Thursday, 27 October 2011

Mum's Sesame Oil Chicken

Unfortunately, things haven't gotten better since I last posted about the power of a warm pot of chilli. I've finished one project, but am onto two new ones. It has now even started raining these days and the skies are perpetually grey. There are some things that you just crave when you feel cold, stressed, and blue, and for me, that's usually soups, stews, and my mum's cooking.

When I first came to London, I got pretty homesick in the first few months. My mum used to send me ridiculously large parcels which I complained about because the fact that they were ridiculously large meant that, for her, they were ridiculously expensive, and for me, they were ridiculously heavy (I had to carry them from the post office in the snow). Secretly though, these parcels of love made things just a little better, and though most of the things were pretty useless (she sent me toothbrushes once), some things I've still kept as treasures, one of which is a handwritten list of some of her recipes. Sesame oil chicken is one of them.

Extremely detailed instructions in a mix of Chinese and English, with tons of annotations

Mum's Sesame Oil Chicken
serves 2
2 chicken legs, cut into thighs and drumsticks (you can use whichever parts you like, but they must be bone-in)
1 tbsp ginger juice (peel, smash/grate ginger, squeeze. reserve the ginger.)
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce (traditionally brewed and fermented)
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp unrefined cane sugar
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp groundnut oil

1. Marinate the chicken in the ginger juice, sesame oil and soy sauce, for about 1 hr, or even longer.

2. To a medium hot wok/pot, heat the oil, and add the reserved ginger, fry till aromatic.
3. Add the chicken pieces, drained of their marinade, to brown slightly, about 1 min, then add in the Shaoxing wine, followed by the marinade, and cook for a few more min.

4. Add in the water, cover and let simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Serve warm with rice.

The ingredient list is really simple, just Chinese store-cupboard essentials, and the method's really simple too. But the results are so worth it. While cooking this, the kitchen filled up with the familiar heavenly aroma of ginger, sesame oil and Shaoxing wine, and the end results are just as therapeutic- tender braised chicken sitting in that fragrant broth. Thanks mummy (:

Note, you can sub the rice wine for hard liquors like DOM (especially 'warming' and great for post-natal recovery according to traditional chinese medicine, just fyi).

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Masala Minced Beef and Kidney Beans Chilli

It's the end of National Baking Week, and I really wanted to do something this week and I've waited all the way till Saturday to try to do something I could blog about. But I really couldn't muster up the time and effort to do anything more fussy than throw-everything-in-a-pot-stews. The temperature's taken a huge dip and and when I'm not busy moaning about the weather, I'm busy with the crazy crazy pace at school this term. (To be honest I just am not much of a bloody baker anyway.)

I often do chillis/stews like this: some mince, topped up with beans, a can of tomatoes, some spices. It's simple, easy, filling, yummy, and better yet, yummier the next day. There are countless variations for this, this variation was one I made for my birthday before.

Masala Minced Beef and Kidney Beans Stew
serves 4-6 (especially if accompanied by rice)
400g minced beef (you can sub any meat you like, or omit for vegetarian version)
1 cup of soaked, cooked red kidney beans (you can sub any beans you have)
400g can of tomatoes
1 large onion, diced
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
3 cloves
4 cardamom pods, smashed
2 tbsp cumin powder
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsbp chilli powder (to taste)
sea salt and black pepper
1 tbsp coconut oil

1. Over medium high heat, add the whole spices to the hot coconut oil to toast for a few seconds.
2. Add diced onion, fry till golden translucent and fragrant.
3. Add the minced beef and all the ground spices, the chilli powder, salt and pepper. Stir fry till beef is browned and caramelised, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the canned tomatoes and cooked beans, bring to a boil, and let simmer for at least 15 minutes. It's best if you let everything in the stew get to know one another better, so if you aren't starving, leave the stewoff the heat for a couple of hours.

By the way, just to reiterate, leftovers are thicker and richer in flavour, so it's definitely worth it to make a big pot of warming chilli. This makes a wonderful hot and spicy antidote to the miserable weather and month ):

For anyone going through a similarly miserable period, but still keen on doing a belated, super easy something for National Baking Week (and Apple Day, 21 October), try Cinnamon Baked Apples, topped with crispy nuts, raisins and greek yogurt.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A Dessert-turned-Salad of Cinnamon & Coriander Roasted Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seeds with Greek Yogurt

Continuing with my current favourite new vegetable family the winter squashes, this time round using the more easily available pumpkin, I have a roasted pumpkin salad!

It was meant to be a very simple sweet treat, roasted pumpkin with spices, tangy greek yogurt, crunchy toasted seeds, kind of the way I have baked apples. But I didn't have butter left, so I used olive oil instead, and the evoo flavour just didn't seem right for dessert. I stuck to the spices, but made it a salad with the beautiful rainbow chard that I couldn't resist getting at the market on Saturday.

Cinnamon & Coriander-Roasted Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seeds
1 small pumpkin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garlic powder
unrefined sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Peel pumpkin and remove seeds and fibrous strings. Cut into 1 inch large-ish bite sized chunks.
3. Wash the seeds and dry thoroughly. (If you want to soak the seeds first to get rid of phytic acids/for better digestion, soak overnight with salt before drying and proceeding. And if so, then this becomes a next-day-meal, or plan ahead! )
3. Toss the pumpkin chunks with a generous drizzle of evoo, 1 tsp each of cinnamon and coriander and a pinch of sea salt.Toss the seeds with 1 tsp each of garlic powder and coriander, and a pinch of sea salt (skip if you've soaked in salted water).
4. Roast pumpkin on middle rack and seeds (plus walnuts) on lower rack. Remove seeds after 15 min or until lightly browned, careful they burn really quickly! Increase temperature to about 200 degrees celsius and continue roasting the pumpkin until tender and lightly browned and caramelised, about 30 min.

Some of the roasted pumpkin, left to cool a little

To serve,
Saute sliced rainbow chard with some olive oil. Add roasted pumpkin chunks on top of the bed of chard, scatter the toasted seeds and walnuts over, spoon plain whole (full fat please!) greek yogurt over.

I know I said I'm done with salads, but the smell of the cinnamon in the oven and the warm vegetables makes this really very much a warming thing. The sweetness of the pumpkin goes nicely against the tangy creamy yogurt, especially on top of a bed of silky/crisp swiss chard, with freshly toasted walnuts and pumpkin seeds (I hate wasting food) some crunch.

Oh I suggest you do a larger batch of roasted pumpkin at a go because it's so delicious you might finish them all. If you've got any pumpkin and pumpkin seeds left over, mash up the pumpkin and use it in sourdough ravioli or add it into your baking, or really, just add some yogurt and honey for instant dessert (as originally planned..) Yum.

Last, the fabulous Stephen from The Obsessive Chef has gotten a cookbook published! Ah, a dream come true, really, and I'm envious but incredibly happy for him at the same time! Do spread the word, and get a copy of his cookbook if you can!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Simmered Kabocha Squash with Dried Shrimps

The best part about autumn– other than the excuse to snuggle up in warm sweaters with embarrassing prints– is pumpkin and its many other squash friends. I love how they look and all their cute names: butternut squash, crown prince squash, munchkin (aw, sigh!), kabocha squash. They all taste similar to the normal pumpkin, but with slightly different textures and sweetness.

The kabocha squash is a dull green on the outside, but has a super bright orange-yellow flesh. It's got a really strong sweet flavour, and a fluffy texture in between that of a pumpkin and sweet potato, so it's ideal for this slow-simmered recipe. It's adapted from my mum's recipe i.e. it's really good but also i.e. the proportions are heavily estimated.

Simmered Kabocha Squash with Dried Shrimps
serves 2-4
1 small kabocha squash (slightly less than 1 kg), peeled and chopped into bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup of dried shrimps 
8 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
unrefined sea salt
1 tbsp groundnut oil + 1 tbsp butter from happy cows

1. Soak the dried shrimps in about a 1/2 cup of warm water for 15 minutes before cooking. Drain and reserve the soaking liquid; it will be the stock used for simmering later.
2. Over medium high heat, add the oil and butter. When foaming, saute the garlic and dried shrimps till fragrant, then add the chopped squash. Add salt, cook till slightly caramelised around the edges.
3. Add the shrimp stock, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and let simmer for about 15 minutes, or till squash is just tender.
4. Increase heat and let the cooking liquid reduce till it's kind of dry and even sticking to the pan a little. 

This looks really plain, perhaps even ugly, but it's delicious. I was sorely tempted to add a few sprinkles of chopped spring onion to make this look less ugly, but really, you don't need anything on this.

All the garlicky, salty, shrimpy flavour is concentrated and absorbed by the sweet kabocha squash. The edges are just coming apart and the inside is tender. Though not much to look at, the mushy bits of mashed up, slightly burnt shrimp and garlic is the best part. I love this with congee, its mild watery sweetness a perfect match to the salty candied starchiness of the squash, but have it whichever way you want, even just as is. 

If you use pumpkin, add a pinch of brown sugar. You can probably use other squashes too, but taste and adjust sugar levels accordingly.
The tablespoon of butter is my own touch– because browned butter makes the world go round. You can just use an extra tbsp of oil, or if good ol' (school) lard. 

Monday, 10 October 2011

Pear, Fennel and Bacon Salad with Warm Ginger Dressing

Only in London can you get 29 degrees one day, and 13 degrees 2 days later. Grr, I refuse to believe the days of salad and sunshine are over. My wool coat is still tucked away in a large vacuum-sealed bag. And before soup and stews and curries take over, here's a salad to bridge the gap-- a warm salad, one not made with the leafy greens of spring, but what fall has to offer. The dressing is really simple, made with the fat from cooking the bacon--salivate-- and some ginger for a bit of needed heat.

Pear, Fennel and Bacon Salad, with Warm Ginger Dressing
serves 1-2
1 bulb of fennel
1 ripe Conference pear
2 strips of streaky bacon (from happy pigs), cut into small pieces
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1-2 tsp sweet rice vinegar
freshly ground black pepper

1. Slice the fennel bulb thinly, same goes for the pear. Mince the ginger.
2. Over medium heat, cook the bacon in some evoo till crisp and its fat oozes out. Transfer the bacon to some kitchen towels to drain.
3. Add the sesame oil to the bacon fat in the pan, saute the ginger till fragrant. Remove from heat and whisk in the rice vinegar and black pepper.
4. Combine pear, fennel and bacon, pour the warm ginger dressing over, and sprinkle with fennel leaves.

The crunchy fennel goes really well against the soft juicy pear, and the sweetness of the pear in turn goes really well against the salty crispy bacon. There's the familiar warming flavours of ginger and aniseed (from the fennel), and I also scattered some fennel leaves around for colour and freshness and because I don't like wasting any part of my food. Everything was very impromptu as it usually is, but I think it worked out fine.

But ok I admit, just listening to the wind outside, I really would rather some soup now. Fine, fine the sunshine days are over ):

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Roast Purple, Green and White Cauliflower with Garlic and Chilli

Controversial cauliflowers pre-roasting

This was one of the things I made for my birthday meetup on Saturday. When I pulled the alien-looking purple and green cauliflower out of their bags, there was a collective "eeeee!" to which I simply replied "We're eating that for dinner."

Cauliflowers are coming into season as the temperature takes a dip. I was working at the farmers' market that morning, and I couldn't resist picking these beautiful aliens up. Plus, they always say to get more colourful vegetables. To make sure my friends would still eat them, I decided to roast these cauliflowers, because almost all vegetables taste better roasted, and with garlic and chilli, because everyone loves garlic and chilli.

