Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Christmas came early! (Taste of Christmas Ticket Giveaway)

I thought I was dreaming yesterday when I opened my email. I really literally stared for a full minute and wondered when I'm going to wake up.

In my previous Bloggers Unplugged post, I said my Christmas wish was for a cast iron pot/pan that can go on top of the stove and into the oven. But that was really just it. A dream. I can never justify affording one, at least in my current student financial situation.

So imagine my surprise when I saw an Amazon gift certificate for exactly that in my mail. It was from Charles from Five Euro Food. That's the nicest thing someone I've never met has ever done to me, but I really couldn't accept it. But he insisted again and quote: "Perhaps you think it's strange to have a gift from a random internet stranger, but I love to make people happy-- even if I don't know them. There's too much misery in the world... I like to think I can spread a little happiness." I get it now, that man is actually Santa in disguise. Really, though, he's an awesome person, and his website is also just as awesome! He definitely made me very happy, in fact, for the rest of the year, and possibly next year.

And now for the " Christmas came early" part 2.

I enter lots of lucky draws, because I read in some chick lit book once that it never harms one to do so. It's not like you lose anything in return. I don't expect to win, of course, in fact I don't think I've ever won one. But I did this time, and it's a pair of tickets to the Taste of Christmas food festival this weekend! It's from Action Against Hunger, an international humanitarian organisation committed to ending child hunger, a beautiful cause, so please go find out more about them and perhaps get started a little earlier on your Christmas giving!

Inspired and still a bit in shock by what Charles did, I've decided to give ONE ticket away to another Blogger. Only one, because I really want to go too. That also means, this is also a "win a free date with Shu Han" giveaway, but I think it might put half, or maybe all of, the people out there off so I didn't use that as the title. Really though, I think it will be really fun to get to meet the faces behind all these people I've met since I started blogging. And it's fun to be able to spread a little bit of the incredible love and luck I've gotten.

To enter the giveaway, just post a comment below saying hi. I'll update this post on Friday to announce the random lucky winner/ my unlucky date.

P.S. this only admits entry for one of the days between the 2-4 December, and although I want so much to go on the 2nd, because I get to see two of my food heroes Jamie Oliver AND Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, I have a presentation in school that day, bloody hell. I was praying i would get an email saying they've switched the days, but no, that would be greedy. So if you enter the giveaway, you've to be up for going in the weekend, there's still loads of fun stuff and famous chefs going on!

P.S.S. I just realised no one may want to go with me and I've put myself in a bit of an embarrassing spot if so. Please do comment!

Ok I better post this before I wake up from this dream.

2/11/11: OK so my p.s.s. came true, and no one wants to go. Or rather, no one who can go, wants to. I'm a little disappointed, but I'm just going to go and have a blast with my friend, and definitely give an update about how it went. Thanks everyone for the best wishes and happy december (:

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Food Bloggers Unplugged!

Thanks Elaine from Pear Tree Log for tagging me in this Bloggers Unplugged post! This is so much fun for me, not sure if it's as much fun for you to know all these random facts about a random person, but here goes anyway:

1. What, or who, inspired you to start a blog?
I'm just going to copy this directly from my "about" page because it explains so much about me and this blog, plus I know people don't read "about" pages these days.
"I grew up in a country and a house full of amazing food, but I never really had anything to do with creating that amazing food. I was forced to start cooking for myself when I went over to London to study."
"Besides cooking, this blog is as much about my discoveries and beliefs anbout food and health. I'm not your typical health nut who eats soy nuggets and bran flakes, or your typical diet-conscious teenage girl who goes for low-fat frozen yogurts. I like butter and coconut milk and fatty meat. I eat and believe in real, whole, seasonal, local foods."
"I used to feel that I'm weird or different, and that I had to eat foods that I don't want to eat to feel 'normal' around others,and that I had no right to talk about my love for cooking and food if I'm into health at the same time. But I don't care now, I've decided to heck the raised eyebrows of the skinny latte-drinking, instant koka-mee eating people around me, and embrace the freak in me."

