Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Penne with Zucchini and Mozzarella

I had a bit of a mad moment at Borough Market on Saturday. I had already visited the stall that sells only parma ham and buffalo mozzarella and bought some of each as the basis of a cold collation and then I went to Neals Yard. They had big balls of mozzarella half price - a bargain! As David was coming over for supper I thought I'd add that to the plate of nibbles to start but later I realised I already had olives and stuffed vine leaves and a small salami so it probably didn't need the addition of cheese for just the two of us before the main course. Which meant I had a little more mozzarella than was strictly necessary. I love the stuff but I needed to come up with a plan - to waste it would be criminal.

Mozzarella is a very simple cheese. There are two basic ways to make it: direct acidification of the milk to form the curds or the culture/rennet method. In both methods, raw milk is pasteurized and then coagulated to form curds. Once the curds reach a pH of 5.2 they are cut into small pieces and mixed with hot water and then "strung" or "spun" until long ropes of cheese form. This "stringing of the curd" is unique to cheeses in the "pasta filata" family, such as mozzarella, scamorza and provolone. When the proper smooth, elastic consistency is reached, the curds are formed by machine or hand into balls which are then tossed into cold water so that they maintain their shapes while they cool. They are then salted and packaged. It is a short making process, usually less than 8 hours from raw milk to finished cheese. The critical moment is determining exactly when the cheese is mature and ready to be strung...waiting too long can result in a mushy cheese, while stringing too early can result in a tough dry cheese.
The superior mozzarella I buy at Borough tastes fresh and reminiscent of milk. It is an extraordinarily delicate thing. It has a hint of sourness (if it tastes too tart or sour the cheese is past its prime) and is glowingly white to behold. All in all a thing of beauty to see and to taste. We had the first lot for lunch Sunday with Parma ham and a little salad. The big ball I bought at Neals Yard I served with zucchinis and pasta and basil from the garden for an easy summer supper.

Penne with Zucchini and Mozzarella
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbspns flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 dried chillis, crushed - discard the seeds if you don't want it too hot
400g tin tomatoes
2 tbspns olive oil
400g/1lb small zucchini, halved and cut into 2cm/1inch peices
2 tbspns basil oil or more olive oil
300g/3/4lb dried penne
1 large ball buffalo mozzarella, shredded
2 tbspns fresh basil, roughly torn

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan and gently cook the garlic, chilli and parsley till fragrant. Add the tinned tomatoes and stir to break them up. Leave to simmer for 20-30 minutes. In a separate pan heat the basil oil and fry the zucchini over a medium heat till tinged with gold, softened but retaining a little bite.

Cook the penne according to the instructions on the packet. Add the zucchinis to the tomato pan. Drain the pasta when al dente and add to the vegetables. Add the mozzarella and basil and mix thoroughly. Check the seasoning and serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Flew round the market a right bundle of excitement at the prospect of my man coming home on Sunday. What to buy? In place of being decisive I bought everything!

Started at the Ginger Pig where Karl was in a very bleary state, having cooked a spit roast pig the night before at the party for Keith Richards 60th birthday. Home at 3.30 up at 5.30 by 9am he was not looking his best. Cheery though. Bought an exceedingly thick slice of rump steak, - so thick indeed I halved it and we had steak dinner Sunday and Monday, a proper Oz welcome home! - a piece of unsmoked gammon - for lunches with salad - and a couple of chicken breasts - intended for dinner Saturday night with David but ended up in the freezer as I bought fennel sausages from Camisa in Soho the better to go with chick pea salad - which came to £40

Then to Wild Beef for eggs - two into a fruitcake for David as he had his appendix out last week and it's the thing he craves the most, and two boiled to go with tuna salad for dinner Thursday night - £1.25

Tomatoes - lunches and salad dinners - from the Isle of Wight - £3.50

Chocolates for Georgia - she cooked us a full roast chicken lunch and blueberries for dessert and was happy to see chocolates to nibble - at lunch Monday - £2

Olives from the turkish stall and a tub of stuffed vine leaves -both for snacks, particularly liked the vine leaves - £4.75

Strawberries from Chegworth - 2 one ponud punnets thinking I'd have strwbwerries and cream for dessert Saturday but instead the man made very lush smoothies Monday and Tuesday - huge things and deep red and sweetly scented - £4

Parma ham and buffalo mozzarella from the Italian stall - lunch Sunday - £7.90
Tuna - salad Thursday night - from Brindisa - £1.75

Booths for rocket and lettuce, peppers, fennel, courgettes - pasta Tuesday night, cucumber, bananas, sugarsnaps and potatoes and a few carrots - salads with the rest of the veg, still have to use the potatoes but will probably have sauté with burgers Friday night - £5.50
Back past Ginger Pig for a scotch egg- my lunch Saturday - £3

Neals Yard had buffalo mozzarella half price so I bought one to make something pasta in the week as well as milk, bread, yoghurt and cream - in the freezer for later - £13.12

Laden now to the point of collapse I still had to buy a brownie for the man, and couldn't resist an almond croissant for me - £3.50

A grand total of £90.27 - and definitely enough food to welcome home the man in style.

