Saturday, 25 February 2017

Waga-Laksa Noodles

When we’d visit El Punko during his long ago undergrad days, we usually went to Wagamama’s for lunch.  This past Christmas, the little dickens slipped a Wagamama cookbook under the tree for his old hag of ma who’s finally learning how to cook. 

Getting ready to cook chicken tama rice.


The book itself, which includes a DVD, takes the mystery out of Japanese cooking while convincingly selling the company ethos.  To do the latter, there’s a sacrifice of recipe photos for Happy Cook and Happy Customer shots.  




As luck would have it, the first recipe I took a stab at – chicken tama rice – had no photo.  It had garlic.  It had ginger.  It had wine and mushrooms and sesame oil.  How could it fail?

Right, like why suspect an online dating profile without a photo?

It's a fiddly recipe – hours of marinating the chicken, then grilling and slicing, followed by sequential quick quick quick cooking of the other stuff.  Then thickening of the sauce with cornflour, an egg briefly cooked so it wouldn’t curdle, a dollop of sesame oil and are your noodles ready?

I’d opted for bulgur wheat, which I dearly love.  My version turned out like this:

My chicken tama rice.

And tasted about as bland as it looked.

Other’n the bulgur wheat, there’d been no Hag Improvs.  Either the wheat soaked up all those flavours or the recipe itself was too bland.  So I thinks to meself, what is it I like in the flavour department?  I couldn’t get my mind off the laksa soup recipe by Lucinda McCord.

I didn’t want soup.  I wanted a noodle dish.  It seemed logical that the first step into making something I loved – study the Wagamama book.  Here’s what I learned. 

Marinade the meat in a sauce you like.
Grill or stir fry the meat, then remove.
Stir fry the veg.
Add the main sauce you like.
Put veg on noodles.
Top the veg with your meat.

I could do that.  Below is the concoction I came up with that gives me laksa flavour in a noodle dish.  I’ve got 3 sets of ingredients here, so if you’re making a grocery list from this, scroll down for all of it.

Marinade



Marinade
2 chicken breasts or 270 quorn (or mixture of the 2)
1T horseradish
1T honey
1T Mirin (or port)
4T oyster sauce





Combine ingredients in a shallow bowl.  If you want to grill your chicken, don’t slice it.  If you want to stir fry, then cut into bits.  Cover & marinate in the fridge for at least three hours. 

Sauce – made in a handheld food processor
6 spring onions
1½” ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves
4T desiccated coconut*
3T peanut butter
5-6 limes  (I like my lime.  If you want the lime to be more subtle, use 3 limes.)
1T muscovado sugar

Making the sauce.




I usually make the sauce right after I make the marinade so that it can sit & get itself all flavourful, but it’s pretty good when it’s cooked right after making it.  

Chop the onions, grate the ginger, press the garlic, slap in the peanut butter & sugar.  Squeeze out the lime juice.  If you like a real kick of lime, take that old grater you used on the ginger & make yourself some lime zest.  




Blend it all up.  If you don’t have a small blender, chop the chili & onions up very fine – a curved herb cutter works really well here – then mix it up well with your other ingredients.

I prefer a 2 bladed herb cutter.


*If you like a creamy sauce, omit the desiccated coconut.  Later, you’ll add either a tin of coconut milk or a packet of coconut paste as explained below.  If you use coconut milk, you’ll need to thicken it with cornflour, which I’ll tell you about when the time comes.



Other ingredients
1 tin coconut milk OR 1 packet coconut paste for creamier sauce
Corn flour, if you use coconut milk
1T duck sauce
Rice noodles, whatever thickness you like (very-fine in the photos)
Cooking oil of choice – I tend to use rape seed oil, but I also always seem to have left over oil from the sun-dried tomatoes & that works really well, too.
Sesame oil to drizzle

Colour!
Veg – whatever you have & like, with an eye to giving yourself some variety in colour – bell peppers, red onions, mushrooms, peas, broccoli, spinach, or more traditionally oriental style veg.  When I cook this for Siobhán (who hates veg), I have to temper the visible veg content down quite a bit.  My trick is to spiralise courgette & carrot, then add them to the noodles to hide the fact she’s eating veg.  It seems to work.  Even though she knows the veg is there, she can’t see it and so really loves it. 

