Grilled Fish – Laksa Style

Here’s another meal that I threw together from what I had in the freezer. As I keep going on about in my cooking posts, it’s absolutely vital to have a well-stocked freezer. It will get you out of all sorts of quandaries. What you see in the picture below used to be frozen solid in my freezer. Well, except for the laksa paste, which was sitting patiently in my fridge waiting to be used up. The snapper and the various herbs like the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, ginger and chilli had all been prepared and put away for a lazy day like today. A quick thaw and they were all ready to go. A tip on thawing – take the fish out first and make sure it’s thoroughly thawed, putting the plastic bag of frozen fish in tap water helps a lot. Change the water often and use warm (not hot!) water if you’re in a rush. Make sure the fish is bendy before you start to make sure it’s thawed thoroughly. To thaw out the herbs, you can chuck them in the foil while warming the grill to help speed things along.

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So what results do you get from slathering the fish with spice paste, stuffing every crevice with herbs and then grilling it? First, a wonderfully aromatic kitchen. Then for dinner, slightly charred and deliciously tender fish. You don’t have to use laksa paste, or any paste at all. Use what you have, maybe Thai green curry paste, or chicken rice paste or just minced garlic or mince ginger. Or plain herbs without any paste. It’s all good.

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Serve it up with rice and fried greens and it makes for a wholesome and delicious dinner. Here, I used barley for something with a bit more bite and interest. (To cook barley, cover half a cup of the grain with about 2cm depth of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Let it simmer till the water’s pretty much all absorbed, then turn off and cover till the fish is ready.) Sorry for the messed up fish because I was too eager and mushed it up a bit. I also undercooked it slightly and had to return the undercooked bits to the grill for a while more. Don’t worry, I make mistakes so you can benefit from them!

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Here’s the recipe, improvise as you like!

Ingredients:

1 small red snapper
2 tbsp laksa paste
2 stalks lemongrass, sliced
8 kaffir lime leaves, ribs removed
5 slices galangal
5 slices ginger
1 red chilli, sliced
2 calamansi limes, halved
olive oil

Method:

  1. Heat the grill and line an oven pan with aluminium foil.
  2. Clean the fish and check that the scales have been thoroughly removed and that the guts are washed clean.
  3. Using a sharp knife, make 4 or 5 slits across the fish, perpendicular to backbone.
  4. Slather the slits and the stomach cavity with laksa paste, then stuff each slit with one kaffir lime leaf and one slice of lemongrass.
  5. Stuff the stomach cavity so that it is full the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, ginger and chilli.
  6. Strew the remaining herbs on the aluminium foil and sit the fish on top.
  7. Grill for 10-15 minutes on each side, turning when the skin turns brown and starts to blister and then fins char. About 10 minutes for a 1-person fish and 15 minutes for a 2-person fish.
  8. Serve with a squeeze of lime and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 2.

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Freshly Made Bread

I’ve been toying around with a bread recipe, adapted from Nigel Slater’s fantastically practical and very approachable book Appetite. I’d been faffing around with other bread recipes and a bread machine. I gave up on being lazy with the bread machine – sure, it’s easy, but it turns out bread that isn’t a great deal different from the stuff in the shops in the plastic bag. Baking my own bread seemed much more satisfying as the loaves that came out were beautifully crisp on the outside, and when still hot, soft and yielding on the inside. One of the joys in life is a simple home made soup with freshly baked bread spread lavishly with butter. I toyed with the original recipe, adding wholewheat flour and bran, and trying out various shapes and sizes, from buns…

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… to freeform loaves as per the original recipe, and finding that the freeform loaves tend to spread a lot. Plus the control freak in me doesn’t like how slices from the end and slices from the middle differ so freakin’ much that portion control is an issue. So I slapped it in a tin and it came out just as nice, only not quite as pretty.

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Here’s my tweaked recipe:

Ingredients:

600g bread flour
150g atta flour (wholewheat flour)
10g bran
1½ tsp salt
3 tsp yeast
500ml warm water

Method:

  1. Measure out the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. I use a jumbo-size metal mixing bowl about 60cm in diameter so I can knead and do everything directly in the bowl.
  2. Pour about 450ml of the warm water gradually into the dry ingredients and mix with one hand (this is to keep the other hand free in case you need to grab more flour or water). Work the water into the flour mixture to form a dough. Start kneading it by pushing it down firmly with the heel of your hand, turning and folding and continue to do so for about 10 minutes. It needs more flour if the dough won’t come off your hands, keeping kneading more flour in till it stops sticking. If it’s very hard to knead, you may need to add a few drops more of water till the dough is easier to work.
  3. Cover with a dish cloth and leave to rise for an hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Punch down the dough and knead again for 2 minutes.
  5. Flour a paper-lined tray and plonk your dough in whatever shape you want it to be. Remember that the dough rises and spreads significantly. One recipe makes 6 small buns and one loaf of bread in a 500g loaf pan. You can also do it free form but this requires either leaving the bread either rather flat and long or, as Nigel does it, tucking the bread in very gently to a high ball. I’ve only done it successfully half the time without making the whole thing collapse.
  6. Thickly flour the top of your bread and leave to rise till doubled again, about another hour.
  7. Pre-heat the oven to 250°C and when the dough is risen, put in the oven. Bake at 250°C for 10 minutes, then turn down to 220°C for another 20 minutes or until the bread turns golden brown. Remove and leave to cool on a wire rack. If you’re using a loaf tin, it’s probably a good idea to take the loaf out of the tin when the time is up (30 minutes) and bake upside down for another 5 minutes to allow the insides to brown slightly.

Makes 1 loaf and 6 small buns or one large free form loaf.

I’ve also made some rather lovely sandwiches with the home made bread. It’s a delicious filling with some common things I tend to have in my fridge – chicken shreds, Chinese cabbage, mustard and yogurt. If I have homemade yogurt, I normally strain it in cheesecloth so it’s almost solid. Otherwise, I’d use Greek yogurt for similar thickness. This filling is a take on chicken coleslaw, so use carrot slivers if you can be bothered with the knife work, or onion if you like the flavours punchier, or mayonnaise if that’s what you have on hand. Leave out the meat altogether if you’re going vegetarian or add canned tuna. I happened to have some ham in the fridge, and it really upped things a notch. Let me know what combinations you like to use!

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Sandwich filling

Ingredients:

1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
2-3 handfuls of shredded Chinese cabbage (about 4 large leaves)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (or to taste)
3 tbsp strained yogurt or Greek yogurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. It can’t be easier – combine all ingredients and taste till you’re happy.
  2. When assembling the sandwiches, make sure you either spread the bread generously with butter or use a lettuce leaf (dried with paper towel) to separate the bread from the filling. Otherwise, the sandwiches will get soggy if you’re not eating them straight away. Another good reason to use thick, strained yogurt.

Fills 4 generous sandwiches.

 

Merry Christmas Jam with Scones

Merry Christmas!

Today I share with you how a mistake led to lots of beautiful Christmas presents. A few months ago, I’d left out a bag of frozen cranberries by mistake and had to figure out what to do with with them and fast. A quick google showed up cranberry sauce and jam, but I was worried that jam making would be complicated and difficult. Luckily, I hit upon a recipe from 101cookbooks.com (originally from Falling Cloudberries) that seemed easy. It was also convenient since we were having people over for breakfast the next day.

Anyhow, having people over was the perfect excuse to test out my new oven. Put freshly baked scones and freshly made tart cranberry jam together and slather with either clotted cream or butter for a glorious combination. Then have grilled mushrooms and crispy bacon as chaser and it’s a very satisfying breakfast.

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Scones (taken from Nigella)

These need to be made fresh and eaten while still warm. If you have leftovers, they must be heated up in the toaster oven, otherwise will have an awful dense texture. Don’t keep them any longer than overnight because it just gets too heavy to eat then.

Ingredients:

500g flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
4½ tsp cream of tartar
125g unsalted butter (direct from the freezer, oh you mean you don’t store yours there?)
300ml milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 220°C.
  2. Sift the flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar together. If lazy, just sift the baking soda and cream of tartar into the flour and salt, that bit is the most crucial.
  3. Cut the butter into chunks and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour. Finish off the process by rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingers.
  4. Add the milk and stir quickly, kneading very lightly until it forms a dough.
  5. Press out (you can roll if you like, but I normally don’t bother) into about 3cm thickness or about as thick as one finger joint.
  6. Using a medium cookie cutter (5-6cm diameter), cut into 10-12 rounds. You’ll need to reroll for the last few.
  7. Glaze with some milk. I normally smear it on with my finger.
  8. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
  9. Eat as soon as you can!

Makes 10-12.

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Cranberry and Apple Jam (adapted from 101 cookbooks)

I used a bag of frozen cranberries and added some of my own spices. The first round, I used cinnamon and star anise and the second time, lemongrass, lime and clove. Try various combinations and see what works for you. If you’re going to make a lot like I did for Christmas presents, don’t worry about the proportion of apple to cranberry, just make sure you scale the sugar with the cranberries and it should be all good. Another tip: don’t taste the jam immediately after it’s done. It’s somehow very sour and a bit unbalanced then. Let it sit for 30 minutes at least if you’re going to eat it fresh. The flavours will mingle and the sharpness will mellow, then it’ll be all good.

Ingredients:

340 g cranberries (one bag frozen)
120g sugar
spices – 1 stick cinnamon or 2 star anise or 5 cloves or 2 lemongrass sticks, bashed
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped

Method:

  1. Rinse the berries and get rid of the spoiled (brown) ones. Drain and toss with the sugar, lemon rind, its juice and whatever spices you’re using in a bowl. The original recipe calls for a non-reactive bowl, so anything plastic, ceramic or stainless steel is fine.
  2. Leave overnight and stir a couple of times if you remember to. Otherwise just give a good stir before you continue to step 3.
  3. The next morning, load your clean empty jam jar(s) into the oven and set the oven to 100ºC. Leave for at least an hour until you’re ready to bottle the jam.
  4. Put the chopped apple into a saucepan.
  5. Transfer most of the sugary cranberries into another bowl, leaving most of the juice and sugar behind. Scrape that juice and sugar along with a spoonful or so of berries into the saucepan with the apples, then add the water and simmer till the apple is soft or about 10 minutes. Squish the berries till most burst.
  6. Add the rest of the berries and cook, stirring gently till the jam looks thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Get the by now sterilised jar(s) out of the oven and scrape the jam inside. Screw on the covers firmly, but not too tightly and place upside down on a tea towel.
  8. Leave to cool completely, then wash away any sticky mess and store in the fridge or a cool place.

Makes 1 standard jar plus some for breakfast for 4.

I scaled up the recipe with these proportions: 1.5kg cranberries (4 bags of 340g each added up to that much after washing!), 600g sugar, 3 lemons, 6 lemongrass sticks, 6 star anise, 3 apples. It took longer to cook the apples down in step 5, about 30 minutes or so and the mixture only thickened slightly. Then it took 10 minutes for the cranberries to cook through. It made a huge pot that ended up with 4 big and 4 small jars of jam. Here’s what they look like upside down.

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Merry Christmas!

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An Experiment with Olive Oil: Apple and Cherry Cake

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First up, this is one of those recipes that didn’t do too well. I was intrigued by Nigella’s recipe of a cake that used olive oil and I thought it’d be a healthy alternative to a butter cake. Plus, with apple and cherries (I substituted those for the original raisins), what could go wrong?

Nobody except me seemed to like it. DC said the olive oil smell made him think of chicken rice. Don’t ask me how that man thinks, but in my world, chicken rice isn’t made with olive oil. My mum asked whether it was supposed to be bread or cake. I guess they thought it a tad dry. I wonder what’s wrong with my taste buds because I found it moist enough, and not too horribly sweet. I liked how the apple and cherry brought in bits of texture and flavour to the cake and thought it was a nice homespun type of thing to eat for breakfast.

All the same, if you’re game for something controversial, or have run out of butter and there’s nothing except olive oil and apples in the kitchen, then please try this recipe and let me know if you got any better reviews!

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Ingredients:

100g dried cherries (I just used an entire 120g pack, go ahead to substitute with raisins)
100ml rum
150ml olive oil
200g sugar
3 eggs
350g plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp  cream of tartar
½ tsp salt
4 apples (smallish), peeled, cored and coarsely chopped

Method:

  1. Butter and flour a 20 cm springform cake tin.
  2. Heat cherries with rum in a saucepan, bring a boil and then take off the heat, allowing the rum to soak into the cherries. Alternatively, soak the cherries in rum the night before.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  4. Using the whisk attachment of a cake mixer, beat the oil and sugar together briefly, then add in the eggs one by one. Beat for a few minutes till well incorporated.
  5. While the mixture is beating, measure out the dry ingredients and sift them together. Fold into the egg mixture. The batter will end up quite stiff.
  6. Then drain the cherries and mix with apples (this is to make sure that the apples and cherries are well dispersed in the batter), then stir it into the cake batter. Give it a few good stirs to spread out the fruit evenly, then dollop the batter into the springform tin.
  7. Bake till a cake tester comes out fairly clean, i.e. no wet batter and only bits of crumb, about 1 hour.
  8. Let the cake stand in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out and leave to cool. Slice and let plenty of people try, I’d like some comments please!

Yet Another Quick Pasta Dish – With Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

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I know I feature way too many pasta dishes, sorry. I don’t cook as much as I’d like and lately things have been crowding in. I’d love for an entire weekend of leisurely cooking at some point soon. In the mean time, this will have to suffice.

I like chicken baked in the oven plain and simple till the juices flow and the skin is crisp. Poured onto warm pasta, it makes a simple dish incredibly yummy. This time I thought I’d use some cherry tomatoes and roast them over low heat in a frying pan. Slip in some crushed garlic and the juices come out sweet and aromatic. Let the mixture cook slowly over low heat to intensify the juices while the pasta cooks. Pour in the chicken juices, toss in the asparagus spears at the last moment, then mix with the cooked pasta. Season with plenty of freshly grounded black pepper and sea salt and a great lunch is served.

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Here’s the recipe if you must.

Ingredients:

1 chicken leg, deboned
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
8 cherry tomatoes
enough pasta for one person, linguine perhaps
10 mini asparagus spears, cut into short lengths

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150ºC.
  2. Separate the skin from the deboned chicken leg and lay each flat on a baking tray lined with aluminium foil, taking care that they are far apart enough that the juices stay away from the skin. This way the skin becomes nice and crisp. Bake for 20 minutes or until chicken is done. If the skin isn’t crisp yet, grill till it is.
  3. Let the chicken sit and cool so the juices ooze out.
  4. In the mean time, heat the olive oil gently in a frying pan and then sweat the garlic and tomatoes till just on the verge of brown. This takes a while, so be patient.
  5. Cook the pasta in plenty of salt water till al dente.
  6. When the pasta is just about ready, pour the chicken juices into the frying pan and turn up the heat. Toss in the asparagus and stir till just cooked, about 30 seconds.
  7. Now toss in the pasta and stir till the noodles are completely coated. Season well to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. Turn onto plate, top with chicken and crispy skin and dig in!

Serves 1.

A Quick Meal of Xi’an-Inspired Lamb

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I was dreaming of Xi’an lamb skewers but didn’t have the time to find a better alternative to the version at Yang Gui Fei. My take is very much a fusion version of this and is far from the original. Plus, it being nigh impossible to buy good-tasting, deep-flavoured lamb here, I had to stick with the usual supermarket New Zealand lamb. It was passable but not the same. Make sure that you buy a fattier piece of lamb, the fat here is essential, otherwise you won’t get succulent yet charred bits. While this is hardly gourmet food, the beauty of it is that it’s incredibly fast. If you time it right, you could get dinner in 15 minutes.

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Ingredients:
200g lamb leg
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 chilli, chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
4 mushrooms, sliced

¼ cup couscous
¼ cup water
1 tsp vegetable stock powder

Method:

  1. Preheat the grill to the highest setting.
  2. Slice the lamb thinly, being careful that each slice gets a fair share of fat.
  3. Mix the lamb and spices together, toss carefully and grill together with the mushrooms (or whatever other vegetable you like) till just about charred on each side, about 5 minutes each.
  4. In the mean time, measure out the couscous, pour in the water and mix in the stock powder. Microwave for 3 minutes and cover for another 3 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  5. To serve, pour the lamb and juices over the couscous and serve with side vegetables.

Serves 1, with leftover meat.

DC Cooks to Impress

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As mentioned before, DC is a man after my own stomach. He also knows that that’s the obvious path to my heart. Not being someone with a reputation for great culinary skills, he still went ahead to cook a gourmet meal for me without any help. Impressive huh.

First was the starter, poached eggs with smoked trout on toast, topped generously with my favourite ikura. I don’t know how he managed it but the eggs were perfectly poached so that the whites were just set and the yolks runny. (I’ve never had the guts to poach eggs.) They didn’t have even a hint of the vinegary poaching water. Coupled with toasted baguette and store-bought smoked trout and ikura, this was an irresistible combination.

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Now the piece de resistance really was the stuffed deboned chicken with truffle and spinach. I think he really outdid himself here as I don’t know how to debone a chicken  while keeping it whole. He had to figure it out all on his own.

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He roasted it till just so. The flavour of the truffle stuffing subtley permeated the chicken and the stuffing kept the chicken nicely moist.

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He also somehow learned (oh the power of the Internet!) how to “lollilop” a chicken wingstick. Check out the picture below: instead of having to gnaw indelicately away at the wingstick bone, all I needed to do was to pick it up and bite off the meat at the end. Very nice.

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DC claims to have forgotten how he made these dishes, so I’ll give you recipes of how I think he made them! Look through the ingredients list carefully, though, as quite a few ingredients come from a gourmet store.

Poached eggs with smoked fish on toast

Ingredients:

4 eggs
4 slices of baguette
1 small pack of smoked fish (trout or salmon is fine)
1 small pack of ikura
1 tbsp raisins, optional
1 handful rocket leaves, optional

Method:

  1. Poach the eggs carefully and set aside. (Don’t know how to poach eggs? Try Google.)
  2. When just about ready to serve, toast the baguette till crisp.
  3. Assemble the toasts by covering each piece of toast with smoked fish, then a poached egg and scatter a teaspoon or more of ikura on top.
  4. Garnish with rocket and raisins on the side.

Serves 2.

Stuffed chicken with truffle and spinach

1 chicken, deboned (again, try Google for instructions)
2 small bags baby spinach
1 15g jar truffle pate
1 tsp sea salt
100g wild mushrooms (chanterelles, ceps, etc)
plenty of cracked black pepper
4 pandan leaves
oil for basting
more rocket leaves
2 peaches for a jar of muscat-infused peaches

Ingredients:

  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. Cook the spinach: boil, steam or microwave depending on your preference. Let cool, then squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible.
  4. Make the stuffing by blending the spinach with the truffle pate. Check the seasoning and add the salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Roughly chop the mushrooms and mix into the stuffing.
  6. Push the stuffing into the cavity of the chicken and tie up the chicken with pandan leaves.
  7. Roast the chicken for 100 minutes, basting it regularly with oil and turning about 60 minutes later.
  8. Carve and serve with rocket and sliced peaches as garnish.

Serves 4.

Method: