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Spring Lamb Soup

Spring Lamb Soup

Lovely, Lovely Leftovers!

So yesterday I promised you a great recipe for the leftovers from my Bulgarian-ish  lamb. I’m not going to disappoint you, and neither will this soup. Once you have already made the lamb, it really is very minimal effort to make.

This sort of thing is really the best way to use up leftovers – minimal effort, but just different enough that it is not just a repeat of the meal from the day before. Oh, and delicious, of course!

You will use up the vegetable sauce, and the meat, and add bits of your own. If you don’t like chicory, then you can use baby gem lettuce in the same way instead. I might be nice to add a thinly sliced spring onion with the peas, or instead of the peas. If you don’t have parsley, you can try mint. that’s the other great thing about dishes like this, they really are completely adjustable to what you like and what you have in the cupboard.

Recipe: Spring Lamb Soup

Ingredients

150 g Puy lentils

4 heads chicory, the forced kind

A little oil for frying

200 g broad beans (podded weight)

1 l vegetable sauce leftover from Bulgarian-ish Lamb

200 g cooked lamb

100 g peas, shelled or frozen

2-3 drops Worcestershire Sauce

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Method

Cook the puy lentils in plenty of water, until they are almost done. Don’t salt the water, it makes their skins tough. Drain when they have reached this stage.

Meanwhile, halve the chicory, or cut it into quarters if it is large, but it is really better to get smaller ones. Heat the oil in a frying pan. When the oil has warmed, add the chicory, flat side down at first, and cook for a minute or two until the leaves start to colour, then flip them over to colour on the other side. Remove from the heat when they are coloured on both sides.

Cook the broad beans in boiling, unsalted water for three minutes, then drain them and double pod them. I think the reason that people think that they don’t like broad beans is because no-one has taken the trouble to double pod them. It isn’t all that much effort, and the results really are worth it. Unless you have the tiny baby beans, in which case they are fine just as they are.

Heat up the vegetable sauce, add the lentils, lamb and the chicory, and cook for five minutes. Add the beans and the peas and cook for a further minute. Season with a little Worcestershire sauce. Stir through the chopped parsley, and serve with crusty bread.

The whole meal takes less than 20 minutes to prepare, and what could be better, tastier, or easier than that?

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Making the Most of a Marmalade Mistake

Breakfast  Flapjacks

What a Comeback

The clementine marmalade I made caught slightly on the bottom of the pan. This is what comes of trying to cook and blog at the same time! I only took my eye off the ball for a couple of seconds, while I had a spoonful of the golden, orangey preserve waiting for the fridge test.

Most of the marmalade was fine, so I bottled it up. But there was about half a jar on the bottom which had gone too far. As you know, I cannot bear to waste food, and this is no exception. I won’t inflict this on my friends, but there is no reason why I can’t still use it.

Marmalade makes a great glaze for both sweet and savoury food. I did bake a yoghurt cake, and then melted 2 tbsp of the marmalade with a tbsp of water to make a glaze. I poured the glaze over the cake while both were still warm, and then left the lot to cool in the tin. Unfortunately, I have never made a yoghurt cake before, and clearly didn’t beat the egg, yoghurt and oil together enough, so it was too dense, so I haven’t photographed it. It was fine, when splashed with a little Cointreau (or orange juice would also be fine), and served with fresh Greek yoghurt.

I have also kept a little marmalade in reserve, because I have another glaze in mind, but this time for a nice duck, a wild one if I can get hold of it. I shall add shallots and thyme, and make sure I baste the bird as it cooks. I guess you can expect to see it here, if it is a success.

However, I left the lion’s share of the leftover marmalade for the recipe I am about to share with you now. The first thing that came to my mind when it was clear I would have some marmalade was flapjacks. I’m not really sure why, but I knew that I had to try it. I had a feeling that the thick cut, sticky marmalade would be the perfect foil for the oats. Both of them are traditionally associated with breakfast, and I really thought this could fly. I thought about it some more over the next few days, and it became clear that I could substitute the marmalade for the usual golden syrup.

There is a golden ratio for the usual kind of flapjack. As long as you stick with this ratio, then you can’t go far wrong. It also works for metric, imperial, volume, or if you prefer to measure your ingredients by a more eccentric means. The ratio is as follows:

  • 2 Golden Syrup
  • 4 Butter
  • 6 Brown Sugar
  • 8 Oats (or oats & other dry ingredients, such as seeds)

This is the ratio that I was taught as a small kid, and it has never yet done me wrong. You can then add more stuff, like dried or fresh fruits, candied peel or crystallised ginger, spices, chocolate, and so on. I always use a mix of whole rolled oats, and the finer, chopped sort that is best for porridge, because I find this gives it a better texture without falling apart. You can add seeds and other grains as well if you like, but you should adjust the amount of oats, so that you maintain the ratio.

These were unconventional flapjacks, not just in the sense of substituting syrup for marmalade, but I have to admit in this case, I also decided to adjust the proportions of the ratio as well. I wanted the orange to really shine in the mix, and the marmalade has a lot of sugar in it anyway. It may not please your grandmother, but it worked for me in this instance.

After a bit of fiddling, I settled on a 4:4:4:8 ratio, and the results worked really well. The bars are chewy, albeit in a slightly different, stickier way than regular golden syrup ones, but I like it.

I prefer my flapjacks on the chewier side, but if you are one of those people who like crunchier flapjacks, you may need to add some golden syrup, or possibly more butter to prevent the marmalade making the bar too hard in the  (slightly) longer cooking process. It is not something that I experimented with this time, but I would be happy to if others are interested. You don’t have to use up marmalade mistakes – ordinary marmalade from a jar will do just as well here.

The amounts I am going to give were enough for a 20 x 25 cm tin. I tend to line my tins with baking paper, because it makes the finished flapjacks a lot easier to remove from the tin, but you can just grease the tin really well, it is up to you. If I were a more dedicated baker, I would invest in that reuseable silicon parchment stuff, to reduce waste. I have got a birthday coming up, so who knows?

Recipe: Breakfast Flapjacks

Ingredients

160 g marmalade

160 g butter

160 g brown sugar (I used light muscovado and demerara, because it is what I had)

300 g mix of whole and chopped rolled oats

30 g pumpkin seeds

30 g dried cranberries

Method

Put your oven on at 180 °C.

Melt the marmalade, butter, and sugar over a medium heat, stirring so they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

Mix the oats, pumpkin seeds, and cranberries in a large bowl.

When the sweet goods and the butter have all melted and combined together well, pour onto the dried ingredients, and mix well to ensure that they are all well coated and no streaks of white oats remain.

Press the flapjack mix into the baking tray. You want to press it in fairly well, to help the mixture set into lovely bars. Then smooth it over with the back of a metal spoon, making the top smooth, and the flapjack layer as even as you can.

Bake it for about 25-30 minutes, depending on how chewy or crunchy you want it. Flapjacks are really forgiving, so they are easy to cook with other things, to maximise your energy use from the oven. They won’t collapse if you open your oven at the wrong time, and don’t really absorb other flavours. I haven’t tried cooking them at the same time as smoked fish, for example, but they are fine t go in with stews, other cakes, roasting meat etc.

When they are nice and golden all over, then remove them from the oven. You will need to mark them into the squares or rectangles that you intend to serve them in fairly soon after coming out of the oven. I got 12 bars from this amount of  mixture. Then they should be allowed to cool completely in the baking tray.

These flapjacks are really tasty, and the pieces of orange and cranberry really do add an interesting texture, as well as the marmalade, giving them a bit more kick than your average flapjack. Marmalade – it’s not just for toast, you know!

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A Stock From Scraps

Vegetable Stock

The Basis of Many, Many Meals

Today’s recipe was inspired by a request from a friend who reads Edible Things. It is great to hear from people, so if you have any requests, let me know, and I can blog about those too.

If you have a recipe you’d like to see, or something to inspire, please feel free to get in touch or find me on twitter.

Anyway, my friend asked about how to make vegetable stock, particularly in reference to making stock from scraps. Obviously, she has come to exactly the right place. I never throw anything out if I can help it. I was accused of being from the 1950s when I admitted to an acquaintance that I make my own stock. He doesn’t know what flavour he is missing out on!

In my freezer, there is an entire drawer given over to scraps and offcuts of one kind or another.  I keep them separate in bags or freezer containers (for the meat products), ready to be used later. I routinely keep and freeze the stalks and outer leaves of cabbage; the tough outer leaves of fennel; carrot tops and peel; the tops of leeks; and the root and tip of onions that I have chopped for other dishes, and the stalks of any herbs where I have only needed to use the leaves.I would probably also keep the gnarly bits at the bottom of a head of celery too, if it weren’t for the fact that I have guinea pigs that eat them.

Frozen Food Trimmings

Stock Drawer

Currently there are also apple cores, lemon and orange zests, bones from a chicken, pork fat and rind, and a whole load of vegetable offcuts and peels. There will be a use for all of these in various stocks, jellies, sauces, or something.

I actually don’t like the term food waste when talking about unloved offcuts and trimming. There is so much you can do with them, up to and including composting, which I also do, but only when I have got the maximum value from them first.

Obviously, I know that most people do not have the freezer space or the geekiness to save stuff like I do, but if you do nothing else with your “waste”, do give stock a go. I guarantee that it really easy, and will really improve the flavour of soups, stews, sauces and gravies.

I make a number of different stocks, so I bag my veggies separately, because  I don’t want cabbage in a chicken stock, for example. If you have limited space, put them all into the same bag and chop them up a little. If you have no freezer space at all, you can make a quick stock using scraps, and supplementing it with the odd celery stick or whatever. The finished stock will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, in an airtight container, so you can still add it to dishes (NB it will be shorter for meat stock), and have great-tasting stock.

You can pretty much use what you want in a stock. I know that some people use potato peelings in stock, although I personally don’t like the flavour it lends. Some people also choose to put the papery onion skins in, although this will mostly impart a yellow colour, so again, I tend not to bother. Similarly, beetroot tops and peel can be used, but it will both colour and flavour the stock.

I have used pumpkin, pea pods, lettuce that looks as though it is going over, the ends of aubergine, tomato skins, mushroom trimmings,asparagus ends, the leaves of celariac,  beets and carrots at different times. As long as you wash the vegetables thoroughly before freezing, or putting straight into the stock pot, it really is up to you, and experimentation is the key for your tastes, and the dishes that you cook with.

There are a few vegetables that you cannot use the leaves from, and this includes rhubarb (which are a vegetable, but used as a fruit), aubergine and parsnip leaves. I have used the vines of tomatoes, but not the leaves.

The basis for most stock is the triumvirate of celery, carrot and onion (or leek – they are the same family).This is the basis of both meat and vegetarian stocks. It is really a question of balance. In the recipe below, I have outlined the rough proportions that I used. For vegetable stock, I try to use a cabbage (or broccoli stalks, or chard or something similar) in my veg stocks, because it gives a depth of flavour.

As you get more used to scrap stock, you will also develop a sense of the proportions of each that you want. I can do it by eye now. It does not take long to gain confidence in this technique. And believe me, you will really be glad that you gave it a go.

Basic Stock Amount, by eye

An Eyeful

You also don’t have to wait until you have the same amounts as I do. You can make stock with the ends of one leek, the peel and tops from one carrot and a single cabbage leaf, if that is all you have. Really, nothing is set in stone for this, the ingredients are down to what you have.

Recipe: Vegetable Stock

Ingredients

250 g leek/onion trimmings(frozen weight)

150 g carrot peel

2 celery stalks, (it weighed about 150 g)

50 g herb stalks, including mint, parsley & thyme (if making meat stock, I would most likely leave out the mint stalks)

50 g cabbage stalks & leaves

100 g fennel leaves

2 dried bay leaves. I have a bay tree, so I usually use fresh bay, if you are doing so, double the amount given in your recipe

10 or so peppercorns

3 cloves

pinch salt

You can also use other spices. It will depend on what you want to use the stock for. I use pepper and cloves for a generic stock, but if I wanted an asian one, I would add cinnamon and star anise. But, when I want to make a pho, or something, I take my generic stock and add the spices at the time. Again, this is a matter of your own taste.

2½ l cold water (or enough to just cover the vegetables that you have, although bear in mind that they will float)

Method

I  use a very large saucepan for making stock (my stockpot), but even if you have an average sized one, you will need a well-fitting lid for it.

Put all of the vegetable trimmings in the pan. I chuck them in from frozen, having washed them before I froze them. You can also put fresh ones in, it doesn’t matter. Cover the vegetables with cold water, and put the lid on the pan.

Stock ingredients with water to cover

Put a Lid On It

Bring the water up to the boil, then turn it down to a gentle simmer. Keep the lid on the pan while it simmers.

A Simmer Plate

My Simmer Plate

I have a simmer plate, which I like to use, because I can turn the hob down to the lowest setting, and it distributes the heat more evenly across the pan. They are not essential though, so  don’t worry if you don’t have one. Let it simmer for about an hour (longer for meat stocks, depending on the size of the bone that you have).

Allow it to cool with the vegetables still in it, then strain the liquid. This is your stock. If you are still reluctant to throw away your vegetables, you can take a little of the stock and the veg, and blend it up, and you have the very tasty basis of a soup that you can either eat like that, or add more things to for bulk. Every aspect of making stock is about taste, not waste. If you are making meat stocks, obviously, you should remove the bones before you do this.

The stock can be used as is. If you have limited freezer space, you can boil the stock to reduce it by half, which will concentrate the flavour. Don’t use a lid on your pan for this stage.

I measure off half litres and put them in into individual containers (usually take away ones are fine, they stack and they have lids), which I label and freeze. I find that this is a convenient amount to use in most recipes.

They are easily defrosted on a worktop, or if you are less organised, you can heat them in a microwave or a pan ready for immediate use.

If you don’t have a lot of space, concentrate the stock, you can freeze them in ice cube trays, then transfer them to a bag once frozen.

Whichever way you freeze it, don’t forget to label, as there is nothing more irritating than forgetting them in the freezer, then scratching your head a few weeks later when you find them again.

So there you go; cheap, practically effortless, and really tasty stock, that you know is right for you. It doesn’t contain any hidden ingredients, so you know it will be suitable for your friends with special dietary requirements or preferences. And you have the basis for many soups, dishes, sauces and whatever you like really. This stock of scraps is really much, much more than the sum of its parts!

Update: I have entered this post into Turquoise Lemon’s No Waste Food Challenge, which is all about fennel for the month of April

Turquioise Lemon's No Waste Food Challenge

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Tiramisu – Another Day Another Trifle

Tiramisu

A Mere Trifle

(c) J. Casper 2011

This is another take on  a trifle, of course, continuing in the spirit of eating well and using up what you have. This also appeared at the international Christmas dinner, but is great for any occasion.

The history of this dessert is uncertain, but it seems to be a lot younger than my family’s sherry trifle. However, purists would argue that my recipe is not a tiramisu, but at the time I served it, I didn’t think that “Coffee and Custard Layer Construction” had quite the same ring to it. Although now I see it written down, I am wavering…

The traditional tiramisu consists of layered sponge, soaked in coffee, and a  mascarpone and Marsala custard. But, I had some more spare panetone and I had made 2 l of custard, so I diverted from the original. I think that you can add a slug of Marsala, or even some Tia Maria if you want. I preferred a big smack from the coffee, and so didn’t want it mellowed in this instance. I certainly don’t think it suffered for it.

If you are an improvisational cook, like I am, you will enjoy getting the most out of what you have, so may well find other, equally good things in your cupboard, or fridge. It is good to know that you don’t have to stick rigidly to the old traditions, but that you can still produce great tasting food. You never know, if it is good enough, you could be starting a tradition for yourself!

Recipe: Tiramisu

Ingredients

180 g panetone

3 espresso coffees

6 egg yolks

100 g sugar

500 ml double cream

500 ml milk

½  vanilla pod

100 ml whipping cream

Cocoa powder to dust

Method

Make the custard, using the usual method, which is here, in case you need a reminder…

Leave to cool overnight in the fridge, if you can, but at least a few hours if you forgot that you are entertaining the next day, or have a pressing appointment.

Cut the panetone into strips of roughly the same size and thickness, and put in a dish, in a single layer if you can. I used a flat baking dish for this, not the final serving dish. Pour the coffee over it in as even a way as you can, you don’t want large portions of the sponge to remain untainted by the coffee.

Set the panetone aside to soak for about half an hour.

Once the panetone is thoroughly soaked, layer it into the serving dish (or individual glasses)  so that you have sponge, custard, sponge custard. I find that this is enough for two layers, but you may get more or fewer, depending on the width and depth of your serving dish.

Leave about 3-5 cm at the top, and refrigerate if you are not going to serve it straight away.

Just before serving, whip up the rest of the cream, and put it in a layer on the top of your trifle. Dust with cocoa powder, and serve it to guests who have already feasted on loads of food, but they won’t be able to resist just a small bit of this too.

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Sherry Trifle

Sherry Trifle

Sherry Trifle, for all Festive Occasions

(c) J. Casper 2011

In my family, a festive occasion is never complete without a sherry trifle – home-made, of course! We have a family recipe from my aunt’s mother-in-law, who was very particular about her recipe. She never, ever used fruit, and would frown upon versions that had superfluous ingredients. We have them for all manner of get-togethers, and a party wouldn’t be the same without one.

She passed her secret recipe onto my aunt. I have never asked her the exact recipe, but she has given me enough hints and tips that I have been able to come up with a good enough approximation. The exact recipe remains a closely guarded secret. Well, at least I imagine it that way, it seems nice to have a recipe that gets passed on to only a select few!

I have been meaning to post about the one that I made for our international dinner, but I had so much to post from Australia and since then, this is the first opportunity that I have had. I figure that this recipe is good for any party, and what better excuse than on your next snow day? Given the weather at the moment, I’m sure you won’t have to wait that long for the next one!

This version of sherry trifle has a few main differences to my normal one. Firstly, following our mince pie and mulled wine party, we had half a panetone left over that someone brought. I hate to waste things, so it seemed the perfect way to use this was to add it to the trifle instead of the usual sponge.

Secondly, I sent the Big Guy off to buy the sherry, and he came back with Pedro Ximinez. It does fit the brief of a sweet sherry, but it is much more interesting than the usual cream sherry, so beloved of elderly ladies, that is traditional in the family one.

Thirdly, the jam is usually strawberry or raspberry. I didn’t have any of those, and so I used some of the blueberry jam I had left from a trip to Sweden.

I am not sure that these amendments would have met the approval of the originator of the recipe, but it was certainly appreciated by my guests at our international christmas dinner!

Recipe: Sherry Trifle

Ingredients

6 egg yolks

100 g sugar

500 ml double cream

500 ml milk

½  vanilla pod

150 g panetone, cut into strips and spread with jam

100 ml sherry

200 ml whipping cream for the topping

Method

Firstly, you need to make a custard. It also need to be fairly thick, so I use half milk and cream. Normal custards can be made with just milk, but this one needs to hold up when you serve it, and not run everywhere, so the cream is necessary here.

You can make the custard using the step-by-step guide that I posted yesterday.

Set the custard aside to cool completely. If you can chill it overnight, so much the better.

Spread the jam on the panetone, and place it in the bottom of the serving dish. My traditional sherry trifle is served in a large bowl, from which everyone is served, but you can also arrange it into glasses for individual servings. Add the sherry to the sponge, and leave aside to soak in for 20 minutes.

Add the custard on top of the panetone. Spread it so it is as even as possible, but leave about 2-3 cm at the top of the bowl.If you are not going to serve this immediately, chill it again.

Just before serving, whip some cream to stiff peaks, and put it on top of the custard.

This is not a lightweight dessert, but it is a great treat. Especially for a celebration.

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Bun’s the Word for Chinese New Year

Dragon in China

Lóng Nián Kuài Lè Happy Year of the Dragon

(c) M. Medeiros 2010

Monday was Chinese New Year, so I decided that I would cook Chinese food. The Lunar New Year is the most part of the most important festival in the Chinese calendar, Chūn Jié (Spring Festival). Anyone who has Chinatown in a part of their city will know what a great party it is. It started on Monday, and will go on until the 15th day of the Lunar Calendar, when it will end with the  Festival of Lanterns.

The Chinese have a number of traditional foods for their Lunar New Year celebrations. They like to eat noodles, which must remain uncut for longevity. I cheated a bit and decided that the noodles in the Pho would have to do for this. It was eaten for the same meal, so it counts, right?

They also eat chicken, to represent good fortune, and shiitake mushrooms to fulfill wishes. I had some shredded chicken in the fridge that I had stripped from chicken carcasses that I used for stock, and I had to get some shiitake mushrooms for the pho anyway, so I wanted to use these as the basis for my Chinese meal.

I know that I am going on about it a bit, but we were lucky enough to sample some amazing Chinese food in Sydney. Some of which I blogged about, but a lot of which I didn’t. My recent experience led me to recall the vegan yum cha at Bodhi, where the Hom Bao (steamed buns) were incredible.

Hom Bao would also help me hit some more New Year’s Resolutions;  make more asian food, and bake more bread. Given that I coud also use up leftovers, there were really few other options for my first chinese meal of the year.

So, I threw myself right in at the deep end, and decided to make two fillings for Hom Bao, made two ways.  One was meaty, and used the chicken, and the other was vegetarian. It would have been vegan, but vegetarian oyster sauce has milk protein in it apparently. Who knew?

I am not going to lie, these buns are not a trivial undertaking, and involve several techniques. However, the results are really worth it, with a casing of sweet, soft dough, and rich savoury fillings.

Next time, I will make sure that I have some guests to share them with.

