Making Meringues with the Meringue Girls…

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Whenever I make ice cream, I always make meringues. All those leftover egg whites need using up, of course, and there’s nothing nicer than being able to offer your guests a plate of a cute little meringue kisses to have with a cup of tea or coffee!

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Eat like a sumo wrestler: Chankonabe recipe

Chankonabe text

This hearty, clean tasting bowl o’goodness is modelled on the sort of food that they feed to sumo wrestlers in Japan – but don’t be put off from trying it for fear of putting on weight. When it comes to food, sumo wrestlers go for quality and quantity – piling on the pounds with vast amounts of really good, healthy food.

Chankonabe is a kind of nabemono, or one pot dish, where all of the diners help themselves from a central, simmering stew. Not only does the tabletop stove the stew sits upon keep the diners warm in winter, but by sharing, friendships and familial ties are strengthened. Because sumos live together in groups in so-called stables, there is an obvious advantage to sharing meals – and although the origins of the word ‘chanko’ are unclear, many think the word comes from ‘chan’, for father and ‘ko’, for child, indicating the strong ties between a stablemaster and his trainees.

The chanko-ban, or chanko cook (that’s you, if you’re following my recipe!) is usually a junior sumo wrestler. There are no rules about what goes in chankonabe – the contents are dictated by the seasons, what’s in the kitchen, and personal taste. But generally, chicken is favoured, and beef and fish could be considered bad luck, as both represent a sumo in defeat (on all fours, or completely legless!).

Is it really chankonabe if it’s not served to or by a sumo? Well, maybe not – but eat it with a warrior spirit! This recipe will serve six adults, so it’s great for an informal dinner with friends.

Chankonabe ingredients

Ingredients text

  • Four chicken breasts or thighs, skin-on for authenticity
  • 3 litres chicken stock
  • 1 large, white potato, peeled
  • 1/3 of a daikon radish, peeled
  • 2 peeled carrots
  • 3-4 heads pak choi (depending on size)
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 12 shiitake mushrooms (approx 125g)
  • 1 block firm tofu (or packet deep fried tofu)
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • 125ml soy sauce
  • 60ml mirin
  • Salt
  • 1 package cooked udon noodles (optional)

Chankonabe method

Method text

  • If using fried tofu, place in a colander and blanch with boiling water to remove excess oil. When cutting the vegetables, try to cut them diagonally to make them look nicer.
  • Slice the radish, potato and carrot, parboil (submerge into boiling water for around five minutes), then drain and keep to one side.
  • Slice the pak choi into chunks. Wash the leeks and slice white parts only. Cut the chicken into 2-inch chunks, keeping the skin on. Prepare the shiitake mushrooms by wiping them with a damp cloth and trimming down the stalks. The enoki mushrooms should be trimmed and separated into smaller bundles.
  • Add the chicken stock, chicken, onions, shiitake mushrooms, leek and tofu to a large pan, and bring to the boil. Add your soy sauce and simmer for 15 minutes, or until all the ingredients are cooked. Keep skimming off any scum that might form.
  • Add the potato, radish, carrot and pak choi and simmer for five more minutes. Add the mirin and shimeji mushrooms, then simmer for a few more minutes and season to taste with salt.
  • Serve in a pot simmering on a tabletop stove, or alternatively, dish into bowls. Seconds are compulsory!
  • Once you have had your fill of the chankonabe, remove any remaining ingredients, then add the udon noodles to the soup, simmer for around five minutes, and serve with the broth.

Chankonabe cooking

I have a portable, tabletop stove that I like to use for this, but you can serve yourselves from the pot at the table without having heat under it, as it stays warm for a while due to the sheer volume of food inside!

Chankonabe finished

It may seem like a simple dish, but somehow, the finished product is so much greater than the sum of its parts. I made this for my cousin and mum back in 2009, and they still talk about it… Maybe it’s time to make it again!

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Mapo Dofu Recipe

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Mapo dofu is one of my favourite Chinese dishes, but if you’re not familiar with authentic Chinese cooking, it might come as a bit of a surprise. Most of the Chinese food we encounter here in the west comes to us by way of the takeaway and local restaurant, where families from the Cantonese region cook their specialities – subtle stir fries, noodles and light soups. However, as you can probably imagine, in a country with millions upon millions of inhabitants, the cuisine actually varies enormously, and this dish is fairly indicative of its origins in the Sichuan province. Sichuan dishes are popular on takeaway menus, that’s true – but although real Sichuan dishes are as spicy as their western namesakes, translated to our soft palettes via the Cantonese migrants, that’s pretty much where the comparison ends.

