Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Mulled Ginger Beer

There are so many Christmas traditions I love, from the classic minced pies, fruit cake and of course, the turkey with all its trimmings on the big day itself. But this is also treat-season and boy, I do know how to treat myself well. After a somewhat productive day off doing the Christmas shopping, I want to wallow more in the festivities.

At home, I put on Christmas carols and I make my mulled ginger beer. I do love the more traditional mulled wine, believe me (that is my drink of the season), but this mulled ginger beer is lighter and just all too drinkable which in my case can be dangerous.

It is full of Christmas warmth from the ginger beer, strong ginger and lemon tea, and slices of fresh ginger. But not just heat, it is also fruity from the lemon in the tea and the clementine. Spice wise, cinnamon is a must and a couple of aromatic cloves. And since I am in the Caribbean, I feel like adding a generous splosh of dark rum is very appropriate. I add the rum at the very end, because I don't want to lose all the alcohol. Don't judge me.

This is a great drink to make for a party because it can be made well in advance and it'll sit happily on a low heat. Plus, your guests will arrive with the most welcoming scent. 

If you want to make a virgin version of this, just switch the ginger beer to the non-alcoholic kind and leave out the rum, obviously. 

Have a Happy Christmas everyone!

Mulled Ginger Beer
Serves 1, happily

330 ml ginger beer
200 ml ginger and lemon tea
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, or to taste
1/2 clementine
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cm fresh ginger, cut into slices
A generous splosh of dark rum

Pour the cider and tea into a saucepan, add the brown sugar and put over a low heat to mull. Stud the clementine with a couple of cloves and add to the pan with the cinnamon stick and slices of fresh ginger. 

Let the mixture simmer and infuse nicely. Add the rum at the end, serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Jerk Pork Chop with Rice and Beans

This jerk pork chop was all I can think about when I was at the gym this morning. I always think about food and my next meal anyway; and after a good workout session, of course, I have to find a great way to replace all the calories I burned.

Jerk seasoning is essential in Caribbean cooking and yes, you can buy the ready-made mix from the store; but making them at home is not difficult. Plus, you can adjust the spices to your liking. Don't be alarmed by array of spices and long list of ingredients. You might already have all of these in your cupboard. Especially at this time of year, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger are the champion spices of the holidays. So, I always have a good stock of them.

The pork chop I use here is bone-in and I always prefer that when cooking meats. As the saying goes, the closer to the bone, the sweeter is the meat. Also, I love nibbling on the bone afterwards.

Because there's so much flavour in the jerk marinade, the pork chop doesn't need a long time to sit around. If you have the time, let's say a couple of hours, yes, sure why not or even overnight. But when you're hungry like me, fifteen minutes will do just fine.

What is also crucial for me is to bash the pork chop in between a couple pieces of cling film to make it thinner which means later it will need less cooking time. When I am hungry, I want food... fast!

The traditional accompaniment to jerk chicken or pork is rice and beans. The beans most often used are red kidney beans or pigeon peas. Purists might not agree with my brown rice and sauteed green beans but they delight me. 

Jerk Pork Chop
Serves 1, happily

1 bone-in pork chop
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cm fresh ginger, finely grated
1 small clove of garlic, finely minced or grated
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of runny honey
2 tablespoon of soy sauce
Zest and juice of 1/2 lime
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Brown rice and green beans, to serve

If your pork chop is thick, bash it with a rolling pin or wine bottle (that's what I use) between two pieces of cling film to make it thinner.

In a bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients. Give it a taste and adjust the seasoning and spices to your liking. Then smear everything to your pork chop and leave it aside for few minutes, whilst you cook the rice or prep the green beans.

Heat a heavy-based pan on a moderate heat and cook the chop for about five minutes to really form a nice crust before turning it and cooking for another five minutes. Remove to a plate and cover with foil to rest. This little resting time will ensure the pork stays juicy.

Using the same pan, add a knob of butter and cook the green beans. Season with salt and black pepper. Transfer to a plate and serve with the brown rice. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Mom's Orange and Raisin Bread

When I was home at my parents', one of my favourite things to do is to look through my mother's recipe collections. It's not exactly a perfectly bind scrapbook but many pieces of hand-written notes and paper. Many of them from years ago when my mother was still a student. I love the old paper and the stains. There's just a mysterious charm about it.

Of course I had to copy some of the recipes and this is one of them. The original hand-written recipe is actually called Raisin Bread, and with being disrespectful, I added the orange element to it.  I had a discussion with mother and baked this bread for her before (with the orange) and she approved!  

I simply adore orange and raisin together; and the scent of warm orange is just so welcoming especially at this time of year. In fact if you want to oomph the orange, you can also add some diced orange peel along with the raisins (mother approved of that too!).

If you're new at baking bread, there is nothing to be intimidated about. This is a pretty easy recipe and even though the method seems long, that's just me rambling around per usual. Any questions, do ask and I'd be happy to answer. Also I've been thinking to create a bread baking video on my YouTube channel. Would anyone like that? 

I do hope you give this a go and enjoy it as much as I enjoy sharing it with all of you. 

Have a great one x

P.S. to all my American readers, I want to wish an early Happy Thanksgiving Day and I wish you all a wonderful day with friends and family with loads to eat and drink!

Mom's Orange and Raisin Bread
Recipe by Mama Toa :)

500 gr strong white bread flour
7 gr dried active instant yeast
2 egg yolks
100 gr caster sugar
75 gr soft unsalted butter
10 gr salt
150 ml water
100 ml whole milk
Zest of 1 orange
100 gr raisins, soaked in the juice of an orange

Start by making a sponge to activate the yeast. In a small bowl, mix the yeast with 60 ml of the water and 2 tablespoons of the flour. Give it a good mix to form a paste or sponge. Cover with a plastic wrap and set it aside for 10-15 minutes or until it starts to bubble which is a good sign; meaning the yeast is alive and ready to go.

In the meantime, zest your orange and set them aside.  Measure out the raisins in a small bowl and squeeze the orange straight to the bowl with the raisins. Also set this to one side.

Measure out the rest of the ingredients into the bowl of your electric mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add the orange zest with all the yeasty paste mix to the bowl and start mixing on a low speed. Once all the ingredients come together, increase the speed to medium and continue mixing for few minutes. At first the mix will look quite wet, perhaps almost like a cake batter rather than a bread dough, but this is nothing to worry about. As it continues mixing, the gluten from the flour will strengthen and eventually it will form a nice and smooth dough. This might take around 8-10 minutes. Give the bowl a good scrape every now and then if necessary.

Drain the raisins and add them to the dough. Give it a good mix for a couple minute or until they are evenly distributed throughout. Lightly flour or oil your hands and take the dough out from the bowl. Form into a nice round shape and place into a big and well-buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it prove for an hour or until it doubles in size. This will vary depending on the temperature on your room. 

Once the dough has doubled in size, scrape it out of the bowl to shape. The texture should be bouncy and shiny. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and shape your dough so it fits evenly into a well-buttered loaf tin, seal-side down. Cover with plastic wrap loosely and let to prove again for another hour or so. 

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of the loaf and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Rotating once after half an hour. It should be beautifully golden all over and it should sound hollow when tapped underneath.

Turn the loaf out and let it cool on a wire rack for at least half an hour. Slice and serve with soft butter or your favourite jam. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

(slow-cooker) Korean Beef and Rice Pot

There's something so satisfying and comforting about going back to the place that's familiar. And for me that place is in the kitchen. However corny this may sound, it is in the kitchen where I feel most secure and content.

Throughout my travel all over the world the past few weeks, as much as I love eating out, playing guest and letting someone else does the cooking (and cleaning), I do miss being in kitchen. So, when I was staying with friends at their home, with a working kitchen, I was so happy. I couldn't help myself to visit the farmer's market, get some ingredients, cook, open up a bottle of wine or two and having a night-in. 

I've been back on the island for a week now and it's been really busy in the kitchen at work, with all the preparation for the high season and the holidays just around the corner. Crazy but at the same time, very exciting. I've been baking new recipes and continuously learning.

Yes, I've been back to the kitchen but not until today on my first day off that I'm finally back in my own kitchen at home. I plugged the stove back in just few hours ago and I made this Korean beef and rice pot from my current favourite book, Simply Nigella by the none other Nigella Lawson. And this is just the sort of food I really need right now. It is a grey kind of day here in the Caribbean and this bowl of beef and rice is just so comforting. The rice pot is a little spicy from the Korean chilli paste often known as gochujang, but not too fiery; just enough to keep you wanting more. 

I will admit that it is not the prettiest of food. Perhaps I could present it better, but I was starving. And the idea of faffing about trying to get a nice picture is just... not now, oh please...

The original recipe is actually called slow-cooker Korean beef and rice pot, but I do not own a slow cooker. Luckily the book comes with a method for 'conversion to oven' which is very handy. Here's what you need to do: mix 500 gr of minced beef with 200 gr short grain brown rice, 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, 4 tablespoons of gochujang paste, 4 tablespoons of soy sauce and 125 ml of water in a heavy-based pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cook in a preheated 180C oven for 2-2 1/2 hours, or until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Prepare the beansprouts by submerging them in boiling water for a minute before draining and mixing then to the pot. 

Even though I'm only cooking for myself I was happy to make the full recipe which supposed to serves 6 and judging by my leftovers, I have just enough for another two people (don't judge me). I plan to have this again for supper tomorrow night and perhaps with a fried egg too. x

Monday, 9 November 2015

I'm back!

Greetings lovely readers... How is everyone doing? I hope you don't think that I've abandoned any of you :) No, not at all. The thing is, yes, I had been away. If you are a follower on my social media, such as Instagram (@michael_toa) and Twitter (@michaeltoa), surely this is nothing new to you. I've bombarded you with all the things I ate (loads, yes) and you know what I've been up to these last six weeks. 

I spent the last few weeks all over the world... in the States, Singapore, Indonesia and back to the place where I left my heart, the UK. It's great seeing and spending quality time with the family; catching up with many dear friends; and continuously learning and getting inspired about the thing I'm most passionate about: cooking and baking. 

I went to a bread course; got behind the scene of a bakery; ate at many lovely restaurants and pinched some recipes too along the way. I also got to meet one of my culinary inspirations, Nigella Lawson and I look forward to trying many of the recipes from her new book, Simply Nigella.  

There are so many stories and highlights from this trip I'd like to share, and I will do it in the upcoming posts and also videos (www.youtube.com/michaeltoa). 

But six weeks and eighteen flights later, I'm happy to be back on the island. I'm feeling refreshed with new inspirations and I look forward to getting creative again in the kitchen... So, see you around!



Monday, 17 August 2015

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sambal Oelek Chickpeas

Sambal oelek is a spicy Southeast Asian chili sauce often found in Indonesian cooking. The word sambal simply refers to sauce made with chili peppers which may include an array of secondary ingredients. The word oelek itself or ulek refer to the pestle and mortar traditionally used to grind this flavourful sambal. 

There are many varieties of sambal oelek but the basic recipe includes red hot chili peppers, shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, salt, sugar and rice vinegar. It packs a fiery punch but you're getting more than just heat, but also delicious savouriness and acidity which makes this sauce an ideal shortcut to add to many other dishes, like soups and stir-fries.

Today, I'm using the chili sauce to flavour some chickpeas; and topping the chickpeas, pan-roasted chicken. Let's start with the chicken... I use skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs here because I prefer the dark meat; also, they are cheaper than breast meat, so what is not to like. The chicken is seared to golden crispiness on the outside and they'll continue to cook to tender perfection in the oven later with the chickpeas. 

To achieve this golden crispiness, I have a couple of notes. One, the chicken has to be pat dry by simply using a kitchen towel before seasoning with salt and pepper. This will ensure maximum crispiness. And two, do it in batches. Over-crowding the pan, and you'll end up with braised chicken.     

Now to the sambal oelek chickpeas. I use store-bought sambal that comes in a jar (my mother would not approve, but she doesn't have to know) which makes it easier. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of tomato paste. I suggest you get tomato paste that comes in a tube like a toothpaste which I find more efficient; rather than getting tomato paste that comes in a tin. 

