Saturday, August 1, 2015

American-style breakfast pancakes

Before I had children, when I was on holiday I would pore over my guidebooks in the morning (this was pre-internet) and try to figure a way of fitting in breakfast, lunch and dinner without exploding like Mr Creosote. When you travel with kids, you have to put their needs first (otherwise nobody has any fun) so on our recent trip in the States mealtimes were dominated by street food, picnics and snacks.

We did have plenty of diner breakfasts, though, and I realised that my pancakes had become a little bit, well, sad. One of the first things I did when I got home was to search out a decent recipe for American-style pancakes and then adjust and tweak it. I'm pretty happy with the results - light but still with plenty of texture and flavour.

375 ml whole milk
1 egg
20 ml vegetable oil
2 tbsp white vinegar
175 g self-raising flour
75 g fine maizemeal
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder

  1. Measure the milk into a jug, add the beaten egg, the vegetable oil and the vinegar, and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
  2. Measure the self-raising flour, maizemeal, salt, sugar and baking powder into a mixing bowl. 
  3. Add the milk and egg to the dry ingredients and mix briefly until just combined.
  4. Put a heavy-based frying pan on a medium heat and brush with a little oil. Pour a ladleful of the batter into the pan, and cook at a low heat until it starts to form a skin on top. Flip over and cook the other side and cook until golden.
Notes on ingredients
The vinegar and milk mixture is an attempt to recreate buttermilk. If you have access to buttermilk, then use that instead. The maizemeal adds texture, flavour and colour, so resist the temptation to replace it with flour.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sliced mushrooms with ginger dressing

This has been a staple of ours for a few years.  I usually make it as a salad to accompany a meal but it always seems to get eaten before the rest of the food is ready.

250g of sliced brown mushrooms
1 tsp minced ginger
2 tsps sesame oil
2 tsps sunflower oil
2 tsps light soy
handful of chopped coriander

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl.  Leave to sit for at least 15 mins to give the mushrooms a chance to absorb the dressing before serving.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Chilli sauce

We've just got back from a three week visit to the West Coast of the USA, travelling from Portland down to San Francisco and then up to Seattle. I've always been a bit sniffy about Mexican food, but I was converted by the burly charms of a breakfast burrito from a Portland food cart on my first day and didn't look back. Even the tortilla chips were great (and I say that despite the fact that one of them left me needing to visit my dentist to have a bridge repaired).

As a result, our first supermarket shop back in the UK included a special three-for-two offer of a large bag of birds eye, jalapeño and habanero chillies. I pickled the birds eyes, but short of setting up a taco stand couldn't think of any way of getting through the jalapeños and habaneros. So I decided to make some chilli sauce. I wanted something hot but with plenty of other flavours going on, and a bit of sweetness, too. I think this hits the spot.

Ingredients (makes about 400 ml)
12 habanero chillies
4 jalapeño chillies
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
2 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate
2 tablespoons of demerara sugar
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
250 ml water
30 ml cider vinegar

sterilised bottles

  1. Cut the habaneros in half lengthwise, cut out and discard the stalks, scrape out and discard any seeds, and chop the flesh. Chop the tops off the jalapeños to remove the stalks, scrape out and discard the seeds, then chop the flesh.
  2. Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic.
  3. Put all of the ingredients except for the water and vinegar into a medium sized saucepan, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the water and vinegar and simmer for another 20 minutes or so.
  5. Transfer the contents of the pan to a jug and use a stick blender to puree the cooked sauce.
  6. Use a funnel to fill your sterilised bottles with the sauce.

Ethnic is as ethnic does
I'd never thought of Scottish cooking as qualifying as ethnic food until me and Sammy came across this food truck in Portland, flanked by offerings from Thailand and Lebanon.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Steamed mussels with coconut milk

I went to the Port of Siam, a Thai restaurant just off Broughton Street in Edinburgh, the other day, and this was one of the starters.

1 kg mussels
1 tin of coconut milk
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced red chilli
2 stalks of lemongrass, cut into slices
1 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon
handful of chopped coriander leaves


  1. Clean and beard the mussels, and discard any with broken shells or ones that won't close.
  2. Put the coconut milk in a large saucepan, add the ginger, chilli, lemongrass, fish sauce and lemon juice, bring to a boil, cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the mussels, return to a boil, cover and simmer until all of the mussels have opened.
  4. Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.