2. Who is your foodie inspiration?
I especially like watching Nigel Slater, but gosh, I have so many foodie inspirations. My mum, most of all though.

3. Your greasiest, batter-splattered food/drink book is?
I don't own cookbooks because I'm too poor/cheap to get them, but I have this thick red folder with recipes cutouts and copied from online/publications, geekily filed with dividers, and littered with post-it notes and edits.

4. Tell us about the best thing you have eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
Since I'm in London now, does Singapore count? ;) In that case, darn I can't decide again. There are too many. Fried carrot cake would be one. My mum's kong bak pau (48 hr marinated pork belly). Anything peranakan, especially curries and kuehs.

5. Another food blogger's table you'd like to eat at?
3 hungry tummies. I really just get so hungry looking at ALL the recipes, not just the Singaporean/Malaysian ones, but also the Western ones.

6. What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?
A cast iron pot and pan that can go on top of the stove and into the oven.

7. Who taught you how to cook?
My mum and all the british tv chefs have been a great help.

8. I'm coming to you for dinner, what is your signature dish?
Anything curry or stewed.

9. What is your guilty food pleasure?
Crispy fried shallots. It's supposed to last for a couple of weeks or more in the fridge as toppings/condiments for chinese and southeast asian dishes, but I can easily pop the whole batch within a couple of hours, I mean, days.

10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?
As if my life does not revolve around food enough, I've recently gone hippy and started washing my face with honey, exfoliating with ground turmeric or cinnamon, and moisturising with olive oil.

And now, to tag 5 others!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

After that in-depth post on making your own stock or bone broth, I think I might have given the impression that I'm really good at making perfect stock.

I'm not.

I try, and heck, to me, that's the right way! There are so many types of bone broths anyway, and the Japanese tonkotsu ramen broth is an example of how different the idea of 'perfect' is. I mentioned how in most Chinese stock/soup-making, the aim is to get a very clear and light soup. Tonkotsu broth is the opposite. It's so decadently thick and rich with the collagen and fat from pork marrow bones that you get an almost milky white broth.

The first time I tried it, I did it the way Marc Matsumoto from No Recipes suggested- mixed with chicken bones, complete with ginger, tahini, and burnt garlic (he has a really great detailed post and he's probably eaten and made a lot more ramen broths than me). Then I came across Shizuoka Gourmet, whose broth was the complete opposite, with just one ingredient: pork bones. I loved the simplicity of it. Tonkotsu broth is, after all, essentially, about pork. There's something poetic about how just putting in effort and time transforms a pile of pork bones to a delicious broth rich in flavour (and nutrients). I still kept Marc's tips on using pork leg bones for the marrow and connective tissues, and the tahini for an added nutty aroma and richness. The burnt garlic oil as a final flourish isn't a must, but it is pretty awesome.

Tonkotsu Ramen Broth/Stock
To make about 2 litres of broth base
1.5 kg pork leg bones
7 litres of water

To serve (for 1)
2 1/2 cups of broth base
1 heaped tsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 serving of ramen noodles
unrefined sea salt and white pepper, to taste (or use miso instead for miso tonkotsu ramen)

Toppings (up to you)
squidgy yolk hard-boiled eggs, beansprouts, seaweed, black wood ear/cloud fungus, shredded leftover pork from the bits hanging on the bones, toasted garlic and ginger, toasted sesame seeds, chopped spring onions, seaweed, black garlic oil (see below)

1. In a deep large pot, blanch the bones in boiling hot water to remove the blood and impurities. Drain the water and scrub the pot before filling with fresh water and bringing to the boil.
2. Add the bones again and keep skimming off any foam or scum, about 20 min.
3. Cover and let simmer on a low fire for 15 hours. (yes, no typo. What I did was transfer to my slow cooker, pre-heated and kept on high, through the night.)

At the start- pork leg bones, with the lovely marrow and fat we want

After 2 hours- see the oil that will get emulsified with the stock to get our creamy broth

After 15 hours- concentrated broth heaven

The bones after that - bleached dry of all their goodness

4. Filter to get your tonkotsu broth base.
5. To serve, blanch the noodles in boiling water for 1 minute or till slightly less done (as it'll continue cooking). Mix the ingredients for the soup and pour over the noodles, then top with choice of toppings. Slurp and enjoy!

