slow cooked duck legs

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Recipe from Mark Bittman at the NYT. He was writing this week on grubstreet about grilling duck legs too, although the only grill I have is the one at the top of my oven and isn’t the bbq grill he was talking about.

Anyway, the method we see people on cookery programs most of the time is confit duck legs. I don’t really want to waste a bottle of oil so this slow cooked method is better.

In a cold pan over medium heat start browning the duck legs, skin side down. In the meantime, prep carrots, celery and potatoes. The recipe has onions but I ran out so I used extra celery and 4 cloves of garlic. Added potatoes for a true one pot meal. I chopped the veg into larger chunks than the recipe to give more bite.

Once the duck skin has crisped up, turn over and brown the meat for a couple of minutes. Transfer to baking dish.

Pour out almost all the duck fat (I have an old peanut butter jar I use to keep my duck and bacon fat). Sauté the veg for about 10mins, transfer to baking dish with duck. Season with s&p, rosemary, thyme.

Heat chicken stock in pan to deglaze and bring to the boil. Pour into baking dish until most of duck legs are covered, making sure the skin isn’t covered. I didn’t have enough stock, it was perfectly fine to top up with boiling water.

Cook at 200ºC for 30mins, then turn oven down to 180ºC and continue cooking for around 1hr until duck is tender and most of the liquid has reduced.

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Very, very good. There was just about enough sauce to cover the baking dish, and it had a nice intense flavour. The recipe says use homemade chicken stock and I agree, it makes all the difference. The duck was fork-tender and had lots of flavour.

We are lucky that we can get duck breast and leg fairly inexpensively, perhaps because the locals don’t know how to cook them. It’s frozen and definitely not gressingham duck we get in the UK, but with the right cooking method, is one of our staples. Easy to make too. Total cooking time around 2hrs, but mostly unattended.

turkey quesadilla

turkeyquesadila

I’m gradually becoming more knowledgeable about mexican food. I wish I can eat at Rick Bayless’ place all the time but mostly it’s tex-mex that I encounter. I know I prefer soft tortillas and I don’t like gigantic burritos–just looking at it kills my appetite. I’m nowadays more likely to order quesadilla.

We made really nice homemade tacos in chicago, I enjoyed it very much. So much so that I took the remaining tortillas home. Actually, quesadillas are very easy to make, hardly need a recipe. I had to go to the more expensive japanese supermarket to get grated mexican cheese. Then it’s just heating a tortilla, sprinking cheese and adding turkey (from the freezer), then more cheese on top and another tortilla. Flip so both sides are golden brown. I used the 2 tortilla method instead of folding one over.

So yummy! I have to check if I can get tortillas, too much trouble to make my own.

cauliflower steak

caulisteak

I made not very successful cauliflower steak. This is one of the trendy cauliflower food that has cropped up recentlly, a far cry from the awful soggy cauliflower we used to get when we were younger.

It’s simply a matter of cutting the stalk part of a cauli, seasoning with s&p, chopped garlic and lemon juice, and roasting in the oven. 200ºC for around 45mins. I think these weren’t as successful as I wanted them to be because I was using a different type of cauliflower. Not the usual tight bulb with white florets, these have more space between the branches and so didn’t give a whole steak. Tasted nice though.

flounder spinach rollups

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I bought a couple of packets of flounder filets at the supermarket. Mum and I aren’t very good at fish with bones so I prefer to stick with salmon or white fish filets. This is the first time I tried cooking flounder. The first batch, I pan-fried them but it wasn’t successful. The filets were too fragile and difficult to keep whole. Plus I couldn’t find much flavour to them.

For the second batch I decided to roll them up and bake them. It was dead easy. Cooked some spinach, rolled in filets, secure with toothpick. Baked in 180ºC oven for 15mins. I served them with hollandaise sauce which shamefully I have to admit came from a packet. I can make my own, but we had the packet so it’s best to use it up before it expires.

Since I was turning the oven on, I made sweet potatoes too. I’m so much happier with the rollups than the pan-fried version. I’m sure I can cook the rollups in a pan, either pan-fry them or poach them. Oven seems the best though, to keep them whole.

duck risotto

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When we took my great aunt to lunch a few weeks ago for peking duck we came away with leftover duck meat and the carcass. They’ve been sitting in the freezer so i should use them.

I made stock with the carcass. Half the stock I used in congee, which seems to be traditional at least in my family; the other half I made risotto whch is less traditional–I think I’m the only one who makes risotto. Honestly, it’s not difficult.

Heat the stock and keep at a low simmer. Sauté garlic in olive oil, add risotto rice to toast for a little bit. Add the stock one ladle at a time, stirring until it has been absorbed. Total time was around 40mins until the rice was cooked. I added sun-dried tomatoes (soaked and diced) and fresh tomato because that’s what I had in the fridge; plus the duck meat. It’s good use of leftovers.

One thing I’ve notice about my cooking the past year, I’ve barely done any baking or made food I used to eat when I was living by myself. Whereas in the past I’d stick a tray of chicken thighs in the oven, cook a whole savoy cabbage and eat that 3 days in a row, that’s hardly what I can serve to mum. She’ll say she’s fine but I bet opening a whole packet of ham and calling it a meal is not something she would be happy doing. I’ve had to plan what I cook for lunch and dinner almost every day and try not to repeat two meals running. Mostly it’s pedestrian food. Fry or grill some protein (salmon, pork chop), add simple vegetables (greens from the market) and some form of carb (mash, rice). Try to make soup (pork+carrot+sweetcorn) every week. Everything is seasoned with s&p and italian seasoning. Perfectly edible but no spark.

recipebooks

I can’t remember when was the last time I flipped through a recipe book for inspiration. I don’t know where the creativity has gone. What happened to a whole weekend of cooking, or beetroot & sweet potato stack, or summer lasagne, or vegetarian savoury bread pudding, or roast belly pork, or delicious chocolate quinoa cake. Sigh.

What has worked is forward planning and cooking for multiple meals. Adam Liaw, masterchef australia s2 winner, wrote that the fundamental issue with modern day recipes assume it’s for one discrete meal:

Making a simple dish that’s over and done with in under an hour is all well and good, but it is also a very inefficient way to cook.

