28 May 2012

Quick tart

All you need to make this is some puff pastry, some onions and some other veg. It's a simple thing one might easily arrive at when discovering an aged block of pastry in a overlooked freezer drawer. In fact that's exactly what happened here.

  • puff pastry
  • onions or shallots
  • olive oil
  • sage
  • tomatoes
  • cured meat
  • feta or salad cheese

Roll out the pastry and preheat the oven to a hottish setting.

Meanwhile fry your onions or shallots (whose mild flavours would go very well here) in some oil. Add some sage towards the end, and some sweet cherry tomatoes. Prepare anything else you want on there - a feta type white cheese goes well here, as does any type of sausage or cured meat. We used some Polish sausage. Chuck everything on an put into the oven for about half an hour.

Part way through the cooking monitor the toppings - there is obviously a risk that the onions may burn before the pastry in the centre has cooked. If it looks like this is happening put some foil over the tart and give it a bit more time. It's not an exact science so monitor carefully.

Like a cross between a pizza and a quiche, this egg-less entity is very easy to prepare. It's pretty rich, so serve with a big pile of greens or perhaps a mustardy leaf salad to offset things. By it's very nature it's also highly adaptable, although some nice juicy tomatoes are highly advised.

18 May 2012

Garlic soup

This recipe was brought to my attention by a friend who cooked it for dinner once. It's a version of garlic soup which uses both roast and raw garlic cooked in the soup mix to create a distinct but far from overpowering flavour, which is then enriched by parmesan and cream.

You are going to need -
  • 26 garlic cloves (unpeeled)
  • some olive oil
  • two small sliced onions
  • a teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 18 garlic cloves, peeled
  • four cups of chicken or veg stock
  • some single cream
  • finely grated parmesan
  • plenty of lemon

Roast the unpeeled garlic for around 40 minutes. Fry the onions with the thyme for 15 minutes with some olive oil.

Add the raw garlic, the roast garlic (sans jackets naturally) and the stock and cook for half an hour. When everything seems ready blitz the mixture, remove from the heat and add a little cream. Serve with a grating of parmesan and a squeeze of lemon.

I'm not sure this recipe needs as much cream as the original blog suggests. It does make a wonderfully tasty and rich soup, a perfect starter in fact, but with a little less you could have a larger bowl of it which, with some bread, would make a good lunch.

The lemon really lifts the taste and should not be missed. I wonder if perhaps it's possible to skip the roasting stage of the garlic to simplify the recipe and make things quicker? Either way, it's delicious.

11 May 2012

Lap yuk - Chinese air dried bacon

I've had a months' sabbatical from SDON having become a bit unmotivated with blogging. Hopefully I'm now suitably refreshed and ready to get back into the swing of things. The most interesting thing I've made recently has been lap yuk - air dried Chinese bacon.

First up props to the original source: Sunflower Food Galore, one of my favourite food blogs. If you want loads of interesting East Asian and specifically Chinese recipes head over. The archives are a gold mine.

Sunflower's lap yuk recipe can be found here - I followed it more or less to the letter so I won't bother repeating it all.

This is a very easy first step into the world of curing meats, a world which may seem intimidating at first. The only specialist ingredient is Prague powder (also known as Instacure or curing salt or pink salt). The key thing to note is that there are actually two Prague powders/Instacures/pink salts - Number 1 always contains 93.75% table salt (sodium chloride) and 6.25% sodium nitrite. Number 2 always contains 89.75% table salt, 6.25% sodium nitrite and 4% of the slower acting sodium nitrate. Number 1 is used for fresh sausages and Number 2 for air dried sausages as well as whole meat products like this bacon or the Italian coppa.

The sodium nitrate and nitrate helps cure the meat, preserves pink colours in certain things and discourages dangerous bacteria including that responsible for botulism. Neither versions are expensive and can be easily obtained on Ebay or Amazon. Safety warning - in large amounts they are toxic so be careful with amounts in recipes and don't let any kids near them!

Right, with that out the way here is what you are going to need (cribbed from Sunflower).

  • 1.75 - 2 kg belly pork
  • 1/2 cup of light soy
  • 1 tbsp dark soy
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2.5 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp five spice
  • 2 tsp crushed Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/3 cup Shaoshing wine
  • 5g #2 cure salt (Prague #2 or insta cure #2)

Get your butcher to cut the pork belly into long thick strips. Mix all the other ingredients together to make a marinade (shown up top). I added a few chillies too. Put the meat in a sealed bag with the liquid.

Keep the bacon in the fridge for three or four days and turn once or twice per day so all areas are exposed to the wicked flavours.