Ding dong formation.

My spiraliser was a free gift with an order, so isn't a high grade model.  You can see from the photo that the middle never gets touched, so forms a little ding dong.  If your spiraliser does the same thing, cut the ding dong off in small sections & toss in with the rest of the veg.



Note on veg prep.  You can compost all your veg scraps or you can put them in a freezer bag to make veg stock later.  This includes everything from roots on the spring onions or stems of herbs, outer skin of garlic or onions, ginger peelings if you peel yours (which I don’t), thick stalks from broccoli & asparagus, etc., etc., etc.  Put the bag into the freezer & add veg scraps until the bag is full, to make your own veg stock later a la Thug Kitchen.

Now to cook it all up.

Break up the noodles into a medium bowl, 

Broken noodles.

cover with boiling water, then cover the bowl with a saucer.  

Add boiling water & cover.

I leave this on my plate warmer.  It takes about 15 minutes to cook properly, so you can cut up your veg while this is happening.

Grill or stir fry the meat or quorn, including all of the sauce.  If you grill the chicken, slice the cooked meat up when it’s done. 

Two handed stir fry.
If you stir fry, let the wok heat up until it’s nearly smoking.  Put in a little bit of the cooking oil (1-3T), then cook the meat for a (very) few minutes.  Being squeamish about raw meat, I do a bite test on the largest piece to make sure it’s all well down.  Using tongs (so that some of the marinade is left behind), put the cooked chicken back into the bowl, cover, & set on a plate warmer while cooking the rest.

Hiding the veg in the noodles.

If you’ve spiralised the courgette, give it a bit of a quick stir fry now in the leftover marinade, then put it on the plates (also on the warmer).  Add a little more cooking oil.  While it heats up, refresh the noodles with cold water, then divide between the plates.  I mix the spiralised courgette with the noodles so that Siobhán can’t see it.

Stir fry the garlic & ginger for about 10 seconds, then add the rest of your veg.  Stir fry for about a minute, then add the sauce.  If you’re not using desiccated coconut, let this cook for about a minute before adding the coconut milk or paste instead. 

Cooking the veg.
If you used coconut milk, make a paste with about ½ t corn flour & the tiniest bit of water.  Add about 2T of liquid from the wok & mix well.  Put this combination back into the wok to thicken.

Cook until the veg are the texture you prefer, then stir in the duck sauce for a few seconds only. 



Put the veg & sauce on top of the noodles, then the chicken on top of the veg.  Give it all a drizzle of sesame oil & enjoy!

Waga=laksa noodles.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

World Peace Cookies Even the Tired Can Make

With a name like World Peace Cookies, you’d want to eat them by the bushel.  The fact they’re packed full of chocolate will transform everyone you know into a peace activist.  But the truth is, they can be slightly labour intensive if you don’t have an electric mixer.  More than slightly if, like myself, you have health issues.

So along with the recipe stolen from Dorie's Cookies, I’ll give you a few Hag Improvs for the energy impaired. 

Nary a knife slimed.

170g all purpose flour
28g unsweetened cocoa powder 
½t baking soda
155g unsalted butter
50g sugar
134g light brown sugar
½t fleur de sel or ¼t fine sea salt
1t vanilla extract
150g baking chocolate



Vegans =>  Substitute butter with a non-dairy margarine & make sure your chocolate is dairy free.

Cube the butter cold from the refrigerator to avoid sliming up the knife.  (A soft margarine won’t need to be cubed.)  A large sharp bread knife makes this easier than the eponymous butter knife, so wield the wicked blade & avoid an energy zapper.

Resident butter thief.
Cold butter is hard to mix into a dough or batter.  I put the cube plate on top of a plate warmer to soften the butter while I chop up the chocolate.  What you don't see in the photo is that the plate warmer’s inside the nuker.  That’s because I live with a Doodle whose thievery skills rival the Artful Dodger.  She not only can pick your pocket without detection, but has also lifted a Pyrex dish of cooling fish pie off the counter and onto the floor with only the softest of thumps.  AND she’d run past chocolate to steal butter.  Thus, the warming butter tucked safely out of Doodle harm. 

If you don't have a plate warmer, time will do the work for you & bring the butter to room temperature.  But if you do use a plate warmer, make sure that the butter doesn’t melt.  Your baked cookies will be flat & crisp if it does, rather than fat & chewy.

Break the chocolate into the pre-formed segments, then cut the segments in half.

In a medium bowl (not the one you plan to mix the dough in), sift the flour, cocoa & baking soda.

Ingredients for tomorrow's cooking.

On some days, that’s enough upper body work for me.  My Hag Improv for labour intensive recipes such as this, is to prepare the ingredients & store them in separate containers, leaving the mixing and/or cooking part until later.  I often use the time after dinner for congregating my fixings so that the next morning, I’m ready to bake.

Whenever it’s done, the next step is to cream the butter or margarine with the 2 types of sugar.  Once it’s smooth, mix in the salt & vanilla.  Add the sifted dry ingredients & stir until it’s nice & smooth.  


Dorie says her dough varies, but so far, mine is always a nice glossy ball that unfortunate leaves behind not a bit of chocolate to be licked from the bowl.  Lastly, add the chocolate chunks.

Separate the dough into quarters, then roll each quarter into a log that’s about 1.5” in diameter & about 12” long.  Double wrap each log in cling film & freeze for a minimum of 3 hours. 

How yum is that?

This gives you 4 cookie batches that you can cook all at once or take out of the freezer as needed.  If you have friends who pop over, they’re going to love you for your World Peace Cookies baked while they wait.  

If you’re an introvert, you may want to keep the little guys a secret, to avoid unexpected visitors.



When it comes time to have cookies, cut your dough into 1” slices – each log gives you a dozen cookies.  (Dorie cuts them in half inch slices, but an inch is the perfect size for me.)  If the dough crumbles, just bunch it together in a pile.  As it cooks, the pile will melt into a single cookie.

Bake on a paper lined tray at 190C/170 Fan/Gas 3 for 12 minutes.  They’ll look a bit under done when you take them out, but trust me, they’re perfect.  



Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Great Hag Soda Bread Fest

There wasn’t a reason for me to learn how to make soda bread.  Being married to a Dubliner who’s also a cook, I live in a world where freshly made soda bread slathered with gorgeous stuff . . . well, it’s a requisite for civilised life.  If I hadn’t stumbled across a recipe in Mary Berry’s Foolproof Cooking for a savoury version, there never would've been the Great Hag Soda Bread Fest.

The double spatula method for prissy folk like me.
Soda bread is actually quite easy, if you pay attention to what you’re doing.  An essential caveat in Hag-dom, as you’ll see.  

500g pain flour
1t baking soda
1t salt
284ml buttermilk
200ml milk
Optional: herbs, berries or nuts 


Preheat oven to 220C/200 fan/Gas 7.  Mix the dry ingredients (including dry herbs if you’re using them), then slowly add the buttermilk, making sure it’s mixed before you add the milk.  Turn out on a floured surface to make sure the dried ingredients in the bottom of the bowl are fully mixed but only mixed – DO NOT KNEAD.  Add fresh herbs, nuts & berries, if you're using them.  Put on a paper lined baking tray.  Some people cut a cross into the top while some actually nearly quarter the loaf.  I often forget to do either.  Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, then cool on a wire rack. 

Now about that paying attention craic.  Here’s what soda bread looks like when you confuse baking soda with baking powder – a middle with the consistency of cheese (I think that means raw).  
 
And this was my Christmas mistake, no less.

In usual Hag-not-paying-attention-to-detail form, I didn't research the ingredients for my first batch of Foolproof savoury soda bread. You can see from this picture that the cranberries are fresh.  Don’t use fresh unless you like your cranberries really REALLY sour.  Dried cranberries have just the right balance of tart & sweet.

Fresh cranberries, the pucker's friend.

One day I decided to make a loaf with herbs & one without.  I made the second loaf from memory, so put in too much milk.  As the loaf began to bake, it started to spread out & go flat.  I lifted the partly cooked mess by the baking paper & dropped it into a greased loaf pan.  It ain’t pretty, but it tasted fine.

Like trying to squeeze into a girdle.

HAG IMPROVS (aka variations).

