Sunday, August 29, 2010

Barbecue sauce chicken kebabs

A quick chicken kebab recipe.

500g chicken breast
3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon chilli paste
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sunflower oil

  1. Skin the chicken breast and cut it into chunks. In a large bowl, mix the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken to the bowl, mix well with your hands ensuring that all the pieces are basted in the marinade, cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight (or for as long as possible if you are making this on the day of the barbecue).
  2. Shortly before you are ready to start cooking, thread the pieces onto skewers - 4 or 5 pieces on each skewer at most. Grill over a nice hot barbecue.

Seekh kebabs with coriander

I've been a bit lazy with my barbecues this summer, as a result of which we have all eaten a LOT of sausages. Anyway, we decided to say goodbye to Edinburgh for the summer with a proper barbecue, so in addition to a couple of different types of chicken kebab, some plain mince kebabs, some veggie dishes and a bit of home baking, I made some spicy little seekh kebabs with fresh coriander.

250g minced lamb
250g minced pork
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon chilli
1/2 teaspoon salt
small bunch of finely chopped coriander


  1. Put the mince in a large bowl, sprinkle all the other ingredients over it and mix very well with your hands. If you have time, leave to stand for an hour or so.
  2. Take a small handful of the kebab mixture and shape into a sausage around a skewer. Repeat until you have used up all the mixture. (500g of meat should yield around eight kebabs, depending on the size.)
  3. Grill over a nice hot charcoal barbecue and serve with pitta bread and a chunky vegetable salad (lovingly prepared by your other half).


When making bread, I've always tended to work by eye - starting off with a certain amount of water and then adding flour until things felt 'right', which generally gave me proportions of about 1 part water to 2 parts flour. However, one of the things I learned as a result of my sourdough quest was that wet dough is, at least up to a point, better - enabling you to produce tastier bread with a better texture.

The technical term for the proportion of water in bread dough is 'hydration', which is calculated by dividing the amount of water by the amount of flour and expressing the result as a percentage. For example, if you make a 1 kg loaf using 400g of water and 600g of flour, your hydration is 400/600 = 2/3 = 0.67 = 67%.

This may all sound needlessly 'techie', but you will soon find that expressing your recipe as a hydration percentage gives you a very good indicator of what kind of dough you will be working with. And if you want to scale your volumes up or down, or change some of the quantities then identifying how this effects the hydration percentage is essential to ensuring that you still produce the right kind of dough.

As we can see from the example above, calcualting the hydration percentage when making bread from scratch (using water, flour and live or dried yeast) is simple enough - just divide the water by the flour and express the result as a percentage. However, when making sourdough things become more complicated. This is because you are adding flour and water to your existing starter or ferment and so in order to calculate the overall hydration percentage you need to take into account not just your added flour and water but also the amount of ferment used and the proportions of flour and water it contains.

At this point, the maths becomes a little complicated and the easiest solution is to use a hydration calculator. There are several of these available online, but I decided to have a crack at creating my own from scratch.
The calculator divides into two stages: starter and dough, for each of which it allows you to work out the hydration percentage of any given combination of water, flour and starter, and also to perform a reverse calculation so that if you want to a specified volume of dough (e.g., 2kg) at a given hydration level (e.g., 67%), containing a given amount of starter (e.g. 400g), you can automatically calculate how much flour and water you need to use to achieve this.

Courgette with tomato and coriander

I always have mixed feelings about vegetarians at barbecues. On the one hand, it's great for there to be extra meat for the carnivores. On the other hand, vegetarians are often a little stringy and frankly flavourless. It is therefore a good idea to feed them up first with something suitable.

Ingredients 1 kg of courgettes
1 kg of chopped tomatoes
2 onions
3 cloves of garlic
olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
bunch of fresh coriander

  1. Roughly chop the onions and fry gently in plenty of olive oil. When nearly done, add the peeled, chopped garlic, fry for another 30 seconds or so, then add the chopped tomatoes, thickly sliced courgettes and salt.
  2. Stew gently for 30 minutes or so. A few minutes before serving, add the chopped fresh coriander.