He gave examples: Japanese cooking relies on pickles and condiments made in advance; French cooking is full of sauces and stocks that cannot be made in the alloted 15-, 30- or 60-minute timeframe of a typical recipe.

Motherjones takes it further and tells us we’re using recipes wrong and the one-meal recipe is not a good use of time or money. We should be taking the long view:

Say on Sunday, you cooked a pot of beans, roasted a whole chicken (tip: butterfly it), and whipped up a simple vinaigrette as a salad dressing and marinade. Monday’s dinner could be a quick chicken-bean soup; Tuesday could be taco night; Wednesday, these elements could be incorporated along with some quick-sautéd vegetables into a pasta.

I’m fully on board with this. Planning and leftovers are such an important part of my daily cooking. Here’s to the duck that was first served as fancy Peking duck, its carcass made into stock and two different dishes came out of it for multiple meals.

Next up, 101 Cookbooks’ one tomato sauce, three lunches. All vegetarian too and I’m loving those tiffin boxes.

magic cake

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The ingredients for magic cake are straightforward: butter, sugar, eggs, flour, milk. The magic is created with the proportion of the ingredients and when baked at a low temperature, it separates into 3 layers: the lowest layer is a dense cake, the middle layer creamy custard and the top layer is a crunchy, light genoise sponge. This recipe was from the telegraph.

500ml milk
2 vanilla pods
4 eggs, separated
150g sugar
1tbsp vanilla extract
125g butter
110g flour

scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods, heat seeds and pods with milk until boiling
remove and leave to cool and infuse for 1hr
beat egg yolks with sugar and vanilla extract until thick
melt butter and add to mixture
fold in flour
add milk little by little
whisk egg whites till soft peaks and fold into mixture, no need to mix thoroughly, there should be lumps of egg white floating in a liquid mixture
bake at 150ºC in a lined tin for around 50mins
leave to cool in tin before turning out, chill in fridge to set

Very tasty and rich. A little less sugar next time, I find with most baking recipes I need to reduce the amount of sugar. My magic cake didn’t separate as well as the ones people post; the bottle dense layer probably needed a little more cooking. I was also impatient and ate a slice before it had a chance to chill in the fridge.

Definitely must make again. Most people credit jocooks as the originator of magic cake recipes and she has many different flavours like lemon, chocolate, butterscotch (ouch, too sweet probably), coconut.

spaghetti meatballs

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This is the first time I made spaghetti with meatballs. All right, actually it’s capellini because that’s what we had. Combined minced beef and minced pork (around 60:40, but that’s because it’s what I have) with 1 egg, some flour and seasoning.

Sautéed some garlic and onion in a pan, added the meatballs to brown. Added water, tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, herbs, s&p and simmered for about 45mins. Could do with longer, had to turn the heat up towards the end to reduce the sauce.

Pretty good. Definitely tasted homemade, better than spag bol.

steamed egg with pork mince

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Tried my hand at making steamed egg with minced pork. The ultimate comfort food. Goes very well with plain rice and supposedly one of those dishes that are easy to make yet hard to master.

Steamed the pork first, seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil and I chopped a few dried mushrooms in with the mixture. Poured in the egg and water mixture and steamed for 10mins.

Not quite as silky and smooth as it can be. The egg was overdone on the outside but undercooked in the middle. Apparently both the heat and egg:water ratio are important. I used 1:1 egg and water (measured in measuring cup) but next time will try 1:1.5. And use low heat.

cauliflower rice / couscous

Been noticing more and more cauliflower getting onto fine dining menus. As a purée serving as a perfect bed for scallops; as a curried tempura and cooked three ways [pdf]. It’s touted as a superfood nowadays.

I made cauliflower rice, aka cauliflower cous cous. It’s described as a low-carb substitute for the starch component of a dish. It’s also gluten-free, vegan and forms part of the paleo diet.

Easy enough to prepare. Grate the florets of a whole cauliflower using a box grater. The stem is harder to grate, just put it in with other vegetables. There are many cooking methods for the rice: steam, sautée, microwave, roast in oven. I just tossed it around in a pan with a little s&p and water for about 10 mins until it felt cooked and there were no visible white uncook bits.

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Served some with slow roasted pork and crackling. I don’t have much luck with making crackling in the oven so these were fried in a very hot pan.

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Another batch of the cauliflower I treated like regular couscous by mixing in dried cranberries and pecans from a packet I bought at the farmer’s market a long time ago.

I knew it’s cauliflower and I could taste the vegetable freshness. But it’s true, it’s just like rice, couscous, mash in its ability to accompany the main protein and absorb gravy. Doesn’t make you bloated after the meal too. Definitely must make more.

duck breast, eggs baked in potato

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Lunch was duck breast, potatoes and carrots. Nothing too remarkable, we get duck breasts easily and I’ve gotten pretty good at cooking them. Mum prefers them a little more cooked so I make them medium. Love that every time I have duck fat available for the next week or so. Half a teaspoon to use in sautéing vegetables make all the difference in flavour.

The best thing about the meal were the eggs baked in potato. I’ve made them before a few years ago and always wanted to do them again. It’s dead simple but just takes a little time. Bake the potatoes until tender, around 1hr. Halve and scoop out the flesh carefully, leaving the skins as a shell. Carefully break an egg into each shell and return to the oven to bake until done, around 10-15 mins. Really tasty and healthy, plus there’s mash leftover for the next meal.

#8: old musical | #61: 4-course meal

Completed a couple of 101.1001 tasks during the trip.

nyc431matilda

Task #8 is to go see an old musical. I saw Matilda, which I’d seen in 2012 in London. Love the production, I can see myself seeing it even more times in London again, in other locations and if it goes on tour. Although based on a children’s book and targetted at children, it has a lot going for adults too. I’m still humming When I Grow Up.

