Sunday, 21 December 2008

Garlic roasted asparagus

If you are still looking for ideas as to what vegetable side dishes to serve with your Christmas turkey (I think we're having roast beef instead), how about asparagus roasted in the oven? They may not be as seasonal or traditional as brussel sprouts, beets or winter carrots, but they are a tasty alternative for something different.

The best part is that they require little effort and can go into the oven just after your turkey or roast is done. So while the bird is have its requisite 10-15 minutes rest before carving and as you prepare other side dishes, the vegetables can cook in the oven and be hot and ready just as you are about to serve.

You can do this with just asparagus. I tossed in an extra pepper that I had in the fridge and that works well too, with the peppers adding extra sweetness.

Garlic roasted asparagus

Ingredients (serves 4 as a side dish):

Around 24 spears of asparagus spears (about 6-7 per person, depending on size)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tsp lemon juice (optional)
2 red peppers, sliced (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F/gas 6. Wash the asparagus and cut about 1 inch off the base of each stem. I prefer to just snap the asparagus. Hold one stem at a time and snap towards the base; the stem should break just between the woody and the tender parts.
2. Place the asparagus (and peppers, if using) in a large ovenproof dish. Add the minced garlic, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice (if using) and season lightly with with salt and pepper. Mix well.
3. Cook in the middle of the oven for 15-18 minutes until the asparagus spears are tender, mixing and turn them once halfway through.

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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Yakisoba with prawns and asparagus

AP had a Christmas meal at work yesterday and didn't need a packed lunch, so I had to figure out something for lunch just for myself. I normally make our bento the night before, often using leftovers from dinner. Even if it's just making sandwiches, it makes things easier to pack them the night before since AP gets up and go to work earlier than me in the morning and I don't often fancy working in the kitchen all bleary eyed and half asleep.

This bento was made in the morning since I had time to put things together for myself. It used up a few spears of asparagus left in the fridge, some prawns and crabsticks from the freezer and noodles in the pantry. I can't emphasise enough how good it is to have a well stocked pantry and freezer that makes making unplanned bento much easier, especially if there isn't much 'extra' fresh food in the fridge. Since this was made for a bento, I will write down the recipe for one potion, but you can easily double up this recipe for a sit-down lunch or dinner for 2 (or more).


Ingredients (serves 1):

6 large prawns, shelled and deveined
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sake
1/4 tsp corn flour
1 clove garlic, minced
1 portion of noodles (I used ramen)
5 spears of asparagus, trimmed and sliced diagonally
2 crabsticks, sliced
Oil for cooking
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sake
1 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp sesame oil
Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)


1. Marinate the prawns in light soy sauce, sake and corn flour and set aside while preparing the other ingredients. You can skip this step if pressed for time.
2. Cook the noodles according to pack instructions. Drain and set aside.
3. Heat a wok or heavy based pan until hot. Add some oil to heat and add the garlic and prawns. Stir fry briskly until the prawns are half cooked, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the asparagus and stir fry for another 3 minutes until the vegetables are just tender. Add the noodles, crabsticks and the rest of the seasoning and mix well. Dish out and sprinkle with sesame seeds to garnish.

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Thursday, 11 December 2008

Apple crumble

AP and I have had some apple crumble at a couple of restaurants here in Vancouver but have not found them much to our liking. Apple crumbles tend to be quite oaty here; most recipes that I've seen on Canadian or American sources tend to list oats as an ingredient, which is quite uncommon in the UK. Neither of us are keen on the taste and texture of oats in our crumbles. With the onset of winter, home cooked comfort food like baked apple crumble served with warm custard really hits the spot. So I had to roll up my sleeves (literally) and make one in order to get the kind of crumble that we like.

Making crumble topping is dead easy if you have a food processor. Just pop in all the ingredients and pulse until the mixture resemble fine breadcrumbs. Well, I don't have a food processor, however much I would like one (not wanting to shell out so much money to buy something that I would only use for less than 2 years, given I can't ship it on to Singapore with the difference in electricity voltage). But making crumble by hand is pretty easy too. Not as convenient as a food processor in that you actually have to get your hands 'dirty' in handling the flour and butter, but definitely not difficult. So don't be intimidated and give it a go. Believe me, it's definitely much better than packets of prepared crumble topping (and I've tried those too!).

Apple crumble 1

Things to bear in mind: Make sure you use proper blocks of butter, not the spreadable stuff from a tub. A crumble mixture requires the fat to remain cold in order to bind the flour and sugar into breadcrumbs-like texture and spreadable butter or margarine melts too quickly. This requirement for the butter to remain cold also means one should work the mixture quickly and rub with your fingertips lightly to avoid melting the butter too much.

Cooking apples are great for crumbles and pies as the cooking process and addition of sugar caramelises and sweetens apples that are too tart for eating as is. Granny Smith and Bramley apples are particularly good as their tartness help to balance the richess of the crumble topping. You can also use a mix of cooking and eating apples for a mix of different flavours, or add a handful of blackberries to the apple mixture.

Apple crumble 2

Ingredients (serves 4):

150g or 1 1/4 cup plain flour
85g or 3/4 cup brown or demerara sugar
100g butter, room temperature and cut into small cubes

Apple mixture:
3-4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
25g or 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 400F/gas 6. To make the crumble topping, place the flour, demerara sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl. Using the tips of your fingers, rub the butter into the flour and sugar, mixing it all evenly. You want to rub the butter into smaller and smaller pieces while coating them in flour and sugar (which stops the pieces from sticking to your fingers). When done, the mixture should resemble breadcrumbs. (Alternatively, place the above ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resemble breadcrumbs and there are no large pieces of butter. Be careful not to overwork the mixture.) Set aside in a cool spot.
2. Grease 4 large ramekins or a pie dish. Mix the slices apples, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a large bowl and place at them at the bottom of the baking dish(es).
3. Top with the crumble mixture and bake in the middle of the oven for 45-50 minutes until the top is golden and slightly crunchy. Serve with warm custard if desired.

Apple crumble with warm custard

I only wanted to make apple crumble for AP and myself and didn't want to use a whole large pie dish with leftovers. So these were made in 2 individual dishes (like large ramekins, about 4.5 to 5 inches across) with half of the above ingredients. I still made the full amount of crumble topping though. I used half and stored the other half in an airtight container in the fridge. As long as the mixture stays cold (remember the butter?) it should be fine in the fridge for a week. This meant I had ready-made crumble topping for dessert again later in the week, and all I had to do was slice up some apples. Yummy.

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Monday, 8 December 2008

Oven baked potato wedges

I like potato wedges but am not keen on the frying given the amount of oil used (what the heck to do with all that leftover oil??) and our open plan living space. I was quite pleased to find that oven baked potato wedges still has the same crispy skin (ok, not as crispy as deep fried, but close!) and fluffy centre with the convenience of healthy oven cooking.

The seasoning is very simple. You can just use salt and pepper if that's all you have on hand. Paprika adds a nice smoky flavour and slight heat. Dried garlic granules, garlic salt or steak seasoning (sold prepared in a bottle or grinder) also work very well so feel free to experiment. It's always better to err on the side of caution and under-season a little rather than add too much seasoning. You can always add more salt and pepper after cooking if you find it too plain for your taste. Besides, that's what ketchup (and for us, Thai sweet chilli) is for.

Potato wedges

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 large potatoes (I used Yukon Gold for its waxy texture)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper to taste (about 1/4 tsp each or less)

1. Preheat the oven to 425F/gas 7. Wash and scrub the potatoes well. Cut into 6 or 8 wedges each and place in a large bowl. Add oil, paprika, salt and pepper and mix well to coat thoroughly.
2. Spread the wedgest on a non-stick baking sheet (I line one with foil for easier clean up). Bake in the oven, turning once for about 30 minutes.

We had the wedges with honey and rosemary chicken legs and roasted peppers. Of course, feel free to just snack on the wedges on their own. I know I would!

Rosemary chicken legs with potato wedges and roasted peppers

Related recipe:
If you like this dish, you may also like rosemary and garlic roast potatoes
Rosemary and garlic roast potatoes

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Thursday, 4 December 2008

Steamed three eggs with pork 三蛋蒸猪肉

Salted egg with pork (咸蛋猪肉) a dish that I grew up eating at home. My mum used to make this with just salted eggs, regular eggs and minced pork. She later added century egg for a touch of extra colour and flavour and it became Steamed Three Eggs with Pork (三蛋蒸猪肉). Steamed egg dishes are quite common in Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine. Chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg) comes to mind, which I adore for the silky smooth texture and delicate flavours. This steamed egg and pork dish is a lot more robust with savoury pork at the bottom and silky egg on top, along with bits of golden salted egg yolk and onyx-like century egg pieces scattered about.

Both salted eggs and century eggs are forms of preserved or preserved eggs. They are made from duck eggs, with salted eggs being soaked in brine, and century eggs being immersed in mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice straw. (It is a myth that century eggs are made by soaking them in horse urine.) The photo below shows a regular chicken egg in the foreground, followed by a white salted egg and a century egg with a blue-grey tint.

Three types of eggs

Clockwise from the top, there is a regular chicken egg, salted egg and century egg. Uncooked salted eggs have watery whites and a firm yolk that is golden orange in colour. Century eggs require no additional preparation after the shell is cracked and peeled (like a hardboiled egg). The yolk is dark green and may be slightly creamy in the centre (they may be sold as 'firm centres' 硬心 or 'soft centres' 软心) and the white is a dark brown transparent jelly.

Eggs three ways

The Wikipedia articles linked above do a good job describing the various uses of salted eggs and century eggs in different types of Chinese cuisine. If you have not tried any of it, I would encourage you to do so, perhaps with a Chinese friend, although both ingredients are definitely an acquired taste. My British husband has taken to them after trying them, but then he is fairly adventurous in his food (which is great for us!). For those of you who are familiar with salted and century eggs, I hope you will give my mum's recipe a go and see what you think. Actually I would also be interested in how many other people grew up with this dish or similar versions.

Ingredients (serves 2-3 as a side dish):

250g minced pork
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Dash of white pepper
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornflour
2 large eggs, beaten
1 salted egg, yolk separated and chopped
1 century egg, cut into small pieces
450ml water

1. Mix together the minced pork with light soy sauce, sugar, pepper, sesame oil and cornflour. Spread it across the bottom of a glass or other heat proof dish.

Minced pork as base

2. Mix the beaten eggs, salt egg whites and water together and pour over the minced pork. The dish can now be cooked in a large steamer, either those powered by electricity or on the stove on top of a pan of boiling water. The traditional home-cooking method, as I have done, is to do it in a wok with a metal trivet on which to place the dish.

Wok as a steamer

3. Place the trivet in the wok, add about an inch (depending on the height of your trivet) of hot water. Don't let the water touch the base of the dish. Place the dish on the trivet, cover with a lid and put it on high heat. After 1 minute, turn the heat down to medium.

Ready for steaming

4. After 15 minutes, remove the lid (be careful of hot steam) and scatter the chopped up pieces of salted egg yolk and century egg on top of the egg mixture. Adding these later make sure that they stay on top to create a multi coloured jewel-like effect. Put the lid back on a steam on medium heat for a further 5-8 minutes. Serve immediately.

Steamed three eggs with pork

Note: Do not steam this dish at too high a heat or for too long, otherwise the egg layer will become spongey and has a pockmarked appearance. Test the centre of the dish to make sure that the pork is cooked. Actual cooking time will depend on the thickness of your pork layer.

Any leftovers can be kept in a separate lidded container, or just put plastic wrap on top of the dish. It reheats well either in a steamer or 2-3 minutes in the microwave.

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