Chinese takeaway
As a purist, I think that everything eaten at a barbecue should pass at least briefly across the grill (with the exception, obviously, of salad). Unfortunately, stews have a nasty habit of trickly through the grid straight onto the charcoal, so I prefer to put them in a metal container and ceremonially reheat them on the grill before serving.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dutch Jewish ginger buns (gember bolus)

I came across these ginger buns (gember bolus) in the cafe of the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam. I googled "ginger bolus", but all I came up with were reports of people choking to death in Thailand. Eventually, I found something which appeared to be related on a blog called Bake My Day! So I contacted the author of the blog where I had found that recipe and she very kindly got back to me with a version of what I was looking for. Needless to say, I then fooled around with the recipe a bit (well, quite a lot) and this is what I came up with.

500g plain flour
7g active yeast
320g milk
30g water
20g brown sugar
20g margarine or butter

200g brown sugar
200g water

250g ginger crush in syrup

for sprinkling
more brown sugar

  1. Put the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, cover and remove from the heat.
  2. Combine all of the dough ingredients. If you have a food processor with a dough hook, then knead for a couple of minutes on the slowest settng. Alternatively, mix the ingredients thoroughly with a spoon, then stretch and fold in the bowl until you have a smooth dough. Cover the dough and leave to rise for about 1 hour.
  3. Oil 16 muffin cases and put them on 2 muffin trays. Set the oven to 200oC.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide  into 16 equal pieces. Very lightly turn each of the pieces in the flour, then press out to form a rough circle. Put a teaspoon of the filling mixture in the centre of each circle, and form the circle into a ball, crimping it closed with your fingers. Place each of the balls into one of your prepared muffin cases, and when the tray is full cover it with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.
  5. Remove the clingfilm from the trays, glaze each ball with 1 dessertspoon of syrup, sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of brown sugar over each of them , transfer trays to oven and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Remove the trays from the oven, transfer the buns from their cases to a cooling rack. Pour a little more syrup over the buns before serving.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Light and dark soy sauce

I suspect a lot of people wonder what the difference between light and dark soy sauce is. Well, the dark version is thicker and slightly sweeter and the light one is, you guessed it, thinner and saltier. Dark soy seems to be sold as the default version (i.e., if soy sauce isn't labelled then it is likely to be dark). So if you are substituting dark for light then you may want to add a little sugar and salt to the recipe, and even add a teeny amount of cornflour. And if substituting light for dark, then remove salt. If you're not sure whether your soy sauce is dark or light, an easy test is just to tip the bottle upside down and see how much sauce adheres to the sides, as below.

Carrot soup

The other day my kids bought a big bag of beautiful carrots, complete with their green leafy bits, all contained in a lovely bag with a picture of the very farmer who had grown them and a little eulogy to the wonders of the English countryside and to the virtues of the large supermarket chain supplying us with these goodies. A week later, the carrots were still sitting in the bottom of the fridge looking almost as lovely as the day they had been bought, and I was beginning to feel guilty as I read about Farmer Roberts for the third time and imagined just how disappointed he would be with me if his carrots ended up in the bin. So I made this soup.

1 head of celery
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
750g carrots
500g potatoes
2 tsps cumin
2 tsps smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
1 glass white wine
2 tbsps tomato puree
1 litre of vegetable stock

  1. Wash the celery, separate into stalks and cut into thinnish slices. Peel and chop the garlic. Top and tail the carrots, peel if necessary, and cut into chunks. Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks.
  2. In a large saucepan, gently fry the celery. When it is nearly done, add the garlic, fry for another minute, then add the cumin and paprika, and fry for 10 seconds or so.
  3. Add the carrots, potatoes, salt, wine, puree and stock, bring to a boil, turn heat to minimum, cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes, until the carrot and potato pieces are nice and tender.
  4. Allow soup to cool, then liquidise with a stick blender.

Honey and soy salad dressing

Carmela likes to put honey in her salad dressing, so I thought I should actually note down the ingredients rather than doing it on a trial and error basis each time. The combination of honey, soy sauce and sesame oil give it an oriental, almost sweet and sour feel.

1 teaspoon of honey
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar

Put your honey inb a small bowl and, unless it is very runny, heat for a few seconds in a microwave. Add the other ingredients, and whisk well with a fork. Pour over the salad just before serving and toss to mix. (I tend not to put salt into my dressings, but instead to add them direct to the salad before dressing.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why I make bread

The other day I was chatting with my mum and my brother about cooking things "from scratch". The conversation was sparked by my mum having had a bit of a disaster with some pickling cucumbers a few weeks ago, and their conclusion was that they really couldn't be bothered with things like making jam, pickles and (I suspect) bread at home. And I think they are right; not in the sense that these things are never worth doing, but in the sense that these (and other) procedures are not things which home cooks should feel obliged to do or should feel guilty about not doing. If you just want good jam, pickles or bread, then buy some. Jam and pickle making used to be done at home by people who grew their own fruit and vegetables and had to find a way of dealing with a seasonal glut. And bread was generally not made at home at all, but was made by professional bakers for the very good reason that it is difficult, time-consuming and frankly uneconomic to make on a household-by-household basis.

And it doesn't stop there. Recipes in cookery books are littered with instructions to peel and chop ginger, to grind and mix your own spices, to peel tomatoes and so on. Each of these steps may only take a few minutes, but once you add them together the end result can be to turn the job of producing a quick curry into an evening's worth of chopping and grinding. And it's not as if there are no alternatives. To take my examples, you can use minced ginger, good quality spice mixes or curry powders, and tinned peeled tomatoes (or leave the skin on fresh ones). Maybe cooking would seem less intimidating if cookery writers made an effort to reduce the amount of preparatory work involved to a minimum, instead of communicating to their readers the idea that failure to prepare everything from scratch is somehow cheating, and that the end result will inevitably be compromised.

There is, of course, still a strong argument for doing these things at least once - if only so that you can see how much extra work is involved, find out what difference (if any) it makes to the final dish, and decide for yourself which of these procedures is worth following in full and which are best replaced by a shortcut.

So, why do I make bread? It may sound odd, but it is not simply so that I can have bread to eat. In fact, anyone who makes bread at home solely for that reason either lives a very long way from the nearest bakery or hasn't thought about how long it takes to make bread. The only good reason for making your own bread is because you enjoy it - enjoy the physical experience of making and handling dough, enjoy changing the quantities and temperatures involved and observing the effects on the final bread, and enjoy the satisfaction of producing something for yourself. And if you don't enjoy those things, well you shouldn't do them and you shouldn't feel guilty about it either.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Arbroath smokies

I was at the Foodies Festival in Edinburgh and was lucky enough to see Iain Spink smoking his haddock on site. The process itself is pretty simple: the fish have their heads removed and are gutted and cleaned, before being tied in pairs and hung over a stick.

Next, the stick itself is placed over a half barrel, with a fire of beech and oak burning inside it.

Then the barrel is covered with a few layers of damp hessian.

After half an hour or so, the Arbroath smokies are ready.

Arbroath smokies keep for a while, and perhaps the most famous dish in which they feature is Cullen skink. They are also good in a potato salado. However, the best way to serve them is definitely hot from the barrel.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Roasted vegetables

I've got out of the habit of roasting vegetables (or anything, for that matter) due to having had a broken oven for the first six months of this year. I now have access to a working oven again and, in between my obsessive search for the perfect sourdough, I found time to roast some vegetables. I think the key to this is moderation - the vegetables should not be so small that they burn, but not so big that they will take hours to cook and won't absorb flavours, and there should be enough vegetables in the tray for them to mingle, without there being so many that they don't cook properly. I used carrots, potatoes and pumpkin because that was what I had. This would also work well with parsnips or turnips.

olive oil
balsamic vinegar
black pepper

Peel the vegetables and cut into chunks. Place in a large baking tray, and dress with plenty of olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, thyme, salt and black pepper. Bake at 200oC for about 1 hour.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cinnamon knot buns (zeeuwse bolus)

I don't usually just lift other people's recipes, but I have to start this post by admitting that I have copied this more or less directly from a wonderful blog I came across called Bake My Day! This is stage one of my plan for reproducing the delicious little buns filled with candied ginger which I ate in Amsterdam. I thought I would start with the dough, and as this recipe is for a Dutch sweetened bread of Jewish origin, it seemed a good place to start. (We bought the matrushka oilcloth in the background of the photo below at the street market in Albert Cuypstraat.)

500 g plain flour
7 g salt
7 g fast action yeast
320 g milk
75 g butter or margarine
zest of one lemon
250 gr soft brown sugar
2 tbs cinnamon

  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, fast action yeast, milk, butter or margarine and lemon zest. Start by mixing it thoroughly with a spoon, then when it comes together mix by hand and knead until you have a nice light dough. Put the bowl inside a plastic bag, leave in a warm place (if you have one) for 45 minutes (a little longer if you don't have a warm spot in your kitchen). In a separate bowl, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
  2. Weigh the dough and divide into 16 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball, place on a tray, cover with plastic and leave to relax for 20 minutes or so. After 20 minutes, take each ball and roll it gently out into a rope, about 20 cm long - see photo below. (You should be able to do this between your hands, but feel free to roll it on a flat surface if needs be.)
  3. Now sprinkle plenty of the sugar and cinnamon mixture over a clear work surface, and one by one roll the dough ropes in it until they at least 30 cm long, making sure they get thoroughly coated with the sugar.
  4. Finally, form the ropes into knots, as per the photo below. (This is very easy - just find the mid-point, wrap one end of the rope around your finger, remove the finger from the resulting hole and poke the end of the rope through. Then repeat for the other side.) Place the coils on an oiled baking sheet, cover with plastic and leave to rise for about 60 minutes until they have more or less doubled in size. You will probably have to use two baking sheets and bake in two batches. (Because my sugar wasn't quite sticky enough, I cheated and sprayed the finished knots with a little water and sprinkled them with some extra sugar just before baking.) Turn the oven on to 250oC.
  5. Bake the knots for 8 minutes. They should be brown and even a little crisp on the outside, but still very soft on the inside.

'raw' ropes

rolling the rope in sugar, and forming the knots

risen knots

Monday, August 9, 2010

Plain scones

The last few times I have made scones, the kids have insisted on them being plain. I resisted at first, but have now given in and even grudgingly admit that maybe plain are better, especially if you're gong to eat them with raspberry jam.

300g self-raising flour
75g butter
50g caster sugar
160 ml milk

  1. Heat the oven to 200oC. Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the sugar, cut the butter into pieces, and add to the flour and sugar, rubbing it in until it is the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the milk, mixing in with a spoon and then with your (well-floured!) hands.
  2. Put the dough on 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 a lightly greased tray. Bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown.

Mince and green bean curry

This was inspired by a visit to the Edinburgh Mela, a multicultural festival (predominantly Pakistani and Indian) held in Edinburgh each August. Multiculturalism has taken a bit of a knocking recently (much of it, I suspect, from people who are delighted to have found an acceptable way of being unpleasant towards Muslims), but I'm unclear as to what the alternatives are. Zero immigration? Forced assimilation? Ghettoisation? None of them sound very attractive to me.

halal haggis burgers

curry on Leith Links

eye candy

In the kids' activity tent at the Mela there was a spice mixing workshop, where children could choose their own whole spices, and pound and mix them in a mortar to make curry powder. For this curry, we used Sammy's meat curry powder which contained turmeric, bay leaves, cumin seeds, coriander, peppercorns, black cardamom, cinnamon and fennel.


2 small red onions
vegetable oil
2 cloves of garlic
1-inch chunk of fresh ginger
3 teaspoons of good quality curry powder
500g minced lamb
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tin chopped tomatoes
250g green beans

  1. Peel and finely chop the red onions, and peel and mince the garlic and ginger. In a high-sided frying pan or saucepan, gently heat the onion in some vegetable oil. When it is nearly done, add the minced garlic and ginger, and fry for another minute. Add the curry powder, stir well, and fry for 10 seconds.
  2. Add the mince and fry, stirring well to break up any lumps, until all the meat is browned. Add the tomatoes and the salt, bring to a boil, then turn down to minimum, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the green beans and continue to cook until they are just done.

Celeriac and beetroot soup

I really like celeriac, but I'm never quite sure what to do with it, apart from mixing it with potato in a celeriac mash. Soup is one option, and as part of my campaign for more (naturally) pink foods, I chucked some beetroot in too. The result was really good - a nice balance of slightly bitter celeriac, sweet beetroot and acidic lemon juice. And it even matched Carmela's clothes.

1 head of celeriac
1 large onion
2 large potatoes
olive oil
beetroot (pre-cooked)
1 glass of dry white wine
1 litre of vegetable stock
juice of 1 lemon

  1. Peel the celeriac, onion and potatoes. Chop the onion roughly and chop the celeriac, potato and beetroot into chunks.
  2. Put the onion in a large pan with some olive oil and fry gently until softened. Add the celeriac, potato, beetroot, white wine and stock, bring to a boil, cover, turn heat to minimum and simmer until the potato and celeriac are cooked.
  3. Allow to cool a bit, then puree with a stick blender or food processor. Add the lemon juice, check for seasoning and add salt and pepper.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Scallops stir-fried with ginger, garlic and spring onion

I was in Islay last week, visiting my friend Angus, and just before I left he gave me a big tub of really fresh scallops.

12 large scallops
small piece of ginger
1 clove of garlic
4 spring onions
butter or olive oil

  1. Remove the orange corals from the scallops. Peel and mince the ginger and garlic. Slice the spring onion.
  2. Fry the ginger, garlic and spring onion in the butter or olive oil for 30 seconds, add the scallops and fry for another 2 minutes or so.

Courgettes and cava

In the summer the price of courgettes comes down and the quality goes up - my greengrocer has nice tasty little ones at the moment for about half the price of the ones usually available during winter, which often manage the trick of being both watery and bitter. I had some leftover cava in the fridge, and couldn't resist the opportunity for more alliterative lunacy, although obviously any dry white wine will do. I served these with linguini, but they would also be good just as a vegetable dish in their own right.

I sometimes worry that my blog gives a misleading impression of civilised adults and well-trained children sitting down together to eat. I guess that's what we aim for, but the reality tends to be closer to the photo below - abandoned plates on the table, open cupboard doors, children lurking behind one's back and the like.

500g courgettes
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp salt
olive oil
good splash of cava (or dry white wine)
handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped

  1. Top and tail and wash the courgettes, cut them crosswise into 5 cm segments, and then lengthwise into chunky matchsticks. Peel and finely chop the garlic.
  2. Put the courgette and garlic in a large pan with plenty of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and sautee gently until the courgette is done but still has a little bite.
  3. Add the cava and cook for another minute or so, then add the basil and a little freshly ground black pepper.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chinese stewed aubergine with garlic, ginger and chilli

When I go to the Wing Sing in Edinburgh, I always order the yu hung aubergine - stewed, spicy aubergine with a bit of pork mince. Usually we order far too much and end up bringing home the aubergine in a container for the next day. The last time we did this, we reheated it on the barbecue and had it in mini pitta breads, and it was great, so I thought it was time I found out how to make it for myself.

After a bit of hunting around on the web I found this recipe for eggplant in garlic sauce at The technique involves quickly boiling the aubergine before stir-frying and then stewing it. I've left the pork out (because I didn't have any in the fridge) but will post a meaty version shortly. There is a frightening amount of soy sauce in this, but be brave - it's right! The end result should be almost 'jammy'. (Thanks to Alan for pointing that out - the first time I made it, I forgot to put the cornflour in, so it was a bit too liquid.)

750g aubergine
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 teaspoons minced chilli (I use the prepared version, alternatively use very finely chopped fresh chilli)
4 spring onions, white and green parts, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of cornflour
2 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

Sauce ingredients
50 ml dark soy sauce
50 ml light soy sauce
35 ml balsamic vinegar
35 ml Chinese rice wine or dry sherry or dry white wine
1 teaspoon sugar
150 ml chicken stock

  1. Boil a large saucepan of water. In the meantime, top and tail the aubergine, cut into three or four segments crosswise, then cut each segment vertically into nine wedges.
  2. Put the aubergine in the saucepan of boiling water, bring back to the boil, and cook for 1 minute (timed from when the water returns to the boil). Drain the aubergine pieces, then spread out to dry a little on kitchen paper.
  3. Mince the garlic and ginger and chop the spring onion. In a bowl, combine the sauce ingredients (the dark and light soy sauce, vinegar, rice wine or dry sherry, sugar and chicken stock).
  4. Heat the wok with the vegetable oil until it is hot. Add the garlic, ginger, spring onion and chilli. Stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the aubergine and the sauce ingredients, mix well, bring to a simmer, and continue cooking on a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the aubergine is tender.
  5. Mix the cornflour and the water together thoroughly, and add to the wok, stirring well as you do so. Heat gently for another minute or so until the sauce thickens.