We noticed that my bread was lighter than Siobhán’s & wondered if it were a difference in recipe or cook – too enthusiastic mixing can change the texture of your soda bread.  Her recipe called for 2 cartons of buttermilk rather a mix of buttermilk & regular milk, as well as only 425g of flour.

Siobhán tried my recipe with the same results that I had.  Our conclusion is, if you want a denser bread (great for making sandwiches or dipping in soup), then use 2 buttermilks & less flour.  If you want something a bit lighter for your jams & spreads, try using one buttermilk & 200 mls of regular milk.

Siobhán often replaces 50g of regular flour with whole meal.  This makes the bread more ‘rustic’, heavier in texture, with a stronger wheat flavour. It's also more crumbly, so sometimes your sandwich'll fall to bits.

Cranberry & herb.
SAVOURY SODA BREAD.  Different herbs retain their flavour better through the cooking.  Rosemary is incredibly strong, while basil remains subtle.  Start with 3T & modify to suit your own taste.  

Most of the herbs we think of as Mediterranean make the bread taste great with any tomato based dish, be they soups or pasta or meats.  The Foolproof recipe’s 50g sundried tomatoes & 75g olives also enhance Italian herbs.

Adding berries makes this a great bread for sweet spreads like jam.  It’s even better when toasted for breakfast or a late night snack.  Berries with sliced almonds . . . well that’s pure ecstasy.  I tend to use 75g of each.

As a non-cook, I’d rated the idea of making soda bread as the soufflé category of difficulty.  Pretty silly when you consider how many homes relied on soda bread for a mainstay of their diet.  So if the thought of making soda bread intimidates you, trust someone who spent 60 years outside the kitchen – it’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve tried so far, yet one of the best tasting breads there is.  

What could be better?  

Plain or savour?  Both!

Friday, 27 January 2017

Coffee Chocolate Brownies

Living with a great cook gives me the freedom to learn how to cook by making fun food - no one starves in the process.  When I decided to conquer one of El Punko’s favourite vices, the chocolate brownie, I didn’t expect the brownie to fight back. 

There was the-pan’s-too-big-so-I’ll-double-the-recipe fiasco.


Too brown & dry around the edges.

The turned-on-the-grill-not-the-oven debacle.


Burnt on the outside, raw on the inside.

And the Thanksgiving vegan brownies topped with icing, which weren’t too bad but weren’t kickass brownies. 


Thanksgiving Day Brownies

Every couple of weeks, I’d research & practice.  Eventually, I developed my own recipe which is heavily influenced by the real cooks who came before me. 

400g cooking chocolate
250g butter or baking margarine
2T instant coffee
3 eggs
125g caster sugar
125g muscavado sugar
1t vanilla extract
90g self raising flour
200g chocolate chips

For vegans, check that your chocolate & margarine have no dairy products in them, then substitute 1C applesauce for the eggs (standard substitution of ⅓C applesauce per egg).

Preheat oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas 5.  Grease a 30x23cm baking tin, line the bottom with greaseproof paper, then grease the paper. 

A note about baking paper.  I’ve found that store brand paper doesn’t usually come away from the baked goods very well, regardless how many surfaces I faithfully grease.  Siobhán has long used a silicon coated parchment paper that she found in the local farm shop.  It can also be ordered online.

My double boiler set up.
Set up some type of double boiler apparatus to melt that chocolate & margarine together.  For mine, I pour a bit of hot water from the kettle into a small saucepan, set it on a medium heat, then use an old Christmas pudding bowl that rests perfectly without falling in.  

Put the margarine in first & break the chocolate into it to make all the melting happen faster.  The first time I did this, I broke the chocolate into the pre-fab sections, then cut each of them in half.  A total waste of time.  The chocolate melts fast enough in pre-fab segments.  

So while you’re preheating & melting . . .

Let this cool slightly before adding to mix.

In a large bowl, dissolve the coffee in enough hot water to make it liquid.  2T of coffee give the brownies a nice caffè mocha under-taste, but you could use more for a stronger coffee flavour.  Add the vanilla extract, sugars, & eggs or apple sauce, & stir well.  Mix in the slightly cooled chocolate & margarine.  

Lastly, stir in the flour & then the chocolate chips.  If you like walnuts bits in your brownies, add about 175g now.  (I find this recipe too rich for walnuts.)

