Friday, 28 December 2007

Baked potato with smoked salmon and creme fraiche

I love the smell of baked potatoes. If I should walk past a burger stand, pastry shop or chippy when I'm full, the smell would make me feel queasy and slightly ill. But whenever I walk past a baked potato stand, even if I've just had a big meal, the smell is always attractive and delicious, never stomach churning. I wonder why. It's also the simplest thing to cook, just toss them in the oven and leave them to cook for an hour while you could attend to other things in the house (or have a shower, or read a book, or have a nap...).

After all those big dinners and generous flow of food through the day (and night!) over Christmas, it can be a little difficult trying to think of what to have for dinner. After getting back from the in-laws, we had completely 'un-English' meals for a change, such as Hainanese chicken rice and tom yum goong (Thai hot and sour soup) with rice noodles. Tonight, it was the humble baked potato (made posh, according to Andy).

Since we didn't have Christmas at home, there isn't any leftovers to deal with but I did buy some lovely smoked salmon for post-Christmas and used them for an easy but still indulgent dinner tonight. It's also a great way to use up any leftover smoked salmon that were bought for canapes or a buffet spread.

Choose a good sized potato per person, wash and scrub well. Prick them several times with a fork (to prevent them from bursting in the oven), and rub them all over with a bit of olive oil and salt. Cook in a hot oven at 200C or gas mark 6 for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on how large your potatoes are. When cooked, the skin should be golden and slightly crisp, and the potatoes should give a little when squeezed (careful, they're hot!). Split open with a knife and load with salted butter as desired. You could top it with whatever filling you like, or have on hand, such as grated cheese, tuna mayo, bacon, baked beans, prawn mayo...

I put a dollop of low-fat creme fraiche on top of each potato and layered slices of smoked salmon over with black pepper and parsley to finish. One could replace the creme fraiche with cream cheese for a delicious substitute. I would have sprinkled chopped chives over if I had any. Served with a rocket and baby spinach salad, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It is filling and feels slightly indulgent with the delicious juniper smoked salmon, but still quite a healthy meal with little cooking and washing up. Just the thing after the Christmas cooking spree.

Baked potato with smoked salmon and creme fraiche

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Monday, 24 December 2007

Turkey stock and chicken ramen

A number of us will be having turkey for Christmas (although pheasant and goose have become increasingly popular again). Leftover meat usually goes into sandwiches, pies, on a cold meat platter or even curry for Boxing Day and the days following. But what do you do with the carcass and bones? There is still so much left of it, it's a shame to throw it all away.

I did a huge turkey for Christmas dinner a few weeks ago for about 15 people and the carcass was too big to throw away, so I made a stock later in the week. I froze the carcass and bones since I did not have the time to make the stock until a few days later. The night before, I defrosted the carcass in the fridge and then took out my slow cooker/crockpot the next morning. If you don't have time to stay at home and watch a simmering stock pot on the stove for a few hours, a slow cooker is a definite life saver. I love being able to just throw stuff into it in the morning and then come home to hot and delicious stews and soups.

In the slow cooker/crockpot

First, place the carcass into a large bowl or pan and pour some boiling water over. This gets rid of the surface fats and makes for a cleaner tasting broth. Then place the carcass in the slow cooker (or stock pot), add in a couple of carrots, parsnips, celery, an onion (or any other veg that you have leftover in the fridge, e.g. broccoli stalk, sweet potato, swede), and a couple of bay leaves. Pour boiling water into the slow cooker, cover, set it on Low and then leave it for the day. I came home from the office about 9 hours later and the smell was heavenly. The stock should be ready after about 4-6 hours in a slow cooker. You can also simmer the stock on a stove for about 2 hours, but I love the depth of flavours from a slow cooked stock or soup.

Using turkey carcass for broth

Skim the fat and scum off the top of the stock towards the end. Ladle out the bones and vegetables. Pass the stock through a sieve and you will end up with deliciously clear stock for soup or other recipes. The above can be done with chicken, pork or beef bones whenever you have any leftovers from a roast. The stock could then be frozen in portions for use in recipes. You can also freeze them in ice cube trays and then just pop a few out for use in cooking.

I did a chicken ramen that evening with the stock. It wasn't chicken stock but it still tasted beautiful. Marinate the chicken slices (rice wine, soy sauce, pepper, corn flour). Reconstitute the shiitake mushrooms if they are dried (soak in warm water for about 15 minutes), or just slice them if using fresh. Cook the noodles in a pan and dish up into large bowls. Then boil the vegetables, mushrooms and chicken and place them on top of the noodles. Pour hot stock over (season to taste with salt and pepper; use soy sauce for Shoyu ramen or miso for miso ramen), drizzle some sesame oil, garnish with chopped spring onions and viola - delicious and wholesome chicken ramen.

Chicken ramen in turkey broth

Do enjoy your Christmas dinner (turkey or otherwise) and have a lovely festive celebration with family and loved ones. Happy holidays to all.

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Friday, 21 December 2007

Gammon, cod fishcakes and prawn sandwiches (not at the same time)

Gammon roast on Sunday meant plenty left for lunches.

Gammon pasta salad in honey mustard dressing, garnished with parsley, grapes, mango jelly and mini Babybel cheese.


Two onigiri topped with furikake, grapes as gap fillers, a chocolate truffle, container of soy sauce, honey and mustard gammon and more grapes.


Cod fishcake, stir fried choy sum, cherry tomatoes and rice with furikake


Prawn sandwich with lemon mayo and salad leaves, slices of caerphilly and smoked cheddar cheese, and cherry tomatoes.


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Thursday, 20 December 2007

"Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie..."

I bought a pie bird last month and had the opportunity to use it a few days ago when I made a chicken, ham and leek pie with some guests over for dinner. Pie funnels/vents/birds are placed in the centre of the pie dish. They poke up through the pastry to support the crust, help prevent it from sagging and allow steam to escape so that the filling does not bubble over. And of course, it looks terribly cute especially if you're bringing the entire pie dish to the table to serve.

Blackbird pie funnel

A dainty dish to set before the king?

Blackbird in a pie

I had the song 'Sing A Song of Sixpence' going on and on in my head the entire evening.

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Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Honey and mustard glazed gammon

I love Sunday roast dinners. It is a tradition that I have come to embrace wholeheartedly. I love the significance of it being a family meal where everyone could sit down together and have a good slow lunch while catching up on the week's happenings. When we have Sunday lunch at the in-laws, that's often a case of catching up on the past few months. A roast dinner also invariably means plenty of leftovers for lunches and dinners the next few days.

The Sunday roast is a traditional British and Irish main meal served on Sundays (usually around noon) and consisting of roasted meat together with potatoes and vegetables as accompaniments. Each meat has its own special sauce to go with it too:

Roast beef - horseradish sauce
Roast pork/gammon - apple sauce
Roast lamb - mint sauce
Roast chicken/turkey - bread sauce, cranberry sauce

We had roast gammon on Sunday, which I cooked with a honey and mustard glaze. I forgot to take a photo of the joint as it came out of the oven, but here's how it looked (from BBC Good Food Magazine), more or less... except smaller since it was just for the two of us!

Clockwise from left: honey and mustard gammon slices, mashed potato, roast parsnips, carrots, brussel sprouts and apple sauce, drizzled with a generous amount of gravy.

Roast gammon dinner

750g gammon joint
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp clear honey
Some whole cloves to decorate (optional)

1. Put the gammon joint into a large bowl or pan, cover with cold water and leave to soak for 12-24 hours. Change the water at least once so it doesn't sit in salty water. Drain and pat dry.
2. Set the oven to 200°C/gas 6. Sit the gammon joint in the middle of a roasting tray lined with a large sheet of foil. Bring the foil up around the gammon and seal the edges, forming a loose wrapping around the gammon. Roast for 50 minutes.
3. Remove the gammon from the oven and open up that foil. Drain off all the juices and reserve them for gravy. Cut and peel away the skin (if any; taking care as it is hot). With the tip of a sharp knife, score the fat with parallel lines first in one direction and then at an angle to it, to cover the joint in a pattern of diamonds. Mix the mustard and honey together and smear thickly all over the layer of fat. Push a clove into the centre of each diamond.
4. Return the joint to the oven for a final 20-25 minutes or until richly browned and glazed. If you are serving the joint hot, let it rest in a warm place for 20-30 minutes before carving. For cold gammon, leave it to cool in its own time. Serve with apple sauce and the usual accompanients.

Note: Gammon as you buy it, is too salty to eat. Time permitting, soak the gammon in cold water for 24 hours. If you haven't got the time or have forgotten, the second best option is to put the joint into a large saucepan, cover with water and bring up to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then take out the gammon joint and throw the salty water away.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Christmas lunch at work

Not a stitch of work was done yesterday as we went for Christmas lunch. At least I didn't manage to get much done in the morning, and I don't think anyone else did either! There were about 65 of us booked for the lunch and I didn't even know there were that many people in the department!

The lunch was at The Chequers Inn in the Vale of Belvoir. There was a great view of Belvoir Castle from the restaurant. It is not an easy place to get to and a car is definitely required. But if you can get there, the food and ambience is really lovely. I am sure they do a lot of wedding receptions there.

There was a wide selection from the Christmas menu, which we had all ordered in advance:

Cream of leek & potato soup.
Home smoked salmon & prawn cocktail.
Chicken liver parfait with onion marmalade.
Mozzarella & cherry tomato salad with basil fritters.

~Main course~
Traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings.
Slow roast rib of beef, creamed potatoes, glazed shallots & horseradish cream.
Roast salmon fillet with fondant leaks.
Brown shrimp and tomato butter.
Wild mushroom and fontina risotto.

Traditional Christmas pudding.
Vanilla crème brulee.
Sherry Trifle.
Stilton & cheddar cheese plate with fruit and oat cakes.


Coffee/tea and mince pies

I had a creamy Chardonnay throughout the meal, which I thought went beautifully with all the courses. For starter, I had the smoked salmon and prawn cocktail. It was delicious with that sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper over the top. I didn't have very much of the (lovely and soft) bread roll and butter on the side - saving tummy space!


Turkey with all the trimmings. Two slices of turkey, topped with stuffing and bacon wrapped chipolata, roast potatoes and steamed vegetables.


I was really glad that I chose the creme brulee for dessert, which was divine. There was a smear of chocolate, a streak of crushed pistachio nuts, a china spoon of cranberry sauce and icing sugar dusted all over. I was too full by then to touch the shortbread biscuit.


A closeup of the lovely, crunchy, caramelised top.


The wreckage towards the end of the afternoon

The poor unloved mince pies. I think hardly any one on my table had the mince pies that came with tea and coffee. We were all completely stuffed!


When the first email went round saying it would be a 1pm sit-down and the coach should leave the restaurant by 4pm, if not earlier, I remember thinking there was no way we would be there for so long. But we did leave at 4pm yesterday! It's amazing how much time it takes to eat so many courses, with wine and conversation flowing like water, and having time in between each courses for clearing and serving. Leisurely dining is definitely highly recommended.

I was still really full when I got home but Andy was of course hungry for dinner. We did manage to have chicken ramen soup at around 7.30pm, which was later than our normal 6pm dinners. I made fresh stock for that with turkey carcass, but that's for another post.

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Friday, 14 December 2007

The super-leftovers-lunch

I hardly throw any food away. I am always squirreling away some bits and pieces of extra food when I am cooking or pack up the leftovers into the fridge or freezer (depending on when I think I will get round to using them). Maybe it's the 'scrimp and save' mentality that I've developed since moving to the UK (I don't think I ever quite got over the exchange rate, even though I'm earning in pounds now!). Or maybe my parents' thrifty-ethic has rubbed off on me. In any case, having leftovers is marvellous for packing bento, it means I always have some food available to put a meal together, and it reduces the amount of food waste going to landfill (and contributing to climate change with methane).

I was working from home the other day and had a quick lunch for me consisting almost entirely of leftovers: frozen stash of rice (when I cooked a bit too much), frozen peas (ok, this wasn't leftovers!), thinly sliced beef (which I froze after having too much for a dish), leftover egg from making tonkatsu (cooked into an omelette and cut into thin strips on that night and stored in the fridge), and leftover red onion from making burgers (cling wrapped and in an airtight container).

Heat some oil in a large pan or wok and cook the onions over high heat for a minute. Toss in the beef (marinated in soy sauce, rice wine, corn flour and sesame oil) and stir fry quickly till just cooked and still a little pink. Add the rice (warmed up on High in the microwave for 1 1/2 mins so it is no longer frozen) and frozen peas and continue to stir fry the mixture. Season with soy sauce, salt and some pepper (I also added some chilli oil). Add in the egg strips at the end to heat through and serve.

The end product: beef and onion fried rice. Yummy stuff, and super-quick too.

Fried rice of leftovers

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Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Rice and noodles bento

I usually make my bento the night before, since Andy usually leaves the house before I even get out of bed. But on days when he goes into work later, I could wake up a little earlier and pack fresh lunches for both of us in the morning.

This was a quick one made yesterday morning. The veg was washed and prepared the night before so it just had to be boiled and then tossed in oyster sauce and sesame oil. Frozen meatballs were cooked in the microwave for a few minutes. Cherry tomatoes filled the gap. The longest time was actually taken by the rice - waiting for it to cool down before I could put the lid on!

Top tier: kailan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce, cherry tomatoes and meatballs. Bottom tier: rice with furikake.


Today's lunch is stir fried noodles with prawns, edamame and spring onions in chilli bean sauce. Sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds.


Packed in my new 450ml Totoro box. This is a one-tier box with a removable divider bought from J-list/box. Airtight seal and microwavable. It looks pretty small but fits this dish very well with no side dishes. I will use the divider next time to fit in rice and side dishes and see how that works. My other boxes are 100-200ml bigger than this so I'll have to try different things or ways of packing.


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Monday, 10 December 2007

Pickled green chillies

In most restaurants in Britain, the US or other western countries, you would normally find salt and pepper pots at the side of the table. There might also be a sugar bowl or a bottle of ketchup. In Chinese restaurants, particularly those serving Cantonese/Hong Kong food, one would usually find an assortment of soy sauce, black vinegar, pepper, toothpicks, chilli oil and cut green chillies pickled in vinegar (or you could easily ask for them from the waiter). At most Chinese restaurants or food stalls in Singapore and Malaysia, a saucer of cut chillies (red or green) with soy sauce would automatically be brought to your table long with the chopsticks and cutlery when you order your food.

I missed pickled green chillies terribly when I first moved to the UK. Wonton noodles, hor fun, fried rice and many other dishes just did not taste the same without green chillies. I was in a restaurant in London Chinatown a long time ago. When I asked for some cut green chillies, I was quite horrified to be told that it would cost me 20p. No, thanks, indeed!

Fortunately they are really easy to make at home and keep for a long time in the fridge. I now have a stash ready to go with my favourite 'tze char' food or when the craving kicks in any time.

Pickled green chillies

Dissolve 2 tbsp of sugar and 1 tsp salt in 250ml of white rice vinegar over low heat. Add enough sliced green chillies (about 5 large ones; remove the seeds to make them less spicy, if you wish) to be covered by the hot vinegar mix. Turn off the heat and leave the chillies to pickle and cool. When cool, pour into a screwtop jar (I used an old jam jar). It will keep well in the fridge for up to 1 month (if it doesn't get eaten first!). Drain desired amounts into a small saucer with soy sauce to accompany noodles, hor fun or stir-fries.

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Deep fried pork (Tonkatsu)

I don't usually do much deep frying. The greasy smell of cooked oil tends to hang around the house and cling to my clothes and hair in a way that's not terribly pleasant. But sometimes the urge for certain food overcomes my aversion.

The term 'Tonkatsu' comes from the word 'katsu' meaning cutlet and 'tonkatsu' means breaded and fried cutlet. It is coated in very light and fluffy Japanese breadcrumbs called Panko. Panko is made from wheat bread but it has a crisper, airier texture than most types of bread crumbs found in Western cooking. It is easily found in Asian stores and supermarkets. Tonkatsu is usually serve with shredded cabbage and tonkatsu sauce, which has a thick consistency and slightly fruity taste. The sauce can be made or store bought, of which the most popular is Bulldog brand. I didn't have any on hand so we ate it with some Thai sweet chilli (which Andy likes way too much). Delicious with jasmine or short grain rice.