The broth was deliciously rich and so creamy you'd think there was something more than just bones and water. You'll see that the latest attempt (not this photo, the one right at the start) was slightly more successful. I slurped all of them down very happily anyway, and knew right after that this was thick with collagen because my lips got all sticky. I heard from my Japanese classmate that in Japanese ramen places, you had to finish your ramen and slurp down the whole bowl of soup or you'll start getting the evil eye, so I'm just keeping up with tradition(:

You'll notice I haven't given much attention to the other components of the tonkotsu ramen. The toppings are really up to you, but purists would say the noodles are perhaps just as important as the broth. The ramen master will probably be using handmade ramen noodles, but I think I would starve if I had to start making the noodles too. I did use fresh egg spaghettini, handmade by Phil from Pimlico farmers' market...

The thing about the elusive tonkotsu ramen broth, is that there is no definite recipe to follow. It's that heavily guarded secret and the only way to get hold of it is by, I don't know, begging a ramen master to let you train under him for 20 years, or some kind of despicable means? Or you could just research and experiment yourself, which is what I did. I hope you enjoyed the recipe, but keep on visiting your favourite ramen place!

Oh and lastly, the 'burnt' garlic oil if you're interested:

Black ("Burnt") Garlic Oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
5 cloves of garlic, minced

1. Over medium low heat, toast the minced garlic in the sesame oil, stirring occasionally until it is very dark brown. Turn the heat down to low and let it cook until it is black. (I kind of chickened out and stopped at the dark brown/copper stage, see photo.)
2. Immediate transfer hot oil and garlic to a heatproof bowl, let cool completely and blitz with a hand blender until you get a uniformly black (or copper) oil. It will taste slightly bitter but is fantastic when you add just a little bit to the broth

Black garlic oil for Black Friday (:

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The 'Right' Way to Make Stock

I just blogged about making instant stock powder from things that are naturally savoury (and compact). But the best stock to me is still a traditional bone broth, simmered over hours to extract not just flavour, but nutrients. Back home in Singapore, my mum makes stock almost everyday, slow-cooked in a huge black claypot over a charcoal fire, with a very precise selection of bones from specific parts of specific animals for the right flavour.

Here, I do things a lot simpler.

Stock is basically just bones, simmered in water, hence also called bone broth (of course, there's also the vegetable stock i.e. onions carrots celery leeks, in a pot, about an hour). There aren't really any hard and fast rules, but read on anyway. I've got tips, and I also want to bring up Chinese stocks, which are quite different in many ways!

My mum's big black stockpot over a charcoal fire

The bones and bits
You can use a leftover chicken carcass, or if you don't often buy a whole chicken because you're cooking for one, just save your bones from after you finish eating a drumstick or something. Bones that have been pre-roasted will give a "brown" stock, fresh bones will give a "white" stock. You'll also often find carcasses on sale at the farmers' market, or just ask your butcher for beef, or veal, bones, usually for free. In chinese cooking, pork bones are favoured. Yes, pig's tail. For really gelatinous broth, add chicken feet/wings/neck/pork trotters/ears/tail. For fish stock, fish heads are best.

To boil or not to boil?
The Sally Fallon method calls for the bones to sit in cold water with a tablespoon of vinegar added for an hour or so before bringing it up to a boil, to extract all the calcium and minerals.
For Chinese stock though, the first step is always to parboil the bones. That gets rid of most of the blood and impurities and makes for a cleaner, clearer stock. I prefer this, it gives a much better result, and I doubt there's much difference in the nutrient content after all those hours of simmering.

A bubbling pot of stock
is wrong.
Whether or not you parboil the bones at first, you want to bring the bones and water to a boil, and then immediately reduce to a simmer, over low heat, for the rest of the time. There should be just a tiny bit of bubbling action, think that minimal bubble stream you see from a goldfish in a tank. Keep skimming any scum that you see on top, though the parboiling step helps to reduce the amount of scum.

