Tag Archives: Vegetarian

Green Bean Chutney: A Taste of My Childhood

Runner Beans, Unknown var

From One Generation to the Next

Every year I grow runner beans in my garden. I don’t know what variety they are, they were originally given to me by my father from seed that he saved from his garden. I have never bought runner beans, and subsequent generations of dad’s seeds have grown successfully across four different gardens/climates and in two different countries.

We always had runner beans, fresh from the garden, throughout the summer and early autumn months. I used to take them for granted, since they always came, no matter what the weather or growing conditions that year.

After I moved out of home, I only really got runner beans if I was visiting my parents. Back then, I tended to shop in supermarkets, and runner beans were not a popular supermarket choice, maybe because it is hard to get them to be completely uniform, like the Stepford style apples and tomatoes that they prefer to sell.

When I first started to get a veg box, I got some runners, to my delight. Just like Mum used to, I settled in to string and slice them. I was jolted by a powerful memory of Mum doing this, often in front of Last of the Summer Wine on a Sunday evening.

When large amounts of beans were being prepared, I always got a bit excited, because I knew that the next day she would make Green Bean Chutney.

Just as my Dad always grew our vegetables, Mum always made a lot of our food from scratch. Chutneys, pickles and jams were no exception. In fact, I didn’t have factory produced jam until I left home; and frankly, I found it wanting.

I have always loved Green Bean Chutney. I used to have it every day at school, and all of the other kids would say stuff like “eurgh, that’s gross” and “Why do you always have that yellow stuff in your sandwiches?”. I would smile at them, safe in the knowledge that they didn’t know what they were missing, and if they didn’t want to try any, then Mum would be less tempted to give some away.

Jars of Green Bean Chutney

Sandwich Filler

Now I am older, I make Green Bean Chutney for myself. The Big Guy is a total convert as well.

As you may have seen, I am a bit of a preserving addict, so I am always giving them as gifts to friends and relatives. Despite the fact that we grow extra runner beans, so that we can make this chutney, the Big Guy still severely rations the Green Bean, in order to keep more for himself.

If I am honest, I am a little loathe to give it away, too!

So, I thought that I would share the recipe for Green Bean Chutney with you, in the hope that you can make it for yourselves, and I get to keep all of the jars that I make!

So, here is my Mum’s Green Bean Chutney. She gave it to me, but I am not really sure where she got it from originally. Maybe she can let you know, by leaving her first ever blog comment – over to you Mum?

You can  also use French Beans in this recipe, or a mixture of both French and Runners. Next year, thanks to my Seedy Penpal, Charlotte, I am going to grow a few yard long beans too, so I shall be experimenting with those as well.

My bean harvest was a little late getting going this year, but hopefully you will still be able to find some beans to try it yourself.

Do  you have any food that evokes such strong childhood memories? I’d love to hear about them.

Green Bean Chutney, Cheese and Crackers

Super Match

Recipe: Green Bean Chutney

Ingredients

I have converted this recipe from imperial to metric

3-4 jam jars

700 g runner beans (or French or other green beans, or a mixture)

1 kg  onions

Cold water to cover

1 dstsp salt

350 g demerara sugar

600 ml malt vinegar (I can;t get malt vinegar over here, so I use 500 ml white wine vinegar and 100 ml balsamic)

1 dstsp turmeric

1 dstsp powdered English mustard

1 tbsp cornflour

Method

Sterilise the jam jars in a dishwasher, or wash them in hot water, dry them and leave them in a low oven while you make the chutney. Either way, they will need to be hot when you put the chutney in it.

String and slice the beans (or use a stringless variety), making sure that they are roughly the same size – this is especially important if you use a mix of bean varieties.

Peel and thinly slice the onions. Add them to a preserving pan (or a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan) with the beans, cover them in water, and add the salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until tender.

Strain the water, and return the vegetables to the pan. Add half of the vinegar and the sugar. Cook for a further 10 minutes.

Mix together the cornflour, spices and the rest of the vinegar, and mix to make sure there are no lumps. Pour this into the pan, with the vegetables.

Bring the chutney back up to the boil, and hold it there for a few minutes, until the mixture thickens. You need some liquid though, because this will stop it drying out in the jars.

Fill the hot jars with the chutney. Then distribute the liquid between the jars, so that they are full to about 3 mm from the top.

Put a wax disc, wax side down, over the chutney, and seal it with cellophane. Don’t use a lid, the vinegar will corrode the metal, and may leave you exposed to some nasty microbial activity.

Don’t discard any excess liquid, it is great in salad dressings.

You need to leave the chutney for a week to allow it to meld and mellow.

