Chashu

Happy Year of the Monkey everyone! Being away from home, festivities are not on the same scale but I do try to bring a similar sense of warmth and cheeriness to my little flat. Friends M and J came over for a meal and contributed fantastic fried rice and stirfried seafood udon whilst I made sweet and sour fish, oatmeal prawns, mixed vegetables and this amazing chashu. I stumbled across this website when searching for a recipe for sake beef udon and got totally lost in its pages of well-written text and descriptive photos.

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Chashu is the Japanese version of the Chinese char siu which is braised instead of roasted. This pork belly is so tender and scrumptious and moreish it’s too bad I only made this much! To improve the flavour,  cook it one or two days before and wrap it up so the flavour absorbs into the meat. Feel free to double up the recipe, any leftovers can be slipped into a soft white Taiwanese bun and eaten with the sauce with some sliced spring onions. Anyway, here’s my version of it:

Chashu

400g pork belly
Salt
1/2 tbsp oil
3 spring onions, sliced into 2 inch lengths
2 inch ginger, sliced

Seasoning
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup sake
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp sugar

  1. Heat a wok over moderate high heat. Rub some salt on the pork belly. Heat the oil in the wok until it’s smoking and sear the pork belly until golden brown on all sides.
  2. Put all the seasoning ingredients into a pot and add in the ginger, spring onions and seared pork.
  3. Instead of using a normal lid, fold up some aluminium foil into a circle to fit snugly in the pot and lay it directly on the pork. This is a substitute for otoshibuta which is made out of wood – they are used in Japanese cuisine to allow even heat distribution and the steam to baste the food without stirring.
  4. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, turning the pork over occasionally until the liquid has reduced to 1/4 inch depth and becomes thick and glossy.
  5.  If not eating straightaway, cool and store the pork and sauce in a sandwich bag or do as I did and wrap it all up in cling film and then a layer of foil and refrigerate it.

I hope your New Year’s celebrations are filled with happiness and laughter and lots of good food and drink with loved ones!

Salmon Don

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Sometimes I feel like having some Japanese food without making too much of an effort and I go get myself a nice fillet of salmon and some seafood sticks to make a Japanese rice bowl. I know, there’s probably a negligible amount of actual seafood in those red and white sticks but I like the flavour they add to the dish.

I follow this failsafe recipe for sushi rice from aboutfood.com and I get beautifully sticky and flavoured rice every time. Just alter the ratios to suit the amount of rice you will be cooking. If you want to make it simpler, just use plain boiled short grain Japanese rice.

After that, it’s all a matter of assembling other bits of diced vegetables around or on top of your rice aesthetically enough to take a pic fit for a blog before tucking in. Hah. Here I’ve used some pickled daikon, cucumber and cooked beetroot and topped my rice with Nagatanien’s otanano furikake wasabi (wasabi-flavoured rice seasoning) and also later on added some torn up bits of nori sheets because I lurve my seaweed. I also had a little dish of soy sauce with wasabi to dip my salmon in and a bowl of miso soup on the side. It was such a good midweek dinner!

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Smoothie Goodness

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So in the spirit of eating healthily (or healthier!) for the new year, I’ve started making some vegetable and fruit smoothies to get my five-a-day in. BBC’s What to Buy and Why acknowledged this trend and reviewed smoothie makers from top of the range and budget options. Obviously I was more interested in the budget option models ha. The most popular model most people have is the NutriBullet which doesn’t come cheap so I was interested to see if the lower end models match up to it. The Salter NutriPro 1000 came out tops and I am now the proud owner of a shiny red one! The smoothies turn out, well, smooth with just a bit of texture still and make easy drinking so I’m happy.

I’ve made this fluorescent green delight a few times and it’s pretty delicious and doesn’t taste as vegetal as it looks because of the pineapple. I went posh with cavolo nero instead of normal kale because Lidl happened to have it in stock. The original recipe is from BBC Good Food‘s website and here’s my version of it if you like to try.

Bone builder smoothie

Serves 1

300 ml of coconut & pineapple water
Generous handful of spinach
Generous handful of kale
10cm piece of cucumber, peeled

Whizz it all up in the blender and drink it up whilst it’s still fresh. It tastes nicer and more refreshing when the ingredients are just out of the fridge.

 

 

Lobster Bisque

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Lobster bisque is a rich and decadent creamy soup and one Monday morning when both GH and I were free I decided to have a go at making this for lunch. This is one that requires a lot of love and some lobster butchery to go along with it but all lobster carvery woes will melt away when you have a first sip of the soup. I had a couple of cooked lobsters stored in the freezer from Lidl so I defrosted them and popped them into boiling water for five minutes to heat them up and make a simple base for the stock. I looked through a few recipes online and found this one from the bbcgoodfood website which had lots of good flavour in it. This is my modified version and we both loved its delicious velvety smoothness.