Remove the meat, put some string through the end and hang up somewhere with a slight breeze. My long suffering co-habitees let me use our curtain rail.

These two photos were taken after a couple of days of hanging. You can clearly see the meat has lost some mass (in the form of moisture). It's also darkened a lot. That's the result of both the wet cure in the fridge with the salt and sodium nitrate/nitrite and the gradual air drying.

context shot of location

Sunflower recommends a week's drying. My bacon is seen in cross-section below and I've got to say was (is) bloody tasty. Big success this one. I've only had lap yuk a couple of times - most memorably in an excellent stir-fry at Gourmet San with leek and crispy tofu - but the taste of this was absolutely spot on. It's got an extremely strong flavour - salty, fatty but most of all muskily meaty, with the warmth and perfume of the spices coming through at the end.

Hold tight for some recipes involving the bacon. I've found it most straightforward to use as lardons or slices in stir-frys. I chop the bacon and fry it first before adding chilli pastes, garlic etc. This allows some of the fat to render out and subsequently coat the stir-fry, and also the chance for the fat to crisp up a little. The skin is pretty chewy, I think it's fine to remove it if it's not too your taste. From a bit of googling I'd guess that steaming the bacon is the most popular and traditional means of cooking, however I'm very fond of frying it to obtain some crispiness.

As a first go at curing meat lap yuk was a highly satisfying experience. Easy and very rewarding, I've got my hands on a copy of Charcuterie and an old school meat mincer for sausage making so watch this space.

A few thoughts:
  • Make sure you get the pork belly end without the ribs in. Most of mine was boneless but it had mini cartilaginous proto-ribs at one one as you can see above (the two central white circles).
  • Check the bacon after five or six days drying as mine was very hard after seven.
  • It's a strong tasting and robust kind of thing, so don't worry too much about exact details!

12 April 2012

Lemony aubergine soup

Cooking aubergines on a gas top is one of those thing you can't believe you've never done before. It's well easy, and a great way to cook them that avoid using a load of oil. You stick them over a naked gas flame, rotate occasionally and after about fifteen minutes you've some beautifully soft and giving aubergines ready for baba ganoush, or in this case soup. This Ottolenghi recipe (from his first book) is extremely simple. All you need is:

  • plenty of aubergine
  • some cream
  • some stock
  • lots of lemon
  • a bit of basil
Cook half your aubos as I have described. When soft allow to cool and peel off their skins. Chop roughly.

Meantime, fry the other half of your aubergines, cubed, in some olive oil. When they are soft combine all the aubergines and top up with some stock. Cook this for thirty minutes. When it seems done season, squeeze loads of lemon juice in, top off with a lick of cream (off the boil so it doesn't curdle) and chuck on a few basic leaves.

Very easy. Also very tasty, though the soup has a delicate appeal that wasn't immediately evident. It was consumed alongside the green pancakes of wonder, and such was our delight in them that the soup was over-shadowed. However, once reassessed after a few more spoons it was judged positively. It's quite light and simple - there is just the one vegetable in it - but the mix of smoke from the grill, sharpness from the lemon and richness from the cream was just the ticket with a bit of toasted pitta.

3 April 2012

Red braised pork chops with carrots and garlic

Another day another Szechuan pork dish. I've cooked red-braised pork quite a few times - it's a total Chinese classic, a piece of piss to do and reputedly Mao's favourite meal. You braise pork in some liquid flavoured with cooking wine, soy, aromatic spices including star anise and cinnamon, a little dried chilli and sweetened with sugar. When the pork is tender you are done. Couldn't be easier really, and doubtless there's any many local variations as there are cooks.

Now Chinese culinary doctrine will tell you that everything in a meal has to be a similar size and grab-ale with chopsticks. European cuisines are more familiar with a large single piece of meat that can be cut with a knife and accompanying veg to be scooped with a fork. This is a slightly Anglicised version of the Chinese classic then - whole pork chops red braised, this time with lots of garlic and some carrots.

  • pork chops
  • half a head of garlic per person
  • two carrots per person
  • Soy, Shaoxing wine, veg oil
  • two chillies, one star anise, one stick cinnamon
  • sugar

Give your pork a quick purge by adding cold water and heating until it begins to boil and scum comes off the meat. This step allegedly cleanses the meat, although I'm unsure of the actual scientific thought behind the process.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of sugar in a pan with some oil until it turns liquid. Add all the other ingredients except the carrots and top up with water.

Simmer away for fifteen minutes and add the carrots in big chunks. Give everything a stir and flip the meat around so it all gets cooked. Simmer for another forty-five minutes or so and leave the lid off towards the end so the sauce thickens up. The garlic will totally dissolve and form a sauce. It's best to go mad with the garlic - bear in mind it becomes very mild when cooked. Taste the sauce and adjust with soy or anything else.

