Goats cheese, Caramelized onion, Spinach, Sun-dried tomato, and Pine nut tart

Caramelized onion, Goats cheese, Spinach, Sun dried tomato, and pine nut tart

Caramelized onion, Goats cheese, Spinach, Sun dried tomato, and pine nut tart

I often start cooking and get a little carried away with the different flavour combinations. This tart is one of many examples of such cooking exploits. This started off as a goats cheese and caramelised onion tart but then I also wanted a feta and spinach tart. The end result is a layered Caramelized onion, Goats cheese, Spinach, Sun dried tomato, and pine nut tart.

Caramelized onion, Goats cheese, Spinach, Sun dried tomato, and pine nut tart

Caramelized onion, Goats cheese, Spinach and Sun dried tomato tart

  I didn’t actually follow a recipe, so don’t have one to share! Here’s the basic steps I took: 1) make caramelized onions 2) make bechamel sauce and add some frozen spinach 3) part bake pastry case 4) layer on the onions, then the spinach bechamel sauce 5) crumble over the goats cheese then chopped up sun-dried tomatoes 6) half way through baking add pine nuts and freshly ground black pepper I used shop bought short crust pastry (it is mid-week after all!) but sprinkled on cumin seeds and rolled them into the dough before pressing the pastry into the tin. The end result was a lovely crisp, fragrant, pastry edged tart. However all the moisture from the filling meant the base remained wet. Anyone who is a massive fan of baking (like me) will know of Mary Berry, she’s more recently better known for being a judge on ‘The Great British Bake Off’. Whenever I bake now, I always wonder what Mary would think of it. On this occasion she would say ‘good flavour combination, just a shame about the soggy bottom!’ Sorry Mary! Lesson learned: cumin seeds in pastry is delicious! Second lesson learned: self restraint, every so often, is worth observing…

 

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The ‘Super Foods’ Cake: Green Tea and Black Sesame

Green Tea and Black Sesame Swiss Roll

Green Tea and Black Sesame Swiss Roll

The positive health benefits of green tea are well known throughout the world, but are you also aware that black sesame seeds are a good source of antioxidants, protein, iron and magnesium? Black sesame seeds are not hulled unlike the more widely used white sesame seeds, hence the difference in colour. The retention of the outer shell means that there is 60% more calcium in the black sesame seed and the flavour is also stronger. Plus my mum also tells me that black sesame helps to keep your hair black and shiny, so what’s not to love?!

Chinese people love to use sesame in desserts, both varieties. There is a “Sweet Black Sesame Soup” sweet black sesame soup that is widely found all over China, and black sesame paste is often used as a sweet filling in pastries and cakes. I’ve found that ‘Chinese’ and ‘English’ cakes are vastly different. Chinese cakes use a lot less sugar and oil/butter and flavours are usually more subtle. Texture and lightness in the sponge is very important, so chiffon cakes or Genoise sponges are much preferred. With English cakes, anything goes! I love dense tea cakes with lots of different flavours and plain Victoria sponges that show off the buttery cake with simple decoration and fillings. Both have their positives, but marrying the two styles is even better!

Black sesame is often paired with green tea (matcha powder) or sweetened red beans (adzuki beans). A quick internet search and hundreds of recipes can be found. On a trip to the Chinese supermarket earlier this week, I saw a tempting array of Chinese cakes.These often come in the form of Swiss rolls or plain chiffon cakes. A green tea Swiss roll with a butter cream filling caught my attention, but I managed to avert my eyes and walk away. However the cake still remains in my mind, so I’ve decided to make one instead.

The recipe I used for this cake needed a little adapting as it was the closest that I could find to the cake I wanted to bake. It’s the first time I’ve made the effort to weigh out the egg yolks and egg whites too! Though I have to admit that I went off the recipe, as I didn’t want to waste half an egg yolk or crack open another egg just to have another 4 grams of egg white…

To get the green tea flavour, I’ve added 2 table spoons of matcha powder. In hindsight I should have taken a couple of table spoons of flour out as the mixture became quite thick so the sponge wasn’t as light and airy as it should have been. Noted for next time!

