Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Garlicky Scrambled Eggs

This is an adaptation of the eggs made by a friend from Beijing.

When she cooks it, she first fries up several chopped tomatoes, then places them in a bowl to the side. Just before serving, she stirs the tomatoes into the eggs. I leave the tomatoes out, partly because tomatoes aren't in season year round and partly because I'm lazy. But by all means put them in if you want to!

I also add a dash of mirin because the kids like the slightly sweet flavour, but of course that's not Chinese.

We eat these eggs with rice and any type of Chinese-style vegetable: broccoli with oyster sauce, stir-fried beans with ginger, or whatever.

Garlicky Scrambled Eggs

- 6 eggs
- 6 cloves garlic
- a dash of mirin
- unflavoured vegetable oil

Bash the garlic with the side of the knife, flick off the paper skin, and chop roughly. Warm a good slosh of oil in a skillet, then add the garlic and fry gently, stirring constantly, until the garlic smells done.

Lightly beat the eggs and the mirin, then pour into the skillet. Cook over low heat, pushing them about with a spatula, until they are scrambled and done. If you keep the heat low and stir constantly, they shouldn't stick or dry out.

Tip into a bowl and serve.

Thanks – and apologies – to Ying!

(Local: eggs, garlic, vegetable oil. Not local: mirin.)

Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

I used to worry about whether or not my cooking tasted authentic. Then one evening a housemate, whose father was from Hong Kong, pushed back her now-empty plate of stir-fried beans and ginger, sighed, and said dreamily, 'You cook just like my father used to.' I took that as permission to cook as much Chinese-style food as I liked – although I stick to very simple dishes.

One of these is a winter mainstay: broccoli with oyster sauce. Once, my children hated broccoli. I got sick of this, so I made them eat a piece a night for the better part of two weeks. At the end of that time, they decided they liked it but only this way. One way is better than none, so now we eat this most weeks, usually with rice and Chinese-style scrambled eggs.

Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

- 12 broccoli shoots, or 1 big head of broccoli
- a champagne-cork sized knob of ginger
- 3 cloves garlic
- peanut or vegetable oil
- scant ½ cup oyster sauce

Make rice and keep it warm. Bring a large pot of water to the boil.

While it is heating, slice the ginger into matchsticks. Bash the garlic with the side of the knife, flick off the paper skin, and slice the remains thinly.

Warm a good swirl of oil in a small saucepan. Tip in the garlic and ginger and fry gently until soft; push and prod it often with a wooden spoon, and do not let it burn. Add the oyster sauce, bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

Throw the broccoli into the boiling water and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, then quickly arrange it on a warm platter and drizzle with the oyster sauce. Serve immediately.

Adapted from a recipe in The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen by Nigel Slater.

(Local: broccoli, garlic, vegetable oil. Not local: ginger, oyster sauce.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Daikon and Mushroom Soup

Daikon and mushrooms make a good soup. The lady in my local Chinese grocery says I should use dried White Flower Mushrooms, and in the name of authenticity I tried them once. However, I found I prefer the texture of fresh local shitake or even plain old white mushrooms, so now I use them instead.

The soup succeeds or fails on the basis of the stock. If you plan to use powdered stock, forget it and cook something else. You could try a liquid stock, but I find liquid stocks overpoweringly salty. Instead, it's worth making a chicken stock.

You can prepare a stock especially for this soup from a chicken carcass, a few slices of fresh ginger, two peeled cloves of garlic, two spring onions split lengthways, some dried mushrooms and two litres of water. Alternatively, make a big batch of normal chicken stock, use some for this, and keep the rest for something else. Once the stock is ready, the soup is very quick to make.

According to my recipe book, daikon and mushroom soup is eaten for breakfast in Korea. Philistines that we are, we eat it for dinner served alongside rice and vegetables.

Daikon and Mushroom Soup

- 1 daikon, diced small
- 10 to 15 fresh mushrooms, diced
- 200g mung bean sprouts
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- ½ tsp sugar
- 1½ litres chicken stock
- coriander, optional

Bring the stock to the boil. Throw in the mushrooms and daikon, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the daikon is tender.

Add the bean sprouts, and simmer for a few more minutes. Add the soy sauce and sugar, and serve.

A few leaves of coriander floating on the surface make a lovely finish.

Adapted from a recipe in Korean Cooking by Hilaire Walden.

(Local: daikon, mushrooms, bean sprouts, most of the chicken stock. Not local: soy sauce, sugar.)

Daikon and Carrot Salad

Of all the fish to fall for, my children have given their hearts to mackerel. We were in Cornwall earlier this year, and bought mackerel from the fisherman's wife. The fish were so fresh they still looked surprised at being caught. I baked them with a little pear cider and a few bay leaves gleaned from a neighbour's garden, and my kids demolished them – my six year old ate an entire fish.*

Even now, it's the only fish my four year old will eat. I found imported smoked mackerel recently, and she devoured even that with relish. But buying rare overpriced groaning-with-air-miles smoked fish is insane, so I'm trying to convince her to eat a little salmon. It, too, is oily with a firm flesh and distinctive flavour.

We don't eat it often, but when we do we like to serve it with this salad. The sharpness cuts through the unctuousness of the fish, and the sesame goes well with the salmon.

We also eat this salad as part of a meal of rice and vegetables; Korean or Japanese flavours are the best match.

*I blame my children's passion for mackerel and other English fish partly on The Mousehole Cat. My kids can identify every fish in the book and have asked me many times now to make stargazy pie. You can read more about The Mousehole Cat here.

PS – You might enjoy my short hymn to English food; click here.

Daikon and Carrot Salad

- 1 carrot, very coarsely grated
- 1 medium-sized daikon, very coarsely grated
- salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tbs sesame oil

Put the carrot and daikon in a colander and salt lightly. Leave on the draining board for up to an hour. Rinse well, drain, then press dry on a clean tea towel. Place the daikon and carrot into a bowl.

Mix together the sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil, then toss through the daikon and carrot.

Serve. A few leaves of coriander make a nice garnish.

(If you need to skip the salting stage, the salad will be a bit watery. You can compensate slightly by increasing the amount of soy – but, for both flavour and texture, it's best to salt.)

Adapted from a recipe in Korean Cooking by Hilaire Walden.

(Local: daikon, carrot. Not local: sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lemon Cordial

My grandmother used to give us mildly sweet drinks. She served lemon barley and other cordials in thin little glasses with frosted patterns and gilt lips. I would empty my glass in about two seconds flat, then sit there politely as she twittered and fussed, running my fingers over the slightly raised frosting.

A few weeks ago, at the morning tea after her funeral, the crematorium happened to serve lemon barley along with the tea and coffee and I was taken right back.

Now I'm home again, I'll make my own. My neighbour's tree is burgeoning with lemons, and this cordial is easy to make. Even better, it's chemical-free, very refreshing, and keeps in the fridge for weeks.

Lemon Cordial

- about 15 lemons
- 350 g caster sugar

Squeeze the lemons and pour the juice into a saucepan. Strain it if you want, but I leave the pulp; I like a little texture.

Add the caster sugar, and heat until simmering. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, then pour into clean glass bottles.

Leave to cool, and refrigerate.

To serve, pour cordial into a glass, then top up with tap water or plain mineral water. One part cordial to four parts water tastes about right.

(Local: lemons. Not local: sugar.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Poached Eggs, Haloumi and Spinach

Many years BC*, when dinosaurs walked the earth, Saturday morning often meant meeting friends for brunch. I'd order poached eggs with hollandaise, and for just a moment heaven and earth would collide. But now we're up at 6 with the kids, we need breakfast at 7 and the whole concept of brunch feels slightly silly.

Yet I missed those poached eggs. I tried every technique under the sun – lots of water, less water, still water, swirling water, vinegar water, salt water, fresh eggs, stale eggs, bigger pots, skillets – but I cannot master those soft little balls that you get in a cafe. After too many attempts, ending in too many pots of swirling egg whites, I gave up on cafe style poached eggs. Now I do them my way. As long as the eggs are very fresh, I get a soft dome of egg, distributed like a bell curve, with a golden runny raised yolk. It may not be as neat as cafe eggs, but once you plunge the knife into the yolk who cares? It tastes fantastic, and I'm happy.

And this morning when I picked up our veggie box just before lunch, I saw a bundle of baby spinach leaves, a carton of eggs, and a package of soft, salty haloumi lying on top. Inspiration struck! I carted it home, fired up the stove, and we had brunch for lunch.

*BC: before children.

PS: For an amusing account of one man's attempt to poach an egg, click here.

Poached Eggs, Haloumi and Spinach

- some very fresh eggs
- haloumi, perhaps 150g or a bit more for 2 adults
- a handful of baby spinach leaves each
- the juice of a lemon
- extra virgin olive oil
- dukkah (we used Wartaka dukkah; the lemon myrtle flavour goes beautifully with the haloumi.)

Arrange the spinach on dinner plates. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.

Heat a little olive oil in a wide skillet. Slice the haloumi into thick large bite-size pieces, then place in the skillet and cook until golden. Turn, and cook the other side. When it is done, drizzle with lemon juice, then place the cheese and any juices onto the spinach.

Meanwhile, boil the kettle. Pour the water into a wide skillet on the hottest burner of your stove and heat until it is barely simmering. Just the occasional tiny bubble should float up. Break an egg into a teacup, then ease the egg into the pan. You should be able to fit five or so eggs in a ring around your pan. Leave, barely simmering, until the white is just cooked; this takes three to four minutes.

Remove with a slotted spoon or egg slide, press the base of the spoon gently on a folded tea towel to remove any excess water, and slip onto the haloumi and spinach.

Sprinkle with dukkah, and serve immediately. A thick bit of grilled sourdough on the side rounds it out nicely.

Developed from an idea in Feast: Food that celebrates life by Nigella Lawson.

(Local: eggs, haloumi, spinach, lemon, olive oil. Made locally: dukkah.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Baked Apples

My grandmother was the cook: the sort of woman who could turn out a hot meal for twenty people and think it was nothing special. My grandfather stayed out of the kitchen, and it remained that way for more than twenty years.

Then my grandmother decided to visit one of her daughters, who was studying in New Zealand at the time; and so my grandfather had to learn to cook. He asked my grandmother to teach him. But she was slapdash; she never quite followed a recipe, which drove my analytical grandfather – a lecturer in chemistry – quite mad. He shadowed her in the kitchen for weeks before her holiday, grabbing her wrist each time she went to throw a dash of this or that into the pot, and writing down precise recipes, noting the exact weight of each dash or dollop.

After she left, he moved into the kitchen. He brought home scales and Bunsen burners from the lab so he could measure the dashes and regulate the temperatures properly; and he hung his starched white lab coat behind the door.

One evening, my uncle came home from uni to find his father in the kitchen, wearing lab coat and safety goggles. Pots bubbled away over Bunsen burners, and his father was coring apples with an electric drill. They were having baked apples for dessert.

Everyone knows how to bake an apple, I'm sure, but I absolutely had to tell the story.

Baked Apples

- 1 apple per person
- dried fruit (whatever you like; we use sultanas, chopped dates, raisins and cranberries)
- lemon
- butter
- honey
- cinnamon or cloves

Preheat the oven to 180. If the dried fruit is very dry, soak it in hot water for ten minutes.

Core the apples, electric drill optional. Run a knife lightly around the circumference of each apple, just slitting the skin, so that when it expands in the oven it puffs up along the centre ring and doesn't explode all over the place.

Butter the base of an oven dish. Place the apples into it, and stuff the cores with dried fruit. Press a knob of butter into the top of each apple, and sprinkle with cinnamon or cloves. Drizzle with a little honey and lemon juice. Pour a few tablespoons of water into the bottom of the dish.

Bake for an hour. Serve drizzled with juices from the dish, either plain or with cream or ice cream; or both if you're my grandpa.

(Local: apples, honey, lemon. Not local: butter, dried fruit.)