Man, this was tasty. It's quite sweet and mild so I suggest getting your necessary chilli fix by adding pickled or salted chillies from a jar to some greens on the side. The liquid ends up wonderfully thickened with dissolved garlic and makes an admirable sauce. Whole chops will take a while longer than pieces of pork, so make sure you leave an hour to cook them. All you need is some plain rice and you've a wonderful and pretty straight-forward dinner to enjoy.

28 March 2012

Sweet potato gratin with peanut butter, chilli and lime

This is a dish for the tail end of winter. The clocks have now changed and we are fully into spring. And how welcome it is. However there's still some chill in the air along with the sun, and evenings are not yet as warm as they might be. Get a load of this extremely rich dish, although I'd be tempted to tone down the amount of cream next time. The full recipe is on the Guardian but you are going to need:

  • sweet potato
  • chilli, garlic
  • cream
  • crunchy peanut butter
  • lime

Slice your potato and mix with cream and the flavourings. Layer up in a bowl and add the peanut butter in little blobs. Finish off layering the dish and bake at gas mark 5 for around 50 minutes. Serve with more lime squeezed on top and (this is essential!) something very plain such as steamed greens (and beetroot salad).

Peanut and chilli is of course a well tested combination. Lime and sweet potatoes might also occur alongside nuts and spice in a Thai curry. So it's perhaps not as unusual combination as it might seem - an Thai accented dish of English comfort food with spice as well as richness. Not an absolute knock-out dish but certainly worth a look. Possibly very satisfying to eat in bed.

20 March 2012

Green pancakes with lime butter

First things first - this is an absolute winner. It's the perfect thing for a weekend brunch or lunch, or in our case a rainy Sunday's film club. Airy, light, spiced pancakes with a pleasingly raw and green taste and a sharp lime and chilli butter. Wondrous. You can find the full version from the Guardian here. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients - most of them are regular household things that you may have around the house, and you can easily bodge a few bits.

  • butter, lime zest and juice, salt and pepper, chilli flakes, raw garlic for the butter
  • self-raising flour
  • eggs
  • baking powder
  • spinach, green chilli, spring onions
  • milk, egg, butter
  • ground cumin

Make the butter by creaming all of the ingredients needed together. Use common sense as to amounts but  aim for a punchy and strong tasting result with lots of lime. It should look a bit like this...

The correct amounts for the pancakes can be found in the Guardian link. I think you could put even slightly more spinach in the mix. Fresh green chillies give an amazing edge to things and should not be missed, and the egg whites are essential in making a fluffy pancake.

Fry with keenness, speed and vigour. Top with the butter and enjoy. We had these with aubergine soup (to be blogged soon) but you could have with poached eggs, salads, hummus or whatever else.

This is one of the best Ottolenghi recopies I've ever tasted. Don't delay

12 March 2012

Breakfast eggs with sobrasada

It's a self-evident truth that eggs are good for breakfast. It's also clear that pork of all kinds goes well with eggs. This dish joins the dots to make a quick, tasty and pretty damn tasty breakfast/brunch (or indeed lunch or tea).

Sobrasada is a soft, spreadable chorizo somewhat akin to nduja, although made with less evidently dog-food profile pork. I got this one at Brindisa at Borough Market for £4.50 which was ok as it's pretty big. The lady there recommended spreading it on toast or stuffing a chicken with it. I'd imagine it would go sensationally well in a bean based stew with garlic and paprika, or indeed with some shellfish. Funny how spiced pork becomes more seasoning than meat, ready to leand savour and charm to most other foods.

You are going to need -
  • spring onions, peppers and/or mushrooms, tomatoes
  • eggs
  • sobrasada (or nduja or another soft spiced sausage)
  • cumin, dried chilli, olive oil

I'd say spring onions are near essential for this dish. You could use normal onions but spring onions have the edge as they cook so quickly which keeps the food in the ten-minutes-on-a-hangover bracket. Chuck them in a pan with some olive oil, cumin and chilli flakes. Cook for a few minutes. Add a few sweet cherry tomatoes and some chopped red pepper and/or mushroom. Add the sobrasada. Fry all this for a few minutes so the tomatoes have broken down to make a sauce, the peppers are half way to being soft and the meat gives up some of its oil. Crack the eggs in (two each, natch) and leave on a low heat with a lid on the pan.

The lid helps to cook the eggs and you'll end up with a lovely consistency part way between baked and fried. Have some good crusty bread and you're good to go. They are quite slippery when removing from the pan as evidenced by the plate below!

