Zucchini, Potato and Carrot Parmagiana

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I love zucchini and had some hanging around in the fridge asking to be used differently from the usual pan searing and anchovy pasta combination. Coupled with some old and on the verge of moldering potato and carrot, I flipped through my recipe books and found Antonio Carluccio‘s recipe for parmagiana. Since I had a bit of time, this was it!

You can use any sliceable vegetable for this, just make sure that they are well dried using paper towel before preparing them for the dish. For the cheese, I didn’t have any mozzarella, taleggio or the eponymous parmesan, so I settled with the cheddar I had. It’s a good melting cheese with very nice flavour, so it worked too. For the tomato sauce, I had a jar of pasta sauce from a while back that I again hadn’t got round to using.  Be warned that  the quality of the tomato sauce  is very important. Some of them can be quite tart, so you’ll have to taste and moderate if necessary by perhaps adding a little sugar, or plain using  a decent brand of sauce! I also had some aglio olio spice powder consisting of garlic, chilli and random herbs, so some of that went into the dish too. It all worked out to be a happy use of leftovers to make a yummy, satisfying dish.

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Ingredients:

2 large zucchini
2 medium carrots
2 large potatoes

1 jar tomato pasta sauce

4 rashers bacon, diced
plenty of olive oil
flour for dredging, about 4 heaped tbsp
3 eggs, beaten

150g cheese, thinly sliced or grated

Method:

  1. Slice the vegetables into long slices, as far lengthwise as you can. You’re looking for long, fairly thin slices of vegetables, about 5mm thickness for the root vegetables. For the zucchini, it can go a bit thicker depending on whether you like to bite into mushy zucchini goodness or prefer less of the mushy burst. Pack the slices into paper towels and leave to dry for about an hour or until you get back round to them.
  2. Meanwhile, get out a big casserole dish that looks like it could fit all the vegetable slices and more. Spoon out a thin layer of pasta sauce and coat the bottom of the  dish.
  3. In a sturdy frying pan, saute the bacon dice in a little olive oil till brown. Sprinkle on top of the pasta sauce layer.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  5. Add some salt and pepper to the flour and mix well. Standby the beaten eggs.
  6. In the same frying pan, add plenty of olive oil till the bottom of the pan is coated. Get ready to fry over medium heat.
  7. Dredge each vegetable slice in the seasoned flour, then coat with egg. Let drip till most of the egg has dripped off, then fry, turning each piece as it turns golden brown.
  8. When golden brown on both sides, transfer each piece to the casserole dish.
  9. When a layer of vegetables has completely covered the pasta sauce, spoon over more sauce for the next layer and also sandwich in a few slices of cheese.
  10. Proceed till you’ve exhausted all the vegetables and cover with a final layer of pasta sauce, topping generously with cheese.
  11. Bake for 30 minutes, turning down the temperature slightly if the cheese starts to burn.
  12. After removing from the oven, let rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving.

Serves 6.

Stuffed Chicken Wings

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I’d not cooked for a while. It was high time I dusted off some of the old recipes percolating inside my head and update them. One of them was this recipe for stuffed chicken wings. I last made them yonks ago back in my university days and never since had the time nor inclination to make them again.

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The chicken wings are made by taking the wing part and removing the two little bones inside, keeping the skin and meat pretty much intact. Then the cavity is stuffed with an aromatic minced meat mixture and the wings baked till golden all over. Sounds simple to do, but the deboning bit can be very tedious. The trick is patience and taking it slowly by popping the bones out of the joint and slowly cutting the meat off the bones with a pair of kitchen scissors. After getting the knack of one, the rest are easy. Still, it took me about half an hour to finish deboning 10 of these little fellas.

For the filling, I tried to add a bit of Thai flavour by adding kaffir lime leaves and coriander. I’d imagine variations along the lines of adding water chestnut and cloud ear mushrooms for a more Chinese flavour. Or using curry powder and cooked potato for a slightly more local Malay-Indian touch. Try it and go crazy with the variations!

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Ingredients:

200g minced pork
¼ bundle tanghoon, soaked and cut into short lengths
2 dried mushrooms, soaked and chopped fine
1 bunch coriander, chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves, sliced very fine
2 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp corn flour
1 tsp chopped chilli, optional
10 chicken wingsticks, deboned

glaze
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C.
  2. Combine the stuffing ingredients and mix well.
  3. Stuff into the chicken wings and round off the top, being careful to push all the ends of the tanghoon into the meat mixture. This stops it from drying out and burning in the oven.
  4. Combine the glaze mixture and stir till the sugar dissolves. Paint over the mixture on the wings and, if using, the drumlets.
  5. Place onto a foil-lined baking tray and bake for 30 minutes, turning half way through, till golden brown.
  6. Serve with a squeeze of lime on top.

Makes 10.

    Self-Saucing Pineapple and Passionfruit Crumble

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    I had this for a very decadent breakfast and I need to tell you how gorgeous it is. I love crumble, I like passionfruit and I adore custard. The problem with crumble and custard is that the custard is an extra fiddly step and is also incredibly fattening. For the record, I am a crumble Nazi and it’s against the law to eat crumble with ice cream. Unless it’s an incredibly hot day and you’re in Singapore. Sigh.

    Nigella gave me some inspiration with her self-saucing gooseberry crumble recipe. I had passionfruit and pineapple, and everything just clicked into place. The gula melaka was a logical sweetener to keep to the tropical theme.

    Why crumble for breakfast? Mum used to make apricot crumble for breakfast on weekends when we lived in Germany. It is such a comforting childhood memory. Also, a friend of mine claimed that passionfruit taken at night makes for a poor night’s sleep, so I make sure I only take passionfruit in the morning. It’s a silly superstitution I know, but humour me here.

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    Ingredients:
    120 g butter, frozen
    200 g plain flour, frozen
    3 tbsp sugar

    1 passionfruit
    ¼ small pineapple, chunked
    2 tsp gula melaka
    1 egg yolk
    4 tbsp cream

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    Method:

    1. Remove the butter and flour from the freezer. Cut the butter into slices, then bits and using your fingers, rub it into the flour. You should get lumps of various sizes.
    2. Stir in the sugar and set aside. It’s worthwhile to make a larger batch of crumble topping to freeze for later. Then you can have crumble on demand.
    3. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
    4. Stir the gula melaka into the passionfruit pulp and pineapple chunks until dissolved, then place into a shallow ovenproof bowl.
    5. Beat the egg yolk and cream together till combined, then stir into fruit mixture.
    6. Spoon the crumble over the mixture. Make sure it’s a very generous layer.
    7. Put in the oven for 25 minutes. Make sure you have something inside to catch the spills, it’s likely to bubble over.
    8. When it’s browned on top and bubbling below, take out carefully and allow to cool for 10 minutes before almost burning your mouth trying to get at the tart, sweet, fragrant, gorgeous goodness.

    Serves 2-3, depending on how much you want to share.

    A Leisurely Breakfast with Easy Long-Rise Bread

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    This is what I try to make my typical breakfast: lots of fruit with some dairy and complex carbohydrates. I think it’s a tad heavy on the sugar, but at least the jam is homemade and the Yakult gives me some sort of lactobacteria. I slice bread only when I need it and end up lazily using the chopping board as my serving platter too.

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    The bread I make is very dense and quite moist, like the German fitnessbrot I grew up eating, so it doesn’t go stale easily. It’s based on a Cooks Illustrated almost no-knead bread recipe. I’ve modified it slightly to suit my own needs. My bread is dense because my tins are non-stick, meaning that the dough doesn’t get enough grip to rise high against its walls. If you have a regular (as opposed to non-stick) metal tin, go ahead and use that instead for a lighter bread. Don’t oil the sides, if not the high temperature of the oven will turn it into a gloopy mess that takes an eternity of scrubbing to remove. And use only metal tins because you need the metal to conduct heat to get the dough hot immediately. Fear not, the rest of the process is dead easy.

    As for the flour, feel free to use all plain flour or all finely ground whole wheat flour, normally sold at atta flour or chappati flour at places like Phoon Huat. As long as the flour makes up three cups, try using a bit of rye or other grains for varying taste and texture. If you don’t have whey, just use water with a few spoonfuls of milk. Or try the original recipe with a quarter cup of beer in it.

    Ingredients:

    1 cup plain flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    1 cup atta chappati flour (very finely ground whole wheat)
    ¼ tsp instant yeast
    1 tsp salt
    1¼ cup whey
    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar or lemon juice

    Method:

    1. Blend all the ingredients together in a bowl and cover with a dry towel. Leave to rise for 12 to 18 hours.
    2. Punch down the dough and knead by pushing and folding over the dough 10 times.
    3. Put into a 20 cm diameter round springform tin and allow to rise for 2 hours.
    4. Preheat the oven 30 minutes ahead to 250°C or as hot as your oven will go.
    5. Cover the tin tightly with aluminium foil and put onto lower oven shelve. Turn down the oven to 200°C.
    6. After 3o minutes, uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes.
    7. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes. Cut and serve immediately to enjoy the crisp crust.

    Makes 1 loaf.

    Low-Fuss Slow-Food Dinner: Pork Pot-Roast in Red Wine Sauce

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    There are some lazy days you’re in the whole day and want something good to eat but with minimal fuss. This dish takes a while to make, but the actual kitchen work is almost negligible. It’s the answer to your lazy prayers!

    I was inspired by something vaguely German: sausages cooked in red wine and caraway seeds. Being too broke to buy good sausages and too posh to venture anything too downmarket in the sausage department, I went for good ol’ pork shoulder instead. It helped that it was on sale too. Feel free to use sausages, in which case you can cut down the cooking time to 20 minutes instead of 3 hours! Don’t go running out to buy a whole tin of caraway seeds if you don’t have them. Substitute anything with anise flavour like star anise or fennel seeds. You can even use Chinese five-spice  (wuxiang/mm hiong) powder.

    Staying on the lazy theme, I couldn’t be bothered to boil the potatoes for mash, so I baked them instead. I like to mash them skin and all because the roasted skin gives a lot of nice texture and I don’t like the hassle of picking the skins out anyway!

    The only boiling you’ll need to do is the greens. I use kailan here for its mustardy flavour. It goes amazingly well with the pork. Just give them a quick one-minute scald in boiling water and it’s good to go.

    And the wine. I normally use whatever leftover stuff I have in my freezer. But for drinking, try a pinotage. Mine was by Two Oceans (2006) in South Africa. Being very young, it’s a bright red purple with cherry and strawberry in the nose. It’s very juicy with soft tannins and just enough astringency for balance. It’s very easy drinking and quite agreeable with this pot-roast.

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    Ingredients:
    300 g pork shoulder, cut into large cubes
    1 tbsp oil
    3 small purple onions, sliced
    10 button mushrooms, halved
    2 tbsp flour
    1-2 cups red wine
    2 tsp caraway seeds
    salt and pepper

    3 floury potatoes (try Russets or King Edwards if you can), scrubbed
    1 knob butter

    kailan, boiled

    Method:

    1. Preheat the oven to 150ºC and slip a casserole dish in to preheat.
    2. Prick the potatoes with a fork to prevent explosions. You can omit this step if you’re brave or foolish like me.
    3. Brown the meat on all sides in a non-stick pan. Use the highest heat possible. Transfer to preheated casserole dish.
    4. In the same pan, add the oil and fry the onions till a bit burnt in places. Add the mushrooms and let them brown or even burn slightly at the edges.
    5. Then add the flour and stir vigorously till onions and mushrooms are well coated. Do not let burn! Turn down the heat if you need to and stir for about one minute. It’s good if the flour browns.
    6. Add the wine, caraway seeds, lots of ground pepper and a bit of salt. Scrape the bottom of the pan so all goes into the sauce. Pour onto pork and stir to coat. Ensure that the liquid covers at least half the pork.
    7. Cover the casserole dish with the lid and put in the oven for 3 hours. At the same time, put the potatoes directly onto the oven bars.
    8. Check after half an hour that the mixture is bubbling gently, not boiling. Turn down the heat if it’s boiling too vigorously. Stir occasionally if you’re up for it.
    9. Two hours later, retrieve the potatoes. Squeeze them to check that they’re cooked. They should squish slightly. Remember to use an oven mitt.
    10. Immediately transfer to a bowl and squish hard so they fall out and mash a bit with a fork. Add the knob of butter and stir. Cover.
    11. When the pot-roast is ready, take out and serve with the mash and boiled kailan. Try to look civilised as you fall upon your food.

    Serves 2.

    China Memories: Shaoxing Braised Pork

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    Mum bought some preserved vegetable from Shaoxing. It’s called mei cai but is quite different from the type used in Hakka braised pork. This version is slightly fermented and has a lovely pungent, almost loamy mushroomy aroma. I braised using a slightly more Western technique by putting it in the oven for a long, slow braise. This  renders out a lot of the fat and makes for soft, yielding meat. It’s up to you if you want to do the hellish job of skimming the fat. I suggest just savouring the dish as is the first time round and put the leftovers in the fridge. The next morning, scrape off the white fat layer from the top.

    I have no idea whether this is available outside China, but I suppose you could try using Hakka mei cai or any preserved leafy vegetables. It’s a very simple recipe, so use the best ingredients you can find.

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    Ingredients:

    600 g belly pork, skin and fat on
    100 g Shaoxing mei cai
    1 cup Shaoxing wine

    Method:

    1. Preheat oven to 150ºC and heat a casserole dish and lid to heat at the same time.
    2. Cut the pork into large chunks. Make sure you cut against the grain, pretend that you’re cutting out ginormous pieces of siu yok. Pat dry with some kitchen towel, especially the skin part.
    3. Heat a non-stick frying pan to the hottest you can and sear the pork on all sides, skin side down first. Be very careful as the skin will start to blister and pop and hiss and do all sorts of hair-raising (and hair-singeing) things. Be brave!
    4. Take out the casserole dish from the oven and transfer the seared pork inside.
    5. Now off the heat, deglaze the frying pan by pouring the wine in using one swift motion. It will boil but should not spit. Scrape the bottom of the pan so you get all the burnt and good-tasting bits off and pour the lot into the casserole dish.
    6. Add the mei cai and mix the whole lot around. Top up with some hot water if you need, till it just covers the meat.
    7. Cover the casserole dish and stick in the oven for three to four hours, depending on how impatient you are. After half an hour or so, check that the braise is bubbling gently. One or two bubbles per second is fine, just make sure it’s not boiling furiously (lower the oven temperature if it is). If you’re bored or very hands on, stir it once or twice during the cooking process.
    8. It’s done when you can’t wait or till the meat is tender and a lot of the fat has rendered out. Serve with lots of rice.

    For two or three people as a main dish.