Friday, 30 July 2010

Peanut Butter Cookies

This is a cookie that I've tried making several times over the years and there must be 1001 recipes out there.  I like my cookie to be crisp, crumbly and nutty.  This cookie ticks two of my boxes but it's not quite got that nutty hit for me.  It's a good little cookie though - quick and easy and makes a decent sized batch so great for mass bakes where you want to split your goodies amongst friends and families.  I think after having made Chinese Peanut Cookies for Chinese New Year, nothing quite else hits that nutty spot!

I would make this again and would probably incorporate some ground roasted peanuts in for added fragrance and aroma and I would switch to using grams (I've gone finally gone metric now I have digital scales!) rather than faff with cups. 

The recipe (once again) isn't mine (do I really spend that much time blog-surfing?).  It's the excellent photography from here: Peanut Butter Cookies that motivated me to make these.  I have packaged a box to take with me to craft class, boxed some for my brother and also for my cousin who will be visiting from Hong Kong.  (Needless to say I have also put some away for hubbs - can't forget him now can I?)

Gooey Chocolate Brownie

This is my third attempt at making Brownies and this is certainly a gooey one!  The first one I made was by melting chocolate (milk as I'd run out of plain) and butter together - it was gooey but I didn't like it.  The second recipe I used used cocoa powder and I cooked this one a bit longer so it was more cakey than gooey.  It had a good deep dark chocolate hit. 

I made these Brownies as a result of seeing them here The Squidgiest Brownies You Ever Did Taste.  They looked really good and so warranted a try.

I tweaked the recipe to my liking as I didn't use the 70% cocoa solids plain chocolate.  Mine was only 48% so I couldn't justify needing as much sugar that the recipe called for.  I wasn't so sure on needing the brownie to be chewy so opted to half the strong flour for plain.  I decided to toast the nuts in the oven first to give them that little bit extra flavour to them other than that, everything was followed pretty much to the 'T'.

The result was a good chocolatey brownie - sweet enough and chocolatey enough too.  It probably would've been deep dark and sinful if I'd used chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa solids, but that is what was in the cupboard at the time.

I took some to my craft class with me and it went down a storm!  Remembered to save some for hubbs and judging by the way he was guarding the cake tin - I'd say he liked it too! 

Friday, 23 July 2010

Quick & Easy Chinese Dinner - Dishes from my Childhood

Growing up in my mother's kitchen she has always been a great source of inspiration and when we were younger, we were lucky to have a WAHM.  It meant that she was always there for us when we finished school and would cook us all kind of goodies.  We are older now and have our own homes and families and I can't wait for the day she retires so she can spend more time again in the kitchen trying out new recipes and snacks and all sorts of good things to eat!

Many of the chinese dishes I attempt now are influenced from my childhood and are things mum would cook for us to eat as our one plate meals.  We'd often have a one plate meal where we have our own bowl of rice and it'd be topped with a stir-fried dish of meat and veggies.  Simple cooking and often eaten in front of the TV!  We'd only sit around the table and share multiple dishes when dad was at home or if we had guests.  Now, as mum still works (not at home anymore), when she has her day off from work she still likes to cook various dishes that we sit at the table and share - even if it's only 2 or 3 of us.

My hubbs likes courgettes and I don't mind them but have had a few from the supermarket that are bitter to eat.  No idea why so I only buy them in the summer months (am growing them in garden at the moment too!).  I have found that my half vietnamese/half chinese hubby seems to enjoy the oriental style dishes that I cook.  Some of the dishes he suggests cooking (or what he used to cook for me before we were married) are very similar to what my mum cooked.  The only difference I find is that he tends to use fish sauce in cooking whereas my upbringing would be to use soy sauce.

Courgettes are bountiful in the supermarkets now and I cooked these dishes for our dinner on Wednesday:

Stir-Fried Courgette with Pork

150g sliced pork (I had spare rib chops again but chicken will work well or even beef)
2 medium sized courgettes, halved lengthwise then sliced
1 shallot, sliced
2 small garlic cloves, minced
dash of white pepper
few drops of sesame oil
splash of soy sauce (1tsp)
splash of chinese wine (1 tsp)
1/2 tsp cornflour
2 tsp squid sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1/2 cup water
cornflour and water mix

The pork was mixed with pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce, chinese wine and the cornflour and left to sit in a dish whilst I prepared the vegetables.
I heated 1 tbs of oil in a work and then slid the pork in.  Leave to fry for about 1-2 minutes before turningthe meat over to brown slightly.  Add the shallots and stir.
Add the sliced courgettes and garlic and fry for 2 minutes before adding the water, squid sauce and oyster sauce.  Leave to cook for 3 minutes.
Check the sauce for seasoning, thicken with cornflour and water mix.

Mum would often cook us tomato, egg and beef.  She says it's full of vitamins and nutritious.  I once cooked it for hubbs and he didn't like it.  Said it was neither beefy or tomatoey!  As I wanted another dish for dinner, (I usually cook enough so I can pack a ricebox lunch for hubbs.) I decided to try tomato and egg (minus beef this time).  It seemed to go down with no complaints this time! 

Tomato & Egg

3 medium sized eggs (my babies eggs are only around 55-60g with the shell)
3 medium sized ripe tomatoes (I only buy vine ripened ones as the flavour is more superior than regular salad toms) quartered, or cut into 1/6ths
1 shallot, sliced,
1 spring onion, white part sliced in thin rings and the green parts shredded
1/4 cup of water
2 tsp tomato puree (mum uses tom ketchup)
1/2 tsp sugar
cornflur and water mix

Heat 1 tbs oil in a wok and add the eggs (you can beat them up first or just scramble lightly in the wok).  Don't bash them up too much as you want large enough pieces of egg to eat later.  Put aside on a plate for later.
Add the tomatoes, shallot and the white part of the spring onion to the wok and let sizzle for 30 seconds or so.  Add the water and let the tomatoes cook a little.  If the water evaporates too quickly (my gas flame isn't particularly powerful) add a splash more water.  Add the tomato puree and sugar.
Tatse the sauce, it should be tomatoey and not too sharp - add more sugar if necessary.
Add the spring onion greens, add in the cooked egg and thicken sauce with the cornflour and water mix.

We loved this dish as kids and mum still cooks it occasionally now but she's not a beef fan so she sometimes cooks it with spam batons, fish cake slices or small minced pork patties.

Tofu Trial

My hubbs likes eating tofu - it's nutritious, low in fat, high in calcium and protein.  It's adaptable to various flavours and comes in a variety of different forms, fresh cubes sold in boxes with water to keep it fresh; in a sealed UHT box (usually the silky Japanese version - stored on supermarket shelf); deep fried tofu puffs - great in braises where the puffy sponge-like texture soaks up the tasty juices, or great for stuffing with meat pastes and fried; a soft silky version to be eaten as a dessert "豆腐花" (dou-fu fah); dried tofu; or preserved cubes in jars for cooking and then there are also variants with the beancurd skin that is produced when making tofu - but I'm not going there!  All from the humble little yellow soy bean!

I'm usually apprehensive with buying of tofu - although I've eaten it at home and also when in chinese restaurants, it's not something I really know how to prepare and cook with.  So, on our travels to Peterborough on Sunday, I saw a chinese supermarket in the High Street and of course I had to have a wander in!  I stocked up on a few essentials like soy sauce and dried noodles but also saw some fresh tofu.  Not sure if it's expensive but I paid £1.50 (GBP) for a box with three cubes in.  The cubes were probably 3"x3" square - enough for 2 and not too big a package for me to have to deal with.  I also bought a bag of choy sum - one of my favourite chinese vegetables - which I disappointedly, have failed to grow this year!

I had no idea how I should cook the tofu but fancied something like a tofu claypot where it's cooked alongside meat, vegetables and maybe prawns.  I resorted to phoning up my chinese culinary master - my mum!  She told me to cube it, blanch in some water, drain it and slip it into the wok once teh rest of teh ingredients were cooked.

This is what we ate on Sunday....

Dinner a deux!  Getting quite homely these days!

It couldn't have been too bad as my hubbs gobbled up his dinner fairly quickly.  He has a habit of taking a break halfway through his dinner and I think I can tell if dinner is to his liking as he doesn't stop for a 20-30 minute breather in between!  Bless!  No wonder he is the svelte shape he is!

Tofu with Pork and Courgette

150g sliced pork (I used pork spare rib chop - boneless but any meat will be fine)
1 medium sized courgette cubed
a few scallops sliced in half ( I would've like prawns but I didn't have any)
2 cubes of tofu, drained and cut however you like
1 shallot, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
dash of white pepper
dash of chinese wine (for marinating - optional)
dash of sesame oil
splash of soy sauce
1/2 tsp cornflour
blob of oyster sauce
1/2 cup water
cornflour & water mix

I mixed the pork with the pepper, sesame oil, chinese wine, soy and 1/2 tsp cornflour in a small bowl and let it sit whilst I prepared the rest of the ingredients.
I blanched the tofu in boiling water for about 1-2 mins before removing them from the wok and leaving them to one side.
I heated up the dried wok and added 1 tbs oil and let it get hot before I added the sliced pork.  I let it sizzle on one side for a bit before turning it over.  Then I added the shallots, and the courgette cubes and minced garlic and let them fry for 2 minutes.
I then added the water so the courgette could cook.  When it's simmering away I add the flavourings, a shake of squid sauce - about 2-3 tsps (my hubbs is half vietnamese and this is his essential cupboard item!), a blob of oyster sauce.  A shake of soy - about 1tsp.  I then add the scallops - I don't like tehm to overcook so add them towards the end. 
I taste the sauce and adjust where necessary before thickening with the cornflour & water mix.

5-Spice Tofu Fingers

1 cube of tofu cut into fingers and drained on kitchen towel
1 tsp 5-spice powder
2-3 tbs cornflour

I was inspired to make this dish after reading Elin's blog on tofu.
I kept this one simple and mixed the cornflour and 5-spice powder on a plate - I can't remember whether I seasoned with salt and pepper!
All I did was coat each tofu finger in the corn flour and let it shallow fry gently in some oil in a frying pan.  Cornflour doesn't brown that easily (which I didn't realise) and I just let it fry and fry and fry!  It certainly was crispy but I would just fry until the cornflour coating has gone crispy and turn it over to fry the other sides.  I think if you cook the tofu this way (perhaps with out the 5-spice) you could use it as a meat substitute for other dishes like sweet and sour or served with a creamed corn sauce, or even a lemon sauce.

The choy sum was simply blanched and dressed with oyster sauce.

All in all, my tofu trial was easier than I expected without any kitchen mishaps!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Garden Update

Golden Shallots growing in garden trough

In early April I had visions of having an easy maintenance vegetable garden. Knowing I would be supporting a swollen belly in the summer I knew I couldn't expect to be on my hands and knees weeding and harvesting salads and chinese vegetables like I do most years.

Sugar Snap peas that have germinated
Looks like we'll get a good harvest!

Well, all I can say is that our chickens had other ideas! Just when I thought the warm Easter weather had given the garden a good start, the chickens (well my 2 babies, I have 3 chickens. I call them babies as they were newly acquired last July when they were 17wks old and reaching the stage when they would start laying eggs,) had other plans. As the farmer in Chicken Run said to Mrs Tweedy, "The chickens are revolting!"

The same bed 2 days later - trashed by chickens!

In my veg bed 1, (18 x sweetcorn kernels, and 60 x peas) Stan Laurel and Daffy Duck managed to find their way into the covered veg bed and scratch, eat and trample everything in site! Maybe I could've sprouted some more peas indoors and planted them outside but I was so disheartened (especially as Daffy Duck got stuck in the bed again the following day and finish of any remaining plants they missed the previous day!) I didn't bother!

WANTED! Have you seen this chicken?
Called Stan Laurel as the feathers on top on her head
reminded me of Stan Laurel's hair that stood up on end!

My chinese veg in pots didn't fair much better either! I had choy sum and pak choi growing in pots. I sprinkled crushed eggshell on top of the soil surface in an attempt to deter slugs and snails from getting a free buffet. It didn't work. I was soon left with stumps and no veggies for me!

Partner in Crime!
Daffy Duck as she made some odd clucks that sounded more like quacks!

The squashes and courgettes that I germinate indoors did well. They germinated (not 100% success but sufficient to plant) but I was too lazy to transplant them outside and they were too weak and lanky to survive and needless to say have long since died.

Rooster potatoes in a potato grow sack - makes harvesting easier

The only garden success I have had this year is the one courgette plant that I sowed outside next to the onions in Veg bed 2. Well, there were 4 seeds, only one came up to say "Hello!". Still, I have harvested 2 small courgettes and threw away one brown wrinkled specimen (they wrinkle and don't grow if the female flower fails to get fertilised by the male flower). I haven't even been religiously watering and feeding the courgette plant either - only the occasional long watering! Today, I was overjoyed and rather surprised to see an over-sized courgette snaking it's way along the soil hiding under the canopy of speckled leaves. The leaves of a courgette are large and the underside is a bit prickly too. I find that if my hand brushes past the leave they make your hands smell a bit pongy too! Nasty!

I'm pleased with today's find and am hoping it's the start of many more courgettes! I only wish there were more than 1 courgette plant!

The prized green wonder! It's the size of an aubergine and the small wrinkled ones are fruits that didn't get fertilised so won't grow but will shrivel go brown and eventually rot.

What do you suggest I do with this lovely pale green wonder then?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Mushroom Risotto

This was actually my Saturday night's dinner but I didn't get round to blogging about it!  Hubbs is not a fan of risotto - not sure he likes the wet soggy rice?  Anyway, I made him grilled steak and chips and that kept him happy!  Saying that, when I cook rice, I always cook too much and I find it handy as the extra portion goes into a microwavable box that hubbs takes to work for lunch.  He isn't a sandwich lover like me and prefers hot food (hmm...maybe because he was born in a hot country and that is what he's used to whereas I was brought up on bread in UK?).

I find risotto a very soothing and comforting dish.  Ideally best if you watch it throughout cooking and am able to stir it constantly as I find it tends to make the rice more creamy - didn't work that way for me as I had to cook hubbs dinner whilst making my own!

I like cooking dishes like this where you don't have to constantly refer to recipes for amounts and quantities.  Baking however is a bit of an exact science and I do find you need to be specific.

I used:

100-150g each of three types of mushrooms, fresh shiitake, mini portabella and chestnut
8 oz of arborio risotto rice
1 small onion finely sliced
1 shallot sliced
Handful of fresh shelled peas (optional)
1 1/2 pt vegetable stock (hot)
little oil and knob of butter

I first gently fried off the onion shallot in a frying pan to soften them.  If I had any celery I probably would've added a finely sliced celery stick in for flavour. 

Add the rice (I measure in a jug up to the 8oz mark - no need to wash rice first).  On a low heat stir the grains on rice in the oil for about 1-2 mins so they are all coated in oil but not burnt.

Add some of  the stock in (they say a ladle full at a time so I pour enough just to cover the rice) and allow this to simmer gently whilst stirring all the time.  Risotto rice has an ability to absorb 3 times it's weight of liquid.  Stirring releases the starch giving you that creamy texture.

When the stock has been absorbed, add more stock stirring again. 

I then added the peas so they could simmer along with the rice.  I added the sliced mushrooms in as well.  I decided not to fry them off separately as I wanted all the rich mushroomy goodness and flavour to be in the rice.

Continue adding the stock when the water has been absorbed by the rice.  You can check the rice to see if it's cooked to your liking.  Italians like it al dente, my mum would say it's not cooked through!  So again, personal preference.  Check for seasoning.  When ready, stir in the knob of butter to make it rich and creamy.  Some like to add some grated Parmesan cheese and stir it in.  It does add to the flavour and it certainly is creamy but I didn't want that - I wanted that deep savoury flavour from the shiitake mushrooms.  You can eat as is or you can have it as an accompaniment to other things like grilled meat.  Or you can add some cooked chicken shreds as you are cooking the rice.  Can be handy way of using up small amounts of veggies lurking in bottom of fridge.

Baking Frenzy

Not been up to much of late - spending far too much time facebooking, blog hopping and chatting on mother and baby forums!  Oh dear!  I do feel I ought to be using my time more constructively!

Anyway, on my blog hopping travels I was inspired to do some baking - maybe blog hopping all day isn't so bad after all! ;0)  Hearty Bakes is a new blogger that I have come across and I have attempted to recreate some of her blogged successes to share with my work colleagues.  The first cake I made was Lemony Butter Cake.  I followed the recipe more or less to the T.  Only difference was I used the grated zest of a whole lemon and used the squeezed juice from half of it.  The yoghurt I used was a low-fat organic Mango and Passion fruit one, but I guess it's personal preference.  I interpreted 5tbs of ground almonds as being 125g of ground almonds. 

The result was a beautiful loaf cake, well risen with a slightly cracked crust but on cooling, the dome does go down slightly.  The cake was wonderfully lemony and had a slight sharpness from the yoghurt and lemon juice which I thought made it quite refreshing.  The ground almonds and yoghurt make the cake slightly dense yet moist.  I saved half this cake for my hubbs and the rest I took in to visit my work colleagues with (I have finished work due to starting maternity leave).

The other creation I baked was Fruit Pastry Cake.  I think this cake has been doing the rounds on people's blogs for a couple of years now.  My version closely follows this recipe from Baking Mum.  I didn't use as much fruit as Baking Mum but used around 70g each of the following which I had at home, ripe peach, cherries (sliced in half and pip removed) and raspberries.  I decided to make this in a square tin for ease of portioning later.  It looks beautiful before and after cooking and so easy to make!  I didn't bother with the citrus zest in this cake and just added vanilla essence.  I would definitely increase the quantity of fruit though but would struggle to find room on the cake surface to put them?!  Maybe cut the fruit into bigger pieces?

Despite my criticisms of my own baking, the cakes were well received at work!  It was nice to pop in and say "Hello!"  I have even had a colleague mention that their favourite cake was the light and airy cake with fruit and cream that I made.  Thinking back on it they mean this one.  I made this orange flavoured chiffon for my manager's birthday and it is a time-consuming one to make too!  Hmm....that's a special occasion cake - too fancy to knock up for saying "Hello!".

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Start of a year long holiday....

W-e-l-l...I doubt if it really will be a relaxing and refreshing holiday at all!  More like time away from the money-earning aspect of my adult life.

Friday was my last working day for a while.  12 months at least.  I am currently on 2 week annual leave before I officially start my Maternity Leave.  As I won't be returning to the office after annual leave, it means it was my last working day.  It was a busy one too!  One colleague was away on their annual leave, another was off-sick and not having any relief staff to cover absences meant we struggled with the busy workload that Friday brings.  Coupled with the fact that month end and start are our busiest times too it was an exhausting day!

We had an evening of fun to look forward to though.  Had I not been so tired after work these days I would have made a cake to indulge my colleagues with - but as it was I've been trying to put feet up in the evenings to alleviate my puffy ankles and swollen feet (no joy there though).

We went to a Chinese restaurant with an 'All-You-Can-Buffet' - the price was extremely reasonable at £12 a head.  There was sufficient choice and as with most places, some dishes well prepared, others you would quite happily live without sampling.  The main reason for going there was the evening entertainment on Fridays.  There is a DJ that organises a karaoke evening which I was looking forward too!  The venue is spacious and managed to accommodate a child's birthday party, another party (adult's birthday?  have no idea what the occasion was) as well as my leaving party.  There still were other tables available for other guests and was not dominated by the groups.

I had a great time and I think so did my colleagues - I made up some party bags for fun which had party poppers, games, balloons, sweets, chocolate and squawkers in them.  I think we made more mess than the kids table!

So, I've time off to relax, enjoy some sun and to mentally prepare for our biggest change in our lives - PARENTHOOD!  At the moment, the realisation fills me with fear and dread, but am glad that I have the time to try and relax about the birthing process and get myself focused and ready.

So, hang on in there Junior!  Let mummy enjoy her last 4.5 weeks of free time before you say "Hello!".