For how long?
The general attitude usually is, for as long as you can. Your aim is to extract everything out from the bones, flavour and nutrients-wise. I usually leave it overnight in the slow cooker on low, and the next day, the bones become useless and soft enough to crush with a spoon. But my mum says 3-4 hours or the colour of the stock gets affected. Only 1/2 hour for fish stock, as fish bones are quite delicate, and you only need a short while of bare simmering to extract its goodness.*

You can add nothing, or anything, really
I think next time I refer to stock in my recipes, I'll be slightly more specific and say 1, 2, or 3.
1. The Western stock usually calls for onions, carrots, celery, maybe leeks or bay leaf too. I save the carrot tops and base of celery etc and freeze them to add to stocks, or even to make vegetable stock. So, repeat, it can really cost nothing.
2. The standard Chinese stock calls for garlic, ginger and/or spring onions, which helps to get rid of the undesired "smell". Sometimes a dash of rice wine, for the same reason. I think it also works as a sort of acidic medium much like Sally Fallon's vinegar, to extract nutrients. 
3. You can add nothing at all too, which is what I like to do usually because I don't know if I'll be using it for what kind of recipes.
4. Just thought of this. Asians often don't just make basic stocks to add to dishes, often we just make soup with bones straight away, slow-simmered with various herbs/ingredients for different types of soups. An example is gamjatang, a Korean pork bone soup, and there's the many Chinese "long-fire soups" 老火汤.

So what is good stock?
Good stock should gel when refrigerated (see above/below). That's collagen that you can get much better than any collagen pill. Colour will differ based on type of stock.
In addition, if it's Chinese stock, chefs (and chinese mums) will look for stock clarity. To get that, you not only have to follow all the tips above for chinese stock, but you should ideally skim off the fat after chilling (DON'T THROW, save for cooking!) and use bones that are not fatty, because the fat globules dispersed in the stock makes it not as clear as it can be. My mum's specific blend for clear stock 清高汤 includes the bones from the back of the pig, chicken feet, chicken breast bone, and dried scallops. But she also makes stocks from pig's tail and trotters for other dishes, and I really love the rich taste of those stocks.

This was so gelatinous it set like too-stiff jelly. The white layer on top is the hardened fat.

This soup is considered not clear enough.
That's one example of 老火汤- pork bones, with dried cuttlefish, daikon radish and goji berries. It's delicious, clear or not.

So, after all that, I just want to say, homemade stock is a wonderful and very important thing to do for our health and for our cooking, and it doesn't matter so much what is the 'right' way and whether you make it in the perfect way or not! I hope when we realise how simple (and cheap!) it is, we can all make it a point to start making our own stock instead of paying for that preservative-filled Knorr cube.

Stock is good not only for soups and stews; you can use it to make plain rice more exciting(and I don't just mean risotto), or add a splash to vegetable stirfries, or-- just search "stock" on my blog for all the fab things you can do with it!

* See here for a different kind of fish stock, which is milky white, made by a furious emulsification of collagen and fat with stock!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Make your own natural instant stock powder

Stock is my all-important kitchen essential. You throw in some rice or noodles or vegetables or meat into good stock and you get a delicious risotto or comforting noodle soup or creamy vegetable soup or a nice stew. It's the secret something special behind a simple dish. Good stock to me is usually bone broths, slow-simmered over hours to extract the flavour and nutrients from that leftover carcass. I never never waste any scrap of bones so I usually have stock in the fridge. I try my Martha-Stewart-best, but I don't always have stock on standby though.

For those situations, I resort to "quick stocks", made very simply with Asian cupboard essentials- dried anchovies or dried shrimps, or for vegetarian versions, shiitake mushrooms or kelp. It's often quite simple, just boil the dried anchovies (ikan bilis) or shrimps in water for 20 min or so, and because they're so small, you get their flavour quite quickly. Shiitake mushrooms and kelp are even better, just soak in warm water for 30 min or so till they soften. They're perfect for unplanned stock because these dried goodies can keep for quite a while in your larder without going bad-- very important for someone with a fridge less than half her dwarfish asian height.

