Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Posh Lugaw

Risotto Primavera

Okay okay, so my risotto needs some more sauce. Well actually lots of sauce. But I was mighty pleased with my first try in cooking this much celebrated (hyped?) dish. The rice grains came out perfectly cooked with an al dente centre and not mushy at all. All I need is more stock in it!!

I've always been intrigued by risotto and as more cookbooks and magazine articles I read lauding its virtues I was actually intimidated. I had to get a very precise recipe to guide risotto newbies like me. Luckily, I just got Angela Nielsen's The Ultimate Recipe Book from where I adapted this recipe.

Lesson learned: use a heavy, wide pan. Mine was heavy but it was a pot not a wide pan. Therein lay my main problems, I found it hard to stir towards the end. Actually I used a cast iron pot so when I finished and turned off the heat it still had lots of residual heat that dried out my risotto. So probably next time I'll just settle for a thick bottomed wide pan.

My primary objective here besides having a go at cooking risotto is to use seasonal ingredients. Asparagus season here in UK is quite short. It starts from late April up to June-early July only. Many regard British asparagus as one of the best in the world. They even have an asparagus festival at the Vale of Evesham late this month which I hope I can attend just to satisfy my curiosity. Peas, one of my fav vegs, are also in season so that gets my nod in here. But not broad beans, I've not been fond of them types, so I omitted that in my risotto.

Well, what do I think of it? I love it! Especially when eaten with the crunchy asparagus and wholesome peas. It's already a complete meal so you can perfectly eat it on its own though I'm thinking of what meats I can serve it with if ever. That said I don't think I can eat more than a big bowlful of it because I find it quite rich. Maybe I should reduce the cheese or mix the stock with some water?

I can't help comparing this with lugaw, that rice comfort food loved by Filipino. It's not far off to be honest I'd like to think risotto is the posh, more upscale sister of lugaw. :) For me, the main difference is in the cooked grains. The risotto's grains retains its shape thereby avoiding it being mushy while lugaw is meant to be mushy and more porridge like. I wonder if I can cook the malagkit rice variety like a risotto and retain its shape. Abangan ang susnod na kabanata! Wait for the next installment.

Risotto Primavera

1 Tbsp olive oil
65 g  [1/4 cup] butter
1 garlic clove - minced
3 spring onions - finely chopped
4 shallots - finely chopped
350 g  risotto rice (Carnaroli, Arborio, Vialone)
1/2 cup white wine
200 g  shelled fresh peas (or frozen ones - thawed)
250 g  asparagus
100 g  parmesan cheese - finely grated
5 1/2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  1. Snap the woody bases from the asparagus and slice each into 4 diagonal pieces.
  2. Put the stock in a pot and bring to a simmer. Keep this simmering while cooking the risotto.
  3. In a thick bottomed wide pan (beside or close to the simmering stock), heat olive oil and 2 Tbsp of the butter until bubbly.
    Saute the onions and garlic on medium heat for about 3 minutes until soft.
  4. Stir in the rice and cook while stirring often for about 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the wine and keep stirring until almost all the wine has evaporated.
  6. Put the timer on for 20 minutes.
  7. Add 1 big ladleful of stock to the rice and bring to simmer (do not boil; you may have to lower the heat) while stirring constantly until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  8. Repeat adding ladleful of stock and stirring when the previous amount has been absorbed.
  9. After 14 minutes (meaning 6 minutes left in your timer), add the peas to the rice.
  10. At the same time drop the asparagus in the stock. Let the asparagus simmer for 4 minutes while you're stirring and adding stock to the rice. After 4 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon add it to the rice mixture.
  11. At this point you should taste the rice, it should be soft but still with a bite in the centre. Also add seasonings if you think it needs some.
  12. The timer should have gone off by now and you should have the desired texture. If not, continue adding stock and stirring until done.
  13. Take the pan off the heat then add half the parmesan and the rest of the butter plus a little of the stock to keep it moist.
  14. Cover the pan and let it rest for about 3 minutes.
  15. Serve with a sprinkling of parmesan on top.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Chocolate Cake

Once upon a time when I was still in my early 20s, I decided to start teaching myself to bake. After all, I thought to myself, we've got an oven I've got all my baking utensils and most of all I've got my handy Betty Crocker cookbook so what could be harder than bake some cakes? Like most people I tackled my first baking project with a brownie which was a resounding success. So feeling very brave I decided to bake another chocolate concoction - a 2-layer chocolate cake complete with buttery icing.