Lemon Delicious

I don't particularly remember eating lemon delicious at my grandmother's house, and yet I associate it with her. My grandmother died just over a month ago; my grandfather, her husband, is in palliative care. So I am in a cooking frenzy and right now I want something sharp like grief, but soothingly old-fashioned too.

Lemon Delicious fits the bill. This classic dessert separates into layers in the oven: a light sponge on top, and a rich yellow sauce underneath. It's sharp with the tang of lemon, yet smooth and comforting to eat. It's just the thing for dessert tonight; or, as my grandparents would say, 'sweets'.

Lemon Delicious

- 3 eggs, separated
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tbs self-raising flour
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced (you want about ½ cup juice)
- a wee pinch of salt

Butter a 1 litre ovenproof dish. Preheat the oven to 180.

Add the sugar and the lemon zest to the egg yolks and beat with an electric mixer until pale and thick. Add the milk, tablespoon by tablespoon, mixing well after each addition. Sift in the flour and salt, add the lemon juice, and mix well.

Wash the beaters*, then beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture using a spatula, scraping up mixture from the bottom and folding it in. Treat it gently – do not beat it or it will deflate. It will look slightly curdled, but that's fine.

Scrape into the baking dish. Stand the dish in a larger dish or tray, and add enough boiling water to the larger dish to come halfway up the sides of the smaller dish.

Bake in moderate oven for 45 minutes or until firm to touch. It's rather nice with a bit of cream.

Serves 3 sad or greedy people, or 4 more civilized people.

*You need clean beaters or the egg whites won't stiffen.

Adapted from the good old Australian Women's Weekly Basic Cookbook.

(Local: lemon, milk. Not local: flour, sugar, salt.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beetroot Relish

To my daughters:

Once upon a time, before my time or your time, my mother – your grandmother – lived with her two younger sisters in a little brick house at the end of a sandy track. Her daddy went out to work every day, and her mummy stayed home with the three little girls. Her mummy cooked and cleaned and washed and sewed. She shopped from the tradesmen who drove their vans to the other end of the track, or she walked to the local shops, three little girls hanging off the pram as its wheels bogged down in the sand. She made everything from scratch.

On Sundays, they rested. Nobody picked up a needle or turned on the oven, and the little girls kept their voices quiet. They ate cold meat and vegetables for lunch, to keep the Sabbath holy.

One day at the local shop, her mummy saw something new. It was beetroot in a can! "Wonderful!" she thought, "that's one less job." She bought the can, and smuggled it home in the bottom of the pram under the rest of the shopping. That Sunday in the kitchen, she opened the can, tipped the contents into the beet bowl, and served it without comment. No one noticed, so she gave up pickling beets and switched to canned beets instead.

Several years later, her husband happened to wander into the kitchen as they were preparing lunch. He saw the open can of beets on the table, and reeled with shock. "What's this?" he gasped, "why aren't you making your usual beetroot?".

And his youngest daughter looked at him, puzzled, and asked, "But how else does it come?".

Secret women's business, indeed.

Fifty years later, in honour of my grandmother, who died last month, and in honour of my grandfather, who has closed his eyes and is waiting to join her, I have rolled up my sleeves and turned my kitchen pink. Here is my recipe for beetroot relish – like everything I do, not how they did it, but faithful nonetheless.

Beetroot Relish

- 1¼ kg beets, peeled and grated (I used a food processor)
- 1½ cups apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- 250g brown sugar
- 2 small red onions, finely chopped
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 oranges, zested and juiced (optional)

Place the vinegars and sugar into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the other ingredients and bring back to the boil, then simmer gently for 50 minutes, stirring from time to time, until syrupy.

Pour into hot sterilized jars (I use the baby bottle sterilizer; Nigella Lawson suggests that running jars through the dishwasher is sufficient), and seal. Store in a cool dark place.

Good with fetta or a crumbly cheddar, with a plate of mixed salads, or, if you're so inclined, with a bit of red meat.

(Local: beetroot, red onion, orange, apple cider vinegar. Not local: balsamic vinegar, sugar, salt.)