And then one day I was walking around the supermarket, and I saw ikan bilis (quite obviously the supermarket was in Singapore, not London) and mushroom stock powders and cubes. Of course, ikan bilis and mushroom stock powder have a lot more in them than just ikan bilis and mushrooms, mainly things that I can't pronounce properly or end in dubious numbers. Thus, my homemade instant stock powder was born!

Homemade Instant Stock Powder
(example here is for ikan bilis stock)
dried anchovies (ikan bilis)

1. Toast the anchovies in a low oven to make sure they're completely dry. You'll also start smelling the delicious (ok subjective) savoury smell of roasted anchovies, which definitely adds to the flavour.
2. Let cool completely. Throw into a food processor or blender and whizz up until you get a fine powder. Store in an airtight container, preferably in the fridge if you want it to keep longer.

That's it! I know some people may recoil at the idea of anchovies, but it's often used for Asian soups. It's also full of calcium since you eat the soft edible bones, and iodine since you eat the head (Oops I'm putting more people off aren't I?)

Anyway, you can do the same for dried shrimps, dried mushrooms, or kelp. The great thing about this is you can not only stir it into hot water for instant stock, you can sprinkle this over your stirfries for an instant umami hit. (Anchovies are great with garlic and spinach, fyi. One of my mum's favourite vegetable stirfry combi.)

Bonus tip: Break off the stalks for dried shiitake mushrooms and grind them up instead, because that tough part takes forever to soften and hence usually gets discarded after soaking, which is a complete waste of perfectly tasty mushroomy flavours.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Leftover Barley Arancini stuffed with Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese

I hate wasting food. I'm perfectly happy eating leftovers for breakfast lunch dinner, and I'm weird enough to be fine with eating cold leftovers too. I had leftover barley risotto, or as I found out later, orzotto, and though I would be happy just eating it straight from the fridge like cold porridge, I decided to do something a bit more exciting with it, because for once, there's no deadline for school next week.

Arancini is leftover risotto, coated with crispy breadcrumbs, with or without a stuffing. I don't know what leftover orzotto, coated with crispy breadcrumbs, with or without a stuffing, is called. I suspect it's the same. This is usually deep-fried, which is messy and gets my face oily and generally not advisable in my poorly ventilated flat, so I've done it in an oven.

Leftover Barley Arancini
makes 4-6 balls
about 1 cup of leftover shiitake mushroom barley risotto
about 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs (I first drizzled evoo over leftover sourdough bread before toasting and throwing into the food processor, so the breadcrumbs go crisp easier and you don't have to worry about the arancini not having an even coating/spray of oil.)
1 egg, beaten
4-6 cubes of raw Lincolnshire Poacher cheese (this is like a cross between British cheddar and swiss gruyere, absolutely delicious. You can get this at the farmers' markets and Neal's Yard Dairy.)
unrefined sea salt, white pepper

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Fold eggs into the leftover risotto. Using wet hand, scoop up a handful of risotto, flatten against your palm, and press the cube of cheese into it. Shape into a ball, enclosing the cheese. It should be gummy and sticky after a night chilling in the fridge, so it won't be too difficult.
3. Season breadcrumbs with salt and pepper. Roll the balls in the breadcrumbs, and then line them up on greased parchment paper.
4. Bake for 20 minutes, or until crispy and golden.

The shiitake mushroom barley risotto was already good so it couldn't really turn out very bad, but now it's crispy and cheesy as well. Ah, yum.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Shiitake Mushroom Barley Risotto

I know I have been blogging about soups and stews and all manners of "I want to go home and stay in bed" foods during the past 2 weeks of miserable colds, school and weather. Risotto must sound like another of my comfort food posts, but it's not. Risotto is special. I haven't even heard of the thing until I came to London (don't judge, have you heard of kway chap, tutu kueh, chye tow kway before? HAH.) My cold is over, the projects are over (for this week at least), and the weather is oddly getting more tolerable. So I decided to treat myself to a touch of fanciness.

But I didn't have the 2 key ingredients to a usual risotto: arborio rice and stock. I was looking at my larder again to see what I did have. I saw barley, which cooks up nice and "glue-y" too while retaining its shape, (not to mention being great for the skin and digestion) hurray! And for the cooking stock, I deferred to my usual asian cupboard essentials for quick stock (dashi): dried shiitake mushrooms and kelp. Hence this risotto, or barley-otto. <-- Edit: I realise there is a name for this kind of dish, it's called an orzotto. Boo.

Shiitake Mushroom Barley Risotto
serves 1
70g pearl barley
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 piece of dried kelp (otherwise known as kombu)
2 large shallots, finely chopped
small splash of rice wine
1 tbsp of "sweet dark" soy sauce (made from equal amts of traditionally fermented soy sauce and molasses, or you can use unrefined sugar)
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil
white pepper, to taste
chopped parsley and spring onion, to finish

1. Briefly rinse, then soak the shiitake mushrooms and kelp in about 1 cup warm water for about 30 min. Reserve kelp for something else, slice the shiitake mushrooms up and let it marinade in the sweet soy sauce and sesame oil. Bring the dashi up to a simmer.
2. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan, and saute the chopped shallots till soft and translucent.
3. Add the barley and saute for about 2 min or so (it will not really get translucent like with rice). When it gets a bit toasted, add the splash of rice wine and stir until it evaporates.
4. Add a ladleful of the hot stock, stir until it has almost all been absorbed, then add the next ladleful. Continue like this on low heat but still keeping everything at a simmer, until the barley is cooked. It will be about 30 min, or when the barley is tender but still have a bit of bite and is kind of runny at the same time.
5. Meanwhile, saute the marinated mushrooms in a separate pan. Stir into the risotto for the last couple of minutes.
6. Remove the risotto from the heat, taste and season with white pepper and sea salt if necessary (note kelp is also salty), and then stir in the chopped parsley and spring onions.

I really like this! The barley gives a quite different flavour and an extra nutty texture to the risotto. It's also perfect for the fall/winter, because it immediately brings to mind hearty wholesome stews. I definitely will do this again with other vegetables when I've got some good homemade stock, not that the shiitake-kelp stock wasn't good; it was delicious with the barley, very savoury and full of umami.

I know it's yet another kitchen make-do, but it did turn out well, and one day, one day, I will be rich and spend it all on my kitchen (:

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Leek and Butter Bean Soup with Caramelised Shallots and Bacon

It's bonfire night! I wish I were doing something a little more exciting than sitting at home making soup and working on my project, but it's due monday, and really, I actually like staying in the kitchen and keeping warm by my indoor bonfire, aka the bubbling pot of soup.

I was also planning to take part in this month's combined kitchen challenge (Random Recipes by Belleau Kitchen and No Croutons Required by Tinned Tomatoes) with this soup, but realised it was neither a random recipe from a cookbook because I bunged it up myself, nor was it vegetarian because of the bacon; bummer. Anyway, it was too good to not share, so here it is.

Leeks + Butter Beans =Winter Yum
Note: You can make this vegetarian by leaving out the bacon if you want, though in that case, maybe increase the butter ;)

Leek and Butter Bean Soup with Caramelised Shallots and Bacon
serves 3-4
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, sliced
1/2 cup of dried butter beans, soak for at least 6 hours
5 large shallots, sliced into rings
1-2 slices of bacon (from happy pigs), chopped up into bits
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp of grassfed butter
1 heaped tsp dijon mustard
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (be generous!)

1. Add the soaked butter beans to a pot, bring to the boil, and let simmer for 1.5 hours or so till cooked and soft. You could skip this step if you're using canned beans, though dried and soaked is always cheaper and usually easier on the stomach.
2. Add bacon to a medium hot pan, saute till crisp and bacon fat oozes out. Drain and set aside.
3. Add the sliced shallots to the bacon fat and fry till golden brown and caramelised. Remove some for garnishing later and set aside.
4. Add the sliced leeks and garlic and mustard and saute till softened and fragrant.
5. Add the stock and cooked beans, bring to a boil and let simmer for 15 min or so.
6. Blend, adding more hot stock/bean cooking liquid if needed, till you get a smooth and creamy consistency. Taste and season (note bacon and mustard are also salty). Finally, stir in the 2 tbsp of butter.