Task #61 is to plan, cook and serve an three-course meal, with wine. I had an idea of what I’d like to cook when at home, which I may still do so another time. This meal was actually a 4-course meal I planned at the last moment when I was in the huge seafood store in Chelsea Market. The sheer variety of seafood there was enough to make anyone want to make a feast.

course03clams course04main

For starter I had a mixture of topneck and littleneck clams. I preferred the small littlenecks, with their sweeter flavour but the entire dish was fresh and fabulous.

For mains I panfried a skate wing with spot prawns and kale. I haven’t had skate for a while, can’t get it at home. Probably overcooked it a little, but still tasty. The prawns were wonderful.

course05cheese course06dessert

A small cheese board of cranberry and goat’s cheese I got from the supermarket, a Paymaster goat’s cheese from Brooklyn that was washed in chocolate whiskey and an Alderney hard cheese made from raw organic hard cheese, from a creamery in the Catskills.

Dessert was stuff I had in the fridge: blackberries and raspberry sorbet.

Funny when I posted on fb, people were congratulating me on my cooking. The clams were simply boiled in water until they opened and seasoned with a little fennel tops. The fish, prawns and kale had the most cooking but, er, pan-frying is one of the easiest things to do. Cheese and dessert were putting food on plates. But all in all, I’m very satisfied with the meal. Since it was only me, I couldn’t go crazy with wine and stuck with the one bottle.

#60: tiny but intense chocolate cake [recipe]

Task #60 of 101.1001 is to open a cookbook to a random page and make whatever comes up.

Because of differences in terminology and how ingredients are measured, I never use American recipes. For the longest time the only American food website I visit was simply recipes because of the old MT-loyalty thing. Gradually I added smitten kitchen, especially after Ms Perelman added proper measurements to her recipes. I bought her book when it came out, even got an autographed copy.

tinychoccake01book

So when I decided I should start cooking again, as in not just day-to-day cooking, I grabbed the book and opened it up. There, on page 250, is a recipe for tiny but intense chocolate cake. Looks divine, and very simple to make with easy ingredients. Can’t find it on her website, but it was on house and garden. I love the description:

In the short list of recipes I think any baker should have – or simply any person with friends, who delights in making those friends happy – is a chocolate cake to be thrown together just because I… Well, actually I did not know today was your birthday. Of course I am free tonight!

85g butter – the book says 85g, online recipe says 115g
115g chocolate
3 eggs, separated
65g sugar – online recipe says 45g
vanilla extract – i made it myself
pinch of sea salt
pinch of cinnamon

Melt the butter in a small saucepan until almost brown. Remove from heat, add chocolate and stir until chocolate has melted. Let the mixture cool.

Whisk egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon until smooth. I only used about 10g sugar because I was using toblerone instead of 70% chocolate. Add chocolate mixture. Whisk egg whites separately until stiff peaks, then fold into chocolate mixture.

Bake at 180ºC for 15-20mins until skewer comes out clean.

Remove from oven, allow to cool inside tin. The cake will deflate and come away from the side of the tin, at which time it’s okay to take out.

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The recipe says to use one 15cm/6-inch tin, but I only have the standard sized ones so I used even smaller 12cm/5-inch tins. Yielded 3 cakes.

Very, very light! It was like biting into air. Flourless cake, that’s why. I used barely any sugar so it wasn’t too sweet. From start to finish, less than 1 hr and it took that long because I couldn’t be bothered to get the electric whisk out and whisked the egg whites by hand.

Excellent last minute recipe and definitely worth making again.

two lunches

Two contrasting meals yesterday vs today.

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Sunday lunch was at a busy, noisy vietnamese place. Mum had pork chop glass noodles and I had the three-way rice: red rice with chả lụa pork rolls, chicken wings and lemongrass pork chop. Came with a drink and I could upgrade to one of the special drinks. I opted for salted lemon and ginger ale. I should buy some lemon and salt and make my own preserved lemon.

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Monday lunch was homemade butternut squash soup with leftovers. I made the soup by spending the entire Sunday afternoon making turkey stock from the usual suspects: bones that have been sitting in the freezer, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, peppercorn, random herbs. Roasted the butternut squash while the stock was simmering. The soup did not need any seasoning, it was sweet from the squash and there was enough salt from the bones (was from a roast turkey). Bulked up using leftover alphabet pasta, ‘hairy’ courgette, pork chop and tofu that has also been in the freezer. Yep, frozen tofu is so totally different from regular tofu, it’s

sturdier, chewier, more flavorful

and gives another texturual dimension to a soup. I call it presentation!fail but delicious.

toad-in-a-hole

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I just felt like it, so I went to the supermarket and bought a packet of sausages. The batter is a standard pancake / yorkshire pudding mix.

150g flour
2 eggs
450ml milk
seasoning

Make a hole in the flour, add the eggs and milk and whisk until no lumps. Add s&p and herbs, I used thyme.

Heat oven to 200ºC, roast the sausages in 2tbsp oil for 5-10mins. Pour the batter into the baking tray and bake until golden, around 40mins.

I think the tray was too large so the batter was too spread out, making it a bit burnt at the bottom. In retrospect I should have bought two packets of sausages; or used a smaller baking tray.

Seasoning was nice. Crunchy on the bottom and soft in the middle. And sausages.

burns night dessert: cranachan

25-Jan is Burns Night, celebrating Robert Burns’ birthday. Traditionally Burns Night supper has a particular order. The guests are piped in, the Selkirk Grace is said:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Then the star of the meal, haggis, is piped in, welcomed by reciting the poem To A Haggis. The haggis is served with neeps & tatties, and the meal finishes with cranachan and a toast with whisky.

I like haggis, but we don’t have it readily available so it’s just normal meals today. But I did make cranachan for dessert. It’s the Scottish version of Eton Mess, really. The traditional recipe uses double cream, toasted oats, raspberries and whisky. Some chefs add their personal touches, folding a raspberry purée through the cream, macerating the fruit, substituting mascarpone, making fancy granola.

cranachan04

I didn’t want to use double cream. The smallest container I can buy is a 250ml carton, plus I don’t like plain cream. I substituted with vanilla ice cream instead.

