Tuesday 27 May 2008

Tofu Tuesday - Ferment It

Fermented White Beancurd with Chilli in Sesame Oil

According to the omniscient Wikipedia, fermented tofu is made by allowing cubes of dried tofu to fully air-dry under hay and slowly ferment from aerial bacteria and fungal spores. Lovely.

Fermented tofu is sometimes referred to as Chinese cheese. It's pretty pungent stuff - it does smell a bit fruity, like a well-aged blue cheese. I have known others to eat it straight from the jar, which I have considered in the name of blog-testing, but... well... I can't. It just doesn't smell too good. In a recent episode of the F Word, Gordon Ramsey described it as a Chinese delicacy and blind-folded James Corden for him to eat raw. I didn't particularly agree that it was a delicacy (it's obtained quite easily and cheaply) but I did feel sorry for him.

However, when used to cook vegetables in, particularly stir-frying water spinach and other leafy greens, it's completely transformed.

The basic base to stir-frying vegetables with this fermented tofu lies in ginger, garlic and chilli. I finely dice equal amounts, and fry it in a little oil. Add one or two cubes of the fermented tofu and mash a little. Add the vegetables, maybe a splash of water or rice wine and stir-fry until cooked.

The fermented tofu makes the vegetables very fragrant, and your kitchen a little stinky, so keep your windows open. I like the smell of it frying but then again, I also like the smell of shrimp paste frying.

There is also fermented red beancurd which is mainly used in braising meats, as far as I can tell. I haven't used it... yet!

Monday 26 May 2008

Squid - The Perfect Budget Food

One of my earliest memories of being on holiday was with my parents when we went to Phuket. There was a beach cafe we stumbled upon where you could sit at the bar on tall stools actually on the beach. My parents befriended the lady behind the bar, and she served us a massive great platter of calamari, completely fresh. It was gorgeous, and it's one of those times that I wish I were just a little bit older so my memory would be clearer.

Squid is the ultimate budget food, perfect for me as I seem to be perpetually budgeting. I buy 1kg bags of frozen cleaned and prepared squid tubes and tentacles for about £2.50 in Chinatown. It's also diverse - a really quick cooking at a high heat as well as a long, slow braise will result in sweet and tender meat. So far I haven't as yet stewed it, but that is next on the list.

So here's a recipe for Squid in Black Bean Sauce.

For One

200gr squid and tentacles, washed
1" ginger, chopped finely
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
1 red chilli, sliced
1 tbsp black beans, or 1 tbsp black bean sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp black or balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 spring onions, sliced
1/2 tbsp cornflour, slaked
1 orange or green pepper, chopped roughly

Score the insides of the squid carefully, and then chop into chunks. Combine the black beans, rice wine, soy sauce, sugar and vinegar in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Heat up some oil and fry the ginger, garlic and chilli until fragrant but not burnt. Add the pepper and fry till softened. Next, add the squid, fry for a minute, then add the black bean sauce mixture, the cornflour, and cook until thickened. Garnish with spring onion and serve with rice.

The dish has a great texture, something I seem to be obsessed with recently - slightly crunchy peppers contrasts well with soft and tender squid. Black beans are very versatile and it's easy to knock up a sauce with it using ingredients that last forever. Pick some up if you see them.

Saturday 24 May 2008

My Guilty Pleasure

I don't feel guilty or ashamed about most things I like to eat (including Spam) but Cup Noodles usually make me feel a little seedy. Maybe because you eat them out of a cup, or perhaps it's because I usually eat them when hungover.

Today is no exception; a terrible hangover had me straight for the noodle cupboard. It's one of those hangovers that has me chugging the tea like no tomorrow (why oh why don't they make pint-sized mugs?) and an insatiable hunger. A full-on fried breakfast consisting of fried bread, bacon, eggs, bubble & squeak and fried tomatoes did little to help me on my way. By the time I'd waddled home from the caff it was time for round two.

Cup Noodles are infinitely superior to the Pot Noodle. Pot Noodles are horrors - with flavours like Chicken Satay, Curry and Sweet & Sour, you only need to try them once to know they're not right. Cup Noodles even have dehyrated pieces of sweetcorn, seaweed, spring onion and fake crab stick - how can that be bad?

The shame is over. I will eat my Cup Noodles with pride.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Siu Mai

Siu mai is one of the most popular dim sum dishes, and quite rightly so. The mixture of pork and prawn, mixed into a paste gives it a springy texture whilst the mushrooms gives them a good savoury depth. If you have access to Chinese ingredients, such as wonton skins, then siu mai is very easy to make and you should definitely give it a try. Wonton wrappers are made with a fine wheat dough and lye water. I don't bother making them myself - life is too short.

Siu Mai

Makes about 24 dumplings

200gr minced pork

150gr chopped raw prawns

3 dried shiitake mushrooms, redydrated and chopped

2 spring onions, chopped finely

Soy sauce to taste

Sesame oil

Pinch of ground white pepper

Won ton skins

Mix all the filling ingredients well, until it becomes a paste. Leave for half an hour in the fridge. When it comes to making the dumplings, place a wonton wrapper on top of an O made by your thumb and index finger, like the picture above. Add a tablespoon of the mixture to the wrapper and push down to make the dumpling. You may have to trim some of the wrapper off (I did). Finish by topping with a dice of carrot, or a pea.

To cook the dumplings, steam on greaseproof paper in a steamer for roughly 10 - 12 minutes. Serve with black vinegar with matchsticks of ginger and/or chilli sauce.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Tofu Tuesday - Steamed Tofu With Mushrooms & Prawns

Tofu Tuesday is under way. As much as I'd love to make agedashi tofu again (seriously - I'm craving it) it wouldn't make for very interesting blogging. So I ploughed on with a new recipe.

Having a google around, there weren't many tofu recipes I found particularly interesting. Many of them are vegetarian recipes which uses tofu as a protein element. I'm not against vegetarianism, far from it in fact, but I wanted to use tofu as a centre piece, rather than using it to replace something else. Since I deep-fried last week, I also wanted to use a different method of cooking it. I combined some ideas from this recipe, and also a recipe Josh from Cooking The Books sent me, to come up with this.

Steamed Tofu With Mushroom & Prawns

To serve one

5 raw shelled prawns

5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 1/2 an hour.

1/2 box of firm silken tofu - I use this brand

1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal

1 red bird's eye chilli, sliced

1 inch ginger, grated

2 tbsp oyster sauce (or to taste), loosened with a little hot water.

1 tsp sesame oil

Slice the tofu very carefully into 5 slices. Layer on a plate to fit in the steamer with the rehydrated mushrooms and prawns, alternating. Scatter the ginger, chilli and spring onion on top. Steam for roughly 10 mins, or until the prawns just turn pink. Once cooked, drain the juices from the plate and pour the loosened oyster sauce over the tofu and drizzle the sesame oil on top.

I served this with white rice and choi sum stir-fried in chilli, garlic and ginger. The tofu was lovely - really clean-tasting and quite refreshing, not at all heavy. The contrasting textures between the soft tofu, the succulent mushrooms and the slight crunch of the prawns was very pleasing; the tofu did it's job well.

Saturday 17 May 2008

Over-Night Bread

This is my second attempt at baking bread. I was quite nervous, as my previous attempt, a rosemary focaccia, flopped spectacularly. It was all going so well and had looked just like the recipe. However, the shelf of the oven was being used as a grill rack for an improvised shopping-trolley-barbeque (!!) so when it came to baking and we were still using the shelf, the focaccia had to wait. For a long time. Eventually when the oven was useable, I thought it looked a bit too puffy and flattened it a bit. It came out like a piece of cardboard. That'll teach me for drinking and attempting to bake.

This recipe came from here, but I adapted it as I only had white bread flour. I had only read part of the recipe and had not realised how long it would take, so for the last 45 mins of proving, I stuck it in the fridge, ready to bake in the morning. I attribute it's shortness to this, but it was still very tasty. In fact, it was great sliced in a ciabatta style, lengthways. So here's my version.

Over-night Bread

125gr warm water

1 level teaspoon of easy-blend yeast

300gr white bread flour, split into 100gr and 200gr

125gr cold water

1 level tsp fine salt

Olive oil

Combine the yeast and the warm water in a bowl, cover and leave for two hours. Add the rest of the flour, cold water and salt and stir well. Get your hands in there to get it thoroughly mixed - this is a messy recipe. Cover for 15 mins to hydrate.

Rub some oil on your hands and pat some on top of the dough. Knead for 15 seconds, cover and leave it for 45 minutes. Knead for 15 seconds every 15 minutes. Finally, knead for another 30 seconds, and place it in your oiled and floured 2lb loaf tin. Cover, place in the fridge over-night.

In the morning, take out of the fridge and leave to warm up to room temperature. Sash the top with a shard knife and dust with flour. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees celcius. Add a baking tray with some ice cubes to create steam, and put the loaf in. Bake for 20 mins, then reduce the temperature to 200 degrees celcius and bake for a further 20 mins. Turn out on a wire rack and leave to cool before eating.

It's a really great recipe for the weekend - I got in on Friday night and it was great to have freshly baked bread for my Saturday morning breakfast / brunch.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Agedashi Tofu - A Japanese Way of Eating

I recently tried Agedashi Tofu in my favourite Japanese restaurant, Ten Ten Tei. I was instantly addicted; silky smooth tofu, covered in a light, crisp coating and served in a light, slightly fishy and deeply savoury broth. I was only disappointed that there wasn't more of it, as I got only one measly lump so of course I decided to make it myself - so that I could eat as much as I like!

Tofu is often highly under-rated. Everyone I know regards it as a foodstuff for vegetarians, a protein for people who don't eat meat. This really isn't so - tofu is such a complex ingredient on so many levels. It's all about the texture of it, such as lumps of firm tofu in soups like miso soup or the Sichuan hot and sour soup. Similarly, deep fried tofu is succulent when stuffed and braised, taking on flavours from the braising liquid.

Agedashi Tofu

For two greedy people as a side

1 block firm tofu (I use Mori-Nu silken kind)

2 spring onions, chopped

1 tsp wakame seaweed, rehydrated

200mls dashi (or light fish) stock

2 tbsp mirin

2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce

Pinch of Sugar

A little grated ginger


Oil for deep frying

Remove the tofu from it's packaging and drain well. Pat dry with kitchen paper and cut into large chunks. Meanwhile, boil together the dashi stock (you can buy powder sachets from the Japan Centre) with the mirin, soy sauce and sugar. Heat up some oil to deep frying heat, when a breadcrumb sizzles. Coat the tofu in cornflour and carefully add to the oil. Fry until golden brown, drain on kitchen paper. Add to your bowl, sprinkle with grated ginger, spring onion, wakame seaweed and add some of the broth. Serve immediately.

I served this with miso aubergines, cucumber salad (adapted from BBC Good Food) and white rice. I was really surprised with how it turned out - it was absolutely delicious. I didn't miss meat at all in my meal, as the tofu made for a meaty texture. Definitely a favourite to add to the repertoire.

Perhaps the beginning of Tofu Tuesday?

Saturday 10 May 2008

A Cake For Girls

Quite lurid, isn't it?

In my quest to bake more, I came across a recipe (from Nigella, originally) for beetroot and cranberry cake. The Romans considered beetroot to be an aphrodisiac, and apparently the belief is still held today that if a man and a woman eat from the same beetroot, they will fall in love.

The promise of pink cake mixture appealed to my girly side and indeed it was pink. So were my fingers, nails and everything I touched.

Beetroot and Cranberry Cake

1 large or 2 small uncooked beetroot, weighing about 200gr
200gr very soft unsalted butter
Grated zest and juice 1/2 lemon
200gr caster sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
150gr dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
150gr plain flour, sifted
150gr self-raising flour, sifted
2lb loaf tin, lined with baking parchment


Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, gas mark 4.

Peel the beetroot, then grate it using the finer grating blade of a food processor or fine side of a hand grater.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, lemon zest and sugar together until pale and creamy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating in well.

Stir in the beetroot, dried cranberries, lemon juice and nutmeg.

Stir in the flours and spoon the mixture into the loaf tin, spreading evenly.

Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 50 - 60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Let the loaf cake cool in the tin, then set on a rack, before turning it out and slicing thickly.

The cake was very moist and just the right sweetness. The dried cranberries plumped out during the baking and became fat and juicy, the beetroot lent itself to a subte earthiness. The flavours were slightly reminiscent of Christmas, due to the nutmeg. Sadly the cake itself lost some of it's pinkness, but perhaps that isn't such a bad thing...

Monday 5 May 2008

Salad Days

After the excesses of the weekend in Bruges, it was time for some lighter dinners. The weather is also getting warmer which make healthy eating easier. Sadly the Tesco Metros and Sainsburys Locals of Central London aren't exactly well stocked; bags of pre-washed leaves, shrink-wrapped cucumbers, bright orange tomatoes. I made do with what I had on offer and came out with a very tasty dinner.

Salmon is one thing I'm quite particular with about the way it's cooked. I prefer it steamed or poached, I find grilling or frying it makes it overly rich. By using fish sauce, lime and chilli in the dressing, it made for a refreshing change from the usual vinaigrette

Salmon and Udon Noodle Salad

For one

1 salmon fillet

Juice of 1/2 a lime

1" ginger, grated

1 red chilli, sliced finely

1 tbsp coriander and 1 of mint, chopped

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp sugar

Combine the above ingredients and coat the salmon fillet in it. Leave to marinate for 30 mins.

Place the salmon fillet including the marinade in a foil pouch and bake in the oven for 10 - 15 minutes, or until just done. Leave to cool.

Assemble a salad with whatever veg you have - I had mixed leaves, mushrooms, butter beans, spring onion and cherry tomatoes. Cook some udon noodles and refresh. Toss in soy sauce and lay over the veg mixture. Flake the salmon on top, and combine it all with the juices from the foil pouch.