This time last year we also had gammon for lunches as well as grilled steak and noodle salad and spinach and cheese omelette.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Noodles with Chicken and Mushrooms

With the man in HK I felt the need for noodles myself. I'm a big fan on so many levels and it fits nicely into my attempts to keep the washing up to a minimum. The wok is big but it still just one pan.

I bought fresh egg noodles from Wing Tai supermarket in Brixton on Saturday, they are a favourite of mine for soups and stir fries, they cook quickly and freeze well. A good basic ingredient. Like pasta, they are made from a paste of wheat flour, water and egg and then extruded into shapes like fine vermicelli or flat ribbon noodles of varying widths. The resulting golden noodles are mostly dried, often in 'nests', but are a treat fresh.

Until recently, the U.S. government required a noodle to contain flour, water, and eggs to be rightly called a noodle. Since most Asian noodles, unlike these, aren't made with eggs, this left them without much of an identity. The FDA permitted names like "alimentary paste" and "imitation noodles," but Asian noodle producers--from the birthplace of the noodle no less--could not use the n-word. The government finally relented, and they can now be called "Asian noodles." The spectacular divide between food and regulation.

I had a little cooked chicken left from the roast last week so I used it rather than buy fresh, adding to my 'frugal' credentials for the week. Dried mushrooms are easily bought in any Asian food store and are a great standby ingredient to have around.
Noodles with Chicken and Mushrooms
1 cup of shredded cooked chicken or 1 fresh chicken breast
2 tspn light soy
2 tspn rice wine
250g/ 1/2lb fresh egg noodles
4 dried shitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 chilli, finely sliced
1 tbspn grated ginger
1 stalk celery, finely sliced
4 tbspns spiced oil
4 spring onions, sliced into 2cm/1" lengths
1 tbspn light soy
1 tspn sesame oil

Marinate the chicken for half an hour in the light soy and rice wine at the same time as soaking the mushrooms in hot water. When they are softened, cut out the hard stem and slice the caps to the same kind of size as the chicken shreds.

Wash the noodles under a hot tap to separate them. Heat 2 tbspns of oil in a wok till smoking then toss in the noodles and stir fry to coat. When they are hot scoop them out again back into the colander and set aside.

Heat the rest of the oil till very hot and throw in garlic, chilli, mushrooms, ginger and celery and stir fry for a minute or two then add the chicken and toss together till it's all piping hot. (If you are using fresh chicken add it to the pan before the aromatics) Throw the hot noodles back into the wok with the soy and stir fry till the ingredients are well mixed. Add the spring onions, stir through. Off the heat add the sesame oil and give the noodles a final toss before serving.

It worked a treat - spicy and slippery with an occasional crunch from the celery with earthy tones from the mushrooms - and ready to eat in ten minutes after the soaking time. Too much for one - but good cold for lunch next day.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rice, Spinach and Cheese Loaf

As I am catering only for myself this week I wanted something tasty for my lunch box but, as I was humping all the shopping home on the bus I wanted it to not weigh an awful lot. Which kind of ruled out a Sunday roast - a shoulder of lamb or rolled leg of pork tends to be heavy. I already had an unopened box of vialone nano rice in the cupboard and there was cheese in the fridge that wouldn't last another week so I thought I'd make a sort of rice loaf with all the cheese grated into it. That way I had no great weight to carry and I got to be frugal.
Rice is not a richly flavoured grain in itself but it is a generous host to others, infusing easily with aromatics. There's lots of herbs in the garden at the moment and they are always a good place to go when a dish needs some subtle interest. I also fried some onions and garlic in a little olive oil till just golden to add a soft sweetness. On Saturday Tony had a mountain of deep green spinach and that was my final ingredient - it might fill a standard carrier bag but half a kilo of spinach is definitely light.