The oats were, I’m ashamed to say, instant from a packet. This was flavoured with apple and cinnamon; the dried apple and cinnamon sugar gave a caramel-y fruity flavour when melted and mixed with the toasted oats. Quite nice.

cranachan02

It’s an assembly dessert. I put a few raspberries at the bottom of the glass, added ice cream, more raspberries then the oats. Poured over about 1tbsp whisky straight from my hip flask. Ate it with whisky. Washed down with whisky. More whisky afterwards, of course.

Happy Burns Night!

duck breast with roast potatoes and okra

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Duck breast is easy to prepare, just need a little patience. Pat dry the duck and score the skin, then season. In a cold pan, place skin side down and turn the gas to medium. Let the fat render for 6-7mins, basting the meat and removing excess fat.

The potatoes had already been parboiled and in the oven. As soon as the duck fat started rendering, add a tablespoon or two to the potatoes for flavour.

Finish the duck in the oven, when the potatoes are almost done.

We had okra in the fridge so I fried them in the same pan as the duck.

christmas day dinner

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Christmas Day dinner was traditional and fairly straightforward. Mum and I went to the market in the morning to get potatoes, carrots, salad and other veg for the week. We even found a chicken carcass for the gravy.

Menu was turkey, lamb rack, roast potato & carrot, salad. As per our family tradition, the turkey was bought pre-cooked. It’s actually really nice, juicy and not dry at all. The problem was because it doesn’t come with giblets and we can’t use the bones for this meal there is nothing to make gravy with. Hence the chicken carcass from the market which I used to make stock together with mirepoix and some herbs. Two hours at a simmer, then use it to deglaze the lamb rack roasing tray before reducing to the proper consistency. I made the lamb a tad on the rare side so it’ll warm up with the gravy and the leftovers isn’t overcooked.

Sis’ family is in the UK, so she came over. We facetimed them and shared our dinner plans.

No room for dessert, we finished off a bottle of really nice gewurtz from the US and some non-alcoholic mulled wine.

food I’ve missed in the US

cornishgamehen2015

I’m home alone in Chicago, which is okay. Read a bit, watched tv. Walked out to the nearest supermarket, an Aldi’s, to get food. Everything is in such large portions, chicken drumsticks come in a pack of 8 and fish (frozen) in a big family pack. Saw individual cornish game hens in the freezer section, so that was what I got for dinner. 180ºC for about 45mins.

spagsquashkale2015

As it was an Aldi’s, there was a limited choice for veg. Still better than at home. I bought a huge bag of kale for $1.99, then saw spaghetti squash, wow haven’t had that since…I was living in the US. Cut the squash in half and roasted with the hen. Used a fork to remove the strands and cooked with the kale. Added some goat’s cheese, because I had it. Enough veg for 3-4 meals. Overall an extremely nice homemade meal.

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Something else I missed, honeycrisp apples. All we get are red delicious and fuji apples. I can’t stand red delicious anymore and fuji are boring. I wish we can have imported honeycrisp.

 

running 12km | homemade chicken drumstick

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12km 1.30.10hr 7.31min/km

Went out to the end of bowen road and back, 12km went by quite quickly. Since it’s a public holiday, there were tons and tons of people out walking and hiking. Glad it was only out and back once for me.

On the way back I stopped at the supermarket and bought some chicken drumsticks. Grabbed a butternut squash and was horrified at the price tag at the till, so had to exchange for another type of pumpkin at a more reasonable price. Cooked it all with okra and israeli couscous. Found a small tin of olives that dated from chicago, so added to the roasting tray for flavour. There are leftovers, which ended up proving problematic as I have no fridge. Had to leave the aircon and wrap the food tightly in a box then foil.

Met mm for drinks then dinner. Many places were closed so we just went to a nearby pub and then a small diner. We’ll meet again tomorrow for lunch, so nice.

 

simple salmon

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Seems like forever since I cooked a meal for myself. Still coughing badly so I kept it simple and made salmon with grilled tomatoes. Clams were on the shelf next to the salmon so I added a handful for additional flavour. Took 10mins to make and less than that to eat.

salmon with potato stack

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We were watching a cookery competition program where one of the sets of contestants made salmon with potato stacks and asparagus with lime vinaigrette. Mum turned to me and said, “can you make this tomorrow?” So I did.

First time I made potato stack, I wonder why it took me so long? I normally bake or sautée my potatoes, but this will definitely be part of my repertoire. Thinly slice the potatoes, toss in s&p, rosemary and olive oil. Stack on a lined baking tray and bake at 200ºC for about 45mins, until golden brown on the outside and soft inside.

Didn’t have asparagus, so I made some carrot and cucumber disks that mirrored the round potato stacks. The downside was I slightly overcooked the salmon, sigh.

pan-fried salmon with caramelised fennel

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Continuing the theme of eating more fish, I made salmon and fennel for lunch.

Standard salmon fillet from Ikea—the best value and best tasting salmon available to me. I had a head of fennel but I didn’t want to turn the oven on for just one head, so I looked for pan-frying recipes. The one from Delia at bbc goodfood looks great, but like most Delia recipes, seemed a bit fiddly. My simplified method was to slice the fennel and blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes, then brown in a pan with apple balsamic, worcestershire sauce and honey. Took around 10-15mins. Pushed the fennel to the side of the pan then cooked the salmon, which is why it looks so burnt on top, it absorbed the fennel debris.

Sigh, I’ve come to realise that the vegetables I love to cook with like fennel, kale, savoy cabbage, I have limited access to. They are also extremely expensive. The salmon (frozen) was also twice the price of fresh salmon in the UK.

chilled cheesecake

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I realised I don’t have searchable recipe for chilled cheesecake. It’s hidden on an old page that was part of v1.0 of the website and no longer linked. And it’s so old it’s in ounces, so I need to update it. I’ve also based the new recipe on the packaging of ingredients available to me; the recipe converts to 350g cream cheese, but cream cheese packets are 200g, so I used 2 packets.