Roast Purple, Green and White Cauliflower with Garlic and Chilli
a mix of cauliflowers (or you can use just the normal ones)
as much garlic as you like
dried whole chillies, soaked and split (or just chilli flakes)
few drops of toasted sesame oil
unrefined sea salt
generous glug of extra virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius.
2. Break the cauliflowers into roughly even-sized florets, smash the garlic cloves but leave them in their skins.
3. Put all into a roasting tray, scatter with dried chilli, sea salt, sesame oil and olive oil, toss to coat. Roast, stirring occasionally, for about 20 min, or till tender and lightly browned.

If you've always thought these brain-like vegetables are boring and tasteless, please try roasting them! They become absolutely yummy, with those slightly spicy, caramelised edges, and if you're still not convinced, there's the roast garlic in the same pan too, and pretty much no one turns down roast garlic.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Five Spice Moist Apple Cake (and Happy Birthday to me!)

It's my birthday today! I'm 21 now ): That sounds really old. I don't feel fully adult yet.

I had a small meetup with some good friends on Saturday, actually, large, if you consider the skype meetup with the other good friends in the US/Singapore now. It was fantastic having everyone there, virtual or physical, and it was a fine night. It was a fine day too, what with London's freak summer in october and I spent the day doing things I love- managing the farmers' market at Pimlico in the morning and in the afternoon, cooking.

The menu was heavily spiced, despite the hot hot weather, because the cook gets to choose and I'm very biased towards spice (: Carrot and lentil soup, masala minced beef and kidney beans chilli, curry spices-roasted chicken drumsticks, chilli and garlic roast cauliflower, and spiced basmati rice. I didn't want to do anything difficult, so it was stuff that needed hardly any attention or exact recipes, mostly just cooked according to taste, smell, and the things that caught my eye in the kitchen and the market.

Oh, except for the cake. I'm not a great baker so I always turn to recipes for them, double-check for positive reviews, and then pray for good results. I know it's not the prettiest of cakes, but I would say it turned out really good, and if you like soft, moist squidgy apple-y cakes, you'll probably love this. I was happily surprised, because me being me, I reached for five-spice powder instead of cinnamon.. same colour, sorry. But all's well that ends well, and it even got roommate-approved (she's a brilliant baker).

Five Spice Moist Apple Cake (adapted from here)
makes an 8" square cake
125g grassfed unsalted butter
225g fine unrefined brown cane sugar
2 eggs, beaten
225g organic plain flour (can be adapted for gluten free baking using 90g superfine rice flour, 90g sticky rice flour, 45g tapioca starch, I'll test one day)
enough whole (full-fat please) grassfed milk to loosen the batter
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp five spice powder
2 tsp cinnamon (because I realised after the first tsp)
300g apples (I used 3-4 small egremot russets--ugly skin but incredible sweet flesh, and 1 large saturn-- beautiful red sweet juicy firm. Don't settle for the boring galas or coxes from the supermarket!)
3 tbsp honey + 1 tbsp melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees celsius.
2. Cream the softened butter and sugar for 2 min, then mix in the beaten egg.
3. Sift flour, spices and baking powder together and fold into the mixture, adding enough milk to loosen the batter.
4. Peel and chop up the russets and stir into the mix. Slice the saturn apple into thin slices for later.
5. Pour into a buttered, baking paper-lined springform cake tin, or in my case an 8" deep baking tray. (opt) If attempting to make rushed cake look prettier, arrange the apple slices on top, overlapping.

6. Bake for 1 hour, until risen and browned and a skewer inserted comes out clean. About 10 min before it's about to be done, glaze with the butter and honey.

It was a mistake that turned out to be a good thing, because there was just that very subtle hint of fennel, cloves and star anise in the background, in addition to the cinnamon. In fact, it's probably not detectable, though you do get a sense of "something extra". The batter is going to go into my bookmarked collection of recipes, because it's simple and delicious- tender and moist, not airy like a sponge (which I usually hate) but not at all dense or stodgy, and will probably work just as well with whatever fruits are in season.

And I thought I'd ride on some birthday luck maybe, so I'm entering this for the Autumnal Baking Challenge giveaway at What Kate Baked, and the Simple and in Season event at Fabulicious Food.