As it is all about me this week I didn't much want to make a mountain of washing up - usually I make a mess and the man washes up - which certainly works for me! When he's not there I try as far as possible to follow the one pan principle which simply requires a bit of logic applied before you start to cook and you will make the smallest amount of dirty things possible.

Rice, Spinach and Cheese Loaf
250g/1/2 lb vialone nano or arborio rice
500g/1lb fresh spinach, preferably not baby leaves, washed and large stalks removed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbspn olive oil
3 or 4 tbspns chopped fresh herbs - basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley - choose a selection you like
1/2 tspn freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated cheese, something at least a little sharp works best
3 eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Choose a lidded pan that is large enough to cook the spinach. Wash the rice then cook in boiling salted water till just al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse in cold water. Rinse the pan out then put it back on a high heat. Add a little olive oil and when it is hot toss in the spinach with just the water that clings to the leaves from washing it. Cover with the lid, reduce the heat and allow to wilt.

Put the cooked rice into a large bowl. Drain the spinach into the colander. Rinse out the pan and add some more oil. Return it to the heat and add the chopped onions and garlic. Fry gently till tinged with gold. Chop the drained spinach roughly then add it to the rice. Add the finely chopped herbs, grated nutmeg, grated cheese and the fried onion and garlic. Add the eggs and mix thoroughly - use your hands if you like, it is quite a pleasurable sensation and it is probably the most effective way to achieve an even distribution. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as reqired.

Oil a loaf tin then pack the rice mixture in. Cook for half an hour in a hot oven, gas 6, till the loaf is cooked and flecked with colour. Allow to cool slightly in the tin before turning it out onto a plate.

The mix of herbs and cheese are not hard and fast - what you have or what you fancy.

This made a delicious supper with just a rocket and tomato salad dressed with basil oil and is perfect sliced into my lunch box with roasted butternut and salad. I really am treating myself but it would be good to share - perfect fare for a picnic.

And this week ... I bought

I'm facing the prospect of home alone this week as the man has gone to Hong Kong for work. I'm deeply jealous - could easy do a week of shopping and noodles, dim sum and the occasional high end hotel supper. Instead I'm here in this endless bleak 'summer' and the idea of shopping for one for the week at Borough was a change. I eat differently if it's just me. There were a few things that needed using up - a butternut squash I bought about a month ago that has sat proudly erect in the vegetable rack ever since surrounded by the ebb and of onions and garlic, bananas and tangerines. There was too some cheese in the fridge that we hadn't finished - a small piece of fontina and the very last of a chunk of Montgomery cheddar. Cheesy is good when you're eating alone.
I started as ever at Ginger Pig, my heart set on steak for dinner. I would normally buy rump but went for a thick slice of rib eye - dinner Saturday night with tomato and rocket salad - just for a change, then bought a couple of pork chops - supper Friday - and, the real treat, two barnsley chops - which were decadently fabulous grilled and eaten in glorious solitude on Tuesday night with new potatoes and steamed zucchinis- the lot cost £21.60

I bought eggs from Wild Beef - Lizzie was saying it's almost ten years since the market began - seems extraordinary that I have had access to this amazing food for so long. Obviously the market is vastly different to that dank December weekend but it remains a source of exceptional ingredients. The eggs - spinach and rice loaf, and scrambled for breakfast Friday as I'd run out of yoghurt - were £1.25

Then some onions, cabbage and fennel - not used but fine for the weekend - from Ted's Veg - £2.40

Mortadella studded with truffles because I really enjoyed it last week - and loved it again this week on Sunday on ciabatta with rocket and tomatoes for lunch - £2.20

Brindisa for almonds and chick peas - thinking of a spanish salad - and now I'm thinking of Spanish salad this week as I started to realise I had bought too much for myself for the week - £5.75

Booths for potatoes - with grilled lamb Tuesday night, sugarsnaps - lunch, rocket - salad and sandwich on the weekend (we have some in the garden but it grows very slowly in this weather - harvested enough for salad Wednesday night), peppers - salad, zucchinis - steamed Tuesday night, parsley - didn't make the spanish salad so will make a parsley salad tonight to go with grilled pork chops, spring onions - stir fried noodles Monday night - nothing too heavy! - £5

Spinach from Tony - in the fabulous rice and spinach loaf- filled a bag but only weighs 500g - £1.50

Hot sausage roll from Ginger Pig - lovely piggy me brunch Saturday while I read the paper - £3

Milk, bread and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £6.20

The lot for £48.90 - not bad!
So there is more left over this week - a whole cabbage, some potatoes, fennel, a pepper, the last of the cucumber, a bunch of parsley - because though I was conscious of only cooking for myself this week it didn't translate entirely into the shopping - guess I'm out of practice

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fried Rice

Fried rice is, at its starting point, a means of using up leftovers and the last bits of things. Not enough of the individual ingredients to make a meal of any of it, more like culinary bits and bobs. Put it all together with a soupcon of imagination and the joy of it is that you end up with a dish that is much greater than the sum of its parts - tasty, nutritious and very quick to make. It's great late in the week when you can't be bothered to necessarily spend a lot of time cooking but you still, as ever, want to eat something desirable.

