Sunday, 27 February 2011

Walnut Tart

Walnuts are not my favourite nuts. Cashews and pistachio, I love. I was cleaning my cupboard yesterday and I found a semi-big bag of walnuts which I can't remember buying. Have you done that? Bought something, stored it and then found it months later and can't remember how it got there in the first place.

I normally stay away from making pastry, but this is actually very easy to do and delicious. The pastry/biscuit-like base was buttery, crumbly and nutty. And the caramel-y, sticky, walnut-y topping is actually rather tasty too. So, here's the recipe:

Walnut Tart
Recipe by Stéphane Reynaud
Serves 6

For the pastry
150 g butter
200 g plain flour
100 g sugar
100 g ground almonds
1 egg

For the filling
150 g sugar
50 g lightly salted butter
100 ml pouring (whipping) cream
200 g walnuts

For the pastry, dice the butter and let it soften at room temperature. Combine the flour, sugar and ground almonds, add the butter and work the pastry together with the palm of your hand, add the egg and repeat the process. Wrap the pastry in cling and chill for an hour. The chilled pastry will be easier to handle, since the butter will have become more solid.

Preheat the oven to 180 C. When pastry is nice and chilled, roll into a thin circle (24 cm diameter) on a piece of baking paper, bake for about 20 minutes - it should be a good golden brown.

To make the filling, put the sugar in heavy saucepan with 1 tablespoon of water until the caramel is golden brown and translucent. At that point, add the butter and cream and cook for a further couple minutes so that the mixture becomes smooth, add the walnuts. Pour the mixture onto the tart base. Allow to cool, then serve.

My new friend, Ann at Apples and Twinkies recently presented me with a Stylish Blogger Award. At her blog, Ann shares her passion for food. She loves every aspect of it, shopping for food, watching food programmes, reading about food and most importantly I think: eating. There are plenty of delicious family-style recipes you can find at her blog.

One of the rules when accepting Stylish Blogger Award is I must tell you, 7 things about myself, and they are:

  1. I like a bit of lumps in my mashed potatoes. I don't why I'm telling you this, but it's one of the first things that came up in my head.
  2. I used to dislike mustard, and now it's my 'I-cannot-live-without' condiments. I have all kinds of mustards in my fridge and cupboard, American yellow, Dijon, whole-grain, English and brown.
  3. I love Wall-E and I start to collect Toy Story figures. I am a child.
  4. I am punctual. I don't like people waiting for me and I don't like waiting either.
  5. I organised my clothes by colours and I also have a drawer for miscellaneous items (clothings with multiple colours or patterns). 
  6. At the gym, I secretly try to outrun the people around me. 
  7. I have a dog, Molly who lives with my parents. I miss her.

Thank you again Ann for the award. I am well-flattered. 

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday everyone.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Sticky Semolina Cake

This Middle-Eastern inspired cake is from Nigella Lawson's Feast. This cake tastes divine and like many other cake recipes from Nigella, this is also incredibly easy to make; everything is done in a food processor. I love the gritty texture of the cake provided by the semolina in place of flour. I actually used corn meal to make the cake gluten-free. I can eat gluten, but my friend Michelle can't. I'd like to see what's gonna happen though if she had gluten... I am a nice but weird friend.

The reason why this cake is so moist is because the cake was drenched with fragrant sugar syrup after baking. I would suggest making the syrup in advance though so that it has time to chill in the fridge.

The fragrant syrup is flavoured with rosewater and orange-flower water. Rosewater is not for everyone. I adore the scent of rosewater and its soft, sweet flavour. Use it sparingly, no more than a teaspoon here. If you add too much of it, it will over power the taste and feels like eating toiletry products (not nice) or your grandmother's potpourri bowl (also not very nice). However, if you can't stand it, just miss it out completely.

Sticky Semolina Cake
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
Makes 36

For the syrup
400 g caster sugar
250 ml water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 teaspoon orange-flower water

For the cake
300 g semolina
150 g caster sugar
125 g butter
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs
100 g Greek yoghurt
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
36 whole blanched almonds

To make the syrup, dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat then add the lemon juice. Turn up the heat and boil the syrup fiercely for 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, add the rosewater and the orange-flower water, then pour the syrup into a jug to cool. Put the syrup in the fridge to chill down further.

Preheat the oven to 180 C and butter a 23 cm square baking tin. Put all the cake ingredients, except the whole almonds in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth batter. Tip into the cake tin and spread evenly. Dot the top with almonds in 6 rows of 6, placed equally apart. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, by which time the cake will have risen and become golden. Test with a cake tester to check it;s not doughy underneath.

Pour the cold syrup over the hot cake and leave to cool completely in the tin, Cut into 36 little squares, or however you like.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Stir-braised cabbage with pancetta and nigella seeds

My favourite cooked cabbage recipes come from two of my favourite celebrity chefs. I absolutely love Jamie Oliver's braised white cabbage with bacon and thyme; and Nigella Lawson's stir-braised Savoy cabbage with nigella seeds. When the time comes to cook cabbage, I am always torn deciding which recipe to use. I then came up with a recipe of my own that combines the best of both recipes. It took me a couple of times to get the flavours right and ensuring all the ingredients complement each other and I think I worked it out.

In his recipe, Jamie uses smoked streaky bacon and fresh thyme to flavour his braised cabbage. But I think the addition of butter and extra virgin olive oil at the end of the cooking is what makes the dish exceptionally delicious! In my recipe, I want to incorporate the bacon; and though I don't always have streaky bacon in my fridge, I always have pancetta. It's Italian bacon really, that is cured in salt and spices like fennel, pepper and garlic. I was once told that pancetta has a long shelf-life (a few months) but I have never proven this because no slab of pancetta ever last longer than a week in my house. Also, the butter is a must, full stop.

Nigella's braised cabbage recipe has a lovely Asian flavours with soy sauce, sesame oil and nigella seeds. Nigella seeds if you don't know or never seen them, they look like black sesame seeds but not in any way related. They have earthier, nuttier scents and they are widely used in Indian cooking, often known as kalonji seeds. I keep the nigella seeds in my recipe, and not just because I love the name (I do love the name. Surprise, surprise) but also because they go very nicely with the thyme. I ditched the soy sauce and the toasted sesame oil is optional depending on what I'm serving the dish with. A few dashes of sesame oil can really change the whole flavour of the dish.

Feel free to use either white cabbage or Savoy cabbage here, it doesn't really matter. But whichever cabbage you use, the key is to slice the cabbage nice and fine. I like using my food processor with the slicer attachment to get uniform slices, but a sharp knife will do the job just fine.

This cabbage makes a great side dish, and an accompaniment poached chicken, but I happily eat it simply with plain boiled basmati rice.

Stir-braised Cabbage with Pancetta and Nigella Seeds
Recipe by Me
Serves 3-4 as a side dish

1 tablespoon garlic infused olive oil
100 gr pancetta, cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons nigella seeds
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 white/Savoy cabbage, outer leaves discarded and very finely sliced
350 ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 knobs of butter
Toasted sesame oil (optional)

In a pan that comes with a lid, start by heating the garlic infused oil and add the pancetta and nigella seeds, and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the finely sliced cabbage, dried thyme and the stock. Put the lid on and let boil furiously for 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to simmer and continue cooking until the cabbage is a pleasure to eat, I reckon a further 5 minutes. Top up the stock if you feel it's reducing too much.

Add the butter, few drops of sesame oil, if using and season to taste. Serve immediately.

Last Sunday, I served the cabbage with slow roast pork belly and it was delish. If you plan to do the same, I suggest reducing the amount of stock, otherwise it'll be too wet and the pork belly will be less pleasant to eat.

This is also my entry for the cabbage recipe competition, hosted by If you could spare a little of your time, please vote for me, here. Thank you :)

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Irish Oaten Rolls

I really enjoy when I have a little extra time in the morning to potter about in the kitchen and cook breakfast. I like banana and blueberry pancakes with warm maple syrup, omelettes with chives and smoked salmon, eggs Benedict with ham and English muffins, croque madame or full-English, but they require way too much effort for a Tuesday morning, plus I don't have most of the ingredients anyway. If only I have at-home-room-service... *sigh... if only.

Instead, I baked Nigella's Irish oaten rolls. They're like mini soda breads, but no kneading involve whatsoever. It takes about 5 minutes to mix all the ingredients and shape them into rolls and 15 minutes in the oven.

Freshly baked rolls, soft butter, apricot jam and a big cup of coffee. Heaven.

Do I really have to go and do some work now...

Irish Oaten Rolls
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
Makes 12
For ingredients and instructions, click here.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Slow Roast Pork Belly, etc

Just the thought of it makes me salivate: slow roast pork belly...
This recipe by Nigella is slightly different than many other slow roast pork belly recipes I tried, but I fully trust Nigella (and who am I to question the Domestic Goddess?). When cooking pork belly, I normally start roasting it in a very hot oven to get the crackling going; and then turning it down to moderate, letting the meat to continue cooking for several hours. Well, this recipe is the other way round. Start in a moderate oven for several hours and then crank up the heat for the last half an hour to let the skin crisp to crunchy burnished perfection.

The meat has also been marinated overnight before cooking in a delicious mixture of tahini, soy sauce and lemon and lime juice.

To accompany the pork belly, we had stir-braised cabbage with pancetta and nigella seeds (I'll post this later) and mustard roasted potatoes, a recipe borrowed from my friend Jenn at Jenn's Food Journey. Thank you so much Jenn for sharing this recipe... the potatoes were utterly delicious. We all loved it.

And for something sweet to complete the afternoon, we had chocolate pear pudding. I know chocolate and pear are a match made in food heaven, but every time I bake this, I'm always surprised by how delicious they are together. It's like fresh discovery every time. This pudding is so easy to put together and bake and eat! Serve with well-chilled cream.

Never say I don't look after my friends...

Thank you Mark, Anna and Michelle for the great company. It's always a pleasure feeding all of you. And to my friend, Kelly, get well soon. You were missed.

Time for a cup of tea and a little nap I think...

Friday, 18 February 2011

[Square] Clementine Cake

The cake is square, but the Clementines are definitely round. I baked this cake in a square tin simply because I could get more slices from it. If I were to bake this in a round tin, I could only get 12 slices; but in a square tin, I got 36. Yes, they are smaller slices, but I think it's nicer for my friends to be able to have second or third serving rather than just 1 if that makes any sense.

I am really into cakes made with ground almond these days. I love the texture (that's true), your friends with gluten-intolerance would appreciate that (also true), and because they're so moist, they last longer (so not true!).

This could possibly be the easiest cake recipe, ever. There are only 5 ingredients; you put everything in a food processor, blitz to mix and you have the batter. Yes, the clementines need to be boiled for a couple of hours until really soft and then let to cool, but whilst they're cooking and cooling, you could be doing other things, like hoovering, cooking dinner, eating dinner, washing dishes, reading blogs, watch 3 episodes of Friends, 2 episodes of Scrubs and one 2 hours long episode of American Idol; or whatever you fancy doing.

The cake is so so moist and smelled like Christmas while baking. The taste was utterly delicious, full of orangey goodness. It's like eating bright beam of sunshine; and however impossible, it does sound nice and poetic, right?

Clementine Cake
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
For ingredients and instructions, click here.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Guilt Free Kentucky

There's something about fried food and the 'crunchy-crispy-naughtiness' they bring that make them truly irresistible. One of my all time favourite food is fried chicken; and they must be home-made of course. Though I must confess, every now and then I buy fried chickens from a joint where the mixture of herbs and spices, all eleven of them still remain a secret. I could eat a bucketful of them, although that would simply mean the end of my short life.

This guilt free kentucky is a recipe I found recently by Lorraine Pascale. I use chicken thighs here as they are my favourite. In the packet they came in from the supermarket, there are six pieces of chicken thighs. I could and I would eat all of them because I am a greedy pig, but I somehow managed to restrain myself and cooked just three. I am very proud of this self-control.

The three pieces of skinless thighs were dipped in egg and then covered in seasoned white breadcrumbs with chopped thyme and rosemary. They're then baked in pre-heated 200 C oven for 30 minutes until golden.

In keeping with the guilt free theme, the chickens were served with rocket salad dressed in olive oil and lemon, and also sweetcorn kernels and chopped red peppers. Just like regular fried chickens, I must have tomato sauce; and my favourite is Tiptree Tomato Ketchup. It is so good!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Penne alla Vodka and Vodka-Ginger Cocktail

I'm sure I heard the saying somewhere, "When life throws vodka at you, make Penne alla Vodka". Just like frozen peas, frozen edamame beans, coffee ice-cream and ice, vodka is also a crucial staple in my freezer. I never know when I'll need it, so it's better to have a good supply of it. This is one way to use vodka that won't give you a hangover though.

There are so many variations of this creamy, tomato based sauce pasta dish. One time I had penne alla vodka with cubes of pancetta and it was delicious (so as anything else with bacon I suppose); I've also had it with fiery red pepper flakes and that was delicious too...

I first made this back when I started uni and I couldn't recall the recipe I used, but I came up with my own since then which is pretty basic and not much different to many other recipes. The key however I think for a good penne alla vodka is timing. The sauce shouldn't simmer too long, otherwise you will lose the flavour of the vodka.

This is how I do it: get a big pot of water boiling on the stove. Whilst waiting for the water to boil, finely chop 1 onion and cook gently with some salt on a medium heat with olive oil and butter on a pan big enough to take the pasta and sauce later. When the onions became soft and translucent, add 2 finely chopped garlic and continue cooking, stirring occasionally and don't let the garlic burn.

When the water is boiling, add plenty of salt and add 250 gr of penne. You have to act fast now, because the pasta should be cooked in 8 - 10 minutes.  Add 1 can of chopped tomatoes to the onions and garlic mixture. I then add just a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity of sauce. Let the sauce comes to a boil and then let it simmer. About a couple minutes before the pasta is cooked, stir in 60 ml of vodka. Use good quality vodka. It makes all the difference. Also add a couple tablespoons of single cream. The sauce will turn into a beautiful soft-red colour. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if it needs more salt, pepper or vodka... :)

Drain the cooked pasta and tip it into the sauce and mix well until everything is evenly coated with a little extra butter if you wish (I always do to make the sauce shine and for flavour too of course). Serve on a bowl and grate some Parmesan on top and chopped parsley if you got some.