This is a brilliant accompaniment to cheese, cold meats, salads, and is a particular marvel with jacket potatoes, and bubble and squeak.

UPDATE: In a very timely way, I found out that Susan at A Little Bit of Heaven on A Plate is running a Home Made and Well Preserved competition. So I thought that I would share my lovely childhood chutney there too, and maybe win some spices (fingers crossed).

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A Shaggy Mushroom Story

Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom

Shaggy Ink Cap

I have just got back from the UK, where I was attending my sister’s wedding.  She and her groom did a lovely job, with the help from friends and family. A great time was had by all, and the weather mostly held off. Congratulations to my sister and her new husband!

I also managed to fit in a little bit of a forage, between the wedding day and the train home. I found some blackberries, at last. This year has been terrible here, probably because of the lack of pollinators. I got enough for a couple of good crumbles, or maybe even a pie. I also got a sizeable amount of rowan berries, which I am experimenting with. I will bring you the recipe shortly.

I found these little beauties. I wasn’t looking for them, in fact I was busy with other things, but once you start to forage, spotting things in fields and hedgerows becomes like second nature. You can’t help but investigate, which often leads to thinking up ways to use your finds.

As Shaggy Ink Caps do not keep well at all, I quickly made them into a tasty little soup. It was really delicious, as they have a nice nutty, mushroomy taste. I did not get pictures, because (as the name suggests) it was a grey/black colour, not unlike food containing squid ink. I think that adding wilted and chopped spinach would help to make the dish look more appetising, if you are averse to odd-coloured food. Don’t let the colour put you off, the soup is definitely worth it.

I have given the recipe below, in case you come across any for yourself.

WARNING: It is very easy to confuse the Shaggy Ink Cap with the Common Ink Cap. Both are edible, but the Common Ink Cap will poison you if you eat it with alcohol.There have been no reported fatalities from this kind of poisoning, but the symptoms can be uncomfortable.  In fact, alcohol is best avoided for at least the next day too, to be on the safe side.  Please also stick to Basic Fungus Foraging Rules when picking mushrooms.

Common Ink Cap Mushrooms – not to be taken with alcohol

This soup was enough for 2 people, and will freeze well before the cream is added.

Recipe: Shaggy Ink Cap Soup

Ingredients

6 young Shaggy Ink Cap mushrooms (before they flatten out and look black and kind of slimy)

1 tbsp olive oil

Small knob of butter (optional)

1 medium onion

1 fat garlic clove

400 ml chicken or vegetable stock

100 ml cream (or milk would probably do)

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Leftover pasta to thicken (optional)

Method

Chop the onion, and roughly chop the garlic, and sweat them off in some olive oil, until translucent.

Roughly chop the caps of the mushrooms, and chop the stalks reasonably finely. Add to the onion and garlic, and add the butter. Season well with salt and pepper, and fry off. This stage may take a while, as you want to try to drive off the black moisture that will seep from the mushrooms.

At this point I added the pasta, to give a bit of bulk. You could also add leftover rice, or cooked potato. You could probably also add raw potato when you sweat the onion. Or leave out the starch altogether. I mainly added it because it was in the fridge.

Add warm stock, and the chopped stalks of the parsley. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Blitz in a food processor, or with a stick blender until it is as smooth as you like your soup. I don’t like it completely smooth, so I don’t do this as long as I could if I liked a more homogenous texture.

Return to a pan, and add the cream and the chopped parsley leaves. Warm, but do not boil. Taste for seasoning, and serve.

You can also add a swirl of cream in the bowl if you want it to look a bit more fancy, but really, how fancy can a kind of grey/black soup get?

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Sauce Grib-ish

Dill, Boiled Egg & Capers

Ooh, Saucy!

I first had a dish like this whilst having dinner at my friend’s. He writes the excellent Morning Claret wine blog. He really knows his stuff, so if you want some good wines, and great writing, go and give him a visit. Both he and his partner are very accomplished cooks, and it is always a joy to be invited to their house for fine wines, great food and excellent company. His version had anchovies in it, and he served us boiled globe artichokes to dip in it. I loved it, and decided that I would have a go at recreating it.

A bit of research later, and I have found that it was a variation of one of two classic French dishes. Either Sauce Gribiche or Ravigote. Of course, as with any classic dish, there are a lot of variations and the lines are blurred between the two. It seems that ravigote is more like a vinaigrette to which chopped boiled egg has been added, and in gribiche, the yolk is used to make a mayonnaise, and the chopped white is added. This is sauce is not quite either of those things, so I have called it Sauce Grib-ish.