I topped the soup with the crisped up bacon from earlier for a bit of salty texture, and finished it with sweet caramelised shallots, kind of inspired by the way a lot of food back home in Singapore is finished with a final drizzle of shallot oil or scatter of crispy shallots.

I love leeks for their mild onion-y sweetness and I often liken them to giant spring onions minus the bite. It's great thrown into whatever vegetable soup you have, or actually, it's great when you make chicken soup too. This came about because I was planning for dinner in the morning and wanted to make (roasted) leek and potato soup, but had no potatoes. So I raided my pantry for something to add some body to the soup, and saw the jar of butter beans, and thought "creamy hummus..soup?" Hmm. Anyway this soup is good- creamy and rich without being cloying, and full of good stuff for your body- so I would say it's one of those successful moments of desperation!

I'm submitting to the Spring a leek! recipe competition organised by lovethegarden, a brilliant website encouraging and giving people tips to grow their own vegetables. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Steamed Eggs (Chinese Savoury Custard)

Another very homely recipe to chase away the blues.

It's really cheap and simple and has hardly any ingredients at all, and all the kids (and adults) love it. It's the Chinese household equivalent of the more known Japanese chawanmushi, the Japanese version being steamed in a pretty little cup, with all sorts of hidden goodies. The version I grew up with though, is plain and unadorned and done in a shallow steam-proof dish. The most basic version is called 蒸水蛋 i.e. "steamed water eggs", because it is literally just steaming a water-egg mixture, but using stock (my mum insists!) makes it 10x better.

The test of a good steamed egg lies in the texture. It will be soft and silky with a smooth surface, kind of like a savoury set custard. Done wrong, it will be rubbery with a a pock-marked surface-- like the ones I used to do until I went to research and properly grilled my mum.

I love this old-school fail-proof way of measuring liquid:egg ratio

Steamed Eggs
serves 1-2
2 free-range pastured eggs
6 eggshell-halves of cooled boiled water/ homemade stock (hence, size of eggs don't matter!)
white pepper + 1 tsp Shaoxing wine (opt, but again, my mum insists!)

To serve
traditionally brewed and fermented soy sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil (or lard from happy pigs) + drizzle of toasted sesame oil
chopped spring onions (opt, as kids we'd pick them out)

1. Beat eggs well with the water/stock. Strain the mixture through a sieve to get rid of the bubbles, into a shallow (mine was about 1/2 inch deep) steam-proof dish.
2. Prepare steamer, or for a makeshift one, just set a metal rack over a pot of boiling water, making sure the metal rack is higher than the water level. Place the dish on the rack, covered with a plate or sealed with foil (my mum's style).
3. Turn to low heat, and steam for about 15 min or till set. If you're not sure, shaking the dish a little, it should be jiggly but firm. Uncover halfway first, wait for steam to escape, then fully uncover.
4. To serve, sprinkle spring onions over. Heat the oils till smoking hot. Pour over, and then dizzle the soy sauce over (adjust according to taste, you may need less if you've seasoned it with a flavourful stock). 

The oils scalds the raw spring onions to release its fragrance, and also helps the soy sauce to 'glide' smoothly over. It's what gives it the extra special something, though you could skip it if you want to go the healthy zen and Japanese route.

My mum, being my mum, will also add minced pork or fish seasoned with a bit of soy sauce and pepper, and she will use her best stock (leftover, made from simmering chicken bones and dried scallops). The one I have here is a lot less deluxe. But it's, oh gosh, so familiar and good. The eggs are just set with a delicate custardy texture, and is seasoned simply by the river of light soy sauce running through. Each spoonful of steamed egg is like a savoury scoop of home.

I think I even saw a little bit of sun peeking through the clouds just now (: