My First Risotto

Finally decided to try to cook risotto after months of watching my friend at work, S, bring in delicious looking risotto lunches. I’ve always been wary of the amount of stirring that i knew to be involved, but S convinced me that it being a one-pot dish, risotto should be relatively painless and can be very versatile (she puts beetroot in hers).

As this was a first attempt, I stuck to the basics: bacon, broad beans, peas, and a little yellow onion as the flavours of the risotto. It was extremely tasty, especially with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan on top, a bit of lime juice, and several grinds of black pepper. I think the lime juice is important because it cuts through the acidity, and with something like risotto where chances are it’s a lazy evening and you haven’t cooked anything else, you’ll want some sharper bursts of flavour as you munch your way through the one dish. Fresh lemon juice probably works too, but I think the sweetness of lime goes better with the bacon in particular.

butter makes this world go round

butter makes this world go round

An apology though – I’ve decided though to not post a recipe because I honestly can’t remember the exact quantities used! I think I might start just posting loose recipes rather than hard and fast ones with exact measurements and timings, especially for dishes where I haven’t reproduced it enough to make me confident about the recipe. I’d love for my blog to be a documentary of my food experiences and for it to inspire others to turn to cooking for pleasure too, and I think it can do that without necessarily being an instruction manual. Having said that, one of my colleagues R was kind to say today that he made my lemon sole and pasta dish and said it turned out a very good way of cooking the dish! So, a big thank you to you all who read and post feedback — I really appreciate all of your positive thoughts as it is lovely to be part of a community of good-willed food lovers out there.

Fried Rice Fragranced with Basil

fluffy, moist but never stodgy nor clumpy fried rice

The secret ingredient that makes this so yummy (to smell and eat)?

Basil!

It might sound weird, but I think basil goes quite well with the prawns, and the herb’s fresh peppery flavour really lends a lovely fragrance to the dish. I love fried rice because it’s easy to make, always yummy, uses up leftovers, great for leftovers, colourful and well-balanced. I think my first blog post here was on fried rice so I shall spare you the recipe but just to say that this time, I scrambled the eggs BEFORE adding the prawns, which helped keep the prawns firm because I think if you cook them first, they tend to get overcooked and lose their texture. Also for the basil – tear leaves into the mix just before you’re done frying.

Yum! And really – the best thing about cooking is that it’s not only fun, but that it also brings immediate gratification. That’s why I love food so much. In most if not all other areas of my life, I tend to take the approach that persevering and delaying gratification gets us to better places. Indeed I grew up hearing my dad say to me and my brother, ‘delay of gratification!’  I know that can make one sound like a repressed individual, hesitant to pursue impulsive desires and whims. For the most part though, I think I’ve bought into my dad’s philosophy. People who are strong are those who are able to delay immediate gratification – and equally, they reward themselves and are kind to themselves. That’s what keeps them from crumbling. So I guess food is, to my relief, one aspect of everyday life where I can just indulge myself! (I have many ‘weaknesses’ when it comes to food… carrot cake, cheeseburgers, potato crisps… but I try to not feel guilty about them because I know that as long as I take them in moderation, and try to maintain a balanced diet and do exercise, then I will be fine :).)

Anyway that was a bit of a ramble – next post – something Western!

Simple Chinese Braised Pork(紅燒肉)

Sorry for the slight hiatus in posts — I was in Paris last weekend for a quick getaway , and somehow got caught up with various things ever since! But as the Clouds of Oxford have decided to pour down every last bit of rain they’ve got on us today, I thought I would get to my backlog of blogging while I curl up at home … and first up in the queue, Chinese Braised Pork!

Soft pork shoulder spiced with Chinese spices and served with mushroom and egg

This was my first attempt at making Chinese Braised Pork, more commonly known as ‘Hong Shao Rou’ 紅燒肉. There are many versions of this dish typically made with pork belly. I realise that pork belly is not something that one normally stocks in the freezer, so I’ve used pork shoulder because I had some bought some the week before on offer and also because pork shoulder has enough fat to mimic the fatty layer one finds in pork belly. It was a bit of a gamble to be honest — I’ve never seen this dish made with any other cut of pork, but hey, fortune favours the brave, no?

Thankfully it turned out well; pork shoulder doesn’t have that thick layer of fat that pork belly does, so I adjusted by slicing the meat into smaller cubes, and adding water throughout to ensure that the pork was kept moist. You can see from the photo that a lot of the fat is still rendered into oil, but I guess that’s what makes this dish so yummy and great to eat with steamed white rice! And what I particularly like about this dish is that it is like Chinese cuisine’s answer to the standard and might I say slightly boring, beef stew. The cloves and star aniseed lend a different flavour to the meat; I don’t know quite how to describe it, but the flavour of the dark sauce becomes very warm, almost like a peppery cinnamon flavour. (But better than cinnamon… I’m not so much a fan of cinnamon.)

