Saturday, 27 June 2009

Chow mein a.k.a. fried noodles with prawns and green beans

Authentic Chinese food is an area that I'll admit a dearth of knowledge on, so I've often wondered if chow mein is an actual dish or something concocted for Western palates. According to Wikipedia, chow mein is the generic name for a stir-fried noodle dish, I guess in the same way that the term 'curry' is used, and has geographical variations depending on where the Chinese community have migrated to.
Anyway etymological issues aside stir-fried noodles are a great quick dinner option and this is my version. I think there are two key areas that make for a successful dish and they are- preparing all the ingredients in advance, and cooking them at the highest possible heat. As a non-meat eater I've used prawns and beans in this dish, but you could substitute Quorn or just add some different veg like mushrooms to make it properly vegetarian (or add meat if you eat it).
I like using fine egg noodles by a brand like Sharwoods as they are readily available, easy to manoeuvre in the wok and quickly incorporated with the rest of the ingredients. Cook one 'sheet' per person in boiling water for a couple of minutes until they are al dente (they'll finish cooking in the wok), drain and put to one side while you prepare everything else. You can add a teaspoon or two of oil to the noodles to stop them sticking together as they cool. The rest of the ingredients (enough for two) are:

A red or white onion, sliced
Two large handful of green beans, topped and tailed
About 16 large raw prawns, de-veined
3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 medium chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped (use more or less depending on how hot you like things)
3-4 tablespoons (approx) good quality soy sauce like the Kikkoman brand
2-3 tablespoons (approx) flavourless oil like sunflower
Salt (may not be required) and pepper (a generous amount) to season

The amount of oil you'll need for this will vary somewhat with the size of wok and the amount of ingredients that you're stir frying, but basically you need enough to have a thin layer covering the base of the wok and to swirl it up the sides. It's probably not going to rival those huge wok burners they have in Chinese restaurants, but keep your wok on the biggest burner your cooker has, with the highest flame, and when the oil just begins to smoke add the ingredients that will take longest to cook- in this case the beans and onions. If you've washed any vegetables make sure they are thoroughly dried, as hot oil and water are not a good combination. When these are starting to become tender but still crisp (after a couple of minutes), add the garlic and chilli. Make sure you keep everything moving at all times to stop it from sticking or burning, and after another couple of minutes add the prawns. As these begin to colour, add the noodles. As these are stir-fried they'll take on a nice, toasty flavour and be cooked through. Once the prawns are cooked add the soy sauce and a generous amount of black pepper. You probably won't need any salt but have a taste and add some (or more soy sauce) if you want. The entire cooking process shouldn't take more than about 10minutes, and cooking at a high heat should mean that you get that chow mein, fried taste without things being excessively oily.

My assessment of a couple of the key branded ingredients.

Cost: Sharwoods fine egg noodles around £1.18 (for six 'sheets')
I rate them 8/10.

Kikkoman soy sauce around £1.70 (150ml)
I rate it 9/10.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Grilled haloumi cheese salad

I know someone who is always rather (overly) concerned about having a protein component to their meal. This is something I don't tend to worry too much about, but if you are of the same persuasion as my acquaintance then this could be the salad for you. Haloumi cheese is a common feature of most dairy aisles in the supermarket, and is a firm and salty Cypriot cheese made with sheep's milk. You can eat it as it is, but it is hugely improved by cooking. I grill slices of haloumi in a hot, dry pan. When it's golden on one side carefully flip it over and cook the other. The cheese should be lightly crisped on the outside, and soft and melting inside. I really like this served hot as part of a salad with avocado, tomato, whatever green leaves you have to hand and some thinly sliced red onion to cut through the richness.
I'm not really the type of girl who usually considers salad a suitable dinner, but in the summer this haloumi salad with a little bread and olive oil makes a lovely quick meal.

Cost: Pitas brand haloumi cheese around £2.30 (more than enough for two)
I rate it 8/10

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

So like Oreo cookies and Hershey's chocolate, Krispy Kreme doughnuts are one of those American items that seem to have acquired cult status due to the fact that they used to be unattainable here and therefore were instantly covetable. However, as is often the way with such things, on actually trying them you wonder what all the fuss is about. Oreos are essentially a sweetened bourbon cream biscuit, and most Hershey's chocolate is verging on the unpleasant.