The following is my version from last night, decided on because I had some steamed basmati rice left from dinner the night before as well as couple of small pieces of bacon and some celery in the fridge. I like to put some capsicum in usually but I'd cooked them all the night before so I added some peas for sweetness. It's not hard and fast - what recipe is? - use whatever goes together but do try and have variety in texture as well as flavour in every final mouthful. The measures are all approximate.

Fried Rice
2 cups of cooked white rice
2 eggs, beaten
Medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 rashers of unsmoked bacon, cut into slivers
3 stalks of celery, sliced a bit thicker than a pound coin
1 tbspn light soy sauce
2 tbspn vegetable oil

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a wok till very hot then add the beaten eggs, swirl round the base till they set - should be almost immediate - then take the omelette out and chop into squares. Heat the rest of the oil then add the onion and garlic and cook till translucent and fragrant. Add the bacon and cook till softened and the fat starts to rend. Add the celery, stir briefly then add the rice and stir thoroughly - I find my little chinese shovel indispensible for this. When all the elements are well mixed add the eggs and the soy sauce to season and serve when it is steaming hot.

There are lots of variations on this theme - use ginger and tuna instead of bacon, add roasted cashews or slivers of almonds, spring onions are good, even thinly sliced discs of carrot for more colour. And sliced chilli of course if you fancy a little heat.

If there's enough it's good cold for lunch.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bread Stuffing for Chicken

There is something about a golden roasted chicken that makes my heart sing. It's such a simple meal that is a thread through my whole life. When I was a kid it was a Sunday special for lunch - we always had roast lunch Sundays no matter the weather, with all the veg and gravy and dessert served at the dining table rather than in the kitchen with silver cutlery and wine in crystal glasses. Even when it descended into battles over eating all your peas or carrots or beans before you could have dessert it seemed like a stand out event.

More often than not my mother made stuffing with bread and I retain a real affection for it. It is different in texture to stuffings made with rice or barley, softer and shot through with the flavour of herbs. I use an egg to bind it and a little lemon to add moisture. Brilliant cold as well. I bought a huge loaf of puglese on Saturday to feed us all sandwiches before the trek to Suffolk - it more than did the job. We had some with supper Sunday night on our return and there was perhaps a third of it left. Dense crumb and slightly stale it was perfect for making stuffing.

Bread Stuffing for Chicken
About two cups of stale bread, ripped into small pieces
1 onion, finely diced
2 rashers of streaky bacon, finely sliced - rind on or off depending on your preference
2 tbspns finely chopped fresh herbs - sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary
1 egg
1 tbspn lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Mix everything together with your hands till the entire mix is moist and well flecked with onion, herbs and bacon then stuff the cavity of your chicken.

Put chicken into a roasting pan with a little olive oil. Season the outside of the bird, then cook at gas 5 for about 30 minutes per pound, basting frequently till your chicken is cooked through, golden and delicious.

Cover with foil and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

Monday, August 13, 2007

And this week ... I bought

The foot and mouth effect reached Borough this week - the Ginger Pig had no pork. A difficult concept to comprehend. As each customer looked at the counter full of beef and lamb and chickens and asked for one cut or another of pork, the butcher serving would say we have no pork this week. And the customer would invariably reply - what, none at all? (I am guilty of exactly this conversation) And the butcher serving would, with rapidly diminishing patience, say because of foot and mouth there was no slaughter this week. I was there about ten - can't imagine how much they were hating this same conversation by closing. I bought a chicken - meant for Sunday but stuffed and roasted Monday night for dinner and then cold in lunchboxes for the week - and some smoked bacon - for a not entirely successful stirfry with tofu Tuesday night - £14.40

Then it was rush rush rush as I was running late and shopping alone - not my favourite combination but the man had gone to Paddington to collect his sister and her kids and there was no other way

