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Category Archives: Chinese

Take Out, Fake Out

I often get asked by friends what it is that I love about cooking so much. It’s a hard one to pin down an answer to, but its mostly a combination of loving food, wanting to try new things and avoid repetition, and partly because it’s a type of therapy for me. It may or may not come as a surprise to people who know me (I have no idea how well I hide it) that I’m an extremely anxious person, to the point that a doctor might class it as a mental health problem. Feeling sick to the stomach about a night out with friends, fretting about any news report with the buzz words ‘North Korea’ or ‘flu epidemic’, and walking around Paris for ages looking for a restaurant that’s not too busy, too empty, too anything that makes me feel uncomfortable (I’m the Goldilocks of picking eateries) can obviously be exhausting at times. Not just for me, but luckily The Boyfriend is very patient and kind. Being on a night out and having to lock yourself in the toilet for half hour so you can calm yourself down and convince yourself that nothing bad is going to happen (other than wasting half an hour in a dirty nightclub toilet) is not the ideal way to spend your down time. Cooking, and baking in particular has helped enormously with the anxiety. When you follow a recipe exactly and out of the oven emerges a cake of such deliciousness, you feel completely in control and know that 9 times of 10 everything will turn out just fine. It’s a good lesson to transfer to life, that not everything will always turn out perfect but if you try hard and stay in control of the situation then it will probably be OK. I’ll probably never feel in full control of the anxiety but I’ve learnt not to let it take over and to relax and let what will be, be. A few Saturdays ago I was queuing in the supermarket a few hours before some friends were due over for a night out in my hometown. Suddenly this overwhelming thought that the night would be a total disaster came into my head, my stomach was in knots and I just knew if we went out something awful would happen. The urge to cancel and stay in on my own was unbelievably strong and a few years ago that’s exactly what I would have done. Instead, I stuck it out and within five minutes of my friends turning up I was having a great time and all the anxiety had melted away. Suffice to say, nothing bad happened other than me being filmed unable to sit up and open my eyes at the same time. Bloody Jaeger bombs. Working in mental health, I see people all the time whose anxiety/depression/agoraphobia has taken over and stopped them living well, and that’s something I’m determined not to let happen to me. Cooking has helped so much with this – being in control in the kitchen has led to being in control elsewhere. Cooking won’t work for everyone, but it works for me.

So anyway, that’s why I love cooking. Tonight I cooked a recipe that I had pinned on my favourite time waster, Pinterest. I could, and have spent hours on Pinterest, mainly finding amazing looking recipes and cakes that I know I will never be able to recreate. Occasionally though a recipe pops up that is achievable, and needing inspiration for my slow cooker I turned to Pinterest and found a recipe for Chinese beef and broccoli. Labelled as a takeout fakeout without the cost, MSG and saturated fat of a takeaway, it came from the food blog Table For Two. I was drawn to this for purely shallow reasons, aka the photo of the dish looked nice. No other reason, although beef is a great meat to chuck in the slow cooker and why not give it a Chinese spin? If you make this recipe yourself, please follow her instructions on using low sodium soy sauce, as the recipe requires a substantial amount and if you were to use the full on salty stuff the dish would be inedible. It’s very simple, but produces a tasty dish with beef that hasn’t fallen apart into mush. The strips of beef had soaked up the beefy, salty cooking liquid and while soft still had a bit of bite, as did the broccoli which goes in for the last half hour of cooking time. There’s not a great deal of complexity, there’s nothing stunning about it, but its still satisfying and stays on the right side of the salty scale. It’s no Chinese takeaway though. Check out the recipe here: http://www.tablefortwoblog.com/2012/09/12/take-out-fake-out-beef-broccoli-crockpot/

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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Chicken, Chinese, Cooking, Food

 

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Perfect Snowed In Food

Snow can be a pain for some, but for me, being able to hunker down at home in snuggly clothes with the heating turned up, a cookbook in hand and nowhere to go is sheer perfection. Admittedly, it’s not entirely perfect what with The Boyfriend not being back for a few days, but I’m adaptable and having free rein over the TV all night is the silver lining I’m clinging to. I’m very thankful too that I have a ridiculously well stocked store cupboard, meaning a quick walk round the corner to the local shop to get fresh food was all I needed to cook up the perfect snow day meal. I did nearly fall over approximately 20 times in front of the much more agile children sledding down the slopes while on my travels, but no matter as I had chocolate in my shopping bag! Green and Blacks chocolate to be precise, the good stuff, the ‘you know it’s payday’ stuff. But more on the chocolate later, we’ve got the savoury stuff to deal with first, which just so happened to be divinely delicious. I’ll be honest, today I didn’t really want to do a lot of experimenting as snowy days call for comfort and warmth, so I turned to one of my all time favourite cookbooks that I know I can rely on time after time. If you assumed Nigella then you would be wrong, for it was Gizzi Erskines’ beautiful book Kitchen Magic that provided me with the recipe for a bowlful of satay chicken noodle soup. I’d not made it before, but this book has given me plenty of tasty Asian meals before and I knew Gizzi wouldn’t let me down. It was perfect. Crispy chicken thighs, spicy Thai tasting broth and slippery rice noodles, what could be better on a day like today? It also took barely any time whatsoever to cook, which is no bad thing when everything smells so good whilst cooking that you just want to scarf it all down in one go. The chicken thighs are coated in spices and despite the fact that I de-skinned them (I know, I know, but I couldn’t justify chicken skin and chocolate now could I? I’m trying to lose weight!) they still ended up being crispy on top and moist within as thighs are fairly hard to overcook unlike the breast. The soup itself contained yellow curry paste, peanut butter, coconut milk and chilli oil amongst other Asian ingredients (store cupboard being put to its full potential) and was exactly what I needed to fight off the winter chill – warming, spicy and full of the complex Thai flavours that make me want to book a flight to Bangkok. If we didn’t have to pay for plasterers, paint and roof tiles I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I’d be doing right now. Damn you house! Topped with my absolute favourites, mint, coriander and red chilli, it was a blinder of a soup. I’d been very tempted to get a chow mein after walking past the Chinese on the way back from the shop but I am so pleased I resisted and went for this instead, it really is very very good and much better for me than an MSG laden takeaway.

Following on from the soup I made chocolate, cherry and walnut brownies from In The Mood For Food by Jo Pratt. This is definitely my most used cookbook, although it had its heyday if you will when I first got into cooking and cookbooks several years ago, and hasn’t been used as much recently. This is a shame as just like Nigella and Gizzi, you can rely on Jo to give you quality food that tastes gorgeous with minimal effort. I think it’s a woman thing, male chefs like Jamie and Gordon want to wow you and cook food under pressure or impossible time limits, whereas women just want to feed you without all the palaver. It’s not about showing off, it’s about delivering tasty food that doesn’t stress you out when cooking it. Yet again my trusty store cupboard came into play, providing me with glacé cherries, walnuts and the usual baking ingredients. All I needed from the shop was chocolate and butter (just hearing those two words together makes me salivate). The best part about baking brownies though is easily the licking of the bowl afterwards once the brownie mixture that actually made it to the oven is cooking away. I have just two rules regarding licking the bowl and they are as follows: 1) always use a teaspoon, never a tablespoon. A teaspoon means it takes longer to clear the bowl out and tricks your mind into thinking you’ve had more as you have to keep going back for more. 2 licks of a tablespoon compared to 4 in a teaspoon, it’s a no brainer, and 2) if someone is in the house with you, only tell them that its bowl licking time (and no, that really isn’t a euphemism) once you yourself have had a few teaspoons of it yourself. You cooked that bad boy brownie, you reap the rewards and don’t let anyone tell you different. If The Boyfriend tries to get in there with his teaspoon before I’ve had my fill, it’s like a scene from a wildlife programme where the lions are fighting over a zebra carcass. Love means never having to share your brownie mix.

Now I’ve never had a bad brownie, they are pretty hard to mess up as all the ingredients are very tasty on their own, let alone combined, and this brownie was no exception. Crunchy walnuts, sweet and sticky cherries combined with dark chocolate, perfect. The brownies are squidgy in the middle with a crisp top and the tiny amount of sea salt added cuts through the intense sweetness of the gooey brownie. I did try to be inventive and added a capful of Baileys to use up the leftover dregs from Christmas, but there was not even the slightest trace of this in the taste and to be honest when the chocolate tastes as good as it does in this brownie who even cares? Keeping on theme, I dusted them with a blizzard of icing sugar for extra presentational effect. I’ve got to trek over to the house tomorrow in these snowy conditions and I’ll be bringing a tin of these brownies with me, chiefly as fuel for our mate doing the electrics, but also as emergency rations if my car gets stuck for hours on the road. I may not have a shovel, torch or spare jumpers in my boot, but at least I’ll have sugary, chocolatey goodness and really, isn’t that what everyone should have to hand in an emergency situation?