If you fancy making some sobrasada yourself there is a recipie here. I've found that a little goes quite a long way and fully expect mine to last a while. Thick (and yes - unctuous) it is rich, highly flavoured and more versatile than, say, guanciale. Recommended.

29 February 2012

Beans with sorrel and gammon

This is a variant of Ottolenghi's butter bean and sorrel salad. Sorrel is not in too many places but it did crop up on Ridley Road market so I bagged some quick sharp. It turned out being more of a stew than a a salad and was pretty heavily modified with the inclusion of some green chillies and a mix of bean rather than just butter beans.

  • spring onions
  • lots of garlic
  • a few mild fresh chillies
  • beans
  • sorrel
  • feta

Start by frying the garlic, spring onions and chilli in olive oil.

After five minutes add beans of some sort. Right at the end add the sorrel - be warned it discolours quickly and vigorously to a disagreeable pond-green. You can either choose to have it more or less raw and retain its nice colour and texture or accept that it's going to melt in to the background as slime. Here is more what the dish is supposed to look like. Crumble your feta over it at the end and add some salt and pepper.

Beans and pork go together well - it's a natural marriage recognised by all right-headed people around the world. These beans would obviously be great as a salad or side dish but if you add some sort of pork they will do as a full meal. We had it with gammon, but some meaty sausages would be very nice. Sorrel has an extremely unusual sharp-sour taste which dissipates with cooking. It is a pleasantly astringent foil to something a bit blander like the beans, and a leaf I would definitely use again.

27 February 2012

Carrot and apple jam

I made this jam a while ago after foraging a load of apples from a tree growing in a farmer's field in Norfolk. The tree was alone and stood the the edge of the field as if it had grown there by chance, or been seeded by a careless walker's discarded snack. The apples were rotting beneath it. This is the first jam I've ever made.

I've thought carrots would go quite well with the apple in a jam due to their high sugar content - they do after all crop up in Indian sweets and carrot cake. Not being the jamming expert I needed a recipe to follow and found this one online. Its small amount of ingredients and straightforward sounding processes were appealing – I immediately decided to ramp up the ginger to get good harmonies going with the carrot. It does include a silly suggestion of adding a few drops of food colouring to  get a really orange colour which needless to say is not the SDON way at all. So you're going to need -

  • 500g apples
  • 300g carrots
  • a medium - large piece of stem ginger chopped
  • 625g sugar
  • pinches of cinnamon and chilli
  • juice of two lemons

Grate your vegetables - remember the magimix is your friend. Far too arduous to attempt by hand.

Combine all the ingredients and cook down until, well, jammy. Being a novice I went too far here and by the time the jam had later cooled it had gone a bit too solid. It still tastes delicious mind, but it's in semi-solid chunks and not great for spreading. The taste though, is wonderful - extremely sweet, with the toffee-ish texture giving way to caramel, then the warmth of the ginger and finally the sweet shreds of carrot. I think it is slightly too sweet actually, so have lowered the amount of sugar above accordingly.

As well as your standard toast and butter combo this jam went very well with a bit of gruyere - just a smidgeon of jam was enough to set of the nutty cheese very nicely. It's not really so far from the chilli jams that we use in savoury food so I wouldn't be too slavish in only using it for sweet dishes. The other thing it would be sensational in I think is some sort of jammed up treacle tart or sponge pudding....

17 February 2012

Steamed beef with rice meal (fen zheng niu rou)

The idea of steaming meat in a coat of rice flour is one that caught my eye a year or two, before I had even started cooking Sichuan or Hunanese food at home. It was in the form of the excellent Eating Asia's Mizheng Rou. Basically you slow steam meat with a load of spices and smashed up rice and the rice gradually cooks - absorbing the steam, the meat juice and your favoured exciting mix of spices. Meat and rice integrated, prepared together as one like in the great European dishes of risotto of paella.

Having never got around to doing something based on EA's version I ended up doing a version with beef from Land of Plenty. It's a bit more fiddly than, say a mapo tofu, or a braised fish in chilli bean sauce, but ultimately pretty interesting given the new textures brought by the rice and by the steaming.

  • 500g beef
  • ginger, garlic, chilli bean paste, soy, Shaoxing wine, veg oil, dash of water or stock - for the marinate
  • dried chillies, Sichuan pepper, sesame oil, raw garlic, spring onions
  • 75g raw rice

Cut the beef into largish, thin squares. Combine with the marinade ingredients and leave for half an hour.

Toast the rice until brittle. When it's cool grind down in a mortar and pestle - half way to a meal like state is fine, so there's still some texture. Add this to the beef and steam it for two hours. The rice will start to fluff up and increase in size. This dish should not be cooked by anyone in a rush as the steaming really does take quite a while.