From Mrs Elizabeth King I bought a pork pie - half for lunch on Saturday with our guests the rest for lunch with salad on Monday - £4.90

From Wild Beef I bought eggs - in fried rice Wednesday night and an omelette Friday - £1.25

From Isle of Wight I was pleased to buy baby plum tomatoes - really missed them last week - every day in my lunch - and two big heads of garlic - practically everything I cook - as they have returned as well - £6.90

Chocolates from Maison du Chocolat - for the man's mother - £2

Gianni at Gastronomica was his usual charming self as I tried a couple of hard cheeses and opted for a pecorino - still in the fridge - then added a rocchetta - Saturday lunch - and he gave me a slice of a toma - with a glass of wine Sunday night - I hadn't tried so a good selection for £10

At the meat counter for Gastronomica I bought mortadella studded with truffles which I adore and the man can't stand, some ham roasted with herbs and, as an afterthought a sheet of mixed salamis -all meant for lunch Saturday, our visitors adored the salamis particularly, but there was ham and mortadella leftover so we had it with potato salad for supper Sunday - £9.20

No strawberries this week but had to have another tub of cooked berries for breakfast - £2.90

Coffee beans from Monmouth - every day - £8.50

Booths for veg - broccoli - unused and possibly unusable now, potatoes - salad Sunday, roasted Monday, carrots boiled with dinner Monday, rocket, oak leaf - Saturday lunch salad, beans - cooked with sesame and garlic to go with omelette Friday, sugarsnaps - lunches, peppers - stir fried with black beans as part of dinner Tuesday, cucumber - lunches, celery - fried rice on Wednesday which was then added to lunch boxes Thursday - £6

Then I remembered I had forgotten to buy smoked tofu - for stir fry with smoked bacon Tuesday which wasn't great but not the fault of the tofu - from the tofu stall in the green market so rushed back there through the swelling crowds swinging shopping bags like the udders on an unmilked cow and bought a block - £2.50

Then I rushed back the other way to Neals Yard for yoghurt - breakfasts, bread - Saturday lunch then stuffing for chicken Monday night - and milk - £6.90

Bought two brownies and a slice of banana cake to feed the littlies at lunch - Saturday- £4.50

Lastly - and near as I would get to the straw that broke the camels back - a melon from Elsey & Bent - because the one last week was special - and this one was just as lovely for breakfasts - £1

Then I staggered off to the bus stop with my haul for the week having spent £80.95

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Slow Haricots

This one is easy peasy and lovely in lunchboxes. Slow cooking the beans with herbs and chilli imbues them with a delicate flavour all the way through. I don't mind using tinned beans so long as they are good quality and not sugared or brined. They wash off quite well and are great for a quick standby salad but they will never be as good as cooking from scratch. For the moment it takes to add water to dried beans to soak them overnight you definitely get rewarded with a much more interesting texture once they've been cooked.

Haricot beans have a lot going for them - they are cheap, nutritious - rich in iron, magnesium and zinc - and absorb the flavours that surround them as they cook. They start out as pencil-thin, green pods, hand-picked when just the right size. When dried, haricots become small, white, oval-shaped and can be found in traditional dishes from the Middle East to Italy, France, Greece, and North America, particulary as the main ingredient in Boston Baked Beans. In french, all beans are haricots. In english it's just the little dried white ones.

Slow Haricots
250g/9oz dried haricot beans
3-4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and crushed
Sprig of fresh sage and fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 dried red chilli
Olive oil

Soak the beans overnight then drain and rinse. Put them into an ovenproof dish with all the other ingredients except the oil tucked around then add water to cover by about 1cm/1/2". Bring to the boil on top of the stove, skim any froth from the top then glug some olive oil over the dish. Put the dish into a very low oven - gas 1 - for about two hours till the beans are tender. Add salt towards the end - salt added earlier will toughen the beans irredemiably.

When the beans are done, drain and discard the aromatics. Put into a fresh bowl. Dress with 2 tablespoons of fresh olive oil and some fresh ripped basil while still hot, then serve at room temperature.

Eat lots and be full of beans!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Anise Chicken

I came across a sampling of Mrs Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook on the web and was immediately smitten. It is a series of stories told by Mrs Chiang about growing up in Szechwan province and the food her mother prepared - though even in the introduction there is no explanation of who Mrs Chiang is - she is simply a given. There was a book of her recipes published in 1976 (which now sells secondhand on Amazon for £34.67) but I can find no other trace.