Ingredients (serves 2):
2 thin cut pork loin steaks
salt and pepper
plain flour for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten
Panko breadcrumbs or other light breadcrumbs
Oil for deep frying

Season the pork cutlets with salt and pepper and dust lightly with plain flour. Dip the them first in egg and then in the plate of breadcrumbs, coating liberally. Pat the breadcrumbs into the pork to make sure that they stick well. If you have the time, put the coated pork cutlets into the fridge to chill for 15 minutes for the coating to set. Otherwise, just heat up some oil and deep fry the cutlets till they are golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and slice into strips when cool. Drizzle tonkatsu sauce on top and serve immediately.

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Sunday, 9 December 2007

Bento this week

Only three bento this past week since I stayed at home more and Andy had his work Christmas lunch and other activities.

Yakisoba with sesame seeds, meatballs and stir fried french beans.


Top tier: onigiri, carrots, gyoza and fish container of black vinegar. Bottom tier: onigiri, edamame and container of soy sauce.


Andy's lunch: ham and mustard quiche, salad, side container of grapes and piggy container of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


Mine was the same except less.


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Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Stuffed Chinese mushrooms

I remember my mum making this dish. She would choose the biggest and fattest mushrooms, mix the pork filling by hand, stuff each mushroom and shape the top nicely, and steam the whole lot in her big wok.

Andy has never had this dish before but since he loves mushrooms I thought he would like it. And he did.

Stuffed shitake mushrooms

Ingredients (serves 2):

8 medium or large dried Chinese mushrooms
80g minced pork
1 stalk of spring onion, finely chopped

For the marinade:
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/4 tsp Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1/4 tsp sesame oil
Some white pepper
1/2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp water

For the sauce:
100ml mushroom water (from soaking the dried mushrooms)
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp cornflour mixed with 1 tbsp cold water
1 tsp oil

Mix the minced pork and spring onions with the marinade and set aside for 30 minutes or longer (this can be done the night before). Reconstitute the dried mushrooms by soaking them in warm water for about 10 minutes. Gently squeeze out excess water from the mushrooms and reserve the water for the sauce.

Fill the mushrooms with the pork mixture, shaping it into a small mound. Place the stuffed mushrooms on a heatproof dish, stuffing side up, in one layer. Put the dish in a wok (with a trivet stand inside) or a steamer. Steam on hight heat for 10 minutes with the lid on.

Just before serving, mix together the sauce ingredients (except for the oil) in a small pan. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring continuously to prevent lumps as it thickens. Blend in the oil at the end to give it a nice sheen. Pour the sauce over the mushrooms and serve immediately.

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Monday, 3 December 2007

Salmon pie

Cold winter days calls for hot food. Preferably hot food that stays hot for a long time too, and pies fit the bill perfectly. Having the oven on warms up the kitchen nicely and cooking pies in individual dishes means the cookware keeps the filling piping hot long after they are served.

Salmon pie

Ingredients (serves 2):
200g salmon fillets, skinless and boneless
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
1 small leek, trimmed and finely sliced
6 large prawns or more smaller ones
80ml double cream
A small handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
2 medium baking potatoes
20ml milk

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Peel and chop the potatoes into chunks and simmer in a pan of boiling water for about 20 minutes or until tender. While the potatoes are cooking, season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper and cook in the oven for 10 minutes.

Heat a little oil and butter in a large pan on a medium heat and saute the leeks without browning them, for about 5 minutes. Add the prawns and toss until just cooked. Put into a large pie dish or divide between two individual baking dishes. Flake the salmon fillets into the dish(es), pour in the cream, add the chopped parsley and mix gently. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain the potatoes when they are cooked. Add butter and milk and mash the potatoes until smooth and creamy. Spoon the mashed potato on top of the salmon mixture and smooth it over using the back of a spoon. Bake the pies in the oven for 35 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Sprinkle extra parsley on top and serve with a green leafy salad or steamed vegetables. We had asparagus and carrots.

The salmon can be replaced with any white fish fillets such as haddock or cod. If not using parsley, thyme and dill are other herbs that go well with fish.

Salmon pie 2

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