Pour into your lined tin & bake for about 45 minutes.  Properly cooked, brownies are still soft in the middle of the pan with a light crust over the top.  Let sit for 10-15 minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack like so:

Put the cutting board on top of the pan.


               Flip so the cutting board is on the bottom, then lift off the pan.


Put the wire rack on top of the brownies.


 And flip again.


You could remove the paper before the final flip, but because I was using the cheap stuff, I waited until the brownies cooled in order to have fewer chunks come off with the paper.  You can see that a hunk came away when I flipped the brownies, so I was very brave & ate it.

Icing.  In my early trials, I used this Mary Berry icing (from Mary Berry's Cookery Course):

I used a tea strainer because I'd already washed the sieve.
Add 3T of sifted cocoa powder & 4T of boiling water to 25g of cubed unsalted butter.  Stir until smooth.  Sift in 225g icing sugar.  Leave to cool, then spread over the uncut brownies with a palette knife.  Allow to set, then cut into squares. 

The Europeans in my fold loved this icing, but I suspect Americans have a different idea about what constitutes suitable brownie frosting.  

Mary Berry icing.
By the time I got to my vegan Thanksgiving brownies (see photo above), I’d switched to Betty Crocker frosting (what else) but in my opinion, this current recipe is way too rich for anything but a little dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Cut into squares (1.5” square is the perfect size for me) & keep in a sealed container or freeze.  An easy, slightly decadent dessert that’ll please all your chocolate lovers!


Friday, 13 January 2017

If There's Cheese in the Refrigerator


Mary Berry's HUMONGOUS cheese straws.



When I was a kid & we pestered Mom for snacks, her favourite answer was, ‘There’s cheese in the refrigerator.’  

If you’ve got cheese, Parma ham, & a roll of puff pastry, you can eat this instead.





1 packet all-butter puff pastry
3T Dijon mustard
75g Gruyère cheese (grated)
4 slices Parma ham
1 beaten egg
flour for dusting
(from Mary Berry's Foolproof Cooking)

Before you uncurl the pastry, let it sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes, or it'll break.  Gentle spread it out on a floured surface, then take a rolling pin to it until it’s at least 10x14”.  You’ll be folding this over twice, so if, like myself, you’re no fan of more pastry than filling, make your rectangle slightly larger.  Be sure it’s thick enough that the innards you’ll be putting into it won’t burst out of the pastry.

Slap on some mustard, going as close to the edge as you can.  You’ll need some for later, so don’t use it all.  I never measure how much I use, but then, I like my mustard, so it can't be too much.  Dijon will give a nice subtle complement to your straws, but if you like a stronger mustard taste, experiment with your favourites. 

My own Hag Improv is to sprinkle fresh herbs (parsley, dill or chives) onto the mustard, so I can kid myself that I’m getting Siobhán to eat some greens.  Crushed garlic or little chilli flakes’ll give this a nice kick, too.  Whatever you add, spread it over the entire surface & gently pat to make it stick to the mustard.

Sprinkle about ⅔ of your cheese on next, again as close to the edge as possible.  I have to admit that I use about 4 times what the recipe calls for, cuz I do love my cheese even more’n I love my mustard.  I also mix cheeses, depending on what’s in my crisper.  The best combination for me to date is half Gruyère, half Parmesan, both freshly grated.   Give the cheese a pat to make it stick, cuz you'll be moving things.

Single layer of very thin Parma ham.
Fold the pastry in half with the cheese on the inside.  Like jumping in a pond, do it quickly – you can tidy up the edges once you've folded it.  

Roll this folded bit enough to the seal the pastry, refreshing the flour dusting as you go, then slap this new surface with some more mustard.


Line up your parma or other spicy meat in single file across the whole pastry, then pat it a little so it stays in place.  If you like your meat, you may scoff at only one layer, but you’ll be folding the pastry again which will double it – you don’t want to knock out the other flavours.  But hey, if you like your meat as much as I like my cheese, double away.

Fold the pastry over for the last time, then roll it again.  Brush with beaten egg, & sprinkle about ⅔ of the remaining cheese on it, then press down to get that cheese to stay there.  


6 long strips.





Here, Mary Berry cuts the pastry into 6 sections, but I find that enormous.  







Instead, I cut the pastry into strips of about 1½” in width, then cut those strips into 3 or 4 smaller sections.  However big or small your strips are, transfer them to a paper-lined baking sheet.


A pan of the little guys.

If doing the 6 longer strips, give them 3 or 4 good twists to hold them together.  With the smaller strips, you can twist twice or pinch them together in the middle.  Mary Berry stops here, but I dab all the newly exposed surfaces with the beaten egg & add the last of the cheese to these surfaces.  Chill for about 20 minutes while the oven heats itself up.

Bake at 220C or 200 fan (Gas 7) for 20 minutes, then reduce to 160/140/Gas 3 for about 10 more minutes.  I haven’t found a difference in cooking time between the long & short strips, but since it’s cheese, keep an eye on it.  You know yourself how no oven cooks the same.

Cool on a wire rack.  Mary Berry says they’re best warm, but the small ones are great finger food at a party or for a quick snack.  In fact, this is the first recipe Siobhán has asked me to stop making.  If they’re in the house, she simply can’t stop eating them. 

Where would I be without my Mary Berry cookbooks?



Mom, I’m hungry!  

There’s cheese (straws) in the cupboard!


Friday, 6 January 2017

Mary Berry Gets Thugged


My mother was a big believer in giving her kids a hot breakfast before school.  When I took charge of my own larder, my aversion to cooking led to discovering granola.

Match made in heaven.

Since that time, the granola permutations in the cereal aisle have grown to beat the number of fleas living in your bachelor uncle’s couch.  The problem is, I want the nuts from this version, the sweetening in that one, & the dried fruit in the one over there, third box from the left. 



So even before I got carried away with all this learning how to cook craic, I made my own granola just the way I liked it.  My current permutation is a combination of Thug Kitchen and Mary Berry.

Granola base uncooked.
Thug Kitchen Granola Base
300g rolled oats
½ C maple syrup
C olive oil
½ t vanilla extract
½ t ground cinnamon

Hag Improvs:  The Thugs add salt & ½ a cup of millet in their base.  They say if you don’t have millet (I don’t even know what millet is), then add extra oats.  I tend to use rape seed oil instead of olive oil.  Low on maple syrup?  You can top it up with golden syrup.  The end product will be stickier but just as nice.


Mix the maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon &, if you use it, salt.  Stir in the oats & millet.  Cook on a baking sheet at 150/130 fan for forty minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  Really keep an eye of this & DO stir because maple syrup easily burns.

Now how easy is that?

The Thugs add nuts, seeds & dried fruit to their recipe, about half a cup each type.  Those extras are what customise your granola, but don’t limit yourself to squirrel food.  Look inside your cabinets & see what you’d like to experiment with – coconut, chocolate chips, chilli flakes.  And of course, any type of fresh fruit & honey can go into the bowl when you actually get around to eating it.

So where does Mary Berry come into this?  Well, I found that while the seeds did just fine being cooked with the mix, the nuts lost their crunch.  The obvious solution seemed to be cook the nuts separately for less time, but then I had the daunting task (for me) of how much of the maple syrup mixture did I need for just the nuts?

Mary's toasted nuts & seeds, enter stage right!

Precision work.



MB's Toasted Nuts & Seeds
300g nuts
150g seeds
1 t olive oil
1 t soy sauce
1 t maple syrup







Add caption

Hag Improvs:  Again, I use rape seed oil.  This is also where I add the salt, as the nuts really need it.  And what  nuts are we talking about?  Cashews, pistachio, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or anything else that suits your fancy.  I find that pistachio loses its crunch if in for the full time.  Seeds could be flax, sunflower, pine nuts, pumpkin, sesame, nigella, nasturtium, etc., etc., etc.  Use less of the smaller seeds, such as sesame, as there's so many more of them per gram.



Mix the oil, soy sauce & syrup, then coat your seed/nut combo with the goop.  Spread in a paper lined baking tray, salt them bad boys & bake at 200/180 fan for 10 - 15 minutes.


Keep an eye on these, as maple syrup easily burns.

There you have it, your own customised breakfast cereal, easier'n falling off the bed.  Pour on your milk or soy and tuck in!