Recipe: Hom Bao

Ingredients

For the bun starter:

1 sachet dry active yeast

4 tbsp plain flour

4 tbsp warm (not hot, you need to be able to comfortably put a finger in it) water

1 tsp caster sugar

For the bun dough:

110 ml lukewarm water – if you can’t measure this accurately in a jug, weigh it (110 g)

200 g plain flour

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp vegetable oil (not one with a strong flavour)

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp baking Powder

For the Chicken Filling:

100 g cooked chicken, shredded

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

A little vegetable oil for frying

2 spring onions, sliced thinly

1 tbsp soy sauce

½ tsp sugar

For the Mushroom Filling:

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

A little vegetable oil for frying

2 cm lump root ginger

½ leek

100 g shiitake mushrooms, or mix of shiitake & oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped.

1 tsp chinese five spice powder

1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce (or make your own, and you can make it vegan)

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp mirin (rice wine)

Method

Firstly, make the bun starter. Mix together the flour, water & sugar so the sugar starts to dissolve. Sprinkle in the yeast. and mix well.

Bun dough starter

Starter at the very beginning

Set it aside for 30 minutes to allow the yeast to start to work.

Bun dough starter after 30 mins

The starter develops bubbles and will rise a little

Add the rest of the dough ingredients, except for the baking powder, and combine well, until it comes together into a dough.

Bun dough

Dough formed

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, by holding onto the end of the dough with the fingers of one hand, then pushing the top of the dough down and away from you with the other hand. Fold it in half, then make a quarter turn.  Keep repeating the kneading action until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. This should take about 10 minutes. If you over or under knead the dough, it will affect the bread, but it is easy to know when to stop kneading, this will be at the point when a finger jabbed into the dough stays there, and does not disappear.

dough, after first knead

Fingers sticking – good

Then put it into a lightly oiled bowl (a large one). The oil should not be strongly flavoured, but you need it to stop the dough from sticking to the bowl.

Dough ball before rising

Dough balls!

Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel, and place it in a warm place. I use the top of my stairs, which is the warmest place in my flat, due to there being a door at the top of them. You can put it in your warmest room, or an airing cupboard if you have one. Don’t put the bowl directly on a radiator, and keep it out of draughts if you can. Leave it to prove for a few hours (maybe 2-3) until the dough has tripled in size

Dough after proving

Proved, you have large dough balls

While the dough is proving, make the fillings, then set them both aside to go cold.

For the chicken filling, gently sweat the onion and the garlic until translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix thoroughly. The mixture should not be very liquid, so if it is, slake a little bit of cornflour, and stir it in.

Cicken & Soy Filling

Soy Chicken Lickin’

For the mushroom filling, sweat the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and the ginger and cook until you can smell them.

You will have julienned the leek as part of the preparations. the julienne need to be small.

Julienned leek

Fine cuts

Add these and the mushrooms to the pan, and cook down until the leeks are silken. You will need to stir this so that the leeks don’t burn. The observant may notice that I have sliced my mushrooms instead of chopping them. Don’t do this, it makes the buns harder to stuff. Chopped will be better.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Again, you don’t want it too liquid, so cook it down if it is runny.

Mushroom Filling

Oyster mushroom filling – much tastier than it looks

When your dough has risen, knock it down (give it a punch until the air goes out of it), then spread it onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle evenly with the baking powder, then knead it again for about 5 minutes.

Divide the dough into 2, using a sharp knife. Put one half back into the oiled bowl, and cover it again. Roll the other half into a sausage, then divide it up into 8-12 pieces.

Divide the dough ino bun size

Bun Size Dough Balls

Put any dough that you are not working on back into your bowl and cover it over.

Shape each small dough piece into a round, then flatten with your hands

Flattening the dough

As flat as a Hom Bao

Place about a tablespoon of filling into the centre of the flattened disk.

Buns and filling

Filling

Then draw up the sides of the bun as follows:

Half & pinch

Fold in half over the filling & pinch the dough together

Stretch out sides

Stretch the sides out a bit

Be careful not to stretch the dough too thin,or tear it, because it will split when you cook it.

Pinch together

Pinch the sides together

Then bring the ‘gaps’ to the centre and pinch them all together to form a seal.

Sealed Hom Bao

Sealed Hom Bao

Place, sealed side down, on a 10 cm square of greaseproof paper.

The finished bun

The Finished Bun

Put the bun aside in a warm room, covered with a clean tea towel to prove for a bit more. You should find that you get better as you go along, my last buns were certainly a lot quicker than the first ones.

Repeat until you have finished the dough. You might have a little bit of filling left over, but that’s OK. I used my leftover mushroom mixture up in an omlette, and I intend to have the chicken with a jacket potato.

After about 30 minutes, the buns will have risen a bit more, and should look puffy.

Hom Boa after final proving

Buns – done!

You can then steam the buns over a little water, or brush them with egg wash and bake them in the centre of an oven at 180°C. Either way, they will take about 15-20 minutes, until they are fluffy and hot.

Hom Bao two ways

Hom Bao Two Ways – Golden and Steamed

I split the bao in the front, to show you the filling. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture the steam, but there was a lot.

You cannot freeze the baked bao, but the steamed version freezes beautifully, and they will last a long time. Freeze after steaming, by placing on it’s cooking paper into one of those plastic takeaway cartons. You can fit three or four in each, depending on the size of of your bao.

Steam from frozen, still on the paper. Stick a  knife in to make sure they are warm all the way through before serving.

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Local Inspiration

Amsterdam Neighbourfood Market

A Room of Inspiration

I was alerted to the brand new Neighbourfood Market by a friend on facebook. The first market took place yesterday, and we went along, albeit a bit later in the afternoon. I may have missed a couple of stalls and a fair bit of the produce as a result. But I was quite excited by what I did see.

Local restaurants  Frenzi and Radijs were there, as well as the street food vans from De EspressoBus and Waffels op Wielen

Then there were the stalls from caterers and market regulars (there are a number of daily and weekly markets in and around Amsterdam), which included Pieman, The Soup Sisters, Olivity, and  Bocca Coffee.

There were also smaller producers – a man who sold his own honey; the Amsterdam Cupcake Company; and, I think, another, there was definitely a stall that had sold out of its goods and was packing away when I got there.

The decor and, it has to be said, much of the ambience comes from the vintage stylings of Found (who also provide flights of lovely organic wines at very reasonable prices), Chatoui (who had a really nice stall with pretty remade items on it), and Kringloop de Lokatie. there were long trestle tables for sharing food experiences and discussion with friends and strangers, and there were gezellig little nooks with sofas and standard lamps for the more intimate discussions.

Chatoui stall

Recycled Chic at Chatoui

So far, so regular market, I hear you say. But the idea is that you come and hang out with friends, have brunch or lunch, and talk to local producers, so in that respect it is a little more like a café, but you are not limited to one proprietor. They also have an eye to reducing their waste (which will always win points with me!) and encouraged people to bring their own plates, cutlery and cups. This was well advertised on the website and in the marketing beforehand, and it seemed as though a lot of people did do this, judging by how busy the washing up area was.

The crowd was fairly young, and hip, but it was busy, which was great for the first ever market. And this is where the inspiration came in. This was full of people who were real enthusiasts for food, and living lightly. People who couldn’t find the right niche for themselves, so they went out and made one, and brought a load of enthusiastic people with them. There was a real buzz about the place, and I heard loads of snatched conversations about food, and the produce, and what people were making themselves.

It felt like I was at the start of something exciting. And it made me realise something. I want to be a part of it. I have spent too long in Holland not looking for the kind of things that interest and excite me. If it hadn’t been for an alert from my friend, then I probably would not have found out about this market. If I don’t get involved with other people who are trying something, and try a few things for myself, then how do I know if I can cut it? What’s more, what do I have to lose? Even if my interest in food goes no further than having had a market stall once, I am bound to meet interesting people, and be able to talk with them about our shared passions – food, sustainability, waste reduction. I can find other people with a higher geek tolerance for food things than the Big Guy. I may even find some good people to collaborate with on a few ideas that I have that are too big for me to do alone. So, I am going to find out how I can be a part of this, and give it a go, and put myself out there.

I may not be able to make the next market in a month, because I have no idea how one goes about equipping oneself, and all the other things one might need to sell food to the public, but I am going to fire off an e-mail to the Neighbourfood crew and find out. It would be nice if any friends are interested for company and moral support, and I will reach out to one or two that might like to have a go with me,  but it will still be fun if I do it on my own.

I would love to do A Little of What You Fancy, so I can bring homemade products, and a loose title like this could be the way to go, so I can bring things that I have made or found, or that excite me that month, instead of having a regular speciality.

And you know, they do say a little of what you fancy does you good. I wonder if that will translate into Dutch?

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Bill’s Tomato Pasta and So Much More

Bill Grangers Tomato Pasta, Tomato Dressing & a Green Salad

Back to Work Dinner

The thing about coming half way around the world is that the seasons are back to front. We are in full summer right now, with the lovely fruit and vegetables that go with it.

I made this recipe for a friend who had kindly put us up for our wonderful week in Sydney. It is one of her favourites, and so I decided to make it for her to help her ease back to work after Christmas. She likes the dish, because the ingredients are very basic, and simple, but as long as they are chosen (or grown) well, they really are more than the sum of their parts.

The tomatoes take a little preparation. Being the lazy type, I often don’t bother to do this. But, as they are the star in this dish,  it really is worth the effort.

It is a Bill Granger recipe, from his book Sydney Food, published by Murdoch Books. I have reproduced it here, simply because, in my usual no-waste style, there is so much that you can do with what most people would discard from this recipe, which I have given at the end of the pasta recipe.

This is a great summer dish, whether your summer comes in December or in June.

Recipe: Bill’s Tomato Pasta

Ingredients

1 kg vine tomatoes – or really ripe ones from your garden

1 tbsp sea salt

120 ml extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves

1 lemon – juice and zest

1 small red chilli, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

400 g spaghetti, 100 g per person

1 bunch basil, leaves removed from stalks

Shaved Parmesan to serve

Method

Firstly, wash the tomato and the vine. Do not discard the vine, as it imparts a lot of flavour, and you know I hate to waste anything!

Then plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 10 seconds, and refresh in iced water or under a running tap. I prefer the iced water, because you can use it to water plants with, once the ice has melted, and the water is at room temperature. The skin should be splitting from the tomato, and should be quite easy to peel at this stage. If it isn’t plunge it back into the boiling water for a few seconds, and refresh again. As you will not be able to do all of the tomatoes at once, I keep a pan of water boiling on the stove for this recipe. Again, you can use the water afterwards for tea (so you haven’t wasted the energy it took to boil it either!), or put it in your water butt or pot plants.

The only part of the tomato that I haven’t found a use for is the skin,which is normally indigestible, so on its own I don’t really know what to do with it. The skins go in my wormery, so I get some use from them eventually. If anyone has any suggestions, please do leave them in the comments.

Once you have peeled your tomatoes, cut them in half, and remove the seeds and the watery pulp. Please don’t throw this away, as you will be throwing away a lot of useful flavour. Instead, collect it in a bowl, and we’ll come back to it later.

Roughly chop the flesh of the tomato. Then place it in a sieve, and sprinkle with the sea salt. Leave it over a bow for at least half an hour, to draw out more moisture. This will make your dish as flavourful as possible. Don’t discard the liquid run-off either, as this will be used up later, I promise.

Meanwhile, crush and finely chop the garlic. Mix this with the lemon zest and juice, vinegar, chopped chilli, pepper and olive oil. Put the tomatoes in this mixture once they have had a little while to steep in the salt. Mix this well, and then leave aside for 20 minutes to allow the flavours to meld.

Boil the spaghetti in plenty of salted water. Make sure it is still a little al dente. Drain, and then add it to the tomato mixture. Mix it up well, and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Tear the basil leaves and add them to the pasta.

Serve the pasta with parmesan shavings, best kept large and made with a vegetable peeler. I also served mine with a simple green salad, dressed with a dressing made from the tomato consommé, from the bits that we kept aside earlier.

Mel’s Multitude of Methods with Tomato “Waste”.

As promised, now we get to the bits that you kept aside earlier.

You should have the vine or truss that the tomatoes came on, the juice and seeds from the tomatoes, and the liquid run off from the salted tomato flesh. Good. Firstly, break up the tomato vine into bits a couple of cm long. Then, mix all three tomato “waste” products, and pass them through a sieve. The vine will give this an intense tomato flavour. You can either allow this to drip through on its own for a clear liquid, or you can push this pulpy mixture through with the back of a spoon, whereby the liquid will be red. Congratulations, you have now made  tomato consommé!

Tomato Consommé

Treasure, not trash!

At this stage, fish the vines back out of the sieve, and compost them. Tip the seeds out, and dry them on some kitchen paper. When they are dry, pick off any remaining pulp (which will go mouldy) and then put them in an envelope (write tomato seeds on the envelope, so you know what they are). Next spring, put them in soil, and water it regularly, and you will likely get new tomatoes! If you use organic tomatoes, this is almost certain. Some supermarket tomatoes may not germinate, because they are F1 or hybrids, but you will have lost nothing by giving it a go. Especially if you have reused an old envelope, and written on it in pencil!

The consommé can be used for a million things. It will be intensely flavoured, and slightly acid, like the tomatoes from which it came. I made a dressing for the green salad I served with the pasta dish. I mixed 2 tbsp tomato consommé with salt, pepper, a splash of white balsamic vinegar, and then enough extra virgin olive oil to make a nice emulsion.

If you have enough, chilled consommé makes a delicious soup for a starter, just garnish it with some basil before serving.

The consommé freezes well, and can be added to soups, stews, and other tomato pasta sauces (for which you do not need to freeze it, but it will keep longer). We froze ours in an ice cube tray, and when they are frozen, we will put them into a plastic bag to save space.

Consomme to Freeze, and a Salad Dressing

Many Methods with Consommé

Tomato consommé can be added to cocktails , but it is probably too light for a bloody mary. If you make your own ketchup, add with the sugar to intensify the tomato taste. In fact, pretty much any sauce that has tomatoes in will benefit from its addition.

If you want to be really cheffy, freeze it in a block. Once frozen, scrape it with a fork. The resulting crystals can be used as “tomato snow” on very delicate dishes. This is so easy, but you pay a fortune for it in a restaurant. People will also think you are an aspiring Heston, without you having to go anywhere near liquid nitrogen!

The possibilities to use this flavourful liquid are endless. How will you use yours?

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A Yuletide Legacy

Ham and Bean Soup

A Legacy of Leftovers

The best legacy of a Christmas dinner has to be the leftovers! Since my mantra is Taste not Waste, I am delighted when I can challenge myself to use up everything, so that nothing is thrown out.

The recent festivities yielded an obvious, yet exciting choice. I had a 2cm slice of the baked ham left, along with some cooked carrots from the christmas dinner. I also had a pot of gelatinous stock that came from the boiling bag that I had kept. I initially thought that it might be too salty to use, but you should never pour fat down the drain, so I tipped it into a container, and put it to one side. It turned out that there was actually very little fat in it, and the stock itself was rich, but definitely not too salty.

For the mince pie and mulled wine party, I had intended to make a couple of dips, so I had soaked some chickpeas and some cannellini beans, but as usual my ambition far exceeded the time I had given myself, and something had to give.I was considering just cooking the pulses up, and freezing them, they would have been fine to add to soups or stews from frozen.

However, beans and ham are an excellent combination. If I had more ham left, I would have made a version of a cassoulet, with the addition of some sausage and a tomato liquor to stew it all in. There are a hundred other types of dish I could have tried, but I settled on a soup, as it would make what little meat I had go the furthest.

The result that I achieved from such humble ingredients was brilliant. The soup was so flavoursome and satisfying, it made me quite proud. It really was the perfect way to end the Netherlands Christmas celebrations.

Recipe: Ham and Bean Soup

Ingredients

1 stick celery, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 leek, trimmed, washed and sliced into half moons

1 clove garlic, very finely chopped

Bacon fat to sweat the vegetables in

80 g ham, diced, more would be great, if you have it

1 tsp smoked paprika

200 g soaked weight chickpeas

300 g soaked weight cannellini beans

350 g ham stock. I have given a weight here, because the stock was solid when I added it to the soup. I would normally say that you could substitute one stock for another one, but in this soup, especially if you don’t have that much meat, I think that ham stock is integral to the flavour

Boiling water to cover

50 g cooked carrots. If you don’t have any leftover carrots, then use more raw ones

Small bunch chopped parsley

Method

Firstly, if you need to, soak and cook the pulses. You could also use a single tin of cannellini beans if you must, but the dried version will bring an extra dimension to the soup.

Prepare the vegetables, and sweat them off. I never throw away fat (of course) and I had a little fat left over from frying bacon, which I used to sweat off the vegetables, in order to maximise the flavour. This is by no means necessary, you could just as well use olive or sunflower oil.

Once the fat has melted, sweat off the onion, celery and the raw carrots for three or four minutes, before adding the leek. Leek burns easily, and the last thing you want is the bitter taste of burnt leek in this soup. When the leek is translucent, add the garlic and the smoked paprika, and let them cook off for a minute or so.

Stir in the ham and the beans, until they have a light coating of the smoked paprika, then add the stock and a little boiling water. The stock will melt down quickly. Top up the soup with more boiling water, so that the liquid covers the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender to your liking. Add the cooked carrots, and simmer for another minute, to warm them through. Before serving, stir through some chopped parsley.

Great the day that you make it. Even better when you reheat the last bowlful for lunch the next day.

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Making Meringues

I am sure that you may have noticed by now that I use a lot of egg yolks – in stuff like custards, mayonnaises, pasta, pastry and sauces. This leaves me with a lot of egg whites to use up.  Since I hate waste, I try always to use them, which invariably means making macaroons, and meringues. I need to expand this repertoire, so expect to see consommés and more stir fries appearing here soon. If you have other suggestions for using up egg whites (although not the egg-white omelette, please, some things are a step too far, even for me!) feel free to leave them in the comments.

I had originally intended to make advocaat, in keeping with the Anglo-Dutch theme for my party, but I ran out of time. However, this time, the advocaat was actually the by-product of the intention to make meringues, instead of the usual situation where I have a load of egg whites left over from something else. No one missed the advocaat, anyway!

Since I make them so much, I thought that I would share my technique here. I haven’t given a recipe, as it will depend on how many egg whites you have and to some extent how old they are.

Start by heating the oven to 110°C. Then measure out  45 g sugar for each egg white. I like to use raw cane sugar, but you can also use caster, granulated or icing sugar. I have also seen sugar solution, but that seems to be for Italian or Swiss style meringues, and I tend to stick with French. It is possible to use soft brown sugar, but be aware that this makes it very hard to get a crisp, dry meringue. I think this technique may be best left alone or, if you insist, only use it to top lemon meringue pie.

Put the egg whites in a very clean bowl. There must be no fat or detergent in it. If you are unsure, wipe it with the cut side of a lemon (or other citrus), which will act as a degreaser. If the bowl has any fat, it may affect the ability of the eggs to maintain the air that you are about to whip into them. The same goes if there are any traces of egg yolk, so be careful when separating the egg, too. Note that the fresher the egg, the less likely that the egg yolk is to break when you separate it.

Next, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. This is when the egg whites look drier, the whisk or a spoon will create peaks when you remove it from the mixture, and if you are brave, you can upend the bowl and the egg white will not slide out. I would advise using an electric whisk if you don’t want it to take you hours.

Egg Whites at the Stiff Peak stage

The stiff peak - sadly lacking in many ski resorts this year

Then, a tablespoon at a time, add the sugar and whisk in thoroughly before you add the next spoonful. The egg white will stiffen further, as you add the sugar. At this stage, you are beating to incorporate the sugar, not to add any further air, so it won’t increase in volume.

Egg Whites plus half the required sugar

About half way through - stiffer and peakier, but not more voluminous

Keep adding the sugar, and whipping, a tablespoon at a time. Eventually, the mixture will become really stiff, to the point of being really hard to work,  and will look shiny. This is when you stop adding sugar. Because I use cane sugar, I find I need less than the stated 45 g per egg white. If you are using caster or icing sugar, you may find that you need to use all of it. This is also fine.

Finished Meringue mix

The final product - glossy, thick and much harder to beat

Don’t add more sugar than needed to get to this stiff consistency (or than the 45 g, whichever happens to come first), otherwise your meringues will leach sugar. This does not really affect the taste, but it does give them a rather unattractive look. A bit like a tree that is leaching sap.

Now your meringue is ready to be shaped. You need to line a baking sheet with some greaseproof paper. You can stick it down with oil or by dabbing a bit of the meringue in each corner and the centre of the paper and using this as glue to stick it to the baking sheet. Once the baking sheet is ready, you need to choose what shape and size you are going to have your meringue. You may wish to have it as a pavlova, in which case you need to shape one large disc, with slightly elevated sides, to hold the fruit in. I normally go for individual ones, because these are better for parties or for sharing. Most commonly, I will get two spoons and shape individual quenelles, which can then be stuck together with cream and fruit in a sandwich. However, I wanted to fill these with Chestnut Jam, so I decided that mini versions of the pavlova-style would be better suited to the task.

Some people would use a piping bag for that, but I lack the finesse, and the piping bags, so I made do with shaping them with two spoons. You can try either, I think both are just as good. I made them vaguely circular, like a nest.

Meringue nests

Not sure what I did here, but you get the meringue nest picture

Then it is ready to go in the oven. Bake the meringues for up to 1 ½ hours (but check after 1). If you have made one large pavlova style meringue, you will need longer – check after 1 ½, and leave in the oven up to 2 hours.

A Meringue nest

Meringue nest - a better view

The idea is not really that the meringue cooks, more that it dries out. You need to check that it is no longer soggy to the touch, and that it generates a hollow sound when tapped very gently on the base.It will have darkened a little, even if you use icing sugar. Mine are generally more golden than off-white, because the unrefined sugar I use is a light brown.

When you get the hollow sound, it is done. If it is at all possible, turn off the oven, but leave the meringue in there to continue to dry overnight. This will give the best result, but it will be OK if you leave it to cool outside the confines of the oven.

Once it is done, fill it with fruit, cream, fruit and cream, jam, or serve it with ice cream, mash it up with fruit and cream to make Eton Mess – whatever you like, really.

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