Breakfast in Beijing

Lately I’ve been experimenting with eggy breakfasts. My other half has been reading The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss, and working through learning how to cook from the most basic techniques up to sous vide and beyond. There was a great early section on flavours of the world and how to put them into eggs.

Chinese eggs

Chinese eggs in the pan

Eggs don’t hold much flavour on their own, but they soak up flavour really well. For North China, he suggests miso and/or garlic and/or sesame, and other flavours he mentions for China in general are tamari, rice wine, scallions and ginger.

So we had some beautiful tomatoes, and I was craving Asian food, and I found this recipe for Chinese eggs as made in Beijing. It involves sesame, rice vinegar and scallions, so a pretty good representation of Chinese flavours. I’ve made it three times in the past week, varying the amount of sugar each time (since sugar is mentioned in the recipe but not how much) and I think I’ve got the balance right now.

I would say this feeds two people for brunch, possibly with a bit of toast on the side. One of the best things about this recipe is how quick it is to prepare – I can chop and cook it all in ten minutes. Whatever you do, make sure you go easy on the sesame oil and don’t put in more than a teaspoon – it packs a flavourful punch.

Chinese_eggs1

Ingredients

Ingredients

4 free range eggs

1 teaspoon sesame oil

salt and pepper

2 green onions (scallions)

olive oil

2 tomatoes

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch (corn flour)

Chinese eggs

Rapidly disappearing Chinese eggs.

Recipe

1. Chop the green onions (a.k.a. scallions), throwing the bits from the white part of the onion into a bowl, along with four eggs, sesame oil and salt and pepper, and beat the mixture. Reserve the green bits for later.

2. Heat around 2 Tbsp oil in the pan, fry eggs 2 minutes.

3. While frying eggs, dice tomatoes.

4. Pull out eggs from pan, put in another 2 Tbsp oil, add tomatoes, rice vinegar, and sugar. Cook for 2 minutes.

5. Put eggs back in pan, add green bits of green onion, mix 1 tsp corn flour (a.k.a. cornstarch) with 1 tsp water in a bowl, add to pan.

6. Enjoy!

 

 

Falling off the blogging bandwagon

Well, not long after my previous optimistic explanatory post, we got broken into. Our laptops were stolen, along with my carefully crafted draft posts, done with a word processor and not backed up, and all my photos I had been storing up for aforesaid posts. This was ironically the same week as International Backup Day. So make sure to backup, folks.

This was also less than two months to our wedding, so I threw up my hands in the air and chose to focus on the wedding blog and wedding prep, and gave up on my food blog. There just were not enough hours in the day. Post-wedding, all my prep work being gone and many physical thank-you cards to write, no blogging happened.

So there it lay, dormant for six months, waiting for me to return. Then last week I went to a London Bloggers Meetup, where we spent about four hours creating a blog from scratch, and I remembered how much I like blogging.

Well, I’m back now. I have new photos, new recipes, and stories to share. Sometimes you have setbacks, like when I tried to make my favourite cheese curd Lithuanian cepelinai this summer and they absolutely disintegrated into a soupy mess (we still ate the cheese bits). But then you pick yourself up and try again.

More soon….

BRB

The worst of bad things to happen to food bloggers has occurred – I was hit by a really bad case of food poisoning earlier this month from an Indian restaurant near Kentish Town station. Understandably, not only have I not been cooking, I’ve not been appreciating food enough to want to write about it. I spent a whole week just subsisting off Vitamin water, and a few days just on plain unseasoned boiled pasta.

Well now it’s been over two weeks and I am finally starting to feel halfway decent again (at last!), so expect posts in the near future.

Indian food

I just had to share this video featuring Indian food — it made me smile.

If there’s one cuisine I haven’t yet conquered, it’s this. I would be a happy lady if I could make some of my favourites like brinjal bhaji (aubergine/eggplant) or a dhansak curry or even just some good naan bread. I think this is the year to go for it.

Enjoy!

A Day in India from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

I love lamb.

I love lamb. And no, I’m not just naming things in the room.

Lamb is widely available and popular in the UK. What’s more, being farmed here, it’s fresh and good quality (i.e., not necessary to buy in from New Zealand and in doing so clock up food miles).

My friend Claire recently shared her own lamb recipe with lentils. I’m planning to try this soon, as my other half and I have decided to try eating more legumes this year. He read in Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Body that they are good sources of protein, and that protein is a more filling source of calories than other foods, so you eat less (Tim’s pretty cool; we saw him talk about his new book, The Four Hour Chef, last night in Piccadilly — can’t wait to read it). We’re both trying to slim down for the big day this summer, but don’t want to sacrifice flavoursome foods to do so.

I like to put lamb in curries, such as red Thai curry or an Indian rogan josh. I also love lamb tagine (I love fruit curries!). But not long ago, I found I had an excess of fresh thyme at home, and I found a marvellously simple recipe from a proper British chef who was able to help me solve this quandary.

Lamb can often be a bit fatty and heavy, and I found the lemon in this dish really lightened it up. Gremolata is an Milanese mix of lemon, parsley and garlic, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall here substitutes thyme for parsley.

Lamb cutlets with thyme gremolata (serves 2)

Zest of 1 lemon

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp olive oil

6 lamb cutlets

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Marinating lamb

Mix the zest, garlic and thyme in a bowl to make gremolata; set aside half for garnish, then add lemon juice and olive oil.

Coat the cutlets in the mixture and marinate for 30 minutes.

Heat a frying pan. Add lamb cutlets and season with salt and pepper. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side.

Transfer cutlets to a plate to rest, then serve topped with the rest of the gremolata.

Enjoy!

Lamb thyme gremolata

Tunisian brunch shakshuka

A typical North African food, also popular in Israel, is baked eggs shakshuka. I first became aware of this dish at Made in Camden, one of my favourite brunch spots in London, and find it very restorative after a long night out (and the ensuing hangover).

Knowing that we would want a hearty and restorative brunch for Boxing Day (a.k.a. Stephens’s Day) this year after a fair bit of wine at Christmas dinner at my friend Claire’s, I planned ahead to make a big pan of shakshuka for me and Rory.

Shakshuka is basically a tomato-based dish, flavoured with spices like cumin and paprika, in which eggs are poached, and the whole thing is used for dipping bread.

I have found out that Tunisian shakshuka uses harissa and preserved lemon, whereas the version I made is closer to the Israeli version. I plan to follow up this post in the next month with my attempt at a more accurate Tunisian shakshuka. I adapted the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The main thing to be careful of (especially if cooking while hungover) is to not touch anything, especially your eyes, after handling the jalapeño — wash your hands and surfaces before moving on to the rest of the recipe.

Shakshuka closeup

Baked eggs shakshuka (for 2-3 people)

4 Tbsp (60ml) olive oil

1 Jalapeño (if you don’t like reasonably spicy food, leave it out)

1/2 small yellow onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, crushed and chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp smoked paprika

1 14-oz/400 g can chopped tomatoes

3 eggs

1/4 cup feta cheese (a big handful), crumbled by hand

Warm pitas for serving

Start by chopping the jalapeño finely and make sure to wash your hands with soap afterwards.

Fry the jalapeño and onion in oil in a 12-inch skillet (preferably cast iron) for about eight minutes. Add garlic, cumin and paprika and fry for another two minutes while stirring.

Heat oven to warm pitas.

Add tomatoes and 1/4 cup (60 ml or 4 Tbsp) water and simmer on medium for 15 minutes, adding salt to taste.

Put pitas in oven.

Crack eggs into dish, mixing whites in with simmering sauce. Cover with lid for 5 minutes, then add feta.

Serve family-style, with the skillet on a trivet in the middle of the table and everyone dipping their pita bread into it.

Shakshuka served

Detour: easy party food

Happy holidays to you!

In honour of the season, here is a slight detour from my usual focus on typical cultural foods: some ideas for easy party dishes to make for a group. This is simple and delicious party food with minimal effort. You might find this useful for your new year’s celebrations.

The original version of this first recipe for spinach dip shockingly uses pumpernickel. I’ve been eating this every holiday season with sourdough for decades now and would be so disappointed to eat it with any other bread type. Every Christmas Eve it’s a hunt for sourdough in all the local stores, and so far, every year I’ve found it.

This dish is excellent for vegetarians and also a great way to sneak a bit of spinach into a carnivore’s diet.

Spinach dip

Spinach dip in sourdough bread

1 packet Knorr’s vegetable soup powder (any kind without pasta)

2 cups sour cream

1 cup mayonnaise

1 loaf sourdough bread (preferably round)

1 bag fresh spinach (if you have access to a packet of frozen chopped spinach, just defrost, squeeze out the moisture and don’t bother chopping any further)

Wilt the spinach in a pan with a lid, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat when it is done, pour off the liquid and allow to cool.

Mix the soup powder with sour cream and mayonnaise.

Once the spinach has cooled, chop, squeeze out moisture and add to the rest. Refrigerate until shortly before serving.

Hollow out the bread loaf – the easiest way to do this is by slicing off the top and hollowing out with one’s hands, though I tend to cut down at an angle and pull out the gem-shaped wedge before hollowing the rest with my hands. Keep the bits you pull out on the side for dipping and slice up the top of the bread for dipping too. The secret is once you’ve run out of dipping pieces of bread, you can dismantle the bread bowl for more dipping.

The second recipe is so incredibly easy and tasty. It’s also seasonal because shellfish are in season all winter.

Make sure you have as many strips of bacon as you do scallops – or if you’re short on bacon, you can cut the bacon strips in half and use half strips instead.

The scallops can keep the roe (orange bit) on if it is still there; I think it adds flavour and a nice variation in texture.

Scallops prebaked

 

Bacon-wrapped scallops

Streaky American-style bacon

Fresh scallops (defrost in advance if frozen)

1 lemon Cocktail sticks (toothpicks)

Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C.

Lay down a slice of bacon, place a scallop on its side on the bacon, and roll along the side until the bacon ends, then stick a cocktail stick into it through the bacon and place in a baking dish. Do this with all the scallops.

Juice the lemon and pour 1 teaspoon lemon juice per scallop over the scallops.

Bake for 20 minutes and enjoy!

Baked scallops

Dublin pubs auf Deutsch

A random post for you: my German teacher recently went to Dublin to catch a rugby match, so I put together a list of pubs for her to check out. And, it being my German teacher, I wrote my reviews auf Deutsch.

Pubs are a typical part of Irish culture, so I thought I’d post it up here. They’re public houses, and predate Starbucks as the original “third space”, separate from home and work. It’s somewhere you can buy a drink and hang out for hours. They might look at you a bit askance if you did that with a laptop though — pubs are a social space.

Here is a list of some pubs I like from when I lived in Dublin, six close to Lansdowne Road, and six in the city centre. Many you wouldn’t stumble across unless you knew they were there.

If you read German, you’ll get my more precise opinion of them too — just click on the blue dots.

(You get extra points if you go to The Church on the north side — that’s where my fiancé and I had our first date).


View Dublin pubs in a larger map

Chowder!

Chowder

Along with the theme of keeping warm, I came up with a brilliant plan to recreate the typical hearty dish of hot San Francisco chowder inside a hollowed-out loaf of sourdough bread. My other half brought back a 1.5 lb loaf of fresh sourdough bread from his business trip in San Francisco, and I went online to read up on New England clam chowder.

The problem with the San Francisco delicacy, is that there are few clams living in the vicinity of San Francisco (recently some have been introduced through aquaculture). The chowder used in the their popular sourdough bowls is straight from a can. The UK, however, is abundant in clams. In fact, this is the perfect time of year to be eating shellfish in the UK, as many fish are out of season and are not sourced locally. For a sustainable dinner in winter, bring on the scallops and mussels and clams.

I had great intentions of buying my clams at the Billingsgate fish market, which has been in London for the past 800 years, but getting up before dawn proved more of a chore than I had initially thought. I scrapped the idea and walked up to the Hampstead fishmonger instead at the civilised hour of noon, ringing ahead to make sure they were in stock. The premises are tucked away down a narrow hallway next to the Hampstead Community Centre, just a couple buildings down from a crepe stand.

I hope I’m pronouncing it right!

Clam chowder, serves 2-4 (adapted from www.livestrong.com)

Ingredients

1 kg / 2 lb live clams
6 fl. oz. / 3/4 cup / 175ml dry white wine
3-4 chopped bacon slices (a.k.a. lardons) + olive oil for frying (I used garlic-infused olive oil)
2 onions
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp plain flour
3 large potatoes (I used 6 medium red potatoes)
7 fl. oz / 200ml heavy cream / double cream
1 sourdough loaf per person (instead of soup bowls), with chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish (we shared a giant one between two people and spent a lazy afternoon eating chowder and watching films)

Get your clams from the fishmonger the same day to ensure they’re fresh. Some of mine were still moving, wobbling from side to side in the cold tap water, which was disconcerting, but proved they were fresh. Fresh clams should still be alive.
1: Rinse clams with cold tap water. Pick up each clam in turn and remove any weed and dirt. Discard any smashed or wide open clams. Put the clean clams in another bowl.

Clam broth
2: Boil a pint / 570ml water and the white wine together in a large pot. Put the cleaned clams into the pot and cover. Cook at a hard boil for two minutes. Check to see that most of the clams have opened. Hold the pot over a colander and drain — catching the liquid in a measuring cup. Remove the flesh from each shell and set it aside (I used a grapefruit spoon to separate the insides from the shell).


3: Fry bacon / lardons in olive oil in the bottom of your stockpot until they turn crispy and browned. Use a high-sided pan or pot. Scoop the bacon from the pan and add two chopped onions and a chopped garlic clove. Cook for four minutes. Sprinkle in 2 Tbsp of plain flour, stirring it into the oil and fat until you get a smooth paste / rue. Cook for four minutes, taking care not to let the paste brown or burn.


4: Add water to the clam liquor in the measuring cup until you have 17 fl. oz. / 0.5L of liquid. Pour this into the bacon pan. Chop three large potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Add to the pot. Bring to the boil and simmer lightly for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes soften.


5: Pour in heavy cream / double cream. Put the clam flesh into the broth, stir and cook for another three minutes. Serve inside a hollowed-out round loaf of sourdough bread, with a little chopped parsley on top, and use the bread from the inside of the loaf for dipping.

Enjoy!

Comfort food

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! If you’re looking for a savoury alternative to turkey to make for the vegetarian in your life, and want to steer clear of the standard dried out nut roast, read on.

Spoiler

It is the time of year for battening down the hatches, burrowing under the covers a bit longer when the alarm goes off, and taking your blankets with you as you walk around your home. It is cold and dark.

First off, my friend Ems has been blogging fabulous veggie soups for the past month — check out her blog and try the Thai pumpkin if you’re looking for something a bit exotic and in keeping with the season.

A good old school New York Italian vegetarian recipe when you’re looking for comfort food is eggplant parmigiana. This was introduced to me through my former university roommate and best friend Mary, whose mother learned it from her former university roommate. The recipe is just too good not to pass on. Three secrets:

1. Pick your aubergine carefully – make sure the flesh is not dented or squishy
2. As you fry the aubergine slices – make sure to drain them well and replace the kitchen paper if it becomes saturated with oil
3. When in doubt, add more cheese

This time I made it with panko breadcrumbs to try something new, which were lovely and light, though traditional breadcrumbs provide a more even level of breading cover for the slices. I also cheated and got pre-seasoned sauce instead of just tomato plus adding my own herbs. I used Napolina basil & tomato sauce, which I found too sugary, though not enough so to ruin the dish.

 

Eggplant parmigiana (serves 6) 1 hour prep, 20 min baking time

Ingredients

8″ by 11″ pan and frying pan and saucepan

2 large aubergines

1 container of breadcrumbs (approximately 2.5 cups/70g)

2 eggs

400g corn oil for frying (approximately 2 cups)

2 cans/jars passata/tomato sauce

1 Tbsp oregano plus a pinch of any other Italian herbs you like and salt and pepper to taste

250g grated mozzarella cheese (3 cups) for layering

Nutrition estimate for 1/6 = 513 cal, 17g fat, 1.3g salt, 58g carb

 

Chop ends

1. Start by chopping off the ends of the aubergines and peeling. I find it’s easier to peel starting from the ends, since the skin is tough and the ends are skinless now.

2. Fill your frying pan with oil to a depth of a little less than a centimetre or half inch – so when the slices go in, the oil won’t quite cover them. You can always add more oil later (if you add new oil later, do it slowly from the side of the pan and turn the heat up for a minute to compensate). Turn the burner up to medium/medium-high.

Slice

3. Chop the peeled aubergines in 1.5cm / 0.75 inch slices. Don’t worry if your slices aren’t perfectly uniform — this is a forgiving dish.

Assembly line

4. Set out your assembly line for frying:  a fork, two small bowls — fill one with breadcrumbs, crack an egg into the other and whisk a little with your fork until yolk and white are combined (if this gets low later, do it again) — , your frying pan (which will be heating up at this point), a spatula, and a plate for the finished aubergine with two pieces of kitchen paper/paper towel on it to soak up any excess oil.

5. Check your oil is hot enough by dropping a bit of egg into it — if it bubbles up to the top in a second or two, it’s ready. You don’t want it bubbling furiously so if that happens turn the heat down and/or add a little fresh oil to modulate the temperature.

6. Set up your saucepan with the sauce in it and toss in herbs.

Frying

7. Assembly line: pick up first aubergine with a fork, dip in egg, flip with fork to coat, dip into breadcrumbs, flip to coat, set into oil gently. Keep doing this until you have around 5-6 slices in the pan. Then start flipping the oldest slices so they brown on both sides. Now you will be taking out the old slices and setting them on the plate at an angle to drain the oil, turning the remaining slices around in the pan, just like an assembly line, so you know where the oldest slices are, and adding new slices.

Slices

8. As you reach the last new slice, turn on the sauce to cook for the next 4-5 minutes (it doesn’t need to cook really, just be suitably warm). Also set out the cheese and the 8″ by 11″ pan. Also turn the oven on at 200C or 400F to warm up.

Assembly

Layer 1

Layer 2

Layer 3

And again

Voila

9. Your slices and the sauce should finish around the same time. Then it’s time to play aubergine tetris. Start with the oldest slices first as they’ll be the coolest. Make a layer of aubergine in the bottom of the pan. You can cut them in half if you need to fill gaps. Then a layer of sauce, then a layer of cheese. Do it again and you’re ready to bake.

10. Bake it for 20 minutes, or until everything has come together into a delicious gooey cheesy whole.

11. It’s easy to cut with a spatula, like bars. Also, you can save any leftovers in the fridge and they reheat well for up to five days. If there are any leftovers….

One more time

Enjoy!