I first made this after an Easter egg hunt left me with quite a few boiled eggs to use up. It also needed to be vegetarian for the friends that I had coming over. It is so versatile, you can serve it as a dip, over asparagus, or with fish and chicken. I’m also going to try to make a potato salad with it, I think it will be a great combination.

I am entering this simple seasonal sauce into Herbs on Saturday at Lavender and Lovage, although I only use dill in the recipe given, it will also be really good with tarragon, chervil or even parsley.

Sauce Grib-ish

Sauce Grib-ish

Recipe: Sauce Grib-ish

Ingredients

This sauce is easy to scale up or down, depending on how many people there are. I have given the amount for two people to have as a sauce to go with vegetables or fish. Taste is the key to this dish, as you need to balance the richness of the egg with the acid of the lemon and/or caper vinegar. The amounts I give here are approximate, so keep testing and adjusting the sauce, according to taste.

1 egg, hard-boiled

2 tbsp capers plus vinegar from the caper pot

Juice of ½ a lemon (or just the vinegar from the capers)

Small bunch dill, finely chopped

Good quality extra virgin olive oil

Method

First, halve the egg, and remove the yolk. Then finely chop the white.

Mash the yolk with a little lemon juice or vinegar. You want the yolk to be a smooth, runny paste, about the same consistency as thick pancake batter.

Roughly chop the capers, and mix together with the dill, egg yolk and egg white. Taste and adjust for acidity, adding caper vinegar if needed.

Add some olive oil and taste and adjust again. The amount of olive oil you need will depend on what you want to use it for. For example, if you are serving it as a dip with crudités, you will want a thick sauce that will stay on bread, tortillas or short lengths of carrot and cucumber. If you want to serve it to accompany artichokes or asparagus, you will want a much thinner consistency, so add more oil. For potato salad, you will want it somewhere in between. The oil will also alter the acidity, so make sure you taste and adjust as you go along.

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Salad Daze

Boiled Egg and Salad

Salad as Protein

Obviously, we are now at the height of the salad season. I have an abundance of rocket, leaf salads, radishes, cress, mustard greens and more. And yet, I am about to do a post that focuses largely on the less usual salads and ingredients that I have been having since last I updated you on the 52 week Salad challenge.

Chickweed Stellaria media

Salad as Easy

I remain loyal to chickweed, and luckily it seems to remain loyal to me. I have been eating it for what seems like months now. I remember that I lamented the lack of chickweed back in the spring, and thought that the conditions in the Netherlands were not suitable. It turns out that I was wrong. Chickweed loves the growing conditions here, but it does appear about 6 weeks after it would in the UK. It has kept me and the guinea pigs happy for quite a while. I have no idea why people write this off as a weed, I think it is delicious.

Mixed Salad with Broad Bean Tips

Salad as a New Kind of Shoot

Back in June, I was also including broad bean tips to my salads. These really are the gardener’s treat, as they don’t keep well, so must be used fresh from the plant. This year, I was also fortuitous in that I hadn’t quite got round to eating my dock and digging it up. I have discovered that blackfly love dock much more than my beans, so they remained pretty free from these sap suckers. Since dock is edible, and has proven to be so effective, I shall probably not be so hasty to remove it all in future, as long as it stays out of my raised beds.

Salmon Fishckes, collaboration salad, Taboulleh & Sauce Grib-ish

Salad as Leftovers

This past month, herbs have also featured heavily. I am finding that herb fennel, dill, mint, basil, and parsley have become a regular addition to my salads, as well as providing me with lots of tabbouleh, and sauces.  I have also been adding herbs to salad dressings. I’ve always used thyme, of course but lately, my oregano has gone crazy, so I have been looking for recipes to use it in. I found this lovely oregano, mint and lime dressing by Laura of How to Cook Good Food. It was an entry in Karen’s Herbs on Saturday Challenge, and has been on heavy rotation in our house since I came across it. It is really a salad dressing for summer.

Mixed Family Salad

Salad as a Family Affair

Back when it was my Mum’s birthday, I made a lovely collaborative salad of leaf lettuce from my sister’s garden, fennel, mint and chives from my mum’s garden, and foraged chickweed. I also added carrot and radish leaves, and was very happy when it all went at her birthday barbecue. I also livened up a simple pasta and chive salad, by mixing in a separated chive flower. I think I converted one of Mum’s friends, who was pretty amazed when she found what it was. She didn’t know chive flowers were edible, but said she would try them from now on.

Summer Vegetable Nage

Salad as Soup

Another herb that has been featuring in my cooking of late is chervil. Although you rarely see chervil in the shops it is really easy to grow, and I have many pots and planters with it. I love this delicate little herb, and it makes a great addition to any salad. It goes so well with broad beans and peas too, as you can see from this vegetable nage I made a while ago.