Green Tea and Black Sesame Swiss Roll

The filling is a kind of buttery custard, and the black sesame powder I used came through brilliantly. I could have just eat the lot with a spoon and a cup of tea, but made do with eating the left overs straight from the bowl instead!

Japanese street food: ‘Tako’yaki

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Takoyaki (cheese/chicken)

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Takoyaki pan

Takoyaki fillings

Takoyaki fillings

 

I love to try new foods from other cultures, especially ones I’ve never heard of before. Some of my best holiday memories involve sampling cheap local foods from street food stands. Disappointingly the UK has a fairly unexciting street food scene, well in Manchester this is true anyway! This may be due to the terribly unpredictable weather we have! When you do go to street food markets, often there are run by chain businesses selling bog standard pickles, bread, chutneys, cheese, olives, burgers, pies etc. Occasionally there are food market festivals where independents will showcase deliciously different foods from around the world, but this does not happen often enough. I’ve been informed that the street food scene in London is much more exciting but, even for me, a 4 hour round train journey for a spot of lunch is a little extreme!

I learned the joys of takoyaki from a Japanese friend who invited me for dinner and introduced me to the exciting world of Japanese street food. What I loved about the meal was that the cooking took place at the dinner table, you eat as you cook and everyone gets involved.

The cooking experience was surprising in itself as we used an electric ‘cake pops’ baker to cook the octopus balls in! It’s an ideal piece of kitchen equipment to use if you have one and want to try your hand at making takoyaki at home. I’ve done it myself a couple of times for dinner parties with friends. It is something different for friends to try as many people have not heard of takoyaki before, and the fillings can be easily adapted to suit the tastes of individuals.

I’ve now acquired a stove top iron takoyaki pan from a trip to Hong Kong and this is the first time I’m testing it out. It’s a much faster way to cook the takoyaki but takes the fun element out of the communal cooking at the dinner table since it’s all precooked in the kitchen. I guess one way round this is to get the camping stove out! However if all else fails I still have the electric cakes pops baker…

‘Tako’ means octopus in Japanese. I didn’t have any octopus this time so I used cubes of cheddar cheese and roasted chicken instead. The batter is similar to a pancake one but flavoured with ‘dashi’, a fish stock, so results in savoury stuffed spheres with a gooey centre. You can make the batter yourself quite simply but your local Asian supermarket will also sell specially prepared packages of the batter mix. The finished takoyaki are topped with Japanese mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce, dried ‘bonito’ fish flakes, and dried seaweed powder. It results in a snack that is pleasing to the eye, tasty, and filling!

Emergency Saturday Breakfast: Feta, Sun-dried Tomato and Pesto Muffins

Feta, Sun-dried Tomato and Pesto Muffins

Breakfast should be the most important meal of the day. My weekday breakfasts usually consists of a banana with a cup of tea at my desk while reading my emails, so I really look forward to my Saturday late-morning breakfasts!

In the UK, 7.2 tonnes of food is wasted each year. Love Food, Hate Waste estimates that this costs £12bn per year. Unimaginable in the developing world… So in my efforts to waste less food, and save money, I try to shop a couple of times a week and buy enough food for a few meals. However as life gets pretty busy, tiredness takes over and that trip to the supermarket on the way home from work is just far too much effort!

On a regular basis this results in my partner telling me on a Saturday morning that there is nothing for breakfast then looking at me expectantly. The last thing we both want to do is leave the house to pick up food from the local convenience store, so a quick rummage through cupboard stores and the fridge, coupled with a little imagination usually results in breakfast of some description. Today this was Feta, Sun-dried Tomato and Pesto Muffins. As long as there is 1 egg, oil and flour then savoury muffins are easily made with any kind of filling. So this is when the fridge raiding comes in!

Finding a block of feta cheese, I took inspiration from this recipe for Sundried tomato, Feta and Herb Muffins and adapted the recipe for what ingredients I had. There was only a drop of milk left in the bottle, so I used natural yoghurt instead.  I used half a block of feta as there was no Cheddar. I also found a little sun-dried tomato pesto and put the rest of the jar in (about 3 tsp) so skipped the herbs.  I had to add some extra flour as the batter was quite runny. Luckily I could save the milk for my essential morning cup of tea.  20 minutes later, breakfast was ready!

The sun-dried tomato pesto gave the muffins a lovely colour and loads of extra flavour. I think the yoghurt added richness and helped to keep the muffins lovely and moist, so I will keep using yoghurt in place of milk from now on. I’ve made savoury muffins for many emergency Saturday breakfasts and these have been the tastiest by far!

Feta, Sun-dried tomato and Pesto Muffins

Feta, Sun-dried tomato and Pesto Muffins

When one recipe inspires another: Coconut Caramel Slice

Coconut Caramel Slice

Coconut and Salted Caramel Slice

 

Home baking has recently seen a revival. My friends, colleagues and family know all about my cake obsession, and I have held many an afternoon tea or baked an experimental cake to share in the office the next day. I had to stop when people complained that they were putting on weight from eating all my cakes! I bake less these days but still enjoy dabbling once in a while. ‘Afternoon tea’ is quintessentially British but now fashionable the world over. I recently had an ‘Asian Afternoon’ tea where finger sandwiches were replaced by a variety of sushi. A perfect example of Asian fusion cuisine!

An earlier experiment with banana gyoza resulted in having left over coconut caramel  that was a little sickly sweet so, I wanted to try it with a little sea salt to take the edge off the sweetness. A quick on-line search of ‘coconut caramel’ and the first recipe that came up was this one! Coconut caramel slice. I’ve adapted this recipe slightly by using the coconut caramel (with a couple of pinches of sea salt flakes added) and adding a drizzle of dark chocolate on top to introduce a contrast in tastes. I’ve also increased the amount of dessicated coconut in the top layer to 200 grams and added another egg. I found that the amount in the recipe was not enough to fully cover the ‘cake’, and I also wanted to use up what was left of packet before I started on another baking adventure ‘just to use up left overs’!

Looking at the recipe, I realised it was very similar to a coconut macaroon recipe I used when baking a gluten free treat to take to a friend’s house as a treat. This Coconut Slice recipe is a very simple recipe, similar to an Almond Slice. Except the ground almond is swapped for dessicated coconut and raspberry jam in the place of caramel. I made Almond Slices a few months ago and they turned out amazingly well for my first attempt. I really like tray bakes. They are simple to make and these layered recipes are always very pretty, looking like you have put more effort in than you really have!

At work we regularly hold bake sales to raise money for the charity I work for. I usually make cupcakes which go down well but I steer clear of eating them as I find the buttercream far too sweet. I think these Coconut caramel and Almond slices will be on the menu for the next bake sale. This way I can enjoy a little treat in the afternoon too!

 

Coconut Caramel Slice

Coconut and Salted Caramel Slice

Pot-stickers, Gyoza, Mantu, Dumplings: The bite sized delights that cross cultures

Prawn Dumplings/Pot Stickers

Postickers

During my childhood, my parents were keen to ensure my siblings and I retained our culture, mother tongue and heritage. As second generation migrants living in the UK there was always a need to balance my two identities; though not without the occasional volcanic eruption!

I attended a Sunday supplementary school to learn to read and write Chinese. This took place from 1-3pm each week and was attended by hundreds of children just like me, my sister and my cousins. A regular ritual for my family was to go to China Town and at 12pm for a dim sum lunch before we then rushed over to school. In Hong Kong, dim sum is traditionally served throughout the day.From early in the morning for breakfast right through to late afternoon for late lunches. ‘Dim Sum’ (點心) translated means ‘Touch of the Heart’.  If you’ve read my ‘About’ page, you’ll know that my name is Sam (心) so you’ll see that I have a natural affinity to this delicious cuisine!

Postickers

Prawn Potstickers

Dim Sum is sometimes described as ‘Chinese Tapas’. You get lots of small dishes served in the middle of the table for all to share. The great things about Dim Sum is that the more people you have around the table, the more variety you can order. It’s a great way to have a lazy lunch with your friends, ordering as you go, washed down with plenty of jasmine tea.

Pot-sticker, Gyoza, Mantu, Dumplings etc. come in many guises. It’s an amazing food that many cultures and countries have their own versions of. Basically a disk of dough stuffed with some form of meat or vegetable filling, then folded and sealed. They can be steamed, boiled, pan-fried or deep fried. The possibilities are endless!

I regularly use shop bought dumpling pastry when I’m making them at home. They are fairly cheap and very convenient! In the early days of our relationship my partner wanted to show off the dishes from his home country (Afghanistan) and taught me how to make ‘Mantu’ and ‘Aushak’. Aushak are basically a dumpling filled with cooked leeks/scallions/spring onions, and boiled or steamed. Mantu are a meat version made with ground or minced lamb/beef. They are then served with a meaty or lentil based sauce. It seems that these Afghan dumplings were brought to the country by Mongolian horsemen when they were invading the country. Afghans have adapted the dumplings and added spices and stronger flavours to suit the Central Asian palate. A very different way of serving dumplings to the basic Chinese pot-stickers that are served plain with a light dipping sauce.

Afghan Mantu

Afghan Mantu

Dumpling making is time consuming but worth the effort. So today I have made a big batch. I’ve decided to try and make my own dumpling dough and turned to Christine again for her wise advice: Home made dumpling wrappers.

From one lot of dumpling dough I made three varieties: Prawn and shitake mushroom pot-stickers, Aushak, and Banana gyoza. This was mainly to test out the dough to see what kind of cooking methods it will stand up to.

The pot-stickers were fantastic! For the filling, I processed raw prawns/shrimp with rehydrated shitake mushrooms and added sesame oil, salt and pepper to taste. I also added some cornflour to help soak up some of the juice during the cooking process.

For the Aushak I made the filling, wrapped them, then stuck them in the freezer on a baking sheet for another time.

The banana gyoza were stuffed with mashed banana then deep fried. The pastry didn’t like the wet banana much as a couple of them burst during cooking. However, served with a coconut caramel recipe that I found, they were to die for! For one gyoza I also added a spoonful of Nutella (yum!) but found the overall taste to be too sweet and sickly. I think next time I’m going to add a little sea salt to the caramel to balance out the flavours a little.

Banana Gyoza

Banana Gyoza

East meets west: stem ginger and pistachio chocolate brownies

 

Stem Ginger and Chocolate Brownie with Stem Ginger Ice cream

Stem Ginger and Chocolate Brownie with Stem Ginger Ice cream

Ginger is synonymous with Chinese food and is added at the end of cooking to add freshness, or at the beginning of a slow cooked casserole to add subtle spicy undertones to the dish.

I love the taste of sweetened ginger and have been thinking about how to incorporate stem ginger into a dessert that is traditionally western in style. Obviously there is the classic British dessert, steamed ginger pudding with lashings of vanilla custard and good old gingerbread men! But I wanted something richer and, ideally, involving chocolate!

I found this recipe: http://ginandcrumpets.com/brownies-with-stem-ginger/

As I was planning on serving this as the dessert for dinner with friends, I wanted it to look a more pleasing to the eye. So thought about colour and texture. As well as loving ginger, I also love any kind of nuts, so pistachio nuts would be the perfect addition!

Then to cut through the richness of the dark chocolate, I made a pistachio ice cream based on this recipe: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/741636/nochurn-ice-cream

The brownie has a nice ginger taste, but next time I think I’ll add even more to bring out the flavour. And maybe a ginger ice cream to go with it!

“Crispy chicken skin is the new bacon”

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There seems to be a new trend in the UK at the moment for ‘American diner’ style restaurants that make fancy cocktails to go with your over-priced burger. About 6 months ago I decided to try one of these restaurants after seeing rave reviews. I was most looking forward to their ‘Rooster Scratchings’!

As a Chinese person, I’m ashamed to say that I don’t eat red meat. That rules out about 50 percent of delicious Chinese cuisine and causes no end of headaches for my family and friends who invite me for meals. It’s not for any particular reason really. My mum tells me that I never used to eat much red meat when I was growing up, so I must have just developed a general disliking to it and now it is firmly embedded into my subconscious self.  I always say that I’m not a picky eater, but that’s not true really. My stomach turns at the thought of bacon and at the slight whiff of lamb, I’ll be heading off in the opposite direction!

Hence I miss out on the culinary delights of roast belly pork with the extra crunchy crackling and slow roasted ribs where the meat just falls off the bone… So as you can imagine, finding an alternative like ‘Rooster Scratchings’ caused me no end of excitement! However, I must have built up my expectations a little too much, as I found them quite greasy and salty. What a disappointment…

Fast forward half a year and whilst preparing a boring mid-week meal of roasted chicken thighs (with lots of spices to please my partner who insists that my cooking is somewhat ‘tasteless’). I was ripping off the chicken skins and it suddenly occurred to me that I could probably do something with them too… After all in this time of austerity, its a shame to waste anything!

A quick internet search later, I’ve found this: http://homecookinginmontana.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/oven-fried-crispy-chicken-skin.html

As usual, I don’t really stick to recipes so to give extra flavour I’ve added mixed spices.  So the key to ensuring you get it really crispy and none greasy is to bake rather than fry. I reduced the cooking time down to about 25-30 minutes and didnt’ bother to sandwich the skins between two pans, they look nicer all bubbly! It’s a great addition and doesn’t take any extra time if you are making your dinner in the oven anyway. Imagine them crumbled over a lovely salad for extra crunch…

This is what it should look like

©homecookinginmontana.blogspot.co.uk

crispy chicken skin

The simple pineapple bun

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

During my childhood, my parents bought baked Chinese goods from ‘Ho’s bakery’ in Manchester’s China Town. Ho’s is a long standing institution that has brought Hong Kong bakery to the Chinese migrants who wanted a little taste of what they were missing from home.

‘Chinese’ and ‘English’ oven baked breads are very different. Chinese bread is usually very light and soft in texture, usually on the sweet side and often enveloping finely chopped cooked meat or delicate sweet fillings. Kind of like a ready made sandwich. English breads need to be sturdier so they can be sliced to hold a decent amount of filling or torn to be dipped into a hearty soup without it disintegrating.

Chinese buns are usually eaten warm for breakfast. In Hong Kong, small bakeries can be found everywhere offering quick and tasty breakfasts for people rushing to work in the non-stop crowded city. In England this Chinese bread was a tasty Sunday treat that my dad would pick up on his way home from replenishing stock for the restaurant after a busy Saturday of trading.

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

I tried baking bread for the first time at the age of 24, in a small village called Ololosokwan in Northern Tanzania. I was on my ‘gap year’ trying, and failing, to save the world with no access to fresh produce for weeks at a time. Luckily I wasn’t alone! In the next house was an Irish man who was working at the local school and had asked his son to email him a basic bread recipe. Before this it had never occurred to me to do anything apart from grab a loaf of bread off the supermarket shelf. We didn’t have that luxury in Ololosokwan! The bread wasn’t amazing as we didn’t actually have the right flour, but it was was bread none the less. And more importantly, it was a reminder of home!

I didn’t try and make bread again for a few years and when I did I always got tired of the whole kneading process so my ‘bread’ was usually disappointing. I have had some successes, but mostly very dense and unappetising results. One day I looked up how to make Chinese style bread and found a recipe online. It was truly inspired and the results have been amazing!

Pineapple buns

Pineapple buns

For my first blog, I am recreating a delicious typical Chinese delight called a ‘pineapple bun’ or ‘菠蘿包’ in Cantonese. They contain no pineapple, but end up looking a little like the outside of one and have a similar texture to brioche. They are divine!  I’ve made these buns by hand before but it is very time consuming and messy as the dough is very wet and difficult to work with, hence the reason I don’t make them very often! This time I have used a bread maker to do the hard work for me.

This recipe shows you how to make the basic Chinese white bread that it used for most recipes, and as you can see it doesn’t only use the traditional ‘fast action’ yeast that is usually found in western bread recipes. The Tangzhong Method, or ‘湯種’, is the secret to the pillowy soft buns sold in bakeries such as Ho’s to this day! Thank you Christine, you are amazing! http://en.christinesrecipes.com/2010/03/japanese-style-bacon-and-cheese-bread.html

For the crunchy topping: http://www.pigpigscorner.com/2011/01/pineapple-bun-bo-luo-bao-by-christines.html

If you’ve never had one, please try it! It’s perfect with a cup of strong English tea!

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns