Thursday, 24 May 2012

How to: Lobsters

I finished my exams on Monday and it seemed only appropriate to celebrate with lobsters and champagne for lunch.   A bit too extravagant for university students, you say?  Yea, we thought so, so we didn't drink champagne, but the lobsters were only 8 quid each.  It had to be done.
There are different schools of thought when it comes to cooking lobsters.  Do you freeze it first?  Do you just use a sharp knife and cut them down the middle?  Or directly plunge them into boiling water?  This may be a cruel and disturbing post for some people.

After much youtubing and googling, I had thought freezing them would be the best option.  It appeared the most humane way as they would be numb and I thought they wouldn't...rebel as much.  However, the fisherman told me to just dump them in boiling water.  Leave them in the sink, do not let them touch fresh water.  Bring a large pot of water to the boil and just put them in, head first.  Wait 6-7 minutes and take them out.  Wait for the water to boil again before adding other lobsters.  Serve with clarified butter and lemon juice.  Just heat some butter in a pan till bubbling and add lemon juice.
The lobsters were surprisingly compliant.  Oh and you know how they apparently "scream" when you put them in the water?  Don't worry, it's just air coming out of their shells. The key is to not think about it, do not get emotionally involved with your lunch.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Chestnut Pie with Chocolate and Rosemary

I'm loving all these herbs in desserts.  I made chocolate and rosemary crackers a while back, but that was still kind of sweet and savory -- this is a proper dessert.  It's very exciting for me.
The star of the show here is chestnut, you may decide yourself how much of the chocolate and rosemary flavors you want to bring in, you decide which notes to promote.  But you see how the three flavors work together.  Chocolate and chestnut are happily put together in many wonderful desserts.  Similarly, chestnut and rosemary are often found together in amazing roasts.  The three complement each other because they all have this earthy and woody note.  They combine in a just beautiful manner.  The rosemary flavor doesn't come in right away in your first bite, but it flourishes in the next second, deepening the flavors of the chestnut and chocolate.
The crust, most of the time I'm just too lazy to make my own shortcrust so here I made a crumbly chocolate oat crust. If you were to use shortcrust for this, may I suggest a chocolate shortcrust (I have a recipe here). It's very light and spongy because of the number of eggs in here. It's lovely.
Enjoooy :)  Oh and I'm done with exams!

250g chestnut puree
3 eggs, separated
a dash of lemon juice
50g butter, melted
1/2 sprig rosemary
Good quality dark chocolate

Chocolate Oat Crust
3 tbsp cocoa
1 1/2 cup oats
4 tbsp cold butter, cubed
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp water

Whizz all the dry ingredients together in a food processor, then add the butter and water and pulse a couple of times.  Grease a pie dish and press the oat crust into the middle and up the sides of it.  Bake at 200C for 15 minutes, take out and leave to cool.

Beat the egg yolks with the chestnut puree for a good 15 minutes or so until light.  You want to incorporate as much air into it as possible.  Then add the butter.  Beat the egg whites with a dash of lemon juice until stiff peaks form and gently fold it into the chestnut mixture.  Pour into the crust, sprinkle with some rosemary leaves and bake for 25-30 minutes at 180C. Leave the pie to cool then give a generous grating of dark chocolate plus some more rosemary

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Cantonese Dim Sum

So how much do you know about Cantonese dim sum?  As I was looking through some old photos I stumbled upon these dim sums I had at the Noble Court restaurant in Beijing (highly recommended, one of the best places to have Cantonese dim sum in Beijing.  In my humble opinion).  I'm going home soon. Oh the excitement.

Ok I hope you find this educational, or at least I hope this will motivate you to wikipedia some of this and start planning your gastronomic trip to China.  By the way, the pronunciation guide I have for these are how you would say them in Mandarin, not Cantonese.

I'll start with 叉烧包 (cha shao bao) -- BBQ pork buns. These are my favorite.  These are quite common in Western Chinese restaurants, actually, so you might know of them.  It's just pork marinated in this sweet and savory cha shao sauce (a mixture of soy sauces, corn flour, sugar etc.  You can find the sauce easily in most Chinese supermarkets -- char siu sauce in Cantonese), then stuffed in a light yet rich bun.  To die for.
You can have the BBQ pork on its own as well, commonly eaten with just rice and some simple steamed vegetables over rice (叉烧饭) -- cha shao fan.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Roasted Veg Quinoa Salad

I came to a sad realization last night.  These beautiful photos are mostly taken by my flatmate, Sarah.   Sarah will be leaving me next year.  Obviously that fact saddens me for many reasons, but last night I realized -- what will become of Happy Belly?
Perhaps I need a boyfriend who is into photography.  I could invest in a nice camera, but it seems like a waste of money as I would only be taking photos of my food... Anyway, enjoy these beautiful photos while you can, soon they may just be photos with terrible composition and lighting and.... *sigh*.  Just eat some healthy quinoa.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Salmon and Sweet Potato Fish Cakes

I love sweet and savory things, that's why I prefer these sweet potato fish cakes over normal potato fish cakes.
There's a great Guardian article on cooking the perfect fish cake.  I actually quite like Felicy Cloake's how to cook the perfect xxx articles because it tells you what tweaks you could do with all these dishes.  But I don't really like how she calls them perfect.  I know she doesn't mean that her recipe is perfect, but I just don't like that word.  I don't know, when you add the word "perfect" to almost sucks the soul out of the food.  Perfect -- as if if you followed the recipe step by step following all the detailed demands, you'll end up with a flawless dish.  You have to make the dish your own.  You have to tweak it somehow, put in your heart and soul.  That's what I think it means when people say something looks/tastes homemade.  It's not...dull and mechanical. That's where the secret ingredient "love" comes in.  I understand for a lot of baking, it's a science, so obviously recipes need to be followed to the nearest gram. But with these things, just, put your personality into it.
Fish Cakes
150g fillet of salmon, skin removed
350g sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 sprig spring onion, finely chopped,
1/2 lime (zest and juice)
fish sauce (to taste)
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 small bunch coriander, chopped

For coating
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp flour
fresh breadcrumbs

1/2 cup yoghurt
1/2 scallion, ut
1/2 lime
1 tsp brown sugar

Steam/boil/roast the sweet potatoes for about 20 min until tender.  Steam the salmon separately for about 10 minutes until tender as well.  Mash the potatoes along with the salmon and all the other ingredients.  Form patties with your hands, coat them first in flour, then in the egg then in the breadcrumbs.  Refrigerate for at least half an hour.  Heat oil in a pan, and over medium heat shallow-fry the fish cakes for a couple of minutes on each side until browned.
For the sauce: fry the scallion in oil until fragrant.  Mix with all the other ingredients and serve on top of fish cakes.  

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Pea and Miso Soup

Pea and mint is always the classic soup isn't it?  Miso worked quite well here.  This soup's really simple, I just used what I had, so miso, garden peas and spring onions.  It could benefit with more spice, perhaps some ginger to fry it off along with the spring onions in the beginning to give it that extra kick.  Some lime juice and zest.  Some cream at the end.  Possibilities are endless as usual!  Miso could work quite well in a mushroom soup as well.  Or something fishy.  Hmm. I'll experiment.  It's cold all year round here in Scotland so I drink soup on a regular basis.  I like making these spring-like soups when it's cold, especially now.  I feel like if I have those heart-warming heavy potato soups, it just reinforces the fact that it's still winter in the middle of May.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Chinese Peanut Cookies (花生酥)

So yesterday's library session was not as productive as one would have hoped.  I woke up early, 7.30, but somehow only left the house one hour and 10 minutes later, so I arrived at the library at 8.45.  At 11.40 I went out for a lunch break and came back at 1.20.  Then at 3 I went out for coffee with a friend and got back at 3.20.  Then I went back home at 5.45 to bake these cookies.  Then I had dinner as well and only got back to the library at 8ish.*Sigh*
So these are Chinese peanut cookies!  Apparently they're a Chinese New Year thing, honestly, I just ate them whenever. Actually, speaking of peanuts and China, according to the BBC Asian children have the highest rate of nut allergy compared to any other ethnicity.  Odd.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Mushrooms with Cointreau and Rosemary

I try not to eat meat that much.  Maybe it's because I grew up with a vegetarian sister -- there's often a hint of guilt lingering in my stomach after meat consumption.  It's awful but I love my steak and prosciutto and cows and piglets at the same time.  While I cannot give up these things forever, I can manage to get my protein elsewhere most of the time.  Perhaps as a university student it's easier because I tell myself that meat is expensive and so I overload on eggs and beans.  Anyway, it's not difficult.  I love mushrooms and aubergines because they're.."meaty" vegetables -- you know with the texture and the bold flavors..
So mushrooms - rosemary - orange.  It's quite a good combination.  I wanted to just sautee my mushrooms with some white wine, but I saw some cointereau and thought why not.  It's a lovely combination of sweet and savory and deep earthiness coming from both the mushrooms and the rosemary.  The orange really gives it that kick.

6 large button mushrooms
1 rosemary sprig
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
juice and zest of 1/2 an orange
1 1/2 tbsp cointreau

Toss the mushrooms in oil, garlic, zest of orange and rosemary.  Heat a pan until it's smoking hot and add all the ingredients.  Cover and let cook for about 5-10 minutes before adding the orange juice and cointreau and stirring it around for a couple of more minutes.  

Friday, 11 May 2012

Chocolate and Cherry Croquembouche

100th post! 
Oh this is just too exciting, I've been waiting for this post for weeks!  I was thinking of doing this after my exams, but God knows I need some sort of procrastination when I'm home learning about anxiety disorders. A croquembouche is just a tower of profiteroles with caramel and other decorations.  It's a French dessert often eaten at weddings, and it means "crunch in the mouth".

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Sweet Corn Breakfast Souffle

Sometimes I have cereal and milk for breakfast.  In fact, I always like to have my cereal in a mixture of milk and espresso.  I make my espresso early in the morning, take a shower, get dressed, by then the coffee has cooled down, and I mix it with some cold soya milk (yes I prefer soya milk with my cereal) and I pour it over my All Bran.   Anyway, sometimes I do that, sometimes I feel like treating myself.
It's a cheat's souffle really, because it's really easy, so don't expect it to be like a perfectly formed tower of chocolate souffle.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How to: Choux Pastry

I know I have an unhealthy obsession with food, but the thing is, a lot of the food, for me, are remnants of my childhood.  It's a very personal thing for me.  Do you ever bite into something and feel a sudden flush of memories in your head?  It may be something from your first date, from a school event, or from a memory of just being in the dining room with your family, maybe.

For me, just the thought of profiteroles brings me back to the kitchen with my grandmother as a child. It was my favorite dessert.  I see my grandmother at most twice a year, and I remember, I'd beg her to make me profiteroles every time.  To this day, when i talk to her on the phone, she still tells me how we need to make profiteroles together.  Unfortunately, a stroke hit her a couple of years ago and she's no longer able to cook, and my profiteroles do hers no justice.

My grandmother was the most amazing cook, and I sadly did not get many recipes from her.  You know someone's an amazing cook when they don't know how to give you the recipe.  She's always like "Just add enough milk, I don't know, a cup or two."  "Yea, just put it in a medium-temperatured oven and you'll know when it's ready."
So here, unfortunately, it's not my grandmother's recipe, but it's a recipe I've found to work quite well.  Oh, another thing, choux pastry, contrary to common belief, is Italian, not French.  Well, actually, I don't know if it's common belief but some people I've talked to assumed it was French. No, no.
It's not as difficult as you may imagine.  It's just a couple of techniques you need to get right, but then it's really easy.  It's important to stir rigorously and when you add the eggs, add them one at a time.  And I know, when you'll be stirring in the eggs, it may seem like the eggs and the dough won't incorporate, but trust me, it will.
With choux pastry you can make eclairs, profiteroles..Fill these with various pastry creams and drizzle with chocolate cream or dip them in caramel or a chocolate ganache.  It's a versatile pastry, you can also have it savory and fill with prosciutto and cheese, if you wish.

Prep time: 30 min  Cook time: 30 min  makes about 50 small choux buns

Adapted from Giallo Zafferano
200ml cold water
100g butter, cubed
140g flour, sifted
5g sugar
3g salt
4 eggs, whisked

1 egg yolk for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 190C.  Grease a large baking tray.

Bring the cold water, salt, butter and sugar to the boil and let boil for 5 seconds then remove from heat.  Quickly stir in the sifted flour and when well-combined, put it back on the heat (medium-high) and stir until the edges come away from the pan.  Put in a bowl and leave to cool. 

Add the eggs, a bit at a time, stirring well, making sure it's completely incorporated before adding more.  You may not need all the eggs, it needs to be dropping consistency. 

Put the mixture in a piping bag and pipe into small rounds a few cm apart from each other.  Whisk the egg yolk and brush the top of the top of the choux buns with a bit of it (it's easier just dabbing it with your finger).  Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Friselle with Tomato and Mozzarella

Have you ever had friselle?  They're these breads from the Puglia region in Italy.  They're ring shaped, about the size of a bagel, and they're baked twice.  First, half-baked, they're taken out, cut in half, then they're returned to the oven.  When they're taken out they're left out to dry completely.  You eat them almost like a bruschetta.  But it's more fun.  Typically on a table you'll have three dishes at the center of the table.  One plate with a pile of friselle, one bowl of water and one bowl of this tomato salsa.  You take a frisella and you dip it in the bowl of water for a couple of seconds.  Then you put it on your own plate and you slather on some tomato salsa, and you wait.  You wait for a minute or two until the dried bread absorbs all the tomatoey goodness and becomes soft.  Now it's difficult to get this right -- you can't have it too soggy that you can't even pick it up without it falling apart, but neither can you have it crunchy.
Whenever I think of friselle, I think of summers on the beach, eating this outdoors along with cured meats and pickled vegetables at a BBQ in Taranto, Puglia.  It's one of those things that makes me nostalgic.
The most typical tomato salsa that you put on top is simply tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt and origano.  But there are so many variations you can do -- I need the basil and I had some mozzarella in my fridge.  It's always nice with some anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and olives as well.

4 friselle
4 large tomatoes, chopped
basil, torn
mozzarella, chopped
garlic, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil

Adjust the quantities of all the ingredients to your liking and season.
Eat with a bowl of water and a bowl of the salsa on the side.  Dip the friselle in the water for a couple of seconds, then take it out and spoon over the tomato mixture on top.  Let it sit for a minute or two then eat.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Nutella Stuffed Braided Bread

There's nothing more therapeutic than making bread when you're stressed.  Feeling the transformation of the dough as you knead it gently, with soft music in the background.  It puts all your worries behind you.  Psychology report, exams, tests -- all gone.  It's just you and your bread.
 I like it when there's some sort of shaping involved when making bread.  It's just more fun than forming a ball.  This is an interesting way of braiding bread really.  It's not the typical braided challah-like bread.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

How to: Creme Patisserie and other Pastry Creams

- Basic Creme Patisserie
- Chocolate Creme Patisserie-
- Limoncello and other Alcoholic Creme Patisseries
- Pistacchio and other Nut Flavored Creme Patisseries
- Coffee Creme Patisserie
- Chantilly Cream
- Diplomatic Cream
Master this and the world of pastry is your oyster.  When I was small, my aunt would have a bowl of creme patisserie with a spoonful of nutella in it for me and my cousins as a snack.  Oh the good old days of childhood when you could afford to indulge in such decadence.

With this, you can stuff it in choux buns, put it in between layers of puff pastry, in a shortcrust pastry tart, in empanadas, in sweet raviolis, or eat it on its own.

From GialloZafferano 
500ml milk
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
1 slice of lemon peel
1 slice of orange peel
6 egg yolks
150g sugar
50g flour, sifted

Heat the milk with the vanilla bean and the peels until it begins to simmer, then turn the heat off and let the flavors infuse for 10 minutes.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and foamy.  When the milk has cooled down, whisk in 1/3 of it into the egg mixture, then whisk in the flour.  Finally tip the mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk, and using a wooden spoon, stir continuously over medium-high heat until it boils.  Then turn the heat down to low and continue stirring until it becomes thick, about 10 minutes. Leave to cool.

For chocolate creme patisserie
Stir in 1/4 cup of cocoa powder at the end.

Coffee creme patisserie
Infuse the milk with 40g of strong espresso powder

Cherry liquor, limoncello, and kaluhua are just some examples of what you could add to the end of it.

Nut flavored
Toast the nuts and whizz it up in a food processor.  Let it infuse with the milk when you heat it up with the vanilla bean.  Then strain it.

Chantilly cream
Whipped cream + vanilla bean seeds/vanilla extract + powdered sugar (250ml + 1 stick/1 tsp + 50g)

Diplomatic cream
Mix the creme patisserie chantilly cream at a 2:1 ratio.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Baked Brie with Rosemary, Garlic and Beer

There are many ways of categorizing people.  For the purpose of this post, I'll divide the world into sensible people who like cheese, and unsensible people.  Of the sensible people, there are people who like cheese and the people who love cheese.  I'd say I love cheese. Then there are people who really love cheese.  Sarah's one of these people.

I think of Sarah whenever I think of cheese.  I associate the two together like peanut butter and jelly.  For her, a bad day can be made excellent with just a bit of good cheese.  For her, good cheese can genuinely make her happy.  And Sarah behaves like an excited puppy who hasn't seen her owner for days when she sees baked cheese. Sarah's a dear friend of mine.
Baked cheese is just pure indulgence.  Melted cheese must be the most sensual and erotic food.  When you first reach in with your piece of bread to break the cheese and it bursts -- then a pool of hot creamy and stringy wonderfulness oozes out.  At that moment all the dining etiquettes you grew up with will cease to matter.  In the process of making sure that your bread is coated with the maximum amount of cheese it can hold, you get it all over your fingers, your hands, your face -- and it's ok. You don't care. And no one will judge as you lick away the droplets of cheese on the palm of your hands. Oh there's nothing quite like melted cheese.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Pork Loin with Parsnip and Apple Mash

I wouldn't say that I'm a reserved person but I don't like expressing strong emotions.  I always tell myself that I'm just being a drama queen and that whatever it is that I am feeling will simply be amplified if I were to actually show it.  So when I'm upset, I tell myself that I'm not.  I tell myself that whatever reason that's causing me to feel like this is not a legitimate reason and that I am strong enough to overcome it.  Because whatever it is, it's small, insignificant and stupid.  It's not a legitimate reason.  Me being upset over my little mundane problems is an insult to people who actually have real problems.  I refuse to feel these things and I refuse to let these things affect me.  I feel like if I'm consciously aware of this, if I just keep telling myself this, then I won't feel anything.

I don't like sharing very personal things on my blog because I live under the impression that my friends actually read it lol.  But. I don't know.  I read a friend's blog post recently and it made me reflect on my own situation.  I thought, maybe writing about it would help.  God knows this isn't the right place -- a public food blog.  People, friends -- they come here to read about food and wonderful things.  Not about a sentimental undergrad's feelings.  Let me clarify, this isn't about letting my friends read it to gain some sort of pity, no.  I don't want it, I don't deserve it.  Again, there are people with bigger problems.  I remember when my 2-year-long relationship ended with my boyfriend in high school.  I remember just staying in bed for days.  I suppose I look back on it like those annoying parents, I was just a stupid teenage girl.  I guess I'm hoping I will soon look back on this with the same view.

The thing every girl hears after a break up is how wonderful she is.  How the guy was an idiot and that she'll find better guys.  That's all you hear.  Realistically, we all know that obviously we'll find someone else. In fact, there are probably even more compatible people around.  After a break up, it's not the fear of dying as a lone woman with 5 cats, but the immediate feeling of loneliness that's terrifying.  It's all so cheesy, I know.  But when you're with someone for long enough, they do become a part of you, and when you suddenly lose them, you're alone.  It's a shocking feeling, really.  It's so strong, and it hits you so fast and so hard.  So unexpectedly.

You could have a bonfire with your girlfriends where you burn the guy's photos and b*tch about all living things with penises.  You could grab a bottle of vodka and hook up with random guys.  You could stay in bed and be a nuisance to society.  I deal with my emotions by cooking.  I feel like the kitchen's the only place where I'm okay with being alone.  It's okay.  I'm fine.
Pork is great with apples, and I just love parsnips (check out the parsnip pie).  So here's an idea for a nice quick lunch.

1/2 apple, peeled and chopped
1 medium parsnip, peeled and chopped
a nob of butter
a little bit of milk
2 pork loin steaks
a sprig of fresh rosemary

Steam the apple and parsnip until tender, mash with a nob of butter and with some milk to loosen it up.  Season, put through a mesh strainer for a finer texture.
Rub the pork loin with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Have the pan smoking hot and put in your pork loins.  Split the rosemary sprig in half, and have each half on a pork loin.  Wait for two minutes before flipping it over and letting it cook for a further 2 minutes (for pork loins about 1.5cm thick).
Serve by placing the pork loins on top of the mash.

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