Ma Po tofu

In my ongoing search for vegetarian dishes, I cooked this from Fuchsia Dunlop's brilliant book, Every Grain of Rice. Tofu itself is quite bland, so enjoying it is all about using it is a vehicle for other flavours, and appreciating the texture of the tofu itself. As far as I can tell, the three different 'grades' of tofu - silken, plain and firm - roughly correspond to use in soups, braised dishes and stir fries (although with a bit of overlap at the edge of each category).

500g plain tofu
4 tbsps of cooking oil
2 tbsps of chilli bean paste
1 tbsp of fermented black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp of minced ginger
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
100 ml of vegetable stock
black pepper
2 tsps of potato flour, mixed with 2 tbsps of cold water
1/2 tsp of ground roasted Sichuan pepper
the green parts of 4 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

  1. Cut the tofu into 2 cm cubes, cover in very hot, slightly salted water, and leave to steep. Prepare the other ingredients. (When I'm cooking Chinese food, I tend to arrange all my dry ingredients on a plate, in their order of use.)  Remove the tofu from the water with a slotted spoon, and put it on a plate.
  2. Heat your wok until it is nice and hot, add the oil, reduce heat to minimum, and add the chilli bean paste. Stir fry for about 30 seconds, add the black beans, and stir fry for a few seconds more. Add the ginger and garlic, stir for a few seconds more.
  3. Add the tofu, stir gently to coat with the sauce, and add the stock and a few grinds of black pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes, then add the flour and water mixture, and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens.
  5. Transfer the tofu and sauce to a serving bowl, sprinkle the Sichuan pepper and spring onion greens over it, and serve.

Pock-marked old woman's tofu
Apparently this is what the Chinese name of this dish means. One can only admire the honesty - it makes a refreshing change from all the adjective-laden titles of restaurant dishes in the UK. It also made me wonder if I have been missing a trick in marketing my own services. I always try to project a professional image in the belief that this will make people more likely to hire me as a translator, but I remember when I realised there was no going back from the freelance lifestyle for me. It was when I found myself halfway down the corridor that connects my 'office' (i.e., bedroom) to the toilet, unzipping my trousers in anticipation of arrival. Any lingering doubts were dispelled a couple of days later when I took an important conference call with a couple of academics writing a book on business decision analysis. Fortunately there was no video connection, so they had no way of knowing that I was completely naked and my face was still covered in shaving foam. So perhaps I should follow Ma Po's lead, and start selling myself as the Naked Translator.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Since I last posted, one of the members of my family has turned vegetarian. As a result, I've been on the lookout for vegetarian options, so falafel (little fried balls of ground chickpeas and spices) seemed like a good idea. I got this recipe from Tori Avey's Jewish food blog, with a couple of minor adaptations.

250g of dried chickpeas
30g water
1 onion, chopped
a bunch of parsley
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsps plain flour (or use chickpea flour)
2 tsps of salt
2 tsps of ground cumin
1.5 tsps of ground coriander
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
freshly ground black pepper
the seeds from 2 cardamon pods

1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of water
oil for frying

  1. Leave the chickpeas to soak in plenty of water overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the chickpeas, and combine with all of the remaining ingredients apart from the baking powder. Chop in a food processor until you have a grainy paste. (Too grainy and it will fall to bits when you fry, too pasty and it will taste ... pasty.)
  3. Cover and leave to sit in the fridge for 2 hours.
  4. Mix the baking powder with the water, add to the mixture and stir well with a fork.
  5. Heat about 3 cm of oil to a medium heat.
  6. Shape the mixture into balls, slip them carefully into the oil, and fry for a couple of minutes until golden underneath, then flip them over and finish cooking on the other side.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sourdough: bloom, ear and open crumb

I always hesitate before posting about bread in general and sourdough in particular. When I write up a 'normal' recipe, it's easy enough to work out what levels of knowledge to assume - I don't need to explain how to chop an onion, although I might say how finely it should be chopped if I think it's important. With bread, though, one is caught between writing for the complete beginner and writing for the experienced baker. If you assume no knowledge, then the recipe becomes unmanageably long, as every technique and term has to be explained. And if you write for those who already know how to make bread, then your recipe will be incomprehensible for anyone else.

So no recipe this time, just some shots of my latest sourdough, made with white wheat flour from Shipton Mill, together with a little white spelt flour. My bread usually gets eaten before I have a chance to photograph it, but I managed to get some photos of this loaf that nicely illustrate three of the things sourdough bakers aim for: bloom (the way the bread opens as it bakes), ear (the crusty flap where the loaf has been slashed) and a nice open crumb.



open crumb