But I got to try my first Krispy Kreme doughnut yesterday and have to say I was quite impressed. It seems that the company is opening more and more branches across the UK, although most seem to be based in London. The one in Harrods seems to have attracted quite a lot of attention, but for some reason I was unaware that there was also a small kiosk in the Tesco Metro by Liverpool Street Station.
I tried the caramel dreamcake and the chocolate dreamcake (pictured below).

Both these doughnuts had a light, crisp exterior with an inside that was soft but not overly dense. They were filled with either thick caramel or chocolate fudge and iced with chocolate. I would assume that with the amount of sugar these doughnuts must contain, they would be at risk of being sickly sweet but in fact they weren't at all. In fact I think I have to admit that in the case of Krispy Kreme doughnuts they might in fact live up to the hype. Unlike most British glazed doughnuts which seem more akin to a bread roll covered in sugar icing, these were airy and light and very moreish. It's probably really a good thing that my nearest branch is a hundred miles away.

Cost: Depends on the variety but c.£1.20 each on average.
I rate them 8/10.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Chole batura

Chole batura is a Punjabi classic, that I absolutely love. The chole (aka chana masala) part refers to the chickpeas and the batura is a type of bread that manages to combine the crisp flakiness of a paratha with the soft chewiness of a naan. Making this entirely from scratch would undoubtedly be quite time-consuming but I've recently discovered that my local Asian grocery store Al-Amin now sells ready-made batura. They come vacuum packed and are made in Southall (which puts my authenticity fears to rest). All you need to do is heat them through in a dry pan, turning frequently, until they become golden and crispy on the outside. Batura are usually shallow or deep fried so can be greasy, but these examples were exceptionally non-oily.
For the chole I used a tin of chickpeas and the Mangal spice mix I've described previously. Impatience meant that I only quickly fried off some onion before adding the chickpeas, spices, and some water, rather than the ginger, tomato, etc, that I'd normally add. You can probably see from the picture that this resulted in a slightly paler chana masala than I'd normally expect, but it still tasted delicious.
There's a gap on the plate above that would normally be filled with a tomato and onion relish, or yoghurt raita, or even some green salad. But have to admit on this occasion I omitted those extras and risked burning my fingertips to scoop up little mounds of chole with the straight from the frying pan-hot batura.

Unfortunately I don't remember what brand the batura were, and they might just have been called Punjabi Baturas. However if they've made it down to Cambridge then I'm sure they'll be in other Asian supermarkets too.

Cost: Approximately £1.60 for four
I rate them 8.5/10

Monday, 8 June 2009

Tesco chocolate swirl cupcakes

I do like a nice cupcake, so I thought I'd give these ones from the Tesco bakery a go. But having experienced premium cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery (about three years ago now, but the memory remains strong) I didn't have terribly high expectations. Which was a good thing really, as these cakes verged on being actively unpleasant.
I thought I was eating a chocolate cupcake, but on closer inspection it turned out that I was actually eating a chocolate-flavoured cake with a chocolate-flavoured frosting. Cunningly, the Tesco cake makers had decided to go for a chocolate flavour that didn't pick up any notes of cocoa, but instead tasted mostly of soap. And not a pleasant soap at that. The topping was slightly better in that it didn't taste of soap, but it didn't seem to taste of anything else either. It had the texture of toothpaste but was completely flavourless. I think I ate about half of one before throwing the rest away, a highly unusual act in itself as I'm not normally one to be voluntarily parted from a chocolate cake.
In conclusion, I would not recommend these unless you have a penchant for eating soap.

Cost: Around the £1.70 mark for four.
I rate them 2/10.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Eating for England and why I like Nigel Slater

Ok, this isn't a food review as such (or in fact at all) but mirrors a book review on the other blog. It is a food book review though, so thought I'd post it here too.

I should probably start out by saying that I really like Nigel Slater, and would ideally like him to be a close friend so that I could pop round to his for lunch and sit in his rustic but functional kitchen, or delightfully untamed but productive garden (c.f. The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater). I would be very happy to sample a seasonal meal or sip on a mimosa, while indulging in some light gossip. However, we have yet to be united in friendship so in the meantime I've been reading a couple of his books.
Read more....