Monday, January 26, 2009

Minced ginger

This is the companion to my roasted garlic puree. Fresh ginger is an unpredictable thing in Cadiz. it is not usually available and doesn't seem to follow any seasonal pattern. Fortunately, when it does appear it is ridiculously cheap, costing around 2 euros 50. (Less, gramme for gramme, than out of season aubergines.) Whenever I see it I buy up a whole lot of it and make minced ginger.

The result is much better than any of the commercially available minced ginger in the UK, and also means that I always have a convenient supply of fresh ginger. In fact, I've come to prefer the minced version to using freshly grated or chopped ginger. We're not meant to admit that we sometimes find peeling and chopping a chore, but having to prepare every ingredient from scratch can turn a simple dish into a labour-intensive one. I also think that this minced ginger is in many ways superior to using fresh, because the flavours integrate more consistently (and you aren't left with any fibrous lumps or strips of ginger).

1 kg of fresh ginger
3 lemons
3 teaspoons of salt
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

  1. Peel the ginger. (I use a sharp knife. There is more wastage but it is much quicker.) Squeeze the lemons.
  2. Chop the ginger in a food processor, then add the lemon juice, salt and vegetable oil and continue to chop until you have a rough paste.
  3. Transfer the paste to sterilised jars, and pour off the excess liquid on top.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Steamed cauliflower with chilli and fish sauce dressing

Cauliflower benefits from being paired with spicy, salty flavours. This is a really simple way to do it, as all the flavouring comes straight from the bottle. However, it is essential to leave the cauliflower to dry for a while after you have steamed it, otherwise the water in the cauliflower washes out the flavouring.

1 cauliflower
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon chilli sauce

Break the cauliflower into florets and steam. Leave to dry for at least half an hour. Transfer the cauliflower to a good-sized bowl and dress it with the fish sauce and chilli sauce.

Chilli sauce
I use Squid Brand fish sauce and the aptly named Seriously Hot Caribbean Sauce, made by Cottage Delight. There are lots of different brands of chilli sauce around. I prefer mine to be hot but not too salty, and to have a little sweetness, too, and for me this one really hits the spot.

Seekh kebabs

One thing that often slips under the radar of cookery writers is how the same name can describe different things depending which country you're in. I once had a Taiwanese flatmate who taught me how to make dim sum, and when he listed the ingredients he said you needed one spring onion, and promptly produced a giant leek. You might think that 'mince' (or what people in the US call 'ground meat') would be fairly standard, but mince in Spain is much more finely chopped than the equivalent in the UK. I generally prefer UK-style coarse mince, although I do like the fact that Spanish butchers will mince it for you so you see a whole piece of meat going in and the mince coming out, and also the fact that they'll do you a mix of beef and pork, and even add some parsley and onion for you.

Unfortunately, my favourite butcher in the Cadiz market doesn't have a functioning mincing machine, so he only offers readymade hamburger mix, and I really don't like the texture that the ultra-fine mix produces. He quite often gifts me a couple of hamburgers, and the other day he chucked in four of them to round up the price of what I was buying. I was seriously considering throwing them away, and then I realised that they would be perfect for seekh kebabs. If you want to make these with British mince, you should briefly whizz it in the food processor to achieve the desired texture.

500g of mince (beef, pork or a mixture of the two)
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1/2 teaspoon of salt
chilli sauce (to taste)

Mix all the ingredients thoroughly, shape into sausages around skewers (I find small wooden ones are best - if they are too long just snap them in half), and grill until cooked through.

Beef with artichokes, ginger and black beans

I'm really lucky to have a brilliant butcher in my market in Cadiz. His name is Antonio Grimaldi, and he sells locally reared retinto beef which is a match for anything I can buy in Scotland. The other day I bought some thinly cut steaks, and this is what I came up with. I've never seen artichokes used in this way, but I think the result is a real success - one of those dishes where all the ingredients complement each other.

12 oz of beef steak, cut into thin strips

for the marinade
2 teaspoons of light soy sauce
2 teaspoons of cider vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
2 teaspoons of cornflour

1 tin of artichoke hearts, drained and cut into halves
2 tablespoons of cashew nuts
1/2 an onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons of minced ginger
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
2 teaspoons of rinsed, finely chopped black beans
vegetable oil
6 fl oz chicken stock
2 teaspoons of cornflour, dissolved in two teaspoons of water

  1. Place the steak in a large bowl. Combine the light soy sauce, cider vinegar, sesame oil and 2 teaspoons of cornflour, pour over the steak, mix and leave for 15 minutes or so.
  2. Cook the beef strips on a hot griddle pan, then set aside on a plate. Fry the cashew nuts for 30 seconds or so on the hot griddle pan, and add to the beef. (As I explain in my beef and oyster sauce recipe, this is a great way of ensuring that you dry-cook the meat, rather than 'sweating' it in the wok. The alternative is a very large wok, or batch cooking.)
  3. Heat some oil in a wok or large frying pan, fry the onion for a couple of minutes, add the garlic, ginger and black beans and fry for another 30 seconds or so, then add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, add the dissolved cornflour and stir and heat until the sauce has thickened a little. Add the artichokes, stir gently to mix, and heat for another 30 seconds or so, add the beef, the cashew nuts and any juices from the plate, stir gently and heat for a few more seconds.
  4. Serve with plenty of boiled rice, and a fresh green salad.

Black bean sauce
A lot of Chinese bottled sauces are good - oyster, hoisin etc. - although they obviously vary from brand to brand. However, I think that the black bean sauce sold in jars is almost always pretty unpleasant. They tend to be way too salty, with nasty chemical overtones and a gloopy texture. I much prefer to use whole salted black beans, which you then rinse and chop, and add to your dish much as you would ginger or garlic.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chinese chicken and aubergine

I'm trying to expand my aubergine repertoire beyond just deep-frying them and putting them in ratatouille (which is great) or making aubergine puree. There's a brilliant Chinese restaurant in Edinburgh called the Wing Sing Inn and they do a great aubergine dish (spicy, saucy and with a bit of minced pork - although they obligingly left out the pork last time we went with a vegetarian friend, Nacho). This is nothing like the Wing Sing dish, but it's simple and very tasty.

1 lb of chicken breast
1 large aubergine
6 Chinese mushrooms (soaked for 30 minutes in hot water)
vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of minced ginger
2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce
1 glass of white wine
1 teaspoon of sesame oil

  1. Cut the chicken breast into bite-sized chunks, cut the aubergine in half lengthwise and then cut into slices, and cut the mushrooms into 4 or 5 slices.
  2. Stir-fry the chicken chunks until they are cooked. (Unless you have a very large wok, you will need to do them in two batches to ensure they fry rather than stew. I use two medium-sized non-stick frying pans.) Remove the chicken to a bowl.
  3. Fry the garlic and ginger for 30 seconds or so, then add the aubergine. (Again, you may need to do it in two batches at the beginning.) You will need to use plenty of oil, as the aubergines tend to soak it up.
  4. Once the aubergines are soft (but not mushy - probably about 5 minutes), add the oyster and hoisin sauces and the white wine, bring to a boil and simmer for a little, then return the chicken with its juices to the pan, cover, and simmer for a few more minutes until the flavours have blended. Drizzle with a little sesame oil just before serving.
You Tube
I'm not sure if "You Tube" is an insult anywhere else in the English-speaking world, but in Scotland a 'tube' is an idiot, not a telly. Anyway, this recipe here is based on one I found there, although I've adjusted the proportions, ingredients and cooking times quite a bit so I feel I'm more than justified in including it here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bean and vegetable stew

One of the best things about Spanish food are the big, robust, peasanty stews. This one is mainly flavoured by the morcilla (Spanish black pudding), but if you want a vegetarian version then just omit it and add some extra paprika and some cumin. If you can't get hold of decent morcilla, then use some good quality coarse cut sausages instead, and add them at the same time as the vegetables.

1kg dried haricot beans
olive oil
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
3 well-cured morcillas
3 teaspoons of paprika
6 bay leaves
500g carrots
500g pumpkin
500g courgettes
250g green beans
2 large tomatoes

  1. Put the beans in a large put, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, simmer for 2 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave, covered, for 1.5 hours. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid for use later.
  2. Peel the carrots and chop into large chunks, and cut the pumpkin, courgettes, beans and tomatoes into large pieces, too.
  3. Chop the onion finely, fry gently in plenty of olive oil, and add finely chopped
  4. garlic once the onion is nearly done.
  5. Add the beans, together with enough of the cooking liquid to cover (keep any remaining liquid in case you need it). Bring to a boil, reduce to minimum, add the morcilla, paprika, bay leaves and a couple of teaspoons of salt, and cover.
  6. Cook for 30 minutes, then add all the vegetables, and add enough extra water to cover.
  7. Continue to cook until the beans are completely cooked. (They should be tender, not powdery.)
  8. Serve with plenty of crusty bread.

Vegetable spring rolls

"Never work with children or animals" is an old showbiz adage, but I think it applies to cooking, too. I've never had a dog helping me cook, but sometimes when my kids get in on the act my stress levels go through the roof. I still don't know why child labour needs to be outlawed - I would have thought that any sweatshop owner with an ounce of sense would keep kids out of the workplace anyway.

The other day Gemma showed up with a packet of Thai rice paper spring roll wrappers. After a bit of searching on the internet a lot of trial and error, and a few frayed tempers, we came up with these. The quantities here make enough to produce plenty of spring rolls, and also to have leftover noodles and vegetables to serve with the rolls.

1 red pepper
1 large courgette
2 large carrots
3 tablespoons of oyster sauce
2 teaspoons of light soy sauce
1 teaspoon of grated ginger
1 teaspoon of finely chopped garlic
instant rice noodles, soaked in water

  1. Julienne the pepper and courgette, and grate the carrots.
  2. In a frying pan, heat a little vegetable oil, fry the ginger and garlic for a few seconds, add the vegetables and fry until they begin to soften a little. Add the oyster and soy sauce, stir to mix and remove from the heat.
  3. Remove the rice noodles from their soaking water, cut with scissors into 2-inch lengths, and mix in with the vegetables.
  4. If you are using riceflour wrappers, then soak them in a bowl of warm water for about 10 seconds to soften them up. IMPORTANT: soak them one by one, and don't allow them to go to soft. They should have the texture of thin paper. If they are too stiff, they will break, but if they are too soft they will go mushy and not hold together when frying.
  5. Place one wrapper on a board or plate, put some filling in the middle, and shape to form a log. Fold the wrapper over the filling, Tuck the edges of the wrapper in towards the middle, and roll tightly. If you are using wheatflour wrappers, you will need to brush the edges with a little beaten egg before rolling, in order to seal the roll. If you are using rice paper wrappers, then they will stick themselves, but you should use two wrappers for each roll. (Use one wrapper to enclose the filling, then wrap the roll in a second wrapper.)
  6. Deep fry in plenty of vegetable oil.

Oyster sauce salad dressing

Every now and then, I resolve to make large quantities of salad dressing so that I won't have to produce it from scratch each time. Apart from saving a bit of time, I'm more likely to be adventurous when making a batch, so it gets me out of the bad habit of just splashing on a bit of oil and vinegar when the lettuce is already in the bowl.

The following recipe produces about 400 ml of dressing - enough to fit neatly into an empty chick pea jar. Give the jar a good shake before you use the dressing.

200 ml olive oil
100 ml sunflower oil
50 ml oyster sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
1 tablespoon of wine vnegar
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil

Measure all of the ingredients into a food processor, whiz until it emulsifies, then transfer to a large jar with a lid.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Raisin scones

I've been on a bit of a home baking kick this Christmas, so I decided to keep going into the New Year by making scones. (These are what Americans refer to as 'biscuits'.) This is another one of those things that are a bit of mystery about - tales of dry, rock-hard scones. This was the first time I'd made them (and I had expert help), but as far as I can tell the only secret is to make sure the mixture itself is nice and wet, and to handle it gently (with well-floured fingers).

Me and Sammy made these, and they were ready in time for Sammy's great-grandma (below) to have one hot from the oven with her tea after getting back from the cinema. I was going to take a photo of the finished tray of scones, but they all disappeared before I had the chance.

300g self-raising flour
75g butter
50g caster sugar
75g raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
160ml milk

  1. Heat the oven to 200oC. Sift the flour into a large bowl, then add the sugar and cinnamon. Cut the butter into pieces, and add to the flour mixture, rubbing it in until it is the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the raisins, and stir in with a spoon. Add the milk, mixing in with a spoon and then with your (well-floured!) hands.
  2. Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface and cut into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a fat, rough disk. Don't try to make it too perfect - cracks and folds will help add texture to the finished scone. Place the rounds on greased baking tray. Bake for 12 minutes.

Peter Potter Gallery
One of our regular places to visit when we're staying in Edinburgh is the Peter Potter Gallery in Haddington. It is housed in an old fire station, with views over the River Tyne and includes an art gallery, a craft shop and a cafe, which does home baking, including scones.