Something else I really love, especially when the weather is a little too cold for salad is to braise lettuce, beans and peas in a good stock. A dish that is made even better by the addition of a little chervil just before serving.

Braised Salad, Beans & Peas

Salad as a Side Dish

(c) P. Caspar 2012

Recipe: Braised Lettuce, Beans and Peas

Ingredients

This will serve four people as a side dish

100 g podded weight broad beans

100 g shelled weight fresh peas

2-3 Little Gem lettuce, depending on size. This dish also works well with Witloof chicory, and other firm hearted salads

400 ml chicken or vegetable stock

Small bunch chervil, finely chopped

Method

Briefly cook the beans and peas in unsalted boiling water. You can use the same pan, but the beans will need 3-5 minutes, depending on size, and the peas will need 1-2, so add the peas to the pan after the beans have had a couple of minutes. Once they are cooked, drain and refresh in cold or iced water.

Double pod the beans.

Halve and rinse the little gems. You need to keep the stalk, so that the lettuce stays together during the cooking.

In a sauté pan, heat a little oil. Once hot, add the lettuce and cook briefly. You want a little colour on the leaves, but be careful, as they will burn easily. Turn them once to get similar colour on each side. If you prefer a thicker sauce, you could stir in about a tbsp. of flour at this point, and cook it out briefly. I don’t often bother with this stage, unless I am going to use this as a soup.

Add the stock, and cover. Bring to the boil then simmer for about five minutes. Add the peas and beans and heat through for another minute or so. Just before you serve, season a little, if needed and stir through the chervil.

This makes a great accompaniment for most main courses, or you can shred the lettuce a little when it is cooked, stir through a little cream, and serve as a light soup.

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The Queen of Tarts

Asparagus & Lancashire Cheese Tart

The Knave of Hearts, He Stole the Tart

When I got some Lancashire Cheese from my foodie penpal, I knew I had the start of a great dish. When the Big Guy brought home what was likely the last bunch of local asparagus that we will see this season, I knew exactly what that dish would be.

Lancashire cheese and asparagus are a marriage made in heaven. The sharp flavour of the cheese would be perfect to go with the chlorophyll hit that you get from seasonal asparagus. Add to this fresh herbs, and put it in a tart, and you really are onto a winner.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but as well as the negative environmental impact, I think that asparagus that has been flown across the world has lost a lot of it’s green flavour. For these reasons, I won’t buy it. Maybe it is also the anticipation of this short-lived season that makes it taste better,  who knows?

I made my own pastry for this. Any offcuts will freeze well, wrapped in greaseproof paper, or you can be economical with the oven, and make a few jam tarts, or even unseasonal mince pies with the offcuts. This is something that I learned from my mother. We would rarely have a pastry dish without her baking some little sweet treat to use it up.

I used chervil and parsley in this recipe, because I grow them both, and I love chervil. If you have difficulty finding chervil, then you can substitute them both for a good bunch of chopped dill.

This quiche was actually better cold, when the cheese really sang out against the asparagus. Making this dish great for a picnic. You know, for when the summer actually arrives…

Asparagus & Lancahshire Cheese Tart

Forget the Knave, Watch out for Teddy Bears…

Recipe: Asparagus and Lancashire Cheese Tart

Ingredients

For the Pastry: 

100 g plain flour

50 g cold butter

Pinch of salt (or just use salted butter)

Cold water, less than 30 ml

For the filling: 

1 bunch of asparagus

100 g shelled weight broad beans

8 eggs, beaten

100 ml cream (or milk)

Small bunch chervil, finely chopped

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Salt and pepper (to season egg mix)

100 g Lancashire cheese, grated

Method

Rub butter into flour, until it resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly add the water until it forms a dough. You may not need it all.  It must be cold, not tepid, so it’s best not to measure out the water and let it sit while you rub in the butter. When it has formed a dough, you don’t want to work this too hard, so just shape it into a ball.

Wrap the pastry in clingfilm, foil or a plastic bag, and put in the fridge to rest, for about an hour.

Arrange the asparagus. First, snap off the woody bit at the end of the stem. The point at which it breaks naturally will be where the tender, edible part of the stem starts. This will vary according to how long the asparagus has been cut. Don’t discard these  tough ends, they make a great soup.

Arranging the asparagus spears

Power Arrangement

Cut the asparagus stems to size so that you can arrange them in a wheel around your flan dish. Cook the asparagus spears in boiling salted water for about 3-6 minutes, depending in the width of the spears. Cook the offcuts of the asparagus with the broad beans, in boiling water for a maximum of 2 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Drain all of the cooked vegetables and run under cold water as soon as they are done. you want them slightly underdone for this dish, as they will cook a bit more in the tart later.

Double-pod the beans, which may seem like a pain, but will be worth it later.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Grease a flan dish. I have a silicone one, but you may prefer a metal one with a loose bottom, either are good.

Roll out the pastry evenly, to about 1mm thick. Carefully slip it over the rolling pin, and line the flan dish with it. Cut a bit of the excess pastry from over the edge of the dish, and form a ball with it. Use this to gently press the pastry into the corners, and any fluted edges that you may have on the flan dish. This is thin pastry, and  will be using a liquid filling, so you want to avoid  putting holes in it, or the filling will leak, and burn. Using the dough ball, and not your fingers (especially not the nails) will help prevent tears and holes.

You can either trim the pastry to the edge of your flan dish, or leave a bit of an overhang. Pastry will shrink when it cooks, so I prefer to leave an overhang, which I trim off after the blind bake.

I sometimes coat the warm pastry trimmings in a light dusting of icing sugar and serve as a sweet snack. I can’t bear to throw away any of the edible things!

If you choose to trim the pastry, then you will need to gently pinch it up between your thumb and forefinger, to raise it above the sides of the flan dish, thus compensating for shrinkage (difficult to accomplish if your pastry is thin enough).

Now you need to blind bake the pastry case. Gently prick all over the base with a fork, as evenly spaced as you  can, without going through the pastry. Cut some greaseproof paper so that it overlaps the pie dish by about 3 cm each side. Scrunch up the greaseproof, as if you were scrunching up a piece of paper that you were about to put in a wastepaper basket. This will help the paper to line the pastry case and get into the corners and fluting better. Put an even coating of blind baking materials in the pastry case, on top of the spread out grease proof paper. Both the pricking and the blind bake will help prevent the pastry from rising, during the initial baking process.

You can get special ceramic beads for your blind bake, but these are expensive. It is cheaper to use dried beans from your store cupboard,or at a push a thick layer of rice. Beans are better, because you can still cook with them after they have been used as blind bake, and  they are heavier than rice. Once the rice has been used as blind bake, it can’t be cooked, so re-use it as blind bake.

Put the tart shell, with the blind bake into the oven and allow to cook for at least 10 minutes, or until the pastry case is crisp, and does not have any “damp” patches. Remove the blind bake, and put the tart case back into the oven for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to brown.

If you need to, trim your pastry case at this point. Or leave it, if it doesn’t look too scruffy.

Pastry Case Sealed with Egg Wash

Glazed and Confused

Since you are using a liquid centre, it is a good idea to seal the pastry case, to help prevent leaks. To do this, brush the case with a little of the beaten egg that you are about to use for your filling. Put it back in the oven for a couple of minutes until the egg wash has given the tart case a shiny, browned finish.

Add the cream, chopped herbs and the cheese to the beaten egg, and mix well. Season with a little salt (because the cheese is also salty) and a good grind of pepper.

Sprinkle the beans and asparagus offcuts onto the base of the tart, then arrange your larger spears over the top in your desired design.

Pour over the filling, and give the tart a shake, to make sure that the filling is evenly distributed in the case.

Place back in the centre of the oven, cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160°C. Cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the filling is just cooked, but retains a little wobble.

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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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World’s Easiest Chocolate Truffles

Easy Chocolate Truffles

Easy and Delicious

I have to start this post with a warning. These truffles will not last. Not because they are made from anything particularly perishable, but because people will not believe that you made them, because they are so good. This is what my party guests said to me the other day. Of course, I liked this so much; I thought I would reproduce their words.

Warnings aside, these little chocolates are at the least difficult end of the chocolatier’s scale. If you watch any TV programmes where they make desserts, the chefs will always tell you that chocolate work is demanding, exact and delicate. The only thing that is true of these very basic truffles is that you have to be exact about the amounts that you use, otherwise you will end up with the basis for a nice chocolate sauce, but it will not be thick enough for the ganache that is required. There is no heating things up to precise temperatures, as you have to when tempering chocolate; no delicate curls or swirling effects; no allowing things to set so you can complete the next stage; really none of the complex stuff that you see the likes of Eric Lanlard or Adriano Zumba would have you believe is part of every pâtissier’s daily life.

So, these little treats would not be elegant enough to grace the shelves of a Belgian chocolatier, or a Parisian Pâtissier, or even your local Thornton’s, now I mention it. But if you make them for guests, or as a present, they will go down a treat. Because they do represent something into which you have invested love, and time, anyone you make these for will be more spoilt than the guests at the ambassador’s party!

Recipe: Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients

225 g of the best chocolate that you can get hold of. I think (although this is, as yet, untested) that this is the secret to these truffles. It doesn’t matter if it is plain, milk or white, just good quality.

175 ml of double cream. It is important that you measure this as accurately as you can. If your measuring jug is not accurate enough, either double the amount you make, so you need 350 ml of cream, or weigh it. Although not precise, you can use 1g to = 1 ml, just dont add all the cream at once.

Cocoa powder / icing sugar/chopped nuts for dusting.

Method

In a pan, slowly bring the cream up to boiling point (where small bubbles form around the edge of the pan) but do not allow it to boil.

Cream at boiling point

Note -bubbles, not boiling

Meanwhile chop the chocolate up into small pieces.

Finely Chopped Chocolate

The finer you can chop it, the smoother the truffles will be

Pour the warm cream into the chocolate. The cream should melt the chocolate, but it should still be pretty thick. Stir the chocolate to make sure there are no lumps. This is your ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

Ganache – cooling

You may need slightly less cream in milk and white chocolate, to form a thick ganache, so pour it in slowly. You can always add a little more cream, but you cannot take it away if you have added too much, so caution here is advisable.

Leave the ganache to cool and thicken. This will take at least 1 ½ hours, but if you wish, you can speed this up slightly by placing the bowl to sit in a sink of cold water. It is very important that you do not allow any water to get into your ganache, as this will affect the thickness and the way it sets. Do not refrigerate to speed up the cooling. This will make your ganache too hard to work with. Plus putting hot things into a fridge is not very efficient, as the fridge then has to work much harder to maintain a constant temperature.

Ganache at the right thickness

This is about the right consistency for shaping

Once you have a thick ganache, spoon out small amounts, and roll gently into balls. Try to keep your hands cold, so that you don’t melt the chocolate too much. You can do this by running them in cold water, between each ball. Alternatively, you can shape them into quenelles, by using two teaspoons to mould them. If you have a little melon baller, you could also shape them with that too.

Once you have your shaped truffles, prepare a saucer with some cocoa powder, icing sugar, or finely chopped nuts. Or have saucers with some of each if you want variety. Gently roll the truffles on the saucer until they have a fine coating of your choice.

These are the finished truffles, which you can either plate up and put out for guests, or put in a pretty box to give out as presents. I promise you, people will be really impressed.

Variations

Just like Mareike’s Mayan Chocolate Mousse, varieties are very easy to make.

Use different flavours of chocolate, although avoid any with large nuts or lumps

Spice or flavour the cream, using spices, flavoured syrups for coffee, extracts (e.g. vanilla or flower extracts – I would not use “essence” which is usually artificial) ginger, vanilla, or a little alcohol of your choice

Once the ganache is made add a little chopped dried fruit or nuts for variety

Roll in flavoured sugars to coat

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Treasure Chestnuts

Sweet Chestnut jam

The sweetest of chestnuts

I really love sweet chestnuts. Seasonal, run-up-to-christmas, eat-with-game, things-that-help-make-sprouts-bearable, isn’t-it-brilliant-when-you-find-a-tree-of-them-in-a-park-(though-really-infrequent-in-a-country-with-few-hedgerows), lovely chestnuts. I like to find them in the wild for all to take advantage of, I like to cook with them, I like to thicken soups with them, I have never eaten them in marron glacé form, but I expect they are also lovely.

I haven’t found any in any great quantity while foraging over here. You might be much luckier than I am, or just get them at your local market. I bought some very cheap ones, but the reason why they were so cheap was that they were a little past their best, and a number contained insect larvae (probably moths), which is the same as if I had foraged them anyway! I had to go and get some slightly less cheap ones from my local greengrocer’s. Still, it was nice to watch the jays pick through the discarded ones this morning, as I made the jam.

Serve peeled chestnuts at a party, and people think that you have gone to a lot of trouble for them. And the fact is, they would be  right too. I always go into it thinking that it will be a quick job, and always forget how fiddly the damn things are.

Today, I spent a good few hours peeling chestnuts. I suspect this is because I am a little bit too anally retentive about removing the skin from all the folds of the nut.  I also spent a considerable time online trying to find ways to speed up the process. I did come across this video from the people at badgerset.  I think this method has a lot of potential, but it will take practice to recognise how long is enough boiling time. For the record, I found that my chestnuts needed much longer in the boiling water to allow the skin to detach. I guess I need more practice. And possibly a decent pair of pliers. One brilliant thing about this method, is that you get to see the ones that have insect larvae in before you eat them.

After I had done all that peeling, I made Melissa’s Chestnut Jam, from the River Cottage Preserves book, by Pam Corbin. I have had my eye on this jam for a little while, not least because Pam recommends them to be eaten with meringue. I usually have a glut of egg whites around, due to my fondness for egg-based sauces and real custard (As a Brit who loves her puddings, vla does not really cut it for me). We are having are christmas minced pie and mulled wine party soon, so I will make the meringues for these, and I will serve them with this jam. I also gave a jar to my friend, for her recent birthday. She has been hankering for egg-free chocolate mousse for a little while, so I hope this jam will be a fitting accompaniment for the one that I made her.

A few things to note about this jam. Firstly, do not try to blend too many chestnuts at a time – they quickly clog up the food processor, and take quite a lot of mixing in to avoid lumps. I didn’t manage it. It would probably be easier to blend them all together at once, with a little cooking liquor,  in a bowl, using a stick blender. I am a little gadget-averse, and won’t buy one on the grounds that I have a food processor, so why have two things to do the same job? Seems my tight attitude has not paid off in this case. I also used to  whip meringues by hand, until one time I broke my collarbone, so had to ask the Big Guy to whip them for a party we had. The next day, he came home with an electric whisk, saying that it would have saved him a couple of hours of his life, that he will never see again.

The chestnuts and the cooking liquor form quite a thick paste. Being much more used to fruit jams, I was very worried that this would not be liquid enough to form a jam. I was wrong, when it is added to the sugar syrup, it quickly liquefies. Do not be tempted to add more than the recommended 100 ml of the cooking liquor to the chestnuts when blending them.

My top tip for this jam is not to cook it if you have children or animals in the vicinity. Pam mentions that it sputters, but not how much, and it is very, very sticky. I have spent ages trying to remove it from the splashback, random bits of kitchen work top and my utensils pot. I also recommend wearing a long-sleeved top when you cook this. Those little splashes hurt.

The jam also sets quite quickly off the heat, so probably keep it on the lowest simmer when you fill the jars, so that the rest remains liquid enough to pour into the rest of them.

It is very nice, and not too sweet, although I think I will up the amount of brandy in the next batch I try. So, try it with meringues, chocolate mousse, or even on toast with some chocolate spread, if you are feeling lazy.

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Mareike’s Mayan Egg-Free Mousse

Some people should not eat raw eggs. I am sure if you are one of those people, then you know who you are, but for the record,those people are usually young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with certain allergies and medical conditions.

Bet it doesn’t stop you craving a nice chocolate mousse from time to time though does it?

My friend falls into one of the above categories. She had mentioned that she would love some chocolate mousse, but didn’t want to risk the eggs. We discussed using cream instead. As it was her birthday recently, I decided that I would make her some, and also write up the recipe for her, along with some variations she could try.

This is what I wrote for her. It will serve about 5 people.

Recipe: Egg-Free Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients

160 g Green & Black’s Mayan Gold chocolate

400 ml whipping cream

Grated zest of 1 orange

Candied orange peel to garnish

Method

In a saucepan, heat about 100 ml of the cream to just under boiling point. When bubbles appear at the sides of the pan, the cream is warm enough. Try not to boil the cream.

Chop the chocolate into small pieces (or you could use chocolate chips). Pour the warmed cream over the chocolate, and stir until it melts and there are no lumps in it.

Whip the rest of the cream to stiff peaks. fold in the melted chocolate and stir through the orange zest. At this point, you can divide into individual glasses, or just add to one serving bowl. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours (or more if you need to make this in advance).

Before serving, garnish with the candied peel, or a couple of fresh twists of orange zest.

Variations

You can use different flavoured chocolate. I just used Mayan Gold here because I like it. Don’t use chocolate bars with nuts or other large lumps – these are better added later. I also know people who melt Mars Bars or Milky Ways (using the microwave and a splash of milk) instead of chocolate.

If you use the really high cocoa chocolate, your mousse may be bitter. You can balance this a little with some sugar (caster or icing) added into the cream for whipping.

You can spice the cream instead of using flavoured chocolate. Add the spices to the cream that you are going to heat up. Bring the cream to almost boiling point, set aside and allow to steep for 20 minutes, then bring it back up to boiling point again. Don’t forget to remove any whole spices before you pour the cream on the chocolate. Use whatever spices you like. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom all go well, but play around a little.

You can use coffee (or some teas might also work, depending on the type of chocolate) instead of the warmed cream to melt the chocolate.