I can’t say I’m an expert, but I have learned a lot about Sichuan cuisine thanks to Fuchsia Dunlop (namely Sichuan Cooking and Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper). One of the recipes I’ve adopted as a staple is mapo dofu. I’ve tweaked it quite a lot from the original, which incorporates a great deal of oil (which is delicious but sadly far too calorific for me!) so I decided to share the recipe here.

Mapo Dofu text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mapo dofu has a great, colourful history, which starts with the name itself: ‘ma’ meaning ‘pockmarked’ and ‘po’ meaning ‘old lady’. ‘Dofu’ is another translation for tofu, so the recipe’s name translates to mean ‘pockmarked old lady’s tofu’. Legend has it that this lady, Pockmarked Old Ma, used to make this incredibly spicy dish in her restaurant – and it was so hot that it would make the diners sweat! My version is certainly not that spicy, but the inclusion of Sichuan pepper certainly gives it an interesting feeling in your mouth – this spice is known for its numbing and cooling effect, so if you’ve never tried it before, go cautiously!

This recipe serves two people.

Ingredients text

  • Approx 1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 block firm tofu (approx 340g)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 200g minced beef or pork
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp chilli bean paste
  • 1 tbsp fermented black beans
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornflour dissolved in 2 tbsp water
  • Bunch spring onions
  • White rice to serve

Method text

First of all, prepare the Sichuan peppercorns by roasting them in a pan until fragrant, then grinding in a pestle and mortar, You want to save 1/2 tsp of this powder to sprinkle on the top later. You can skip this and buy ready ground Sichuan pepper if you can get it, but it won’t be as fresh. However, the peppercorns themselves will stay fresh for a long time, and can toasted and ground to order – I always have some in a tin on my fridge!

Slice the tofu into 1/2 inch squares and poach in simmering water gently to give it a silky texture.

Wash and drain your fermented black beans.

Heat the oil in a wok, add the beef or pork and garlic, and stir fry, breaking it up, until the meat has coloured. Now add the chilli bean paste and stir fry for about 30 secs. Add the fermented beans and stir fry for a few more seconds.

Pour in your stock, then add the drained tofu gently so as not to break it up. Add the soy sauce and sugar, then taste for seasonings to see if anything else is needed.

Simmer for 5 mins, and slice the spring onions on a steep diagonal whilst it’s cooking.

Add the cornflour mixture a bit at a time, mixing gently until the sauce thickens to the tofu. You might not need all the mixture to do this.

Put your rice into the bottom of each bowl, the pour the mapo dofu recipe over the top. Sprinkle over the Sichuan pepper and spring onions, and enjoy!

Mapo Dofu mosaic

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Steamed fish for Chinese New Year: a healthy celebration recipe!

Five years ago, when I started blogging, the first thing I wrote about was Chinese New Year. So it seems appropriate to come back to it in time for the Year of the Snake (which is to be celebated tomorrow, on Sunday 10 February) with a healthy recipe that is packed full of flavour, looks ambitious, but in reality is incredibly easy to prepare.

Just like a lot of the traditional foods consumed during Chinese New Year, steamed fish is symbolic because the word in Chinese, ‘yu’, sounds like ‘wealth’ or ‘abundance’. Many festive foods revolve around similar Chinese puns, which is great fun to discuss during dinner, but hard to replicate unless you’re very fluent in Chinese!

Chinese New Year steamed fish

You need a whole, white fleshed fish to make this dish – pink fleshed fish such as salmon or trout are too strong for the delicate seasonings used here. You can be flexible with the type of fish you buy – go for what looks the freshest, or take advantage of a special offer. Sea bass is usually an expensive option, but consider bream – my favourite! Ask your fish monger for advice if you’re not sure which type of fish to buy.

When you get your fish, chances are it will be gutted but not descaled. If you can get the fishmonger to descale it for you, all the better, but it’s not too difficult to do at home, and it keeps the fish fresher if you do it just before cooking. Simply rub a spoon (or knife) firmly along the fish, towards its head. This can be quite messy, so ensure you do it over a sink, and wash the fish after to remove all the inedible, loose scales. If you’re not used to cooking with fish, it could be hard to tell if the fish has scales or not – rubbing a spoon or knife backwards over the fish will soon help you tell. Whatever you do, rinse the fish thoroughly afterwards!