To begin there is a detailed look at Chinese food generally and Szechwan cuisine specifically, giving context and explanations for much more than ingredients in an attempt to create a vocabulary with which to understand this food because even now it is foreign, in part because the western view of food is so different, based largely on taste and then perhaps aroma and the visual presentation. The intro explains A Chinese gourmet is far more sensual. Each dish is considered not only in terms of its taste and fragrance, but equally in terms of its texture, appearance, and nutrition. Each aspect is analyzed with astonishing sensitivity and great clarity. You need to understand that I think before it is possible to cook this food well.

The rewards are enormous. Since I started cooking with Fuchsia Dunlop's book I feel that I have commenced on a new path, I have begun to understand and create inherently different food, amazing things that are like being transported to a parallel kitchen that eats away at my ignorance. For no reason I thought almost all Chinese food was cooked fast and served hot, nothing worse than eating it cold. Anise chicken is proof of how wrong I was. Chicken is slow cooked in an anise spiced broth then served, at the very least lukewarm but preferably room temperature and best of all after a day or two for the flavours to develop.

I cooked it early Sunday - the hottest day of the year! - and we ate it in the evening with sesame noodles and crisp raw greens and it was fabulous. Next day for lunch it was better.

Anise Chicken
10 dried black mushrooms - from Chinese grocery
2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup dried tree ears - from Chinese grocery
1 cup boiling water
4 spring onions
1 1/2 lbs/700g chicken pieces, preferably breasts
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or cooking sherry
1 piece of ginger about 1"/2.5cms
1/4 cup peanut oil
5 dried red chili peppers
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 whole star anise, or the equivalent in pieces
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or cooking sherry
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste, if necessary

Rinse the mushrooms thoroughly, then put them in a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Leave them to soak the mushrooms for about 20 minutes, or until they are soft, then cut off the hard stems and cut the larger mushrooms in half. Do not discard the water in which they soaked; you will use it later for cooking. Put the tree ears in a small bowl. Pour the boiling water over them and let soak for at least 10 minutes.

Cut 2 of the spring onions, both green part and white, into 2"/5cm lengths. Tie the remaining spring onions, whole, into a bunch.

Pull the skin off the chicken, but leave the bones in. Chop the chicken, bones and all, into 2"/5cm cubes, roughly the size of a walnut. ( Mrs. Chiang is always careful to make sure that all the pieces are about the same size. ) Put the chicken in a shallow dish and add the cut-up spring onions and the wine. Set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.
Peel the ginger and cut it into 4 slices.

When the tree ears are soft and slightly gelatinous, rinse them thoroughly and pick them over carefully to remove any impurities, such as tiny pieces of wood, that may still be embedded in them.
Heat your wok or pan for about 15 seconds over a moderate flame, then pour in the oil. The oil will be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.

When the oil is ready, quickly throw in the ginger,dried chilli peppers, sugar, whole spring onions, and chicken mixture, making sure you stir the ingredients well while you add them. Continue to stir-fry for about 30 seconds, using your cooking shovel or spoon to scoop the ingredients from the sides of the pan and then stir them around in the middle, so every piece of chicken is exposed to the hot oil.

Add the star anise, then reduce the heat slightly, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 more minutes, until the chicken stiffens and turns white.

Add the wine and the soy sauce, bring to a boil, and continue to cook, over a moderate flame, for 3 minutes more. Now add the mushrooms and the water in which they were soaked, and pour in enough additional water to barely cover the chicken; you will probably need about a cupful. Wait until the liquid boils, then lower the heat, half cover the pan, and let the chicken simmer slowly for l hour.

After this period, the chicken should be very soft and the sauce should be reduced to almost half its original amount, At this point add the soaked tree ears and let them cook with the chicken for about 5 minutes more. Finally, add the sesame oil and stir thoroughly.

Because the soy sauce has become so concentrated during the cooking process, the chicken may not require any additional salt. Make sure that you taste the sauce before you add any.
Note : this dish can be prepared way ahead of time and then brought to room temperature, when it is actually at its best, just before serving. It can also be kept for several days in the refrigerator without harm.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sesame Noodles as told to me by Vicki

I am a fan of most things sesame from the tiny tear shape flecks on the crust of a bun, through anything made with tahini to the sweet toasted version set in honey. I just love them. Reading a little about them I discover many things, most basically perhaps that they are the seeds from the sesame plant - not surprising I guess but when I started to think about writing this post I realised I had no idea where they came from.

More than any other ingredient in my kitchen they have been around since forever - they are probably the oldest known condiment. According to Assyrian legend the gods drank wine made from sesame seeds when they met to create the world - might explain the occasional flaw in the sytstem! Native to sub-saharan Africa, sesame were probably first domesticated in India and they are now popular the world over.

One reason perhaps for their ubiquity is that they have a fat content of about 50% to create a great sensation of pleasure whenever you eat them. This high fat content makes them a good source of oil which is exceptionally resistant to turning rancid. They are a very good source of manganese and copper, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, vitamin B1, zinc and dietary fiber.

In addition to these important nutrients, sesame seeds contain two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans, and have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans, and to prevent high blood pressure and increase vitamin E supplies in animals. Sesamin has also been found to protect the liver from oxidative damage. Good, no?
I shall continue to scoff them in all their forms, though not as a slimming aid!

The following recipe uses both whole toasted seeds and tahini in a melange that also encompasses chilli heat and the sweetness of honey and orange juice. It comes from my friend Vicki, who has been making these noodles for many years. A woman of great discernment and that is recommendation enough for me to try them. She suggests they are best with something robust - char grilled steaks perhaps. Because we had a weekend with hot sun just like a proper summer I made them to go with a cold dish of chicken with star anise - utterly fabulous.

8 oz/500g fresh egg noodles
2 tbspn toasted sesame seeds
3 tbspn chopped spring onions, white and green

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the noodles and let them return to the boil before draining them in a colander. Rinse briefly to stop them sticking together.

Put the chopped spring onions and toasted seeds into a bowl large enough to hold the noodles.
Dressing3 tbspn Rice vinegar
1 tbspn Sesame Paste
2 tbspn Peanut Butter
1 tbspn Honey
2 tbspn Soy Sauce
Combine the above well in a good sized screw topped jar. Then add

1 tpspn Chilli Oil
1/3 cup sesame oil
1 tbspn olive oil

Shake it all about so they don’t separate then add

Juice of 1/2 to 1 orange depending on how juicy. You want a consistency that will slide over the noodles easily.

Add the noodles to the spring onions and sesame seeds and mix through the dressing while the noodles are still warm so they soak in the liquid.

Refrigerate till about half an hour before you want to eat - best served at room temperature.

We ate them with the chicken and crisp green veg with no additional dressing for one of the nicest meals I've made in a while. Seriously recommended.

Monday, August 06, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Utterly glorious sunshine for the entire weekend. After the last few months it was something approaching miraculous. Borough was busyish but not heaving and everyone, buyers and sellers alike, seemed to be cheerful. Even Karl at Ginger Pig, though still looking forward to having a holiday, felt that he was well on the way up the metaphorical hill to happiness hump. I can only assume it is a kiwi thing. John had a smile a mile wide telling me about being granddad to Ruby. Beautiful by all accounts. Bought a couple of pork chops - Friday supper -and some bacon - the plan was to make fried rice Sunday lunchtime but it didn't happen so it's in freezer - for £8.05

Eggs - poached on a salad Wednesday night - and coarse ground beef - one lot in the freezer and one lot for burgers Thursday night - from Wild Beef - £8.25

A practically liquid slice of perfectly ripe gorgonzola indulgence, a large chunk of semi hard cows milk cheese and a small mozzarella - for a decadent platter on Saturday - that has been injected with a heart of fresh cream - all from Gastronomica and all for £10

Isle of Wight had no baby plum tomatoes - disaster - so got nothing

Went to Chegworth for strawberries - smoothies - and also bought a tub of cooked fruit - strawberries, rasberries and apple that I fancy as breakfasts - sublimely good, so much so I'm hoping they've got more this week - with sheep yoghurt - £5.50

Then parma ham - Saturday platter - from the ham and mozzarella stall - £4.40

Dried haricots - lunches - from Herbs from Heaven - £1.30

Booths for veg - leeks - to go with roast beef from the freezer Monday night, cabbage - steamed and buttered with grilled pork chops Friday night, baby beetroots - awaiting their fate in the fridge, bananas - smoothies and lunches, beans - cooked in sesame oil and garlic to go with burgers, celery - meant for fried rice but ended up being for lunches and salad, red onions, spring onions - anise chicken, zucchinis - still in the fridge and still okay, rocket - platter, sugarsnaps -lunches - £9.90

Scotch egg for me and a pig in a blanket for my man - Saturday brunch - on the way past the cooked food counter at Ginger Pig - £4.50
Oak leaf lettuce, cucumber and 3 peppers- all used Wednesday night for salad except for one of the peppers - from Tony - £3.50

Every week there is a truck that will try to get down Park Street past Neals Yard between the two rows of parked cars and every week it gets stuck and causes mayhem with other drivers getting blocked or reversing out and much chaos invariably ensues. This week it was a cement truck that turned the corner then had no space to continue. Another truck behind him no space to reverse. At which point I went in to the market - this scenario can take half an hour to resolve itself and I have seen it many times. When I returned to go to Neals Yard the trucks had disappeared and the little car parked first round the corner had its bumper ripped off and deep scratches the length of the bodywork. There was also a clutch of notes under the wiper giving phone numbers of witnesses. People can be generous as well as stupid. From the shop I bought pasta - cupboard, bread - Saturday platter, milk and yoghurt - smoothies and breakfasts- £12.60

A brownie for my sweetie - £1.50
And nothing more except a sweet smelling melon - Saturday platter and the other half for breakfasts - from Elsey & Booth for a bargain £1

And then the bus home £70.50 lighter

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Zucchini & Cheddar Frittata

With an excess of vegetables relative to the number of meals we were having at home this week I needed to be using some up. I had bought courgettes with the idea of having pasta but changed my mind and decided a frittata style dish would be better with some salads to add colour.
I roasted a bunch of beetroots on a bed of coarse salt and whole spices to make a sweet earthy intensely hued salad and made a good green salad with oak leaf and cucumber dressed with spiced vinaigrette.
The zucchinis became the centrepiece, using up the last of a piece of Montgomery cheddar from the fridge, the cheese adding an intense richness and a burnish of gold to the finished dish.

Zucchini and Cheddar Frittata
450g/1lb of small zucchini, washed and sliced into rings
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbspn fresh thyme leaves
4 eggs, beaten with a tablespoon of milk
100g/4oz strong flavoured cheddar, grated
Salt and pepper
2 tbspns olive oil
1 tbspn butter

Melt the butter and oil together in a heavy pan then gently cook the onion and garlic for about 15 minutes till sweet and tinged with gold. Add the zucchini and the thyme, season and cover. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes till all the vegetables are softened with just a little resistance to a knife point.

Preheat the grill at the highest setting. Stir most of the cheese into the beaten egg then raise the heat and pour over the zucchinis. Cook for a few minutes till the egg begins to set. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and put the pan under the hot grill to finish.

Serve big slices with some salad and generous pieces of sourdough bread.
Very good for lunch next day.

Cabbage Salad with Toasted Seaweed

This is a very Japaneasy salad that I made the other night to go with spicy chicken and rice. The idea started with coleslaw but I didn't want that kind of sweet creaminess, I wanted something much further down the salty sour end of the spectrum. I have some nori sheets I bought from a Japanese grocers (though they are readily available in chinese stores and health food shops) and decided that would give an interesting change in flavour to the shredded cabbage.

Nori comes from the genus Porphyra, which contains a variety of species that are commercially grown and harvested. The sea dwelling algae are grown in enclosed nets, which can be easily pulled out of the water for harvesting. Nori is basically seaweed paper. Once harvested it is then flattened by a shredding- and rack-drying process that resembles papermaking. It is high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals and, seaweed provides up to ten times more calcium and iron by weight than dairy products.

Nori is the sweetest sea vegetable and when toasted, it turns a bright green and becomes even sweeter. Nori has a front and a back that is easy to see when you take sheets from the pack. The shiny, smooth side is the front. This side should be toasted by dragging the nori quickly over an open flame. What you then have is a thin crisp sheet that is flavoured like the essence of the ocean. Crumbled through this salad it creates an amazing range of flavours in each mouthful. It needs some time to meld with the dressing - in fact next day it was probably better than the first.

Cabbage Salad with Toasted Nori

1/2 Savoy cabbage, very finely shredded
4 spring onions, white parts finely chopped
1 sheet toasted nori

1 tbspn ginger, grated
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 tbspn rice vinegar
1 tspn honey
2 tbspns japanese soy
1 tbspn olive oil

Mix the cabbage and spring onions in a bowl. Hold the nori sheet with tongs and wave it closely over the flame from the gas ring on your cooker. If you cook electric it should work with a cigarettte lighter or candle, but requires a little more dexterity! When the seaweed is crisp crumble it into flakes over the other vegetables.

Put all the ingredients for the dressing into a jar and shake vigorously. Tip over the salad and mix well. Leave for at least an hour before serving, it is also very good next day.