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Lobster Bisque

Serves 4

2 lobsters
Boiling water enough to cover the lobsters
1 tbsp salt
15g (or small bunch) of parsley
400ml white wine (chardonnay is perfect)
1/2 chicken stock cube
2 chopped shallots
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 chopped carrot
2 chopped celery sticks
75g butter
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp tomato puree
80ml dry sherry
150ml single cream
Juice from 1/2 lemon

  1. Boil water with salt, add in lobsters and boil for 5 minutes. Remove lobsters and let cool. Reserve the cooking liquid which will now be your stock.
  2. To get the meat out of the lobsters turn them onto their back and use a sharp heavy knife to cut them into half lengthways all the way. The green bits inside are called the tomally and I removed them but a Jamie Oliver video on youtube mentioned keeping them in, so leaving them in might give more flavour to the stock. One of my lobsters even had roe in it and I put that into my stock as well. The meat from the tail is quite easy to peel away. Then use the back of your knife and give a few heavy taps on the claw to allow you to crack it easily in half crossways and the claw meat should come away quite easily as well. Refrigerate the tail and claw meat. Chop the lobster shells up into 2 inch chunks.
  3. Heat 25g of the butter in a soup pot. Fry the lobster shells at medium high heat for 5 to 10 mins until the smell is maximised. Add in the white wine, parsley, chicken stock and lobster stock and simmer for 45 minutes. Once it is ready, drain the stock and leave aside.
  4. Chop up the shallots, garlic, carrot and celery sticks in a food processor. Melt the rest of the butter in a soup pot and sauté the vegetables, bay leaves and thyme until they’re soft. Add in the tomato puree and stir to give the vegetables a good coating. Add in the stock and sherry and simmer gently for another 45 minutes.
  5. Remove the bay leaves and thyme twigs. Blend the soup until it is smooth, add the cream and return to the hob to reheat. Add in half of the lemon juice.
  6. Melt some butter and oil in a pan and fry the lobster meat for a couple of minutes to warm up. Top with some of the lemon juice left.
  7. Scoop the rich broth into individual bowls and top with the meat. To make it easier to eat, you can chop up the meat into bite-sized chunks.

The Star Inn the City

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GH and I had a lovely weekend getaway in York recently. We were slightly worried about the state of the high street and hotel we booked at given the recent floods but all was good and back to the normal state of things when we got there. As a treat, we booked ourselves for dinner at The Star Inn the City, a casual dining place and sister restaurant to the Michelin-starred Star Inn in Harome. About the only trouble we had in York was navigating our way from the car park to the restaurant itself. Perched right on the edge of the River Ouse, the river walkways were slushy with mud and a poor old tree had also been completely uprooted and had fallen across the walkway into the river. We arrived with slightly muddied shoes but nobody was looking! Prices are not cheap here but the atmosphere was jovial and bustling and the service by our very friendly and knowledgeable waiter together with an amazing menu made it all worthwhile.

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We sat right at the table that’s second from bottom in the picture!

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Two different types of bread with butter to start off with – the bread was freshly baked, crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. I avoided the pitfall on scoffing on all that lovely bread to leave space for the rest of the meal and lucky I did because the bread came in handy for my starter to come.

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This was my starter of hand-picked white whitby crab with pickled baby vegetables, seaweed and some sort of curried crisp bread. Oh my days, this was heavenly. The crab was fresh and had an amazing rich seafood flavour that fresh shellfish imparts and was offset well by the sharp, crisp baby vegetables. I rationed out the crisps to the meat and when it ran out I resorted to spreading out the crab meat onto that delicious bread.

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GH’s starter from the special menu was pretty amazing too. His ‘BLT’ consisted of locally shot wild rabbit on sourdough bread with bacon mayonnaise, chicory & sun-blushed tomatoes. Rabbit dishes I’ve tried in the past were a bit bland, so I don’t know what they did to this meat but it was incredibly flavourful and smoky and needless to say went down GH’s tummy very quickly.

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I ordered the cod and scallops from the specials menu as well. This was pan-fried fillet of Locker’s East Coast cod, seared king scallops, Lishman’s of Ilkley salami, shallot & pontefract cake puree. That cod was divine. You could tell that it was amazingly fresh, the flesh was cooked to just opaque and fell apart under the fork into smooth unctuous flakes. I wasn’t too thrilled with the scallops and thought they could do with more caramelisation and oddly didn’t taste as sweet as scallops usually do but I still enjoyed the dish as a whole.

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This meat fest was GH’s choice aptly called ‘A Celebration of Yorkshire Beef’. You’d have to really enjoy your meat to fully appreciate the whole plate. GH was in meat heaven. That middle hunk was a pan-fried fillet, bottom left is a slow braised rib with meat that just fell apart when you cut into it, as well as some ale & beef sausages and a corned beef & horseradish croquette to round it up. That little cup had the most delicious beef gravy inside. I feel that many restaurants don’t serve enough gravy on the dish and should provide some extra on the side so this was a much appreciated change from the norm.