This is so quick and easy to make and it's oh-so-good. I was having lunch in front of the TV and had to pause my Netflix show to have my moment alone with the chicken and the chickpeas. 

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sambal Oelek Chickpeas
Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons sambal oelek
125 ml water
2 spring onions, green parts only, chopped
Lime wedges, for serving
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in medium ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with kitchen towel and season with salt and black pepper. Working in two batches, cook until the chicken is browned, about 5 minutes per side, transfer to a plate and set aside.

Pour off the excess oil, leaving a tablespoon. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, stirring often. In the meantime as well, preheat the oven to 220 C. Add tomato paste to the pan along with the chickpeas, sambal oelek and water. Let the mixture comes to a boil the simmer for ten minutes or so. 

 Nestle the chicken thighs on top of the chickpeas, skin side up and transfer to the oven. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take around 20-25 minutes. Top with chopped spring onions and serve with cooked basmati rice and lime wedges for squeezing over. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Barley Risotto with Sausage and Peas

Time does fly... I find it hard to believe that it's been exactly a year since I arrived to the Cayman Islands.  Looking back, the past twelve months have been a great and wonderful learning experience. I thoroughly enjoy my work as a baker. In fact, I love it. I absolutely love it.  

I still remember baking my first loaf of bread not too, too long ago and I was just fascinated by it. Now, I get to do it (almost) everyday.  The more I bake, read, experiment and learn from mistakes, I have become more confident and I look forward to learning more and expanding my skill set.

I have also surprised myself that I adjust well to this new environment and I could actually enjoy the island life. Friends who know me well, know that I am not keen on the sun and hot weather. I melt like butter. People say, no one comes to England for the weather, but perhaps that's one of the things I miss most from home. Anyway, the turning point was few weeks ago when I was walking home from work one late afternoon. It was a sunny day and I stopped for a moment, I closed my eyes, soak the warm sun and thinking "hmmm.... this is nice".  Strange, I know. 

Anyway, walking home from the gym today, I really fancy something hearty and so I make this barley risotto with sausage and peas.  It's called a risotto but it's much easier to make. There's no need for constant stirring around around the stove. All the liquid goes at once and let the barley cooks until tender. 

Here I use plain pork sausage meat and I add familiar gutsy Italian flavours of fragrant fennel seeds, garlic, red chili flakes, Marsala, lemon and parmesan. Not feeling embarrassed at all, I also use frozen peas here, a must-have in my freezer; and a rather large handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, because I want the parsley to almost become another vegetable in the risotto, not just a garnish.

This is great one-pot meal to serve when having friends around and it can easily be done ahead of time. On reheating, you might need to add a bit more liquid and add it the parmesan just before serving. 

Have a great one my friends...

Barley Risotto with Sausage and Peas

Olive oil, regular not extra virgin
200 gr sausage meat
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
Celery salt
1 banana shallot, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
150 ml Marsala
250 gr pearl barley
750 ml chicken stock
200 gr frozen peas
Juice and zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons parmesan, grated
A big handful of flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a lug of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or pot that comes with a lid over a medium-high heat. Add the sausage meat to the pan, really breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Fry for a few minutes, or until the meat starts to colour.  

Add the fennel seeds, dried chili flakes and season with celery salt and cook over a medium heat for around 10 minutes, or until the meat becomes crisp, golden brown and begins to caramelised. 

Stir in the shallot, garlic and the dried thyme and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Then pour in the marsala wine and really scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze it.

Turn up the heat and add the pearl barley, mixing everything well. Add the chicken stock and when it comes to a boil, clamp the lid on and simmer gently. After 20 minutes, throw in the frozen peas and give everything a good stir around. Continue to cook with a lid on for another 10-15 minutes. Do add a little more stock or water if the liquid is absorbed before the barley is tender enough.

Remove the lid, stir in the grated parmesan, parsley, lemon zest and juice. Do also check for seasoning and serve immediately. 

Monday, 22 June 2015

Greek-ish Pork Stew with Tomatoes and Beans

Just to show that I never stop thinking about food and often find inspirations from the strangest of places, the recipe I'm about to share came to me from my morning exercise.

When I was at the gym this morning, the TV screen in front of me was showing the news on them latest talks on Greek debt crisis. Without sounding inappropriate, yes, it's a serious issue to which I hope for the best possible outcome; but whilst on that cross-trainer, all I can think about was "hmmm... I really fancy a Greek stew for lunch". Then all sorts of ingredients came to mind, lamb, pork, chicken, olives, lemon, oregano, tomatoes and so on.

On my way home, I stopped by the grocery store, hunting for lamb but with my luck, there's none left. So, I opted for some diced pork shoulder.

The stew is easy to make. Like many stew recipes, it begins with searing the meat. I have to be honest, I used to loathe doing this. It's a step that seems unnecessary and time-consuming since you're not actually cooking the protein, just browning the outsides. But with experience I learned that it actually is a really important as the searing builds amazing flavours to the stew later. Plus if you don't sear the meat, it often looks grey just like boiled meat and they don't look very appetizing. 

For me, this extra step is worth the effort and if you've never done it before, you should give it a go. To do so, here are some of my tips:

Make sure the meat is pat dry. Once you're done cutting the meat into the desirable size, pat them dry with paper towel before seasoning with salt and pepper, etc. This helps keep the meat from steaming instead of searing.

Make sure the pan is hot. You do need a high temperature to sear the meat and to get that beautiful deep brown colour. For the pan, I'd use a stainless steel or cast iron material, but not non-stick. And with the oil, a thin coating of vegetable oil (which has a higher smoking point) is all you need. 

Last but not least, don't overcrowd the pan. Depending on the size of your pan, if you have to sear in batches, do it in batches. Overcrowding the pan means the meat will braise rather than sear. And just be patient. I mean, patience is not one of my virtues; and if I can do it, so can you!

Anyway, that is Martha Stewart tip of the day. Once your meat is seared the rest is pretty straightforward. 

When I was at university, I had a Greek flatmate who taught me to add a little ground cinnamon when making tomato sauce and ever since, whenever I cook a tomato sauce based Greek inspired dish, I always add just a pinch of cinnamon. It's not very noticeable but I feel like it adds to the je ne sais quoi

Serve the stew with anything you like, rice, couscous, bulgur wheat or some chunky chips... hmmm... chunky chips... and a dollop of cool plain Greek yoghurt or sour cream, whatever tickles your fancy.

Greek-ish Pork Stew with Tomatoes and Beans

1 kg pork shoulder, cut into big chunks
Vegetable oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
250 ml white wine
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tin chopped tomatoes
A pinch of sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (425 gr) tin cannellini beans, drained
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Plain Greek yoghurt, to serve

Pat the pork shoulder dry and with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Brown the pork well in batches. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Using the same pot, turn down the heat to medium and add another tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and garlic. Sprinkle some salt and pepper to prevent them from burning. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chili flakes and tomato paste and continue cooking for another couple of minutes.

Pour in the white wine and really scrape the bottom of the pot. Let the wine bubble away for five minutes or so. Add the fresh thyme, dried oregano, a tin of chopped tomatoes, sugar, cinnamon and the pork along with the juices that's been accumulated. Give it a stir and let everything comes to a boil before half-covering the pot with a lid and simmer for an hour. Stirring every now and then.

When the hour is up, add the beans and let it continue to simmer for another thirty minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and adjust the seasoning. Serve with carbohydrate of your choice and a generous dollop of Greek yoghurt on top.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Chorizo and Beans Stew

Even in the Caribbean, it has to rain sometime. The past few days had been pouring down like crazy, but it is hurricane season at the moment after all. 

But this kind of weather for me is just the perfect excuse to cook up something warm and comforting, like this chorizo and beans stew. 

I adore chorizo sausage. It's utterly delicious and it adds instant flavour to anything you cook. It's heady with garlic and smoked paprika. In this stew, I fry the chorizo in an oil-less pot to release its natural paprika tinted oil; then later use the oil as the base to fry the aromatics. 

The stew takes hardly anytime to cook. I mean, you can get this done in less than half an hour. But like most soups and stews, this gets better with time. So, if you wish, you can definitely make it ahead of time and simply reheat when you're in need of comfort.  

Chorizo and Beans Stew

250 gr hot chorizo sausage, sliced into fat coins
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
A small bunch of fresh coriander stalks, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 tin black beans, drained
200 gr cherry tomatoes
500 ml chicken stock
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Spicy Baked Ziti

Greetings dear blog readers... Oh my, it's been a while since I last posted. Please do forgive me. I hope all of you are doing well and eating deliciously. 

Even though I have not been posting on the blog as frequently as I'd like to, I've been posting more videos now on my YouTube channel. I've recently experimented with vlogs which is quite interesting to say the least. So, if you want to see some of the awkwardness, please head over and subscribe to the channel for more updates in the future. 

Now, let's talk about pasta. You know how much I adore pasta and it's true I could happily eat pasta any time of day. Leftover cold pasta straight from the fridge is my ultimate guiltless pleasure. Another pasta pleasure is this spicy baked ziti. It's an easy pasta dish you can whip up during the weekdays and it feeds a crowd. The spiciness comes from hot Italian sausage meat and dried chilli flakes... It is hot but just enough to keep you wanting for seconds. I, embarrassingly had 3 servings... 

To the sausage meat, I also add minced turkey which I think always go together, like making stuffing/dressing. Then to boost the Italian-ness, some fragrant fennel seeds. Here I used ziti, but you can change it to penne or rigatoni or any pasta shapes that tickle your fancy.

The ricotta here lends creaminess to the sauce, then you get the salty nuttiness of Parmesan and ooey gooey mozzarella. Hmmm....

Instead of leaving instructions on how to make this delicious pasta, you get to watch it! It is the latest video on the channel. I hope you'll enjoy watching it as much as I enjoy making it. Until next time my friends...   

Spicy Baked Ziti

2 tablespoons olive oil, regular not extra-virgin
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced or grated
250 gr hot Italian sausage meat
250 gr minced turkey
2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 can (400 gr size) whole tomatoes, with juice
450 gr ziti pasta, or penne or rigatoni
200 gr ricotta cheese
450 gr shredded mozzarella cheese 
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
A handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, roughly chopped

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Orange Chicken

When thinking about take-outs, my first thought is very often Chinese food or Indian; depending on my mood. And when I am craving for some Chinese, if it's on the menu, I have to get orange chicken. 

Of course, we know orange chicken is not an authentic Chinese food. I, myself was introduced to orange chicken on my first visit to the States many years ago. And yes I had it at that famous Chinese food chain.

Few days ago I was craving for good ol' American orange chicken and unfortunately it's not available at my local Chinese restaurants on the island.

So, this is what I came up with and it is good! It's also very easy to make. If you want you can make the sauce ahead of time and keep it aside. When you're ready you just have to quickly fry the chicken, reheat the sauce and toss the two together. 

The chicken is crispy and the not-so-secret is, it's coated with corn flour. Also it's very important to get the oil to the right temperature before frying. 

The sauce as mentioned before is a no brainer to make. It's deliciously orangey sweet with a nice tang and bit of heat from the cayenne.

So, whenever you have a craving for orange chicken, I hope you give this a go.

Orange Chicken

For the marinade
1 tbsp soy sauce 
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 egg white

500 gr boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into cubes

For the sauce
100 ml orange juice
60 ml chicken stock
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 orange zest
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, finely minced or grated
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp cold water
Salt, to taste

Vegetable oil for frying and sautéing 
Cornstarch for dredging
Spring onions

Marinate the chicken by combining the soy sauce, vinegar and egg white in a large bowl and add the chicken cubes. Stir gently to coat and let stand at room temperature for 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Heat one teaspoon of vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about a minute or so. Watching carefully not to burn the garlic. Add the orange juice, chicken stock, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, orange zest and cayenne, if using. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until it is reduced by three fourths. Stir in the cornstarch and water mixture and continue stirring until the sauce thickens. Season with salt to taste. Turn off the heat and set the sauce aside.

Heat some vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pot. The quantity of oil really depends on the dimension of the pot you're using.

In a large bowl, toss the marinated chicken with cornstarch until each cube is evenly coated. Shake off any excess before frying. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, carefully fry the chicken in batches until lightly golden on the outside and cooked all the way through. This takes 3-4 minutes. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on a large plate line with paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.

Reheat the orange sauce and stir in the fried chicken cubes. Mix until well coated. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and serve immediately with plenty of rice or noodles... Whatever tickles your fancy.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Potato and Salmon Korokke

Korokke are the Japanese version of the French croquettes, crispy patties often made out of mashed potatoes and meat. Both are breaded and then deep-fried but the Japanese korokke are coated with panko (Japanese bread crumbs) which are coarser than regular bread crumbs, resulting in extra crispy crust. I don't know about you but my mouth waters already just thinking about 'extra crispy'.

Along with the potatoes, often korokke is made with a meat mixture such as minced beef or pork. In my version here, I use salmon which I think makes the korokke lighter, but that really is least of my concern. I just like it and that's my main reason. And before proceeding further, yes, the salmon I use comes from a tin. And if the idea of using tinned salmon appalled you because it reminds you of cat food, of course, you may use fresh salmon fillet. Simply pan-fry or poach it before flaking into pieces. Or you can simply leave out the protein and add more veg, like finely chopped onions or carrots or petit pois for a vegetarian friendly version. 
The important thing is the potato mixture has to be dry. I remember making this the first time and the mashed potato mixture was too wet and I had such a hard time shaping the mixture. I learn from my mistake and now, after boiling the potatoes, drain it really well and let it steam dry for few minutes before mashing it. That's my Toa Tip of the day :)
These korokke are great as anytime snack or appetiser. They are crunchy on the outside and light, almost creamy inside. Oh so gooood.... Serve them with Tonkatsu sauce or do what I did. I made a mixture of mayonnaise, ketchup and hot sauce. Booyah! 

Potato and Salmon Korokke
4 medium size potatoes, peeled and diced, appx. 800 gr in total
4 hard-boiled eggs, yolks and whites separated
A pinch of ground nutmeg
1 x 170 gr tinned salmon
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Plain flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Panko breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying

Fill a large pot with cold water and add the potatoes. Boil potatoes until tender and drain in a colander. Return the potatoes to the pot to steam dry for a couple of minutes before adding the egg yolks. Mash everything with a fork or potato masher until smooth. 

Finely chop the egg whites and add them to the potato mix with the tinned salmon. Give everything a good mix. Add a pinch of ground nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Form the potato, eggs and salmon mixture into patties. Make sure you press firmly so the mixture hold together well. They can be any size or shape you like; but try not to make them too big or they'll fall apart too easily when you fry them. Lightly coat each patty with flour and put them in the fridge for half an hour or so they can firm up.

Place the eggs and panko in two separate dishes lined up side by side. Dip each patty in egg, followed by the panko making sure to coat the korokke completely. 

Fill a medium pot halfway with oil and heat over medium high heat. Fry the korokke in batches. Everything in the inside is already cooked so you only need to fry them for a couple of minutes to crisp up the panko and they become golden brown. Transfer the korokke to paper towels, serve warm and enjoy!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Almond Raisin Cranberry Yoghurt Cake with Marsala

I like to keep things simple when friends come over. As much as I enjoy being in the kitchen, I don't want to be stuck there all day. I also want to have some fun and be part of the party. I like laid back dishes, simple nibbles, the one pot wonders, and of course, make-ahead dessert, such as this almond raisin cranberry yoghurt cake with Marsala. 

This combines all the great flavours of sweet raisins, slightly tart dried cranberries and fragrant Marsala wine. If you can remember, steep the dried fruits overnight in the Marsala so that they can really drink up all the flavours. If not, an hour prior to baking will do just fine. 

The yoghurt adds tenderness and a subtle tang; and with the vegetable oil which keeps the cake so moist. For a bit of texture, I use a mixture of plain flour and ground almonds. I just adore baked goods with ground almonds. 

I added a pinch of ground all-spice here; not so much that it becomes the dominant flavour. But that little hint of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg is just so lovely with the fruits and sweet Marsala. 

When I say this cake is easy to make, please believe me... This is like super easy. No need for a mixer, just a couple of bowls and a light stirring equipment.

As mentioned before, this cake is best made a day ahead and it keeps really well. If you want to serve it warm, just put the cake back in its tin, cover with tin foil and set in a low oven for ten minutes or so.

Almond Raisin Cranberry Yoghurt Cake with Marsala 

100 gr raisins
100 gr dried cranberries
150 ml Marsala
150 ml plain Greek yoghurt
150 ml vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 tsp real vanilla extract 
150 gr plain flour
125 gr ground almonds
125 gr light muscovado sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp all spice
Icing sugar, to serve

In a bowl, tip the raisins and cranberries and pour over the Marsala. Let the dried fruits steep for at least an hour to soften.

In the meantime, lightly grease a 23 cm round cake tin and line the bottom with a circle of grease proof paper, and preheat your oven to 180 C.

Mix together the wet ingredients, the yoghurt, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla extract. Also in another bowl, measure out all the dry ingredients. Pour in the yoghurt mixture and stir around until smooth. 

Scoop the dried fruits out of the Marsala, and stir into the batter. Saving the remaining Marsala for later. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spoon. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Take a skewer and prick all over the cake whilst it's still warm. Pour over the remaining of the soaking Marsala and let it soak in. Dust with icing sugar before serving. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or with your favourite beverage, whatever tickles your fancy... :)

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Spinach and Cheese Bread Pudding

I am the kind of person who love making lists. Everyday at work I start my day by making a to-do list of what needs to be accomplished that day. This is my way to keep me organised and on track with whatever I'm doing. And whenever one task is done, I find great satisfaction at crossing the things on the list. Let me tell you, it is such a great feeling.

Another list that I like to make is the grocery list. I enjoy grocery shopping and I like checking out all the aisles to see what new things they have and what's on offer. But I do need the list to make sure I get the things I need... And of course I often end up with things that aren't on the list in the first place. 

The other day after work, I plan to make a savoury bread pudding for breakfast the next day. The plan was to shop, prep and bake in the morning. I decided on spinach and goat's cheese bread pudding; because I just adore the combination of sweet spinach and salty, tangy goat's cheese.

And so I made a list of things I need to get from the store on my way home. On the list: eggs, milk, bread. That's it. I've got everything else at home.

I got home and discovered there was no goat's cheese to be found. I have Parmesan, cheddar, pepper jack, blue, Gouda... But no goat's cheese! And I don't feel like going back to the store. But anyway, that didn't stop me from making the bread pudding. I could have used any of the other cheeses I have, but I decided to go with creamy Havarti cheese. It is a semi-soft Danish cow's milk cheese and what I love is it melts beautifully. 

The method for this savoury bread pudding is straightforward. Nothing complicated. For ease, I use frozen spinach here which I quickly thawed in the microwave and the important thing is to squeeze as much water out as possible. 

You don't have to wait overnight for the bread to soak in all the cheesy custard, but do give it fifteen minutes or so if you want to eat this straightaway. Serve with a side of greens or tomato salad. 

So, my question of the day, do you like making lists? Does it work for you?

P.S. I know it's really late, but this is the first post this year and happy new year my friends. I wish you and your family a joyful, healthy, prosperous and happiest new year ahead!

Spinach and Cheese Bread Pudding

200 gr frozen spinach, thawed and squeeze as much water out as possible
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and black pepper

4-5 slices white crusty bread
3 medium eggs
200 ml whole milk
200 ml double cream
1 tsp dried mustard
25 gr freshly grated Parmesan
75 gr havarti cheese, cut into small dice
Salt and black pepper

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and dried thyme and cook until soft. I like to sprinkle a little salt to make sure the onions don't burn. Chop the spinach and add to the onions. Add a pinch of ground nutmeg, season with salt and black pepper and give everything a good mix. Remove from heat to cool a little.

Tear the bread and add to the onion and spinach mixture. Give everything a mix again and arrange into a greased ovenproof dish.

In a bowl, whisk in the eggs, milk, cream, dried mustard, the cheeses, salt and black pepper. Pour this into the bread mix and let this soak for few minutes or cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge overnight.

Bake in a preheated 180C oven for 25 minutes or until golden and crusty. Serve straightaway.