grown vegetables and fruits and happily raised animals, at pretty reasonable prices. Even most of the stalls that aren't certified organic keep to very good farming standards, it's jsut that they can't afford the organic certification. You also make sure you get food that's grown in season, and are so much fresher, so they have more nutrients last a lot longer- less wastage. It's also a lot of fun for me talking to the producers and seeing new vegetables that I've never had before.

Tip 3: Look for what's on offer at the supermarkets (I'm not a market snob). Most of what I cook is based on what's currently in season (and hence on offer). My roommate and I are closet aunties (ok now it's public. ok it was public long ago, long-standing joke among mutual friends) and a conversation in our flat will go like this "Is that got savoy cabbage? Is it on offer?" "Buy 1 get 1 for all cabbages, ends this Sunday! If you're there can you help me check if Kerrygold butter is still 1 pound?"

Tip 4: How to eat grassfed/pastured/organic meat without going broke? Opt for lesser cuts, like the pork belly, so cheap and flavourful, and (to me) the ideal fat: meat ratio ;) You can even get adventurous and try chicken feet and pork trotters, which become so meltingly tender when you slow cook them, and are full of collagen that's great for the skin. I also like using offal which is so much cheaper than the rest of the animal, but even more concentrated in nutrients.

Tip 5: Similar to tip 3, buy the less popular fishes, like herring and sardines. When you choose them over the pricier cod and seabass which are heavily over-fished, it's not only a budget-conscious choice, it's a much more ethical and sustainable choice. You also get your dose of seafood and their omega-3 fatty acids goodness (did you know the mackerel has more omega 3 than salmon?), and more often than not, these cheaper smaller fishes are lower in mercury toxins as they're low on the food chain, so you get the good stuff with less of the bad stuff. And there is nothing wrong with using canned fish.

Tip 6: Grow your own. I don't mean to buy a farm or to move to a place with a big garden. I have a few pots of herbs growing on my windowsill. I admit it's my roommate who's the one with the green fingers, who knows when the basil looks thirsty or the coriander is sick, but I want to encourage you to do it anyway. It's not difficult nor expensive.

Tip 7: Plan your meals- I don't mean an entire proposal written up, stamped and budget-approved. Just think a few days in advance, so you don't buy ingredients that you don't need and end up wasting. And pay attention to your oft-neglected pantry, you'll realise you really don't need to buy that bag of . It's also fun because it forces me to get creative with what I have.

Tip 8: Buy in bulk. This is a really good tip for for those with large freezers, or a large family, both of which I don't have in London. But I can still do that, by combining my shopping with friends, or by buying in bulk for items that don't spoil that easily anyway. I'm looking now at the shared giant bag of dried shiitake mushrooms we got from chinatown, and the 2 litre jar of raw honey in my pantry.

Tip 9: Amazon! It's not only a fine place to get your books for school, it's where you can pick up things like the 2 litre jar of raw honey at a bargain. As with Tip 3, watch out for bargains and do your auntie calculations and comparisons.

Tip 10: Eat out only once in a while, as a treat to yourself. This is the sad reality of a poor student. It's sad because I love tasting new things and having a good time. So I find recipes and make them myself! I can have Thai, Korean, Indian, Spanish and the Singaporean food I miss, and I learn techniques from the celebrity chefs. That's the upside of this whole situation, and how I ended up with this blog (: