Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Linguine with Pancetta, Prawns and Rocket

You know how much I love pasta... I'd happily eat pasta for supper everyday. Pasta is just a great neutral starch on which to combine flavours and ingredients. I have been eating pasta for as long as I can remember and I have always considered pasta as one of the great pleasures of the table. There's something so satisfying about a big bowl piled high with pasta. Everyone can serves themselves and it's great as a side dish, or the main course. Plus, pasta is economical, what is not to like?

It's hard to choose on a single favourite pasta dish. I have several pasta dishes which I love: pasta puttanesca is perhaps the pasta dish I cook most often, followed by spaghetti with Marmite for lazy days.  On the weekend when I want to spend some quality time in the kitchen, I love making fresh pasta and 'proper' bolognese sauce. Or when I visit the fishmonger, I am always in the look for beautiful clams for linguine alla vongole.

I could go on and on, but let's focus on this linguine with pancetta, prawns and rocket.  This particular pasta dish is a proof of my indecisiveness and greediness. One evening, I could not decide whether to have linguine with garlic and pancetta, or to have linguine with prawns, chilli, lemon and rocket; so instead, I took the elements from both dishes and this is what I came up with...

Linguine with Pancetta, Prawns and Rocket
Recipe by Me
Serves 4

500 gr linguine
160 gr pancetta, cubed
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 fresh red chillies, finely
a knob of butter
250 gr raw king prawns
1/2 cup of white wine
juice of 1 lemon or to taste
a handful of rocket leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Now, instead of reading the instructions on how to cook this pasta dish, you can watch me cook it. So, it's true, I am a real human. This blog is not run by a robot... just a lunatic. I hope you enjoy the video. Credit to my friend Jacky who is the camera operator and the editor of the video. I am his puppet.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Gwyneth's ten-hour chicken and quick huevos rancheros

I am so pleased to finally cooked this absolutely delicious ten-hour roast chicken from Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook. I read loads of great reviews about it on-line and after my first bite, now I know why. After testing Heston's method for roasting chicken not a long time ago, I don't think I'll ever roast chicken the same way again. Low and slow are definitely the way forward (and brining if I can remember).

There's hardly any prep here... just simple basic ingredients: great quality chicken, lemon, thyme, garlic, coarse salt and black pepper. That's it! You start by rubbing the washed and dried chicken with lemon juice. Then generously sprinkle the chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper all over, not forgetting the cavity. Tuck half a lemon, a small bunch of fresh thyme and several peeled garlic cloves in the cavity. Place the chicken in a roasting tin, breast side down. Wrap the tin tightly with foil and put it in a preheated 110 C oven for 9.5 hours. Do nothing to it, just get on with your day.

When the chicken had its time, take it out of the oven and boost the heat to 200 C. Unwrap the foil and don't be surprised even after 9.5 hours of cooking, the chicken will still look a bit pale. Place the chicken breast side up now. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper. Put it back in the oven and let it roast for 15 - 20 minutes or until it's nicely browned.

Let the chicken rest to let all the juices come back to the centre, then carve (or shred in my case) and enjoy with its lovely cooking juices, no need for gravy.

The chicken is so deliciously tender and it just melts in your mouth. "Oh, so good" is an understatement...

I served the chicken with colcannon, that is Irish mashed potatoes which was definitely appropriate for St. Patrick's Day. I start by making a simple mash with potatoes, milk, garlic butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper; and to that I added sautéed savoy cabbage and bacon with Worcestershire sauce and chopped parsley. Sublime.

The leftover mashed potatoes are then turned into potato patties for last night's tea. The patties are covered in white breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, black pepper and paprika before frying until crunchy and golden brown. To be honest, I could simply eat the patties with some brown sauce, but because it's the weekend and I wanted something special, so I made my quick version of the delicious Mexican breakfast, huevos rancheros.

I start by cutting a link of spicy chorizo sausage into quarters and fry them in an oil-less iron cast pan over medium heat. Let the chorizo renders its fat and then add some chopped onion and one red chilli, seeds and all. Let the onion soften and then add a can of chopped tomatoes. Fill half of the can with water, swirl it around and add it to the pan. You don't have to do this, but I always add just about a teaspoon of sugar to balance the acidity from canned tomatoes. Next, slice some cherry tomatoes into halves, but leave some whole too and add them to the pan. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let the sauce comes to a boil and then cover and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Then crack some eggs directly into the sauce and sprinkle the eggs with salt and pepper. Put the lid back on and cook the eggs for a couple of minutes or so, I like my yolks still runny.