50g butter
120g digestives
400g cream cheese
75g caster sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
gelatine — about 1 tbsp in 3 tbsp hot water, this is powdered
250ml double cream
3 egg whites
1 punnet blueberries, or other fruit

  1. make base using butter and digestives, chill until set
  2. break up cheese, add sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice
  3. dissolve gelatine in water, add to cheese mixture
  4. add fruit
  5. whisk cream until soft peaks, fold into mixture
  6. whisk egg whites until firm peaks, fold into mixture
  7. pour mixture over base and chill till set

#pancakeday: pikelets and crêpes

pikelet07

It’s Shrove Tuesday, which means PANCAKES! No, I haven’t forgotten why we eat pancakes on the day before Lent starts.

For tea I made pikelets. I love this pop quiz:

What’s a pikelet?

Is it:

  1. a regional type of crumpet
  2. a type of pancake found in Australia and New Zealand
  3. stage name of Australian musician Evelyn Morris
  4. a North Staffordshire delicacy, a thicker form of oatcake with raisins added
  5. all of the above

The answer is (5). Most commonly the recipes I see are either (1) or (2). Complicated ones like this from Bake-off’s Ruby Tandoh that makes flat crumpets, I want to try this one day because, well, Ruby! and crumpets!!

What I used was a simple pancake-like recipe. I added blueberries because I felt like it.

150g SR flour
pinch of salt
1tbsp sugar
200ml milk
1 egg
1 punnet blueberries

Make a well in the dry ingredients, add egg and milk. Whisk slightly until no lumps, add blueberries. Drop 1 dessertspoon of the batter into olive oil/butter and cook till bubbles appear on top, flip and continue cooking till golden. Serve with blueberries and maple syrup.

Makes around 25 pikelets around 6cm (2.5in) in diameter.

So easy, and very tasty. They are small, so it’s easy to portion control. A combination of drop scones (with holes) and crumpets (less thick). Unlike pancakes, which go soggy when refridgerated, these are small enough to keep in the fridge as snacks, reheated in the microwave or eaten cold.

And because it’s pancake day, I made mushroom crêpes for dinner and served them with Ikea meatballs.

poached salmon, carrots, two potatoes

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Saturday was Valentine’s Day. What I did: running, market then teenager-sitting my niece whilst Sis and BIL went for dinner. I made poached salmon, carrots, mashed potato and purple sweet potatoes. My niece approved, the salmon was just cooked, still a little pink in the middle. She ate it all, including all the veg and potatoes, so there were no leftovers. I’m particularly pleased about this, becuase she is a picky eater.

What mm did: went to a seminar on St Francis. I guess I could have gone with her if I didn’t have to spend time with my niece. Hmm, thinking about it, nope I wouldn’t.

banana cranberry bread

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This banana bread recipe from the Mary Berry era is so old that the measurements are in oz. It is so tried and tested that I didn’t convert to grams—113g butter sounds funny.

4oz butter
4oz sugar
2 large eggs
8oz plain flour
2tsp bp
3 bananas, crushed
handful dried cranberries
1 vanilla pod

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk in eggs one at a time. Add bananas, cranberries and scrape vanilla beans from pod. Fold in flour, bp, add a splash of milk to loosen the mixture. Bake at 180°C for 45-50mins until a skewer comes out clean.

Traditionally it’s banana & walnut bread but I’ve never used walnuts because I don’t like them. For a slightly modern twist I added a handful of dried cranberries, taking inspiration from chocolat et zucchini—if Ms Dusoulier can do it, so can I. The cranberries added a tart taste and made the whole thing less stodgy.

We had it straight out of the oven so it was extra nice. Everybody liked it because it wasn’t too sweet.

#58 new recipe: double chocolate tart

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Tasks #49-58 of 101.1001 are to try 10 new recipes. It’s great that the 10th one turned out so nice.

I’ve mentioned before that even though I’ve been baking for a long time, it’s usually cakes and biscuits. I only tried bread a few months ago and choux is the only pastry I’m comfortable with. I rarely work with the most basic pastry of them all: shortcrust.

So we were watching MKR4 repeat and I decided to try the double chocolate tart one team made, because it looked so indulgent.

for the pastry:
150g cold butter
185g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
50g icing sugar
1 egg yolk

for the filling:
350g chocolate
80ml cream
50g brown sugar
2 eggs + 4 egg yolks

Sift the flour, cocoa and icing sugar into a large bowl, mix butter until resembling breadcrumbs. In the recipe they use a food processor but I couldn’t find mine, and besides I’m not sure it works anymore. Takes longer using hands but it’s not too bad. Put the mixture back in the fridge for 5mins to cool, then add the egg yolk. Combine into a dough. Initially I thought one egg yolk surely wasn’t enough to bind so much dry ingredients, but it worked after a bit of elbow grease. Knead on a flat surface briefly. Chill dough in fridge for 30mins.

Roll out dough to a tart tin. Well, I don’t have a tart tin, so I used half the dough and rolled out into a regular small cake tin, mending gaps where necessary. I tried to trim the side so it was flat. Cool the pastry in the fridge for 5mins, then blind bake at 180°C for 15mins with baking beans, followed by 10mins without. Didn’t have baking beans at parents’ place, so substituted with rice.

While the baked pastry case cools, make the filling. Melt chocolate and cream in a bain marie. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, egg yolk and sugar until frothy. Combine with melted chocolate carefully then pour into pastry case. Bake at 160°C for 30mins. Cool at room temperature, then in fridge until set.

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The pastry was quite short, may be a tad too short, but I like it. The filling was rich and, yes, indulgent. Should have served it with strawberries or raspberries but didn’t have it. Added to the richness by pouring a little cream over. I’ll have to buy a proper tart tin, it’s one of those desserts I’m going to add to my repertoire.
 

#59 make vanilla extract

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Task #59 of 101.1001 is to make vanilla extract.

Vanilla beans are expensive, so it’s a waste to discard the pods after using the beans. (In my case the beans went into some really creamy homemade vanilla ice cream.) Vanilla extract, the good stuff, is also quite expensive. It’s actually really easy to make from vanilla beans and some alcohol. Most recipes use vodka because it’s flavourless, but bourbon, brandy or rum can also be used to impart an extra flavour dimension.

I’ve had one bottle with bourbon sitting for a couple of months, and it smells divine. The bottle is just a screwtop soft drink bottle, I could use prettier bottles or mason jars but why waste money? I also have another bottle with vodka in the cupboard, that one is newer, about 2-3 weeks. The good thing is I can continue to add used vanilla pods and alcohol and the extract lasts for years.

Haven’t used it in cooking yet, can’t wait. 

vanilla pannacotta

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I had some cream in the fridge I needed to use up, so I made pannacotta. Four ingredients: 500ml double cream, heated with 50g sugar and the seeds from one vanilla pod. When almost boiling, remove from heat and add to 2tsp gelatin powder already soaking in 3tbsp water.

A little too set, due to unfamiliar gelatin. But so rich, and so vanilla-y, can see all the seeds in the dessert. There was some discussion on a Paul Hollywood Pies & Puds program about the colour of pannacotta, whether it should be white or yellow. The chefs say white, but he had guest dairy farmers who brought in the richest, creamiest clotted cream from Devon and the pannacotta he made was yellow. It depends on the cream. The cream I used was good double cream, and the result was defiantly creamy yellow.

Ideally I would have liked to serve it with mixed berries or at the very least strawberries. Alas, the strawberries at the market were expensive and looked terrible. So mum opened a can of peaches. Heh, we’re not running a michelin star establishment here. 

uncle wong’s homemade birthday dinner

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Original plan was to visit mm’s family friends for a bit, then do our own thing. We ended up visiting with them all day. It was uncle wong’s 70th birthday, and he was preparing his own birthday dinner. He took us all over the place to shop—specific shops for chicken, roasted meat and seafood. It was a veritable feast that was better and healthier than what you’d get at a restaurant. Lots of seafood, mostly steamed and the chicken and meat were from outside.

He made steamed sea prawns, steamed abalone, winter pickle steamed lion fish, steamed lung dun fish, scallops with vermicelli, vegetables, chicken, chicken feet, roast suckling pig. Delicioius, the sign of someone who loves cooking. 

roasted spatchcock

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When I was still working and living on my own, my staple was roast chicken. Usually thighs or legs. I’d roast a batch at the weekend and it’d be my lunch for 2-3 days. For some reason, parents don’t roast chicken a lot — questionable quality of chicken? Or they prefer lamb.

Well, I felt like roast chicken, so I dragged mum to the market and bought a fresh chicken and some vegetables. Spatchcocked and seasoned with lemon zest, italian seasoning and butter rubbed between the skin and the meat. 40mins at 180ºC roasted British style with carrots in the tray (we forgot potatoes).

I had par boiled the carrots before hand so the water together with pan juices made a simple gravy. I was well impressed, the breast was soft and juicy and not dry at all. I don’t eat chicken breast when I’m eating out because of dryness, this time I preferred the breast.
 

#homemade chocolate truffles

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250g dark chocolate
250ml double cream
knob of butter

Break chocolate into small pieces in a bowl. Heat cream and butter until almost boiling, then pour onto the chocolate pieces. Stir until chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Leave in fridge overnight to set.

Use a small spoon and hands to shape gently then roll in cocoa powder or chopped nuts. I also made a small batch that had a splash of highland park added. It was quite strong. Made around 30 truffles in total. 

handmade vanilla ice cream

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When I was in Chicago during the summer, I walked past a Williams-Sonoma, couldn’t help but go inside and ended up buying a couple of zoku ice cream makers. I don’t have space for an ice cream maker, so this small bowl seemed to be a great idea — no churning, and it claims to make ice cream in 10mins.

I’ve watched enough cookery competition programs to know that the best ice cream is made from a custard base. The recipe I used is from david liebovitz, one of the few american cookery writers who give metric measurements. I used half his recipe.

125ml milk — I used hi-calcium 2% milk, because that’s what I have in my fridge
75g sugar — I think this is too much, next time I’ll start with 50g
3 egg yolks — I splurged and bought best quality organic “intense flavour” eggs from japan
250ml whipping cream
1 vanilla pod — if I halved the recipe I should have used half a pod, but I used a whole one anyway, I scraped the seeds out and the pod is now soaking in bourbon to make vanilla extract

Gently heat milk, sugar and vanilla seeds until sugar has melted. Slowly add to egg yolks, whisk and return to pan. Heat very slowly, stirring constantly to make the custard, it will be ready when it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Cool.

In a separate bowl, cool the cream in an ice bath. Add the custard, stir and whisk until thickened and cold. The mixture can be kept in the fridge until ready to make the ice cream.

The instructions for the zoku is to chill the inner bowl in the freezer for 12hrs. The bowl is made of an inner metallic bowl and an outer ceramic bowl with coolant inside. At room temperature I can shake the bowl and feel the fluid sloshing inside. When frozen the coolant feels solid.

To make the ice cream, add a portion of the custard mixture to the frozen bowl, no more than half full. Then stir, fold and scrape for about 10mins until the mixture turns from a thick liquid to frozen ice cream. It really works!

Because all the ingredients are fresh and of good quality, and because I used real cream and a whole vanilla pod, the ice cream tasted unbelievable. Smooth and rich and creamy and simply irrestible.

#56 new recipe: chicken ballotine

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Tasks #49-58 of 101 in 1001 are to try 10 new recipes. This is #8, the third savoury and only the second meat recipe.

One of the classics in cooking history is Jacques Pepin deboning a whole chicken, stuffing it and making a galantine, a truly amazing demonstration of butchery and cooking skills. Nowadays I see chefs on masterchef and cookery competition programs making ballotine of chicken, duck, veal or another meat. There are many names, Pepin’s galantine, Americans favour roulade and ballotine seems to be used in the UK and commonwealth. It all comes down to the same concept: meat swiss roll with some stuffing (meat, vegetables or a combination) rolled up in an outer layer of meat.