Chinese New Year steamed fish

INGREDIENTS

  • 500 –750g whole white fish
  • 3 spring onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 2 tbsp fermented black beans
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tbsp sesame seed oil

Chinese New Year steamed fish

(In order to cook this dish, you will need a steamer – it sounds obvious, but make sure your fish will fit in your steamer before you buy it! Electric steamers are more convenient for this dish than bamboo steamers on a wok, mostly because they are generally oval, and therefore fish-shaped!)

METHOD

  • Wash and dry your fish thoroughly. In a shallow dish, pour over the soy sauce and rice wine, then sit the fish in the fridge for ten minutes to marinate while you prepare the other seasonings.
  • Clean the spring onions and shred them finely. Crush the garlic with a garlic crusher. Skin the ginger (you can do this really easily by rubbing on the papery brown skin with the side of a spoon) and slice it, then cut it into fine matchsticks. Wash the black beans thoroughly, then crush them slightly to release more of their flavour.

Chinese New Year steamed fish

  • Remove the fish from the fridge, and place it either on a heatproof dish that will fit your steamer, or in strong, double wrapped foil. Scatter the seasonings over the top and inside of the fish, then pour the liquid marinade on the top, along with the sesame seed oil.

Chinese New Year steamed fish

  • Steam the fish for at least ten minutes. You can check whether the fish is done by pressing the flesh with chopsticks or your fingers. If the flesh is very firm and doesn’t flake, or still looks translucent, it will need longer. Check the manufacturer’s advice for cooking fish in your electric steamer.
  • Serve the fish on an oval platter, picking the flesh away from the bone with your chopsticks. Don’t forget to eat the tasty cheek flesh – or save it for your honoured guest! Serving a whole fish is a traditional way to end a banquet, but if you don’t like the thought of eating a fish with the head on, the flesh can be stripped from the bone before serving instead – but do try this recipe with a whole fish, as fillets of fish can produce a drier finished dish.

Chinese New Year steamed fish

A Cantonese way of finishing the dish is to heat a couple of tablespoons full of hot vegetable oil in a wok, in order to pour it over freshly sliced spring onions and ginger which have been laid over the surface of the cooked fish. This then cooks the aromatic seasonings, as well as crisping the skin of the fish slightly. I left this step out to make the finished dish healthier, but I won’t tell anyone if you give it a go!

Bento post! Yaki udon recipe

It might be the depths of winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t brighten up your lunch time with a tasty dish of yaki udon. Thick Japanese noodles are combined with veggies and a savory sauce to make a great alternative to sandwiches – or, you can serve hot for dinner!

Yaki udon and inari sushi

Yaki Udon Recipe

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 portions cooked udon noodles
  • 60g thinly sliced chicken thigh
  • 4 spring onions
  • 2 leaves white cabbage
  • 2 shiitake mushrooms
  • ½ green pepper
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

METHOD

  • Cut the chicken into small pieces. Cut the spring onions diagonally in small pieces. Thinly slice the mushrooms. Chop the cabbage roughly and julienne the pepper.
  • Stir fry the chicken, then add the spring onions, cabbage, mushrooms and pepper and fry until tender. Add the cooked noodles and fry for a minute, then add seasoning, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
  • You’re done!

This serves two adults, for a hearty lunch or dinner!

Tasty, crunchy, Thai spring rolls

Although I love my gingery spring roll recipe more than any other variation on the spring roll theme, sometimes a girl needs a change. Otherwise, we’d only ever have one pair of shoes, right? No, that doesn’t sound right at all!

Anyway, these are spicy, crunchy, Thai-spiced spring rolls, which are delicious as part of a Thai meal, or as a starter, or as part of a buffet. Make up your own excuses to eat these! Whatever reason (aliens, hurricane, big puddle outside your house) it’ll be worth it. Like a lot of Asian recipes, the ingredients list seems intimidating, but once you’ve chucked everything in, you’ll realise that long lists don’t mean lots of work! Also, if you can’t find minced turkey, you can substitute minced chicken or pork. Lamb and beef will be too powerful here, though.

To make these spring rolls for bento boxes, buy the largest size spring roll wrappers you can get, and then divide them into four quarters. Make sure that all the ingredients are finely chopped, and trim the noodles to a shorter length.

Recipe for Thai spring rolls

Thai Spring Rolls

INGREDIENTS

  • Packet of 15cm/6 inch square spring roll wrappers
  • 50g cellophane/harusame noodles
  • 250g minced turkey
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp minced ginger
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 red chillies
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Ground pepper
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • 70g beansprouts
  • 1 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
  • Oil for deep frying
  • Sweet chilli dipping sauce

METHOD

  • Put the noodles in boiling water to soak for 10 minutes, then rinse under cold water, drain thoroughly and cut into 5cm lengths to make them easier to eat.
  • Heat the oil in a wok and fry the turkey mince on a medium heat, until the mince is separated and cooked through. Then add the garlic, ginger and spring onions and cook until the mince is slightly browned. Be careful not to burn the garlic as it will turn bitter.
  • Now add the noodles, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar and mix well, adding pepper to taste. Turn the heat low and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Put the carrots, beansprouts, coriander and mint into the pan, stir and take off the heat.
  • Now to wrap your spring rolls. Place your spring roll wrapper diagonally on the work surface and fill the corner nearest to you with a tablespoon of mixture. Pull the corner up over the top and then roll twice – you should now be roughly to the centre of the wrapper. Fold the two corners into the middle and then continue to roll it up, sealing the end with water – this is vital or your roll will pop open when you fry it.
  • The frying method is the same for Chinese spring rolls – you can use a deep fat fryer at 170 degrees centigrade to cook your spring rolls, or heat them in a pan of hot oil. To test the oil is hot enough, add a spring roll – if it sizzles and the oil bubbles around it vigorously, you have it right. Cook on each side for a couple of minutes, then drain. If your rolls go dark brown too quickly, turn your heat down.
  • To serve, arrange on a plate with a dish of sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Tomato and mange tout scattered sushi recipe

Scattered sushi is a nice summer dish for the bento as the vinegared rice helps it to stay fresher for longer. But, you can eat it any time of the year! Here the rice is covered with chopped, deseeded cherry tomatoes from the vine, chopped, blanched mange tout, and toasted sesame seeds. In the top part of the bento is teriyaki chicken, salted edamame beans and soy sauce eggs (with some vinegar and sugar added to the mixture to preserve and to cut through the strong soy sauce taste).

There are some great scattered sushi recipes (including this one) in the book Sushi: Taste and Technique by Kimiko Barber.

Scattered sushi bento

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup of raw Japanese rice
  • Konbu
  • Splash of sake
  • 4-6 tbsp sushi seasoning or rice vinegar
  • Packet mange tout
  • Packet cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted

METHOD

  • Place the raw rice in your rice cooker as usual, and add the konbu and sake, along with the required amount of water. This should make enough rice for two bento boxes.
  • When the rice is done, allow it to steam for 10 minutes, then remove and place it in a dampened, flat container. Sprinkle over the sushi vinegar, then fold and fan the rice (using a wet spatula) until no more steam rises from it. Cover with a damp towel and leave to sit until cool.
  • Blanch the mange tout and slice thinly on the diagonal. Deseed the cherry tomatoes and chop them into wedges.
  • Spread a mixture of the mange tout and tomatoes over the top of the rice, then sprinkle on the sesame seeds.

Spicy Thai mince recipe

Who would have thought that Narita airport would be full of tempting bento boxes? On a trip to Tokyo, I was resisting the urge to buy hundreds of new ones until I spotted a branch of Mono Comme Ca in the airport’s shopping complex, which had a fairly large range of bento boxes. I picked up this black onigiri box and the red chopstick holder you see here, plus a black chopstick case and a pink two-tier box. These boxes are really high quality, though a bit on the pricey side. I honestly can’t remember how much they were, though!

Mono Comme Ca

Inside my bento I’ve packed three onigiri with different furikake, a spicy Thai mince with lettuce leaves, and some lovely strawberries. The spicy Thai mince is delicious – for a party, make canapes or starters by pouring this mince into small lettuce leaves (Gem is the best!).

Recipe for spicy Thai mince

INGREDIENTS

  • Cooking oil
  • ½ inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 red chillies, deseeded and julienned
  • 500g turkey mince
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 fresh, shredded lime leaves
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Little Gem lettuce
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1 extra lime for cutting into decorative slices
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

METHOD

  • Heat a little cooking oil in your pan and fry the ginger, garlic and half the chillies for one minute, or until they become fragrant.
  • Add the mince and break it up as you cook, continuing to stir until it is slightly golden.
  • Sprinkle over the sugar, and add the fish sauce, lime juice, the shredded lime leaves and the rest of the chilli, saving some for a garnish. Cook for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved and has made a sticky sauce. The mince should be dry when finished.
  • To serve, pour the mince into a bowl lined with lettuce leaves, topped with the shallots, coriander, lime slice and some reserved chillies.