Chinese Braised Pork (紅燒肉)

Ingredients (serves four persons)
– 400-500 grams pork shoulder or pork belly. Slice so that layer of fat is evenly distributed across the cubes of meat — slice against the grain (perpendicular to the direction of the fibres of meat).
– 6-8 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked in cold water and then drained after they have become puffy/reconstituted
– 4 eggs, hard-boiled in advance and de-shelled
– 2 garlic cloves, skin peeled
– water, 500 ml to start with, add more throughout braising process
– 2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
– 1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
– 1 star anise
– 4 cloves
– 2 Tbsp rock sugar
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 Tbsp mirin, or Shaoxing cooking wine
– 2 Tb vegetable oil
– salt and white pepper to taste
– 1 stalk spring onion, as a garnish

Method
0. Prepare the pork by first blanching with boiling water. Drain away the water. This will lend itself to a cleaner stew of pork, without some of the scum that you sometimes get when simmering it.
1. Heat oil in wok, or deep bottomed non-stick pan on medium-high heat. When oil is hot, brown the cubes of fatty pork shoulder, adding the dark soy sauce to the wok.
2. When both sides of pork are brown, add in water, garlic cloves, mushrooms, Chinese 5-spice, star aniseed, cloves, soy sauce, mirin (or some kind of white cooking wine), rock sugar, salt. Cover wok/pan with lid. Turn down heat to medium or low so that the meat can simmer away slowly.
3. Simmer for at least an hour and a half. The longer you simmer the meat, the softer and more tender it will become!
4. Add in hardboiled eggs in the last 10 minutes or so. Taste the sauce and add a dash of white pepper, and salt if necessary.
5. Garnish with spring onion (optional). Serve with steamed white rice.

The smell of the spices reminds me so much of home… it is certainly a nostalgic dish, one to be made on rainy days, which are not rare in England. Now that the days are getting shorter, I’m going to have to slowly arm myself with comfort foods like this.

Pan Fried Chicken with Garlic Sauce – thanks to Kanzensakura

My take on Kanzensakura’s Pan Fried Chicken with Garlic Sauce

If there is one thing I need to have in my kitchen cupboard, it’s garlic. Take the onion, tomatoes and whatnot, but please, leave the garlic! It’s the smell of home, redolent of hearty dinners and simple suppers, of good times cooking and eating. I even love it when I catch the faint scent of garlic wafting from my hands after cooking.

My love of garlic led me to Kanzensakura’s post on ‘Chicken with Garlic Sauce’. I stumbled on the post two weeks ago and since then, wasn’t able to get it out of mind. The dish sounded easy, incredibly tasty, and also different: I’m used to stir-frying but this one called for browned, pan fried chicken. Yum. I could taste the caramelised garlic already. Click here for the recipe!

NB I didn’t stick to the measurements very closely (not having a tablespoon or teaspoon…), nor did I add sake because I don’t have any, but dinner still turned out amazing :D. It’s really important to let the chicken brown on each side before turning it, and also, to half cover the pan so that the chicken doesn’t dry out. Don’t worry about adding the sauce mixture much later too; it’s supposed to be more of a glaze, rather than a sauce.

Sigh, this definitely can be filed under my list of comfort food recipes… and it’s given me ideas on how I could do this with many other sauces… ginger, miso, black bean! Pan fried beef with black pepper, anyone?

Fried Rice – Simple and Oh So Yummy

Image

Sheila’s Simple Fried Rice

i cook this whenever i have small portions of leftover vegetables and meat.

a lot of people think that you can only cook good fried rice with leftover rice. (and by ‘good’ i mean fried rice where the grains are fluffy yet separated, and not clumped together.)

i seldom use leftover rice though as i find that the rice dries out significantly in the fridge. you can still use freshly cooked white rice: just lift the lid of the rice cooker (or pot) and let the steam escape. use a wooden spoon to ‘fluff’ the rice and get rid of some of the excess moisture, then let cool for about 20 minutes before adding to your wok to fry what will become well-textured rice!

Ingredients (for 2 portions)
– cooked white rice, 3-3.5 cups depending on how much of an addict you are to carbs
– eggs, 3x and beaten
– ham or cooked sausage/meat/char siu (Cantonese-style honey roast pork), 1 cup
– garlic, 3 cloves, minced
– spring onion, 3 stalks, chopped finely
– vegetable oil for cooking

for the seasoning: light soy sauce, oyster sauce or sticky/caramel dark soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, sugar, white pepper.

optional ingredients: prawns (6-8x), sliced carrot (1/4 cup), or broccoli if you are desperate to get some green vegetables in there!

Method:
1. heat wok on low heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil and heat thoroughly
2. add garlic to the wok, stir fry until fragrant. if you’re using prawns, add these in at this point and stir fry with a little soy sauce.
3. on medium heat, pour in eggs, scramble. while eggs are still runny, add the cooked rice and stir fry.
4. season with soy sauce and oyster sauce (or dark soy sauce) in a 1:1 ratio. i suggest 1/2 tablespoon of each!
5. stir-fry the rice, ensuring that it is mixed well with egg.
6. add cooked meats and carrot/choi sum/kai lan. continue frying until everything is well mixed. add 1/2 teaspoon of white sugar – this will help to bring out the flavours of the vegetables.
7. sprinkle in sesame oil and spring onions. add salt and white pepper to taste.
8. serve hot!