This is a recipe I worked out myself, inspired by bonappetit. Serves 4 with sides, or 2 very hungry adults:

  1. pan fry 2 chicken thighs, season and dice to small bite-size pieces
  2. dice mushroom into small pieces, cook with chopped reconstituted dried porcini and sun-dried tomato, season
  3. combine thigh with mushroom mixture to make the filling and leave to cool
  4. butterfly 2 chicken breasts, cover with clingfilm and flatten slightly — not as flat as an escalope, around 1cm thick, season with s&p
  5. layer jamon, fresh basil, emmental slices on top of the chicken breast — jamon because the packet I bought was from spain, I was initially aiming for prosciutto; emmental because that’s what I found in the fridge, mozzarella or provolone will work just as well
  6. spoon on filling and roll carefully, secure with toothpick if necessary — it was difficult to roll so I used another slice of jamon on the outside
  7. sear in a pan until golden brown
  8. transfer to oven and bake at 180°C for 10mins
  9. rest for 5mins then slice

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Served the ballotine with roast potatoes, mushroom and cherry tomato. I made some sauce by combining the mushroom cooking liquid with the water from the porcini and sun-dried tomato. It tasted really good, I only cooked the chicken breast for 10mins so it was still juicy.

cny roast lamb

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Normally for CNY people eat certain traditional foods because they sound like certain lucky words, or with stuff like abalone is to show how prosperous they are, or with chicken because there’s always chicken in festive meals. These are good examples from Singapore, but don’t believe everything online: these are ridiculous and inaccurate examples.

For our CNY meal, we had…roast lamb, potatoes and carrots. Hahaha, definitely not traditional. But who cares, it’s cooking and eating food we like. It was a boneless leg of lamb that I roasted for 2hrs with the vegs. A little overdone, but still juicy. The gravy from the roasting tray and water that was used to parboil the vegs. There’s enough to serve 12 people, lots of yummy leftovers.

bacon egg pancake stack

bacon egg pancake stack

Mum and I saw this in the newspaper, about some restaurant café that was serving a bacon and egg pancake stack. The article made it out to be some newfangled thing, to combine savoury and sweet. The saying about the frog at the bottom of the well comes to mind. Anyway, we decided we should try our own version. Cheated and used pancake mix that she has in the cupboard, and some weird ham-like bacon she had in the freezer. She wanted scrambled eggs, so the fried egg topper I had in mind had to be adjusted. I know I could have made scrambled for her plate and fried for mine, but couldn’t be arsed. Threw in some blueberries because we have 8 punnets in the fridge.

Breakfast for dinner, yum. Next time I’ll try to find American-styled crispy bacon, and fry the egg. I’ll also use rings, or my tiny 4” frying pan, so the pancakes are the same size. There might be a next time, because we have a jar of maple syrup now.

boxing day family gathering

Everyone’s mood seemed to have improved, so it looked like it would be a nice day. There was still quite a lot to do in terms of cooking, so I made a rough schedule and banned my parents from the kitchen. Too many cooks and all that. Sis arrived at around 10.30am so she helped with a lot of prepping and was in charge of the salad and gravies. With 2 out of 8 being vegetarians, plus limited hob and oven space, I had to be careful food didn’t get cross contaminated, were cooked properly and all ready at around the same time. Didn’t help with hob space that I decided to make the mulled wine early so Sis and I could drink it while cooking, heehee!

 

I was aiming for 12pm, and everyone was sat and eating by 12.15pm. Happy and proud of that. Turkey and bratwurst were cooked and heated in the small oven. Potatoes dominated the large oven for most of the morning — chopping, parboiling and roasting 12 potatoes to crunchiness was important. Made a large pan of mixed mushrooms, white bamboo asparagus and cabbage. Two types of gravy, cranbery sauce and a greek salad. For the veggies there was vegetarian sausage and a nut loaf. For ease of washing up we used paper plates and plastic utensils.

My plate looked like a mess but everything was GOOD! Had second helpings too.

In the end, we decided against steaming the pudding for 2hrs and microwaved it instead. Took around 10mins, perfect time for me to make the custard. Lots of leftovers, which I’m actually looking forward to.

Opened presents, we all kept mainly to food this year: chocolate, biscuits, nuts, crisps. Sis gave me a bottle of chocolate wine and I got a multi-purpose wine opener from T&D, there’s a theme here! Played the wii with my niece for a bit, then they went home mid-afternoon. Too full for dinner, I just had some fruit.

pork knuckle

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It’s cooking with mum day. For lunch we had pork knuckle, baked purple sweet potatoes and tomatoes. The pork knuckle was ready made so it was just reheating. The sweet potatoes we par boiled for 10mins before baking at 180°C for about 20mins. So sweet, so great — purple vegetables are my all time favourite. I sliced the pork and halved the sweet potatoes, everything served Jamie Oliver style on a wooden board.

Dinner was salmon, the same sweet potatoes and steamed thick white asparagus. This is not the same white asparagus as I used to get, these are really thick, almost as big as a small leek. Still have the delicate asparagus flavour though.

chocolate mousse for mum

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It’s probably only a slight exaggeration to say that I can make this chocolate mousse in my sleep. I’ve done it so many times, and served it to so many people, it’s sort of a signature dish of mine. Mum felt like it, so I made it and tried to teach her. Usually I make it from dark toblerone, but we couldn’t find it so I used a good quality Belgian 70% dark chocolate.

Four ingredients only, and 4 steps:

  1. melt 300g chocolate and a knob of butter over a bain marie
  2. separate 3 eggs; add chocolate mixture to egg yolks when melted and cooled — slowly, otherwise there’d be scrambled eggs
  3. whisk egg whites, fold into chocolate mixture
  4. whisk 500ml whipping cream, add to chocolate mixture, leave in fridge to set for at least 1 hour

The end result was smooth and very rich, the chocolate was good. Sprinkled a little grated chocolate on top for decoration. We liked it.

mango yogurt tofu

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At parents’ and trying a new recipe for fake cheesecake made from yogurt and tofu. Supposed to be a quick recipe. The problem is, mum doesn’t have a cake tin. So I made the digestive crumb in dessert glasses. Combined 250g firm packaged tofu with 300g mango yogurt. The mixture was pretty lumpy, the recipe said to mix in a food processer which obviously we don’t have, so I sieved it. Added some diced mango and a little gelatin to set.

The mixture was still pretty lumpy, and there was probably too many mango pieces. When set, it looked like rather unsuccessful rice pudding. Tasted nice though, especially topped with even more delicious fresh mango pieces and a small drizzle of honey. It’s like sweet tofu, but with a little creaminess from the yogurt. I can see how the fake cheesecake version may be good. Only for people who like tofu though, and the idea of sweet tofu isn’t to everybody’s taste. Nice low calorie dessert. Will try with mixed berries yogurt and strawberry topping next time.

I really have to work on following recipe portions and presentation.

pan-fried catfish

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I have very little comprehension of American southern food. It seems that everything is fried and there’s a lot of carbs, although I understand how frying makes everything taste good. To be honest and like many non-Americans, I’m horrified by Paula Deen but on the other hand I secretly want to try her restaurant just once. Preferably during the latter stages of marathon training when my metabolism is turbo-charged and I can eat whatever I like.

So, I have a couple of catfish filets in my freezer. Normally I’d just grill them or lightly pan-fry but I was surfing around and it turns out that fried catfish is a typical southern dish. It’s coated with cornmeal and fried. May be worth trying.

I have no cornmeal, it’s an ingredient I’m unfamiliar with. I doubt I can find it — or it’d be extremely expensive. I do have polenta except the box isn’t opened and I don’t want to use it yet. So I breaded the fish with a packet of instant grits. It’s either that or normal flour, or oatmeal. Grits is basically a coarser version of cornmeal, right?

Standard breading procedure — flour, eggwash, grits. The grits were flavoured with s&p, a little paprika and some oregano. (I felt like oregano, it’s not obviously a southern herb.) Then fried. I was using the grill pan for courgettes so I just used the same pan for the fish, ideally I should have used a normal frying pan.

Tasted great, even though it didn’t look that good. Fish was succulent and the breading was crispy. I know, I need to work on my presentation.

beet chicken

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While I’m not sure, sadly, if I’ll ever get fresh yellow beets again (the ones in the pic are from the farmers market in Chicago), I can get the regular red beets. Easy oven job, roast beets, roast corn on the cob, chicken drumsticks.

bavette steak

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Having defrosted the freezer, and with mm coming on Friday, I needed to replenish my food supply. Went to Whole Foods to get balsamic vinegar and veal rib roast, then saw bavette steak on special. 350g for only £3-ish. I’d never cooked bavette steak before, and a little online research reveals that it’s also known as flank or flap steak. Marinated it overnight with soy sauce, worcestershire sauce and garlic. Fast grilling to ensure it stays medium rare, rested for 10mins. Nice flavour. Even at this doneness, it’s not exactly soft and a tiny bit tough, but I’d definitely buy it again.

butternut squash soup, veal rib roast

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What I ate today. Veal rib roast with cabbage, tomato and rocket salad for lunch. Roasted from frozen, 770g took about 1.5hrs for rare. No, I didn’t eat the whole joint, just one chop. It was nicely pink and very juicy.

For dinner I had roasted butternut squash and carrot soup, totally homemade, even the stock which was from the bones I had in the freezer. Not sure what exactly they were, hehe, my freezer bones are normally a mixture of chicken, duck and it may have even included guinea fowl and squab. The butternut squash made the soup so, so sweet. Crumbled a bit of stilton when serving, to give a bit of creaminess.

couscous stuffed pepper

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I’m at home most of this week, no need to go out or eat out till Friday, so plenty of opportunities to eat simply. Weeks like this, I want to try to have at least one vegetarian day. Made yellow and red pepper stuffed with mushroom, halloumi and Israeli couscous. This is my favourite stuffing, I can just eat it by the spoonful. The Israeli (aka giant aka pearl) couscous adds taste and chewiness that regular couscous, being too small, doesn’t have.

I ran 20 miles so I can eat whatever I want

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‎32.22km (20mi) 3:58:35hr 7:24min/km (11:56 min/mi)

Second 20 miler of this training cycle; and then the taper begins. It was a hot day, luckily there was some wind. I ate a big ham & egg sandwich for breakfast and took off at 9:30am. So happy that the water fountains are back on, I was running out of liquid at one point. Refilled and immediately drank half a bottle. Managed the full 20 miles in just under 4hrs, a bit slower than the first 20 miler, pretty pleased with the pace.

I was exhausted when I got home. Didn’t have any energy to do anything but sit on my sofa with my feet up for half an hour before my calves stopped hurting so I could go shower. Then mm whatsapped me, and Mum wanted to skype. Sigh.

The upside of running 20 miles is…I can eat whatever I want. I got this bone-in rib from Whole Foods a while back, it was on sale. 700g (24oz) for £9-something. At Hawksmoor, it’s £9 per 100g, so this was bargain compared to eating out. I know, can’t compare restaurant food with home-cooked food. Instead of Hawksmoor’s extremely hot charcoal grill, I grilled mine slowly on the hob and had it with cavolo negro (black cabbage), carrots and mushroom. Tasted great. Couldn’t eat the whole thing, may be about 2/3rd.

roasted quail

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I like shopping at Waitrose because they have more unusual stuff. Yesterday I saw prepared guinea fowl and quail. I haven’t had small game birds for a while so I bought the quail to try. They are already trussed up ready for the oven. Season and roast for 25mins at 190°C, basting a couple of times, and they are ready. They are quite small, so 2 of them, especially on a running day. Great to eat with fingers. Very tasty, succulent and not dry at all.

baked side of salmon

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I bought a whole side of salmon 1kg, half price at £10, a great bargain. Instead of slicing into individual steaks, I baked the whole piece in the oven at 180°C, with butter and fresh lemon thyme. Ready in 25mins. I can get 8 very generous portions out of this, fantastic.

homemade roast duck

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It’s been a while since I did wholesale home cooking. Dinner today was something I’ve had before — roast gressingham duck, carrots & parsnips and cabbage. Didn’t need sauce, the duck was very tender. I also stuck a few slices of orange into the cavity as it was roasting to give it a slight tangy flavour. I also made roast chicken thighs for lunch, sautéed savoy cabbage, baby corn and the said carrots & parsnips.