Note
Like many of my recipes, you can use this to make around four adult bentos, or cook half for dinner and save the rest for your lunch. The mince is equally delicious hot or cold.

Spanish Omelette Bento, with recipe!

This bento is packed with leftover Spanish omelette from dinner the day before. It’s just as delicious cold the next day, and I love it with dill pickles.

Spanish omelette bento

Here’s the Spanish Omelette recipe!

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 large potatoes
  • 200g ham
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 50g oak smoked / sundried tomatoes
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cheddar cheese

METHOD

  • Peel the potatoes and slice thinly. Wash to remove the starch, then fry vey lightly in olive oil to ensure the potato is slightly sealed and won’t stick.
  • Then remove to a microwave dish, cover and cook until tender. This is the cheat’s method for getting your potatoes completely soft without creating a crispy crust or sticking together and breaking apart. That way, they’ll be soft and melt into the egg when you bite into it.
  • Crack the eggs into a jug, then add the chopped ham, tomatoes and peas. Mix.
  • Add the hot potatoes to the egg, mix around, then return to the pan.
  • Once the bottom is well set, grate some cheddar cheese onto it and pop it in the oven on a low temp until set.
  • Then remove, leave for a few minutes and slice.

This will serve two for dinner with a portion left over for a bento, or will make around four large bento portions.

Gingery Chinese spring rolls

These are seriously the most delicious spring rolls I have ever eaten, so I’m really excited to share the recipe with you – I hope you get a chance to try them out and fall in love too! Forget soggy beansprouts and weird gloopy sauce, these spring rolls are a meal in themselves – because you won’t be able to stop eating them once you start…

You can freeze these ahead of when you want to eat them,  but you should thaw them before deep frying. Just prepare the filling and roll up the wrappers, then pop in a single layer in your freezer. The ones pictured are normal size, but for bentos buy a large packet of spring roll wrappers and then cut them into quarters for cute mini spring rolls!

Chinese spring rolls

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pack large spring roll wrappers
  • 2 chicken breasts, shredded
  • 75g cooked prawns, cut into small pieces
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 100g bean sprouts
  • 75g grated carrot
  • 50g grated onion
  • 3 square centimetres fresh ginger finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
  • Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
  • Oil to stir fry and deep fry

METHOD

  • Mix together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, sesame seed oil and chilli flakes.
  • Heat your wok to a medium heat. Stir-fry the chicken in 1 tbsp oil until it’s white, then reserve and drain. Remove excess moisture from your wok and heat some more oil.
  • Fry the ginger for 30 seconds, then add the garlic, frying for one minute. Add the grated onion and spring onion and cook until it has softened. Watch your temperature here – you don’t want to brown the ingredients. If the wok gets too hot, remove it from the burner for a few seconds.
  • Add the carrots, bean sprouts and prawns and cook until the bean sprouts are slightly translucent.
  • Pour on the beaten egg and mix. When the egg has solidified, add the soy sauce mixture and the egg and mix thoroughly. There should be no excess liquid – all the seasoning and egg should cling to the ingredients. Leave to cool.
  • To assemble your spring rolls, place your spring roll wrapper diagonally on the work surface and fill the corner nearest to you with a tablespoon of mixture.
  • Pull the corner up over the top and then roll twice – you should now be roughly to the centre of the wrapper.
  • Fold the two corners in to the middle and then continue to roll it up, sealing the end with water – this is vital or your roll will pop open when you fry it.
  • Now for the deep frying – at this point it’s probably best to say that deep frying can be very dangerous – if you’re concerned, then use a deep fat fryer at 170 degrees centigrade to cook your spring rolls. Heat the oil in a pan. Test the heat by adding a spring roll – if it sizzles and the oil bubbles around it vigorously, you have it right.
  • Cook on each side for a couple of minutes, then drain. If your rolls go dark brown too quickly, turn your heat down.
  • You can make a dipping sauce with light soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar to taste. Add chilli flakes, chopped spring onions or a slug of sesame seed oil for a special touch.

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