You can add alcohol or flavoured syrups (like you can get to flavour coffee). Add these to the whipping cream and not the chocolate, though. Otherwise you risk setting the chocolate, so you won’t be able to mix it into the cream.

Fold through orange zest, nuts, candied peel, or fruit at the end, before you chill it, if you like.

This chocolate mousse is very good with chestnut jam. I am sorry that it didn’t last long enough for some photos!

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Fantastic Finger Food Part 2

So, following on from yesterday, a couple more party dishes for you.

A good time was had by all, I think. It is always lovely to share food with friends, especially at a party.

I also made an onion tart, and a few other bits and pieces, but I didn’t take photos of them. The tart, especially, is something that  I do regularly, so I will get the chance to blog about them again.

Chinese Tea Eggs

Chinese Tea Eggs

The prettiest finger food

These marbled little beauties are widely available at street vendors in China. I had read that they were supposed to be a sign of prosperity and good fortune, and where often given away at New Year because of this. However, I can’t seem to find that again, so I suspect that it is a bit of a myth, considering how widely used they seem to be. Over here, we seem to be told that so many Chinese things are a sign of prosperity and given out at New Year that they can’t all be exclusively for one festival, no matter how important it is.

I thought that the look of them was really fitting for a party, so I decided to make them for ours.

The spice mix varies from region to region, but this is how I made mine.

Bring a number of eggs to the boil. I did 12, because that I what I had in, and I hadn’t yet tested them on friends over here, so I didn’t want to get carried way. Let them boil for 10 minutes, then take them off the heat and leave to cool in the water. I find doing them this way prevents that grey ring that you sometimes see around the yolk from forming.

Once the eggs are cool enough to handle, gently tap them so that they are cracked all the way around, but so that none of the shell actually comes off. This will create the marbling effect of the final eggs.

In another saucepan put 2 tbsp soy sauce, a black tea bag (or a tbsp of loose leaf), a cinnamon stick, a tbsp chinese five spice powder, and 2-3 strips of citrus peel. Use what you have in, I had a mandarin, so I used that. Put in the cooked, cracked eggs, and enough water to cover them.

Bring this to the boil, and simmer for an hour. Remove from the heat, and allow the eggs to sit in the liquid for as long as you can, overnight if you are organised, but at least a couple of hours.

They look so pretty when they are peeled and arranged nicely on the plate that people find them hard to resist.

White Bean and Rosemary Dip

White Bean and Rosemary Dip

Makes a change from humus

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan at any party, you will more than likely be pretty bored of humus. It seems to be everywhere. I like it, myself, but if I were to be served it at every single social gathering, and had few alternatives, I would get pretty bored too. In the same way that it took me many years to be able to look a Cornish pasty in the face, after living there for two years and being served cocktail pasties for every single working lunch ‘do’ that I had to attend – and there were very, very many of them!

This dip is a great, and surprising alternative to them. Use dried beans instead of tinned, and it will be even better.It is almost like the humble white bean, rosemary and lemon were made to go together.

Ingredients

200 g dried cannellini beans, or a tin of them

2 sprigs rosemary, removed from stalks and finely chopped

Zest and some juice of 1 lemon

Glug of good extra virgin olive oil

Method

If you are using dried beans, soak them. For cannellini, I find a couple of hours is fine, and that it is not great to soak them for too long, because the skins come off, and they turn to mush when you cook them. About  two hours should be plenty.

Cook them in a large saucepan and in plenty of fresh water. Do not salt the water, it makes the skins tough. Bring the beans up to the boil, then reduce them to a vigorous simmer. the time they take to cook will depend on how old they are, but check after 4o mins. The best way to see if the beans are cooked is to eat one. If it is hard at all, then it is not done. When you can bite through them easily, and the bean is soft, they are ready.

If you are using tinned beans then you can skip this step. I know that tins are easy, and I have definitely used them myself, especially if I have not remembered to soak the beans in time for making the dip, but I do ask that you please try to used dried at least once – it makes such a difference to the texture of the finished dip. Cooked dried beans also freeze easily, so you can just cook one big lot and freeze them in batches if that is easier.

Drain the beans and blend them to a smooth paste using a food processor or a stick blender. Or you can pass them through a food mill or sieve, if you don’t have those. You can also mash them with a fork if you really have nothing else.

Add the rosemary and the lemon zest, and stir them in. Season to taste with salt and a little pepper (white, if you have it). then make the paste more of a dip consistency using the lemon and the olive oil. Keep adding small amounts of each and tasting in between, so that you get a good balance of acidity and the oil.

Serve with breadsticks, crudités, or good old tortill chips, or you can use this to spread in a sandwich too.

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