When its looking ready remove from the steamer and season with all the other ingredients (mash the raw garlic and thin with a little cold water) to your taste. I served this with some more white rice on the side which, looking back on it, was possibly a massive gastro-cultural faux pas.

A load of your favourite greens stir-fried with garlic and dressed with sesame oil and Chinkiang vinegar is more or less obligatory here in my opinion. Sprouts, courgette and cavalo nero in this case but obviously grab whatever's in your fridge.

So - does it cut the mustard? I don't rate this one quite as highly as some of the other Sichuan dishes I've got to say. I love the idea of it - cooking meat with veg makes perfect sense in a rice heavy Chinese cuisine and clearly works fantastically with congee. The rice makes it all a bit heavy and slightly claggy, somehow lacking the clean hit of a high-powered spiced and peppered stir-fry. Eating Asia suggest putting some root vegetable or pumpkin in with the meat which I think could act as a useful counterpoint. One to retry then, with some belly pork and pumpkin perhaps...

13 February 2012

Poached baby vegetables with caper mayonnaise

Apologies crew but I broke my arm and have been out of action for a week or so. Straight back to the thick of it, though, with another Ottolenghi from Plenty. I'll say straight up that this one isn't as good as some of the other crackers, but it might be worth a look if this kind of thing tickles your fancy. Check the original recipe.

  • baby vetables - fennel, carrot, leek, asparagus etc
  • one egg, vegetable and olive oil, lemon, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard for the mayonnaise
  • white wine, olive oil and bay leaves for the poaching liquor

Baby vegetables are something that may well set you back a bit normally. I was lucky to get a load of them cheap from Ridley Road and I supplemented them with a few adult vegetables in the form of carrots and courgettes.

First up make your mayonnaise. Use your normal method: I'm a self-confessed failure in this area, for some reason mine is often thin and fails to coagulate. The key here is for it to be very lemony and to chuck some capers in at the end. Regardless of the overall success of the dish the mayo is amazing, and should be used in other circumstance.

Next fix up your veg - Otto suggests poaching them in a mixture of white wine and olive oil. This is a nice idea but kind of wasteful. All the oil he calls for also makes things greasy when combined with the oil of the veg. I think some stock with lemon and bay and gestures of oil and wine is ok. Poach until done but with a slight crunch.

Serve with your preferred starch - grain/potato/bread with the veg, a dollop of mayo and a little ladle of stock. This responds well to some black pepper.
that's lunch sorted

A slight faff this one. It doesn't quite have the attractive simplicity of some other Ottolenghi dishes, what with the poaching and mayonnaising processes. It is, though, rather pretty, and might be a nice dinner party dish for an elegant starter. As I said, the lemon tinged mayo is a wonder and would be sublime with a lump of fish or some courgette burgers.

31 January 2012

Baked eggs with sage and chilli butter

OK baked eggs are a classic through loads of the world - from a Pakistani spiced version with tomatoes to the Turkish classic menemen, a chickpeas and feta based iteration and the North African staple shakshouka (also popular in Israel apparently, courtesy of the Tunisian Jews). You could easily do a nice UK themed one with leeks and bacon. This, wonder of wonders, is Ottolenghi's version with sage and chilli with a sauce whose taste and savour far exceeds the sum of its parts. It's flippin amazing.

You can peep the original recipe here but the basics are:

  • two eggs each
  • greens - rocket, spinach, tender leeks
  • yoghurt mix (with a little raw garlic)
  • butter mix (with chilli flakes and sage)

Pre-heat the oven to a medium heat.

Sweat down your greens in a pan until they are soft. Add them to an oven dish and crack the eggs between the vegetal bolsters. Stick in the oven.

Mix your yoghurt with a little crushed raw garlic. Make the spiced butter - melt in a pan with the sage and chilli flakes and let it cook for a minute or two so the butter solids start to brown slightly and move towards a state of hazelnut aroma, and the sage crisps.

When the eggs are looking done remove and plate up. I found it tricky getting to a point where the yolks were still liquid but the white was set. You may have more luck.

Combinate however you like with the yoghurt and a generous portion of the spiced butter and serve with absorbent Turkish bread.

Oh my days, sheer brunch based heaven. Don't hold back on the butter, it just doesn't make sense to do so. This should be served with some nice coffee (hazelnut?) and some fruit juice. One might even accessorise with some additional greens to balance the various fats and round out the meal. Whatever happens you are in for a treat. (The spiced butter would be great tipped over a fried egg sandwich if you can't be bothered to go the whole hog).