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Chineasy Chicken

The best Chinese chicken I’ve ever had came tucked in a baguette from a sandwich shop just round the corner from the furniture shop I used to work at as a teenager. Every Saturday without fail I’d take all the staffs orders, nip down to the bakery and grab our huge order, and my order would always be Chinese chicken baguette. It was so tasty and the baguettes were always the perfect combination of crunchy crust and soft, doughy interior. Teenage lunch heaven. So you can imagine my grief and heartbreak when they took the Chinese chicken off the menu one sorry, sorry day in the early noughties. Distraught I was! I had to downgrade to a chicken tikka filling which while still being tasty, was not a patch on the Chinese. What does this have to do with today’s blog? Well, nothing really to be honest, except that today’s dinner reminded me of this early experience of grief and betrayal, and I got to use a pun in today’s title from one of my favourite movies ever, Ratatouille (the plot of which can be easily summed up with ‘there’s a rat in me kitchen, what am I gonna do?’. Get it to cook you a Michelin starred meal, that’s what).
Tonight I went with Gordon Ramsays’ newest book Ultimate Cookery Course and made Sichuan chicken. As the title suggests, it’s Chinese and its really easy, all you need to do is marinate the chicken then cook it in the marinade with chilli, garlic and ginger until the chicken is cooked and is covered in the reduced, sticky marinade. The marinade contains one of my favourite ingredients to say, which is Shaoxing rice wine, and really tickles me every time I say it. Don’t ask why because I don’t know, I just like the way it sounds. Try it then maybe you’ll understand. This is definitely a recipe which is better when used with chicken thighs, they don’t dry out in the same way breasts do and have a lot more flavour. Plus, if you’re on a budget they are so much cheaper, although I’d go with them over breasts even if they were more expensive. It can take time to reduce a sauce so you don’t want the meat to dry out and become barely inedible, so if you’ve not done so before, give thighs a go in a curry or casserole to see the difference. I served the chicken with some straight to wok noodles in Singapore flavour (I know what you’re thinking, how mental am I serving Sichaun and Singapore cuisine on the same plate? It’s risk taking like that that’ll get you noticed in culinary circles) which I had to hand and meant less washing up for the other half. The result? The glaze wasn’t as sticky and thick as I’d have liked it, but it had a nice spicy ping to it and coated the chicken really well. It did taste a bit too strongly of sesame oil which Gordon advised me to drizzle over the finished dish so perhaps I was a but heavy handed in the oil department but the flavour of the marinade and chillies fought there way through it. But enough about my opinion, I know you all really want to know what The Boyfriend thought about it, my toughest critic. I think it’s safe to say food critics A.A Gill, Jay Rayner and Kate Spicer can rest easy tonight, as when asked for his review his thoughts on dinner were, word for word, “I liked it, 3 out of 5. A perfectly acceptable midweek meal”. If he were to be paid by the word he’d soon find himself bankrupt, sleeping on the street and offering sexual favours for a sandwich. But I’ll say this, at least he’s concise, no waffly preamble about something completely unrelated to dinner before spending all of 3 sentences on the entire point of the article. Something to comfort him while he’s on the park bench and Gill is in his trendy London home.

So we had a successful dinner tonight, nothing groundbreaking but tasty, filling and involving very little effort and minimal washing up. Plus it was a lot healthier than a takeaway, although nowhere near as satisfying after a long day. You’ll notice that once again my presentation is less than impressive, Monica Galletti would tear me apart were I to present her with such a plate, but I’d rather a hot dinner that looked a little shabby than a good looking dinner that was lukewarm after all the faffing. Saying all that, I do love how she can destroy a chef with just a grimace and a stare on Masterchef, more uncomfortable to watch than a Bush Tucker Trial.

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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Chicken, Chinese, Cooking, Food

 

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Raspberry Macarons, Lamb Cutlets and Chinese Chicken

Brace yourself readers, this could be a long entry. I’ve been slacking this week, not in cooking but in writing, so here is an update on this weeks cooking adventures (adventures may be stretching it a bit). So what have I been cooking, you ask? Well Thursday after slogging it out in the gym I decided to make the most of the lamb cutlets (which is really just a fancy name for teeny tiny chops) that had been sitting in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Now, I’m not a big fan of lamb really but they needed eating and the recipe was on the list which meant it had to be cooked sooner or later. If I’m going to do this then I’m going to do it right, whether I want to eat it or not. The recipe was from Rachel Allens Home Cooking, which is a perfectly reasonable cookbook with good, solid recipes, but I find Rachel rather bland and quite patronising when I see her on the TV, and feel this is reflected in her recipes. Good basics, but if you want something with more flavour or a little bit different, she is not the cook for you. So I cooked the recipe lamb cutlets with chickpea and caramelised onion mash, and I was actually pleasantly surprised. It was a bit of effort just for me, but sometimes I quite enjoy taking a bit of time and effort for solo meals, if I just lived off ready meals or pasta when the boyfriend was away I would soon be very miserable. You deserve to treat yourself to good food whether you are alone or in good company. The mash felt like a healthier but still filling alternative to potatoes, the sauce was rich and delicious, and the lamb was, well still lamb, but credit where credit is due, I’d cooked it pretty well! But there was not a great deal of meat, which is why I have beef with lamb, its all fat and bones. Still, check out my presentation, its a step up from my usual style of chuck it on a plate and hope for the best.

 

 

Then today I decided to do a little bit of baking and decided to tackle the tricky art of macaron making. I needed to do something that would cheer me up after getting told off by a mechanic today for the state of my tyres, especially as he advised me not to do much driving until Monday when they are getting replaced, meaning I’m housebound now until then. I hate, absolutely hate spending money on fixing cars even though I know its a necessity, it doesn’t bring me any joy in the way cookbooks and clothes do. So to raise my spirits I decided to have a go at raspberry macarons from The Skinny French Kitchen by Harry Eastwood. When I first saw this book I really, really, really wanted it (it’s very pretty) and once I inevitably caved in and got it home, I didn’t really bother with it. This is why: French food is so good mainly because it is indulgent, rich and full of cream, butter and lots of other deliciously bad ingredients.The Skinny French Kitchen is full of very good looking recipes, but it focuses so much on how to reduce fat content and calories that it lost me. I don’t eat French food very often, but when I do I don’t want to be worrying about how much butter I’m using. Its a treat for me and treats mean calories, lots of ’em! I appreciate that there are some people who do want everything to be healthy all the time, but I’m not one of them. You may be wondering why bother making these when you can buy them quite easily nowadays but they are really expensive and I can’t work out why. It genuinely is cheaper to buy all the ingredients and make them from scratch, plus you get a great deal more. They were easy to make plus I got to try my hand at using a piping bag for the first time and it actually went OK. They didn’t look as neat and tidy as the ones you can buy, but thats the fun of home baking. Some were a lot bigger than others, but like I’ve said before, you’re not cooking on Masterchef so take pride in your wonky, lopsided cakes/biscuits/whatever! Traditionally macarons are sandwiched together with buttercream, but as this is low fat baking, they were sandwiched together with raspberry jam. Not as tasty and quite sharp, but the actual biscuits were just as they should be, meringue-y and chewy, a nice little snack. But I am still suspicious of anyone trying to make delicious unhealthy food healthy – it tastes so good for a reason, don’t bother changing it because you won’t improve upon the taste.

 

 

Then for dinner tonight I cooked garlic and ginger chicken from Chinese Cooking Class by Australian Womans Weekly. It wasn’t too bad, had a nice salty but garlicky taste and had lots of greens in it but it wasn’t really anything special. It would be a good healthy standby to have after work on a weekday as it’s quick and easy to throw together, but for a Saturday night in it was just a bit so-so. Must try harder next time!

So all in all a fairly successful few days of cooking, have tried more recipes I wouldn’t normally go for and also tried my hand at healthy (ish) baking. Which is really what this challenge is all about, trying new things and going outside of my comfort zone.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Baking, Books, Chinese, Cooking, French

 

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