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This was our token vegetable dish of buttered seasonal vegetables which came in a very generous portion size and actually were the same vegetables I had in my main course. I won’t say no to more greens though!

By now we were stuffed to the brim and had to wait a while before ordering dessert. What, you said? But of course you can’t pass up having a third course in a restaurant this good. We only wanted something light and our nice waiter recommended the raspberry mascarpone cheesecake from the specials menu but we decided to go for the red berry and knickerbocker glory with citrus chantilly. Boy, that was pretty rich and Mr Nice Waiter man couldn’t resist rubbing that in our faces when he came to check on us later.

The food was amazing, the service was attentive and the atmosphere was pretty special but what impressed me the most was how much beyond their call of duty the wait staff went to in order to get me enough change for the car park. They literally had a whip around to get enough coins for me, and when I spotted some macaroons on the side Mr Nice Waiter man snuck away two lovelies for us to take away. (The pay machine at the car park accepted card payments after all that trouble, but their effort was much appreciated!)

Please, go, and enjoy this place with an empty tummy and an open heart and you won’t be disappointed, I guarantee you.

 

(Top two pictures courtesy of york360.co.uk and starinnthecity.co.uk)

Avocado and Egg on Toast

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This is one breakfast that I come back to again and again. It’s comforting, so quick and easy to make and fills your tum right up for the day ahead.

Mash half a really ripe avocado up and spread thickly onto some lovely toasted seeded bread of your choice. Sprinkle the avocado spread with sea salt, black pepper, cumin seeds and chilli flakes. Top with a fried egg with a yolk that still oozes liquid gold when you bite into it and sprinkle with more of the same seasoning. Settle in with a  cuppa strong tea.

For a healthier version, of course you can top with a poached egg but I can’t poach an egg to save my life. One of those skills that I will have to master this year!

Thai Chicken & Holy Basil Stir-Fry (Pad Kra Pao Gai)

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I promise the only reason I went to the red light district when I was in Amsterdam was to head to Thai Snackbar Bird to check out the food. There are plenty of good reviews on TripAdvisor, in fact some of them are outright raves on the authenticity of the food. I’d downloaded a travel app from The Telegraph as well which listed it as one of the places to eat in Amsterdam. It even goes so far as to say that the snack bar is much better than the restaurant across the road run by the same Thai people. It really is only a no frills takeaway with a few tables and chairs and a bar table by the window but I don’t really care about atmosphere if the food is this good. A friendly lady from Bristol (of all places!) sat next to me at the bar table and we got to talking and decided to share our orders of stir-fry squid with holy basil (favourite of The Telegraph author) and pad thai with prawns to get the most out of our lunch. As it was with my app, it was her Lonely Planet Pocket Amsterdam travel guide that directed her there. Boy were our dishes delicious. And the portions were huge! Each was enough for two and we actually struggled to finish. I was too shy to snap photos of our food in front of her and we were also too busy gobbling down our food so apologies there is no pictorial evidence.

My recipe is an adaptation of Ken Hom’s after reading through the comments on the page. It’s such a simple dish to whip up and barely takes any time, the only proviso being able to find Thai holy basil from the shops. Thai holy basil has a subtle sweet aniseed flavour different to the usual basil which is stronger and punchier. I’d even say save this recipe until the time you can get holy basil as the flavour of the dish is so altered without it. Fresh squid is not easy to find here in Nottingham but luckily this recipe is pretty versatile you can substitute it with any sort of meat you like be it chicken, pork, or beef. Apparently it can also be cooked with minced pork and served with a fried egg on top. Anything goes! This is pretty much a one dish meal when cooked with the peppers and goes great with plain boiled rice to soak up the savoury sauce.

Thai Chicken & Holy Basil Stir-Fry (Pad Kra Pao Gai)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
450g boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 red pepper, cut into 1cm slices
3 tbsp sliced shallots
3 red chillies, deseeded and finely shredded (leave the seeds in 1 or 2 of the chillies for a spicier kick)
3 tbsp chopped garlic
4 tbsp fish sauce
3 tsp dark soy sauce
4 tsp sugar (granulated or caster is fine)
Water to thin the sauce down
Leaves from 2 large bunches of Thai holy basil
A handful of toasted cashew nuts

  1. Heat a wok on a high heat until it’s smoking and add in the oil. Once the oil is smoking as well add in the shallots and chilies and stir for 2 minutes until softened, then add in the garlic and stir for another minute.
  2. Add in the chicken pieces and stir until browned, then add in the red peppers and stir for a minute.
  3. Lower the heat to medium and add in the fish sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. Add in 50 to 100ml of water to thin the sauce and leave to simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. The amount of water will vary according to how much sauce you’d prefer without losing the flavour. If you add too much just boil it a little longer to reduce it down again.
  4. Switch off the heat and stir in all the basil leaves. It might seem plenty but they do wilt down a lot.
  5. Serve with cashew nuts sprinkled on top. (I forgot to add them in the pic above!)