To wash it all down, I like this refreshing vodka-ginger cocktail. The method below is great but you have to make the syrup mixture in advance to chill which I don't mind doing; but there are times when I just simply cannot wait. For a short-cut version of this cocktail, simply mix 3 parts of ginger ale and 1 part of vodka in a glass with crushed iced. Contrary to what I said at the beginning, too much of this might give you a hangover.

Vodka-Ginger Cocktail
Recipe by Stéphane Reynaud
Serves 6

200 g fresh ginger
1 litre water
300 g soft brown sugar

Place the vodka in the freezer. Peel the ginger, chop into small cubes. Place them in a saucepan, cover with water, add the sugar and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes. Purée this mixture and chill for 1 hour. Serve the ginger syrup with crushed iced and vodka in a highball glasses.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake

On Friday I've been known to bring treats to work, like muffins, cupcakes, cheesecakes, brownies, blondies, etc. Last Friday, I didn't bring anything and my colleagues were all so disappointed and I was given the hardest time at work... teased all day. I apparently ruined Fun Friday for everyone. Well, excuse me people, I think I am allowed a break some time!

However the truth is, I love feeding people and it is such an important ritual for me. I feed myself everyday, and cooking for one isn't always fun. I am happiest when I see my friends having my food; and also it gives me great satisfaction when I hear the 'yum' noises and the compliments afterwards. I defy anyone who loves cooking and doesn't enjoy getting the compliments just as much, or if not more, than the cooking itself.

So, to make up for last Friday, I baked this delicious chocolate orange loaf cake to bring to the office today. This cake is incredibly easy to make, it's uber moist and I always love the combination of chocolate and orange.

This is also my entry for the Forever Nigella blogging event hosted by Sarah at Maison Cupcake. I missed the first event but nonetheless here I am now. The theme for the second event is 'Seduced by Chocolate' and I think we all know how much Nigella loves her chocolate and there are so many wonderful recipes of hers, savoury and sweet that includes chocolate to choose from Nigella's collection.

Wearing black satin dressing gown to cook in the dark by fairy lights is actively encoraged in this blogging event. Well, that didn't happen I'm afraid...

Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
in Kitchen, Recipes from the Heart of the Home

One last thing, you may still remember from few posts ago, about my obsession to have the perfect teeth. So, last week I went to the dentist for a regular check-up. I was feeling confident. I brush my teeth everyday, I floss regularly and I also use mouthwash. My dentist then said, "your teeth are fine, but...", and I immediately thought, "oh, No...!". Apparently I have a mild problem (known as something I cannot remember in medical term) and I have to have two appointments to get rid of this thing. My dentist explained the procedure but all I can think about at that time was "it's gonna be painful" and I'm not very well handling pain.

Whilst arranging the appointment, I asked the nurse, "does it hurt, the procedure?" and she said, "no, it doesn't. It's a strange feeling". Strange feeling? You know what I think, I think someone is bloody lying!

The first appointment is later this afternoon. I am crying inside. God help me. If you don't see any posts in the next couple of days, that probably means I am dead. Nice knowing all of you.

Updates: So, I am still very much alive. The appointment was actually alright. It wasn't as scary and painful as I thought it would be. I was acting like a baby. My upper lip is still numb and that is a strange feeling...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sweet Chilli Glazed Ham & Sweetcorn Pudding

I've been wanting to cook this ham for few weeks now and it finally happened last night. I wrote the recipe in my scribble journal just before Christmas with the thought, this will make a fantastic centre piece for a festive gathering, but came the season (and gone) and the ham sadly never made it to the table; not until yesterday anyway.

The night before cooking, I always soak the ham in cold water to get rid some of the excess salt, though I've been told there's no need to do that these days. The next day, place the ham in a clean pan and completely cover it with water and add peppercorns, bay leaves and grated ginger. Bring to the boil, the reduce the heat to a simmer. I cook the joint for 1 hour per kilo.

The glaze for the ham is simply made by mixing sweet chilli jam*, smoked paprika, light brown sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil in a bowl. When the ham had its time, remove it from the pan carefully to a roasting tin and remove the thick layer of the skin, leaving some of the fat. This should comes off easily in one large piece. With a sharp knife, score the meat diagonally and then pour the glaze over the meat, covering evenly. I highly recommend using a disposable aluminium tin or line your roasting tin with strong foil for easy clean up later. Cook in the pre-heated 200 C oven for 30 minutes.

Once the glazed is sticky and the joint is slightly scorched, remove from the oven and let it rest before you carve. Serve with some peas and sweetcorn pudding. Yum.

* I use Nudo sweet chilli jam because I love the product and it's organic. But you could as easily use the sweet chilli dipping sauce (Thai or Chinese) from the supermarket. Or if you want to have a go at making your own chilli jam, I have a couple blogger friends who can help you: Angela at The Good Soup and Anna from The Hospitality Guru.

Sweetcorn Pudding
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
Serves 8

5 eggs
510 g can sweetcorn, drained
418 g can creamed sweetcorn
300 ml full-fat milk
300 ml double cream
60 g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 180 C and butter an over-proof dish. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl and then add the remaining ingredients, mix well. Pour into the buttered dish and cook for about an hour, by which time it should have set within and puffed up slightly on the top.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Soup made with garlic and love... and pumpkin scones too...

"This kind of unflashy peasant soup does - there are no two ways about it - rather resemble dishwater, but it is delicious dishwater. Besides, it's exactly this sort of home food, the food that belongs in the kitchen, that I love and need" Nigella Lawson in Kitchen, recipes from the heart of the home.

Don't you just love the title of this recipe? I do.
It's amazing what you can create with so little ingredients and delicious too. I mean this soup is just chicken stock with a healthy amount of garlic (1 bulb), a tablespoon of thyme, one leek, a couple of potatoes, a whole lotta love and some chopped parsley to serve. That's it.

As mentioned above, this is not the prettiest soup, but it doesn't matter because its taste blinds you, just like love. 

These savoury pumpkin scones are great accompaniment for the soup; and they're so easy to make. The pumpkin is from a tin and no kneading. The sweetness of the pumpkin is well balanced by the saltiness of the Parmesan and Worcestershire sauce, and also a little heat from the chilli oil. Like all scones, I prefer them when they're warm and served with generous smearing of soft butter. Nigella suggests cream cheese for these ones.

Pumpkin Scones
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
Makes 12

175 g canned pumpkin purée
50 g grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes or 1/2 teaspoon pouring salt
good grinding white pepper
2 teaspoon chilli oil
250 g plain flour, plus more for dusting work surface
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
a little milk to glaze

1 x baking sheet
1 x 5 cm scone/cookie cutter

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Put the pumpkin purée, Parmesan, egg, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and chilli oil in a bowl. Beat well to mix.

In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and bicarb. Fold this into the pumpkin mixture and work it to form a dough.

Flour your work surface, then tip the dough out of the bowl and pat down with your hands to make a slab about 5 cm thick. There's no need to roll it.

Cut the dough into scones using a round 5 cm cutter that you have first dipped in flour. Place the scones on a baking sheet, about 3 cm apart. Re-form the dough so that you can keep cutting out rounds.

Brush the top with a little milk and then bake for 15 minutes. Once out of the oven, let cool a little and they're best when still warm.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Creamy Baked British Onions with Brown Sugar Glazed Salmon

When somebody asks, "What is your favourite vegetables?", seldom do people say "onions".
I think onion is one of the most underrated vegetables. I have always been a fan of onions and they are a staple in my kitchen; when cooked slowly they release their natural sweetness, giving a depth of flavour to soups, stews and stocks. But they are also delicious, cooked in their own entirety.

I was contacted by a representative from British Onions to sample their products and you know me, I couldn't resist this nice offer, and plus I always support local produce. When I received the parcel, in the box there were English mustard, marmite, mushroom ketchup and of course as expected, lots of onions. I have been using the onions as the base of some of the dishes I previously posted on the blog, like the Ardèche potato cake, the meatloaf and the pomegranate and chicken stew.

For the last three onions I have left, I want to cook a recipe that celebrates onions as vegetables in their own right and I made this heavenly, creamy baked British Onions. I first discovered a dish like this from Jamie Oliver's the best onion gratin and it was delicious but the cooking time is quite long. In my version, I boiled the onions until tender to let the flavour mellow and become sweet (and to speed up the cooking process) before baking them with thyme, cream and parmesan cheese.

The delicious brown sugar glazed salmon recipe is borrowed from my friend Elisabeth at Food and Thrift Finds. If you want to see the recipe, you can click here.

If you want to know more about British Onions, please visit their web page where you can find plenty recipes and useful tips and information. Thank you British Onions for the lovely parcel, it's very much appreciated. I wouldn't mind receiving more onions though, just saying... :)

Creamy Baked British Onions
Recipe by Me
Serves 1, if you have an appetite like me

2 white/yellow onion
1 red onion
75 ml single cream
25 g grated Parmesan cheese or Gruyere will be delicious too
Sprinkling of dried thyme
Extra virgin olive oil

Peel the onions and boil them in a pan of water for 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the onions. You want them just soft, not mushy. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 C.
When the onions are tender, take them out and cut them in half or quarters. Place them on a buttered ramekin and season them, then add the cream and sprinkle the dried thyme and cheese on top. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and bake for 20-25 minutes.
The onions should be bubbling and golden brown. Serve with the salmon or a simple side salad with sharp vinaigrette if you wish.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Lemon, Basil and Salmon

My friend Dom at Belleau Kitchen recently set up the 'random recipe' challenge. The idea is to choose a cookbook randomly from your collections and then open the book also at random and cook the recipe on that page. Doesn't that sound like fun?

If you're like me, a cookbook-junkie, you have loads of cookbooks whether ones you bought yourself or gifts from friends. I do read them but I have certain favourites that I use quite frequently; and so I feel this challenge is a great opportunity for me to cook from the other books.

I went to my book-shelf and I put all the Nigella's books aside because I cook from her books pretty frequently and also Jamie's Cook with Jamie because I already cooked all the recipes in that book. I closed my eyes and I grabbed one book, and the book I selected was: Giada's Kitchen, New Italian Favorites by Giada de Laurentiis. Yay! And the recipe I chose at random is whole-wheat spaghetti with lemon, basil and salmon. Am I lucky or what?

When I went to high school in the States, one day I flicked through the TV channels and I found Food Network and ever since, it was pretty much all the TV I watched. I remember sprinting home after school, so that I wouldn't miss shows like Michael Chiarello's Easy Entertaining, Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa and Giada's Everyday Italian. Watching those chefs on the television for me was like attending private cooking lessons and I learned many cooking terminologies and techniques by watching these programmes. I also think Giada is hot.

Anyway, the pasta was delicious. If you're looking for a healthy pasta dish, you can't go wrong with this one. Like Giada, when I eat this I also feel I've both indulged a craving for pasta and treated myself to something especially healthful and nutritious.

For more information about the challenge, you can visit Dom's blog here.

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Lemon, Basil and Salmon
Recipe by Giada de Laurentiis
Serves 4

1/2 pound whole-grain or whole-wheat spaghetti
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 (4-ounce) salmon fillets
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and transfer to a large bowl. Add the garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Season the salmon fillets and cook until medium-rare about 2 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove the salmon from the pan.

Add the basil, capers, lemon zest and juice to the spaghetti and toss to combine. Set out 4 serving plates or shallow bowls. Place 1/2 cup spinach in each bowl. Top with one quarter of the pasta. top each mound of pasta with a piece of salmon. Take a picture quickly for the blog and serve immediately.

Eton Mess Pavlova

Eton Mess is a classic English dessert that combines softly whipped cream, slices of strawberries and crushed meringue cookies. The name 'Eton' is used as the dessert was first created at Eton college, one of the most well-known schools in Britain; and the three ingredients are simply mixed together hence the name 'mess'.

Eton mess is always a treat to eat, but I want to make it a little bit different this time by changing the 'structure' of the dish, but keeping the traditional ingredients and so I made this Eton Mess Pavlova. It's a mixture of the nostalgic English strawberries and cream, and pavlova from Australia or New Zealand (but let's not get into an argument here).
I know adding vanilla cream and strawberries on top of marshmallowy pavlova base, is not something new or  inventive in the slightest, but that's what I want here: simplicity and familiar tastes.

You could if you want, steep the strawberries with sugar and balsamic vinegar; or add a few drops of rose water to the cream in place of vanilla. Delicious!

This pavlova is dedicated to my little sister's seventeenth birthday today. Happy Birthday! I love you.

Eton Mess Pavlova

For the pavlova base:
4 egg whites
12 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon corn flour

For the topping:
284 ml double cream, softly whipped with the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
250 gr strawberries, hulled and sliced

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Beat the eggs with freestanding or hand mixer until it reaches peak form and the beat in the sugar a tablespoon at a time until the meringue is stiff and shine.   If you touch the meringue with the tip of your fingers, it should be silky smooth, not grainy.  Gently fold in the vinegar and corn flour.  The vinegar and corn flour will ensure the inside of the meringue to be soft and chewy.  Mound on to the baking tray into a fat dome, smoothing the sides and top.

Put into the oven and immediately turn the temperature to 150C and cook for about an hour.  After an hour, the outside should look crisp and dry.  Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, and let the meringue cool completely.

When ready to serve, invert the giant meringue into the platter of your choice and then pile the vanilla cream and the sliced strawberries. Enjoy.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Pomegranate and Chicken Stew

I am keeping my New Year's Resolution still and cooking my way through the list of recipes in my 'to-cook' folder.

I went to the market yesterday during my lunch break to pick up some fruits and I saw a big basket of pomegranates on sale. I love pomegranates and this is the absolute prime time to enjoy this round, leathery-skinned orbs filled with hundreds of beautiful, glistening ruby-red seeds.

Pomegranates are delicious, but it can be a bit fiddly seeding them. I use the 'whacking' technique which I think is the best and most importantly, fun. Simply cut the pomegranates into halves and hold the cut side over a bowl or directly to the serving platter and give the skin side several good whacks with a wooden spoon and the seeds will just fall out. I suggest you're not wearing white though because the juices will splatter.

This pomegranate and chicken stew recipe is created by the editor of Jamie Magazine, Andy Harris and I am so glad I've tried this stew. Just reading the word stew to be honest, I feel somewhat comforted already and this stew is no exception. The stew is light and fresh, pleasantly balanced with the acidity of the tomato and pomegranate molasses and a nice kick of red chilli and smoked paprika.

I served the stew over nutty brown rice dressed with coriander and sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. People say you serve white wine with white meat, but I think red wine like Cotes du Rhone will compliment the stew nicely; or even better, make your favourite pomegranate cocktails (mine is a simple mixture of two parts of pomegranate juice and ginger ale/beer, and one part peach schnapps).

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Pomegranate and Chicken Stew
Recipe by Andy Harris
Serves 4 - 6

1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chicken jointed (I used chicken thighs only as they're my favourite)
1 teaspoon paprika
2 onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander, plus extra for the rice
300 ml tomato passata
4 tablespoons pomegranate molasses*
200 ml pomegranate juice
Boiled rice and pomegranate seeds, to serve

Heat the oil in a casserole over a medium heat. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika, then brown in the hot oil for 7 - 8 minutes. Remove the pieces to a plate and set aside.

In the same pan, add another splash of oil with the onions. Stir well, being sure to catch the sticky bits at the bottom of the pan. Cook slowly for 15 minutes, till onions are soft, adding the garlic, chilli and coriander in the last 5 minutes. Stir in the passata, molasses and pomegranate juice, season well, the bring to the boil.

Return the chicken with any juices to the pan, cover and lower heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened, checking often that it's not sticking. Toss the rice with the extra coriander, the place the chicken on top and scatter with pomegranate seeds.

*Pomegranate molasses is a thick, dark deliciously tangy syrup, widely used in Lebanese and Middle Eastern cooking and is great in both sweet and savoury dishes. You can buy it in large supermarkets or speciality shops, but to make your own, simply simmer pomegranate juice (from a bottle is fine) until syrupy, then transfer to a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Oat, Strawberry and Milk Blondies

I recently discovered a new love for blondies and one ingredient I'm addicted in particular is sweetened condensed milk. A new wonderful blogger friend of mine, Angela from The Good Soup posted a blondies recipe that really celebrates the over the top sweetness fudgy milk taste of dulce de leche, and of course, I must give the recipe a try (one very valid excuse to open that jar of dulce the leche).

Angela adapted Nigella's blondies recipes and put her own twist to it.  She replaces the chocolate with strawberries that have been macerated in balsamic vinegar (or use lemon juice) and sugar which work really well. I brought the blondies to the office and they were a great success, so delicious.

If you want to make these delicious oat, strawberry and milk blondies, you can check the recipe here.

Angela also very kindly presented me with the Stylish Blogger Award. Thank you so very much!! You made my day.

One of the rules when accepting the award is I must tell yous 7 things about myself, and they are:

  1. I am obsessed with having the perfect teeth. I take a good care of my teeth to avoid going to the dentist. My friends say that I have "nice, big, American teeth" which I believe is a compliment. I recently had problems with my wisdom tooth and I don't know why we need extra teeth... The 28 I currently have work just fine. I asked my dentist for a pill to stop my wisdom teeth from growing and apparently no such thing exists... 
  2. I used to weigh 90 kg / 198 pounds until when I was fifteen. I then went through a diet of no bread, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes, no crackers, no crisps, no sodas, no eating anything after 7 pm, and routine exercise (in the morning, at school and after) for one and a half year and I lost 30 kg / 66 pounds. It was difficult but I felt much happier and definitely healthier after losing all that weight. I eat anything I want now and I exercise regularly.
  3. One time when I was in junior high, during an art class I asked my friend, "how many legs does a chicken have?" My friend gave me the weirdest look... and why wouldn't he. I left my brain at home that day. In case if you're wondering, yes, I know a normal chicken has 2 legs, not 4. They are located on the right and left side of its body, not front and back.
  4. Do not let me drink long island iced tea. (4.5 I cannot say no to long island iced teas).
  5. I come from a large family. I have 18 aunts, 17 uncles and probably just over 50 cousins (I can't remember how many nieces or nephews I have). Family gathering can be a scary thing. In my own family, I have two younger sisters who I love to bits and I try to set a good example for them.
  6. My current most played song on iTunes is "Dog Days are Over" by Florence + the Machine.
  7. The very first thing I learned how to bake is snickerdoodle cookies.
Another rule is I must pass the award to other bloggers which I will do, but not now because I have another awards to showcase and I'll pass them all at the same time.

Enjoy your weekend everyone.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Rib of Beef with Rosemary, Garlic Roast Potatoes and Baked Carrots

My friend Hardian always asks for the same dish every time he comes around for dinner: rib of beef with rosemary, garlic roast potatoes and the best whole baked carrots.  I first cooked these during my Cook with Jamie project and I enjoy this kinds of rustic cooking; comforting and warming somehow. I love the sight of a big piece of steak, served with potatoes, veg and a big glass of red wine.

The on-the-bone rib of beef was marinated with lemon zest, fresh rosemary, crushed garlic and olive oil and then grilled quickly on the stove to get the nice charred colour and then roasted in the oven to medium-rare which in my opinion is the best way to enjoy beef like this. Let the beef rest for 10 minutes so that the juices go back to the center and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

The potatoes are cubed and then parboil before tossing them with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and then roasted in the oven until the skin become crisp.  I sprinkled them with chili sea salt before serving.  The combination of the two: rosemary-lemony-garlicky infused steak with again, rosemary-garlicky potatoes are so delicious.

Also accompanying the meal, the best whole baked carrots. When I first had this I wasn't sure about this whole baked carrots business thing because I normally like my carrots crunchy, but you've got to try this, it's surprisingly delicious.
The Best Whole Baked Carrots
Recipe by Jamie Oliver

750 g carrots, washed and scrubbed
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
3 cloves of garlic, crushed

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Toss the carrots with olive oil, a splash of vinegar, salt and pepper, the thyme sprigs and garlic. Place in a roasting tray and cover tightly with tinfoil and cook for 30-40 minutes until just tender. Remove the foil and cook for a further 10 minutes until the carrots have browned and caramelized nicely.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Ed's Mother's Meatloaf & Strawberry and Almond Crumble

I have always associated meatloaf with American diners that are known for serving comfort food. In fact, I had my first meatloaf from a diner when I was in high school in the States. I had a thick slice of meatloaf, served with mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy and banana milkshake to wash it all down (calories be darned!).

When I went to university back in the UK, I made my first meatloaf by importing a fairly traditional American recipe (the one that's topped with tomato sauce or ketchup). But I suppose each family would have their own variations to make meatloaf. Just to be clear, I don't personally know Ed. Nigella managed to extract this recipe from her friend's mother.

Last night I invited my friends Mark and Anna, two of my favourite people to feed, for a meatloaf dinner and we all agreed this meatloaf was absolutely delicious.  Meatloaf is mostly minced meat, so I think it's important to get good, freshly minced meat from the butcher.  Pre-minced meat from the supermarket tends to be dry which gives a crumbly texture to the meatloaf, making it harder to slice.

The mince is simply seasoned with salt and Worcestershire sauce, along with an egg and fresh breadcrumbs to bind the mixture. Cooled, slowly cooked onions in duck fat (yes, duck fat) are then added which gives such beautiful flavours to the meatloaf.

Three hard-boiled eggs are placed inside the meatloaf before wrapping the meatloaf securely with streaky bacon.  Now, you know why this meatloaf is so good!

Please don't be alarmed. Yes, indeed there's duck fat, the fat from the mince itself and bacon in this meatloaf.  But this is meant to be comforting and I wouldn't eat this every day.  I could but shouldn't.

I sliced the meatloaf rather generously so that every one gets some egg.  I served the meatloaf with baked potatoes, sour cream and chives, steamed sugar snap peas and however untraditional, but necessary, English mustard.  Gravy wise, I don't think it's needed here as the meatloaf is so moist, but if you must have gravy with your meatloaf, do make your favourite gravy.

For pudding, we went back to east side of the Atlantic and had strawberry and almond crumble. This is like the winter version of the luscious summer favourites, strawberries and cream.  Just think: plump strawberries, top them with vanilla, almondy, buttery crumble and bake in the oven until the berries bursts with pink-red juices.

Nigella says serving this crumble with lashings of cream is obligatory, not optional. Well, I've gotta do what Nigella says.

Strawberry and Almond Crumble
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
Serves 6 (in theory; in practise just me, Mark and Anna)

500 g strawberries, hulled
50 g caster sugar
25 ground almonds
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the topping:
110 g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
75 g cold butter, diced
100 g toasted flaked almonds
75 g demerara sugar

well chilled double cream, to serve
1 x oven-proof pie dish approx. 21 cm diameter x 4 cm deep

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Put the hulled strawberries into your pie dish and sprinkle over the ground almonds, caster sugar and vanilla.

For the crumble topping, put the flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl and rub in the cold butter with your fingers until they resemble rough, pale oatmeal.  Stir in the flaked almonds, and sugar with fork.

Tip this over the strawberry mixture in an even layer and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, by which the crumble topping will have darkened to a pale gold and some pink-red juices will be seeping and bubbling out at the edges.

Leave to stand for ten minutes before serving, and be sure to put a jug of chilled double cream on the table alongside.

P.S. Back to the meatloaf, make sure you leave yourself one piece for leftover meatloaf sandwich for lunch the next day.