Sprinkle with some chopped parsley or coriander, whichever one you have and wedges of lemon. Breakfast for dinner... my favourite.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

traditional long-cooked Balinese duck

OK. I admit, the picture of this Balinese duck isn't the best. The truth is, my friends and I were really hungry and I couldn't be bothered fashioning the duck and taking pictures from various angels. It was like, one take and then we just had to tuck in.

If only there's a way to attach the delicious smell of this duck, I'd do that instead of the picture. But that would just be torture, because you can't bite into the exquisite taste.

Anyway, this Balinese duck is my entry for this month's Random Recipe challenge. I was so pleased to finally cook a dish from Sri Owen's Indonesian Food which is such a gorgeous cookbook with plenty of personal stories and it's almost like reading an autobiography. Just my kind of reading.

For an obvious reason (being an Indonesian), I love Indonesian food, but I rarely cook Indonesian food at home. So, my friends were quite surprised when I told then we're having Balinese duck (bebek betutu in Indonesian) and rice. Again, I don't eat rice very often at home.

Please do not be put off by the long list of ingredients. Yes, there loads of spices, but everything just need to go into the blender. Most of the ingredients can be found in supermarkets nowadays; but you might need to go to your local Asian grocery store for a couple of ingredients. One, galangal... It is part of the ginger family and widely use in South East Asian cooking. Two, terasi or shrimp paste... which smells truly awful but tastes delicious. This is strong stuff and it's very salty, so a little bit goes a long way. It's beautiful in tomato and chilli sambal especially... with some Javanese fried chicken... That's for later :) I guess I might be cooking more Indonesian food...

traditional long-cooked Balinese duck
Recipe by Sri Owen
Serves 4 - 6

170 - 225 grams curly kale or vine or courgette leaves or spinach, blanched, squeezed dry, and shredded
1 duck, 1.5 - 2 kg, cleaned and ready for roasting

for the bumbu (paste)
5 shallots or 2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
5 fresh red chillies, deseeded and chopped, or 1 tsp chilli powder
2 candlenuts or macadamia nuts (optional)
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 cloves
2 green cardamom pods
2.5 cm piece of cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground or grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tsp chopped galangal
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
5 cm piece of lemongrass stem, tough layer discarded, chopped
1 tsp terasi (shrimp paste)
3 tbsp tamarind water or freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp salt

Blend all the ingredients for the paste in a blender until smooth. Cook the paste on a saucepan and simmer for 6 - 8 minutes, stirring often. Set aside and leave to cool completely. Have a taste and adjust the seasoning. I definitely need more salt.

When the paste is cold, mix half of it in the bowl with the shredded leaves. I used curly kale which I happen to love. Rub the remaining paste all over the duck, inside and out. I would suggest you wear a clean disposable kitchen gloves to do this. Unless you don't mind the smell of shrimp paste sticking to your hands. Stuff the shredded leaves into the duck.

Now, if you can find banana leaves in your local groceries, big enough to wrap the duck, use it. And then wrap again in two or three layers of foil, quite loosely. I couldn't find banana leaves, so I just used the foil. You can cook the duck now, or do what I did: I let the flavours marinate into the duck in the fridge, overnight.  The next day, I let the duck out of the fridge for an hour or so to get to room temperature before roasting.

To cook, preheat the oven to 160 C and put the duck on a baking tray in the middle of the oven. Cook for two hours, the reduce the heat to 120 C and continue cooking for further 3 - 4 hours.

To serve, unwrap the duck and let it rest. Sri suggested to separate and cook the cooking liquid in a pan. But I didn't bother. I was hungry! The duck should have become very, very tender. Serve with the curly kale and boiled basmati rice.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Chocolate and Buttermilk Layer Cake

Yesterday, I had a couple of tubs of buttermilk that needed using. I just cannot stand wasting any food. I was going to make buttermilk pancakes and perhaps a smoothie, but then I also had an urge to bake. So I thought even better, why not use the buttermilk in the same way if I were to use sour cream or yoghurt when baking. And then this chocolate and buttermilk layer cake was born...

In my chocolate cakes these days, I must add coffee or espresso to enhance the chocolatey-ness. Don't be alarmed by the runny batter. The coffee and buttermilk, they really ensure the cake to be dark and moist, very moist...

Just in case, it's not chocolatey enough, the cake is covered with Nutella buttercream frosting. So, you know this is gonna be good.

I brought the cake to the office and it was very well-received. My friend Ross, sent an email with the subject "cake = awesome". I think he liked it and I think you would too.

Chocolate and Buttermilk Layer Cake with Nutella Buttercream Frosting
Recipe by Me
Makes 12 slices

For the cake
400 grams plain flour
450 grams caster sugar
75 grams cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3 egg yolks
300 ml vegetable oil
350 ml buttermilk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
350 ml hot espresso (or use strong coffee)

For the Nuttela Buttercream Frosting
125 grams icing sugar
150 grams soft unsalted butter
3 heaped tablespoons Nutella
1 tablespoon hot water

Start by preheating the oven to 180 C. Grease two, 23 cm cake tins with butter or nonstick spray, and line the bottoms with baking paper.

In a large bowl, add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder. I don't bother sifting. I just use a whisk to blend everything in and try to break as much lumps as possible.

In a jug, mix the buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, yolks, vanilla extract and mix to combine. Pour the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, whisking well. You can use an electric mixer, but I needed the workout before tucking into the cake later. I haven't been to the gym the past week. I felt kinda guilty.

Anyway... next, add the hot espresso or strong coffee slowly and mix until the batter is smooth. Divide into the prepared tins and bake for 30 - 35 minutes until a skewer comes out with moist crumbs. Let cool in the pans for 15 - 20 minutes before turning them out completely on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, dump the icing sugar, softened butter and Nutella into a food processor. Pulse several times until everything comes together. With the motor running, pour the hot water down the funnel and that's it!

Once the cakes are completely cooled, take one cake flat side up, and place it on the cake stand or platter of your choice. Spread half of the frosting all over and then place the second cake, flat side down. Spread the rest of the frosting on top, making any patterns you like.

Make yourself a cup of something nice to drink and enjoy the cake.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


So, it's not almost spring yet and the weather in the North East of England is still the kind of weather that is perfect for a bowl of comforting soup, like Ribollita.

Ribollita is a hearty Tuscan vegetable soup, though my version is not completely vegetarian friendly. This is not a clear broth soup. In fact, it is not brothy at all, unlike minestrone, and there's no pasta in it. It's more like pappa al pomodoro, as it's thick and based on bread.

I actually made the soup last night to let all the flavours really develop and I must say, it is just delicious. My ribollita perhaps is not authentically Italian. Nothing I cook is authentic, you should know by now. But this is the version I have been cooking since my student years at uni. Also meaning, the ingredients for the soup are economical.

Like many soups and stews, the base vegetables are onions, carrots and celery which I sweat in big pot with some olive oil over medium heat. Salt the veg to prevent them from burning. Stirring occasionally until they are soft. To the pot I add cubes of pancetta, a pinch of red chilli flakes for a bit of heat and several cloves of finely minced garlic. Cook for another couple of minutes, before adding the shredded savoy cabbage and kale leaves. Next is a couple of cans of chopped/crushed tomatoes and chicken stock, just enough to cover all the veg.

Whenever I buy parmesan cheese, I always keep the rind the freezer which I later often use to flavour soup/stews to give nice depth of flavour. So, if you've got some laying around in the freezer, this is a good time to use them. I chuck in a couple of the small ones to the pot. Let the soup comes to a boil and then partially cover with a lid and let it simmer. After about 30 minutes or so, roughly chop/tear some fresh basil leaves and add to the soup. I drain and rinse a couple of cans of cannellini beans and I purée half of them in a food processor with a little chicken stock which will thicken the soup. Simply add the rest of the beans.

The soup will be thicken further by adding chunks of bread. This time I use white country loaf, but use any good quality bread you have. The soup should be thick, but not dry. So, add more stock if it looks to dry to loosen it. Continue cooking over low heat for another 15-20 minutes,

Check for seasoning and adjust the salt and black pepper to your liking. Serve on a shallow bowl and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated parmesan cheese. And a nice glass of red wine.