Sunday, 30 October 2011

Nigel Slater's chocolate snaps

Am I too influenced by what I see on the telly? Perhaps. These chocolate snaps appear to be the second chocolate recipe that I've cooked in the past few months after seeing them made on TV. Oh well, could be worse.

Anyway, this is another super-simple recipe from Nigel Slater. It basically involves making chocolate by buying some chocolate and melting it. Here's Nigel's recipe, which I followed with a few minor amendments. I left out the pistachios as my confidence that there was a small bag in the cupboard turned out to misplaced. I also used some vanilla flavoured salt from Waitrose rather than regular sea salt- which I have to say turned out to be a bit of a genius move. The combination of salt and chocolate seems quite popular these days, and having started off as something of a sceptic I am now a big fan. The addition of a touch of vanilla adds another flavour but without extra sweetness, and of course it's hard to go wrong with any chocolate/nut combo.

My only advice would be to watch the almonds like a hawk while they're toasting, as some of mine were a bit over-done despite my hovering around them. I also had a few issues with a few of the melted chocolate snaps running into each other to create an uber-snap. But once they they had set in the fridge it was easy to peel them from the baking parchment and snap them into individual pieces.

I will definitely be making these again, and probably extending the range of flavours that I add to the chocolate- I'm thinking stem ginger, chopped hazelnuts or honeycomb. It just remains for me to say, thank you Nigel and feel free to invite me round for tea anytime.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Salt and pepper squid

I pretty much like any form of fried squid whether it's calamari, or the more Asian salt and pepper squid. Actually, forget that, I pretty much like anything that's been fried.

Anyway, I can only remember making calamari once a few years ago. I'm not sure what I put in the batter but it all spat like crazy when it went into the hot oil, and I vaguely recall that most of the coating fell off during the cooking process anyway. After risking life and limb for my dinner, I wasn't keen to repeat the process again. But as salt and pepper squid is one of my favourite Chinese takeaway dishes, I thought I'd try cooking it as a side dish to go with the fish fragrant aubergine I was making too. I'm not sure why, but this time round I wasn't attacked by the squid and frying it was perfectly straight-forward. Perhaps the cornflour was just super effective in absorbing any moisture, but it does mean that this is a dish that I'd be happy to make again.
There isn't much of a recipe, but it's based on this one by Nigella Lawson. She uses baby squid, which is also what I would have done had I been able to buy any. But props to The Sea Tree for a perfectly nice big squid.

Recipe (enough for 4 as a side dish with other things):
I large squid tube, cleaned, scored and cut into small pieces (apart from the tentacles)
Around 1 heaped tsp Sichuan peppercorns
Around 2 heaped tsp regular black peppercorns
Around 2 heaped tsp rock salt
Around 5 tblsp cornflour
1 spring onion, finely chopped (optional)
Quite a lot of sunflower oil, enough for at least a depth of an inch in a deep pan or wok

Crush all the peppercorns and salt in a pestle and mortar, until they are well broken up but not finely ground. Put this seasoning and the cornflour into a plastic freezer or sandwich bag and mix well. Make sure the squid pieces are as dry as possible, and put a handful into the bag of cornflour so that they end up lightly coated. I usually use a wok for deep frying, and you'll need enough oil to ensure that the squid can float in it. Heat the oil until it's hot and shimmering (but not smoking), and gently lower in the first batch of squid. It should only take a minute or so before the squid is cooked and the coating is lightly browned. Carefully take the squid out and drain on some kitchen roll, to absorb any excess oil. Repeat with the rest of the squid. As it takes such a short time to cook, you shouldn't have any problems with the first batch getting cold before the rest are done. Once all the squid is done, sprinkle with the spring onion, and scoff while it's still hot and crispy.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fish fragrant aubergine and a Chinese feast

As I'm sure I've said before I really know very little about Chinese food. Of course I can stir fry stuff or chomp on sesame toast, and I have experienced the Indo-Chinese cooking that's produced dishes such as gobi manchurian. However it's only recently that I've had my horizons broadened about the regional variation present in Chinese cooking (thanks internet!) and learnt about some new ingredients too.
I think I first read about fish fragrant aubergine on Lizzie HollowLeg's blog. This is a Sichuan dish, that doesn't actually contain any fish, but is aubergine cooked in style that fish is often prepared in (apparently). It can sometimes also contain minced pork, but as non-meat eater Lizzie's use of tofu seemed like an excellent alternative protein. As I wasn't sure I'd be able to get all the ingredients she used, I also found a slightly simpler recipe from the writer and Sichuan food expert Fuschia Dunlop. So here's my recipe, which takes elements from both and omits the things I couldn't find in the shop.

Recipe (enough for four as a side dish with other things):
1 large aubergine
Enough sunflower oil to fry the aubergine
Around 10 ready-fried tofu pieces
4 cloves of garlic (turned into a paste with the ginger)
Thumb-sized piece of ginger (in a paste)
2 tblsp chilli bean paste (Fuschia also gives excellent advice on which chilli bean paste to go for, and I chose the Chuan Lao Hui brand)
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tblsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp granulated sugar
A few tablespoons of water
1 tsp cornflour (if needed)
2 spring onions, sliced
1 tsp sesame oil

Firstly cut the aubergine into fishfinger-sized pieces, and cook them however you prefer. I shallow fried them in a frying pan in a couple of batches, but you could deep fry, or even brush with oil and bake them. They do need to be cooked through though. Once the aubergines are done, put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok and stir-fry the chilli bean paste for a couple of minutes on quite a high heat before adding the ginger and garlic paste. If anything looks like it's sticking add a little water, and keep it moving. Then add in the tofu, aubergine, soy sauces, sugar and vinegar, stir well, and reduce the heat. Let it all simmer for a few minutes, and add the cornflower if there's lots of liquid (I didn't need to bother with this step). Cook out the cornflower, if you're using it, for a further few minutes and then stir in the spring onions and sesame oil, and take the wok off the heat.
And tah-dah, my first bit of Sichuan cooking was done!

I decided to cook the fish fragrant aubergine as part of a Chinese dinner with salt and pepper squid, Sichuan-style prawns (blog posts to follow), and some steamed green vegetables with sesame oil. But the aubergines would have been perfectly fine on their own with some rice. I really loved their spicy, succulent-ness with hints of sourness and sweetness.

It was also great to be able to cook with some unfamiliar ingredients like the chilli bean paste and black vinegar. I still don't know too much about it, but on the basis of this dish I think I might quite like Sichuan food.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Chocolate and ginger pots

I'd only vaguely heard of the chef turned food writer, Simon Hopkinson, prior to his recent BBC television show. I now think I might add him to my list of people it would be fun to be friends with, along with Nigel Slater.
His recipe for chocolate pots with ginger appeared on his show, and immediately looked appealing. I followed the recipe from the BBC website almost exactly, apart from using 85% cocoa solids chocolate and a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extra (rather than infusing the cream).
The resulting puddings were fantastic; super-dense but with the ginger providing a nice contrast which stopped them becoming cloying. The only thing I'd change when making them again, would be to mix the chopped stem ginger throughout the pots rather than have a layer at the bottom as Mr Hopkinson recommends.

This is such simple recipe, with a classic flavour combination, but I'm really glad Simon Hopkinson popped up on my telly to inform me about it.