I went about buying all the ingredients and baking pans including a brand new hand mixer. I followed the recipe religiously (or so I thought) and in it went in the oven. When it came out I noticed it was looking particularly dark but I just shrugged thinking maybe that's what it was supposed to be. I proceeded to lovingly put icing on and in between the whole structure. Then I took a slice and eagerly tasted it. Ackk! I spat it out as quickly as I put it in my mouth. It was the most bitter cake I've tasted in my life! Which means I forgot to put in sugar!! Oh the agony and disappointment after all the trouble I went through. But most of all I dreaded getting teased by relatives for the rest of my life! Mwahahaha!

The cake was ready to be consigned to the rubbish bin but my father came to the rescue. He ate it despite the extremely bitter cake. He just slathered more of the icing. For 1 whole week he diligently ate 1 slice a day until he finished it - all by himself as you would have guessed since not even our dogs nor cat wanted it. I'd like to think he did it just for me but probably he just hated to have all the ingredients and my efforts go to waste. ;)

Ever since then I never attempted baking a chocolate cake until a few years ago when I came upon Angela Nielsen's recipe she dubbed The Ultimate Chocolate Cake in the BBC Good Food magazine. Well, I liked the idea of a recipe tested so many times to perfection and I tell you she did not lie. It was indeed a moist and very chocolately with just the right balance of sweetness. I had to alter the chocolate ganache since my kids are not fond of dark chocolate so I had to put in half dark and half milk chocs. I didn't bother to decorate it with chocolate curls since it would get readily devoured anyway. As proof just look below how I found my newly baked cake when I left it to cool ... hmmm ... there must be lots of chocolate monsters around my house stealthily scarfing down slices of it.

Next time, I will experiment with buttercream and whipped cream icings to see which ones can better complement it.

Have some?

Chocolate Cake

200 g  butter - cut in pieces
200 g  dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids)
85 g  [1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp] self-raising flour
85 g  [1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp] plain flour
1/2 cup hot water
1 Tbsp instant coffee granules
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
200 g  [1 cup + 1 Tbsp] golden caster sugar
200 g  [1 cup + 2 Tbsp firmly packed] light muscovado sugar
13 g  [2 Tbsp] cocoa powder (optional)
3 medium eggs
5 Tbsp buttermilk
grated chocolate or curls for decoration (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C/fan 140°C/gas mark 3. Butter a 20cm (8-inch) round baking pan and line the base.
  2. Dissolve the instant coffee in the hot water, set aside.
  3. Put a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and melt the dark chocolate and butter in it.
  4. Once melted remove from heat and add in the coffee. Stir just enough to combine.
  5. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and stir in the buttermilk, set aside.
  6. In another large bowl, combine the flours, sugars, cocoa (if using), and bicarbonate of soda.
  7. Stir in the melted chocolate mixture and the egg mixture. Mix everything until well blended and have a smooth consistency.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 1 hour 25 minutes or until a skewer poked in to centre comes out clean.
  9. Cool slightly in the baking pan then turn out to cool completely on a wire rack.
  10. When completely cool, slice horizontally in half.
  11. Spread a little of the ganache in the bottom layer and sandwich it with the top layer.
  12. Spread the rest of the ganache on top and sides of the cake smoothing with a spatula or palette knife.

*For the Chocolate Ganache:

100 g  dark chocolate (like above)
100 g  milk chocolate
1 cup double cream (heavy cream)
2 Tbsp golden caster sugar
  1. Break the dark and milk chocolates into pieces in a heatproof bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, put the double cream and sugar in a saucepan and heat until it is about to boil.
  3. Pour immediately onto the chocolates. Stir until all the chocolates have melted. Cool for a few minutes then whisk until smooth and thickened.
  4. Set aside to cool for 1-2 hours (may put in the fridge) or until it is thick enough to spread on the cake.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Finally, a sweet and sour dish without the tell-tale red tinge of ketchup. This is quite a departure from the usual Chinese standard though not entirely alien to the Filipino cuisine since we have ketchup anaemic 'agridulce' sauces used as a dip or (obviously) as sauce.

Warning: don't overcook the meatballs because they will turn dry and tough once it's been sitting on your dinner table for a few minutes. That's what happened to me first time I attempted this. The red hot chilli peppers (not the band) is entirely optional while the vegetables can be varied according to your taste. Just think of the colour, texture, and taste combination when you decide on some other veggies to put in the mix. My beloved Chinese Cuisine by Huang Su-huei provided the recipe that I adapted. This is actually on the cover of the cookbook!

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

500 g  minced pork or beef
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cooking wine
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 cup mangetout/snow peas (sitcharo) - topped and tailed
1 cup button mushrooms - [the smaller the better]
1 cup sliced carrots - precooked
1 red chilli pepper - sliced
1/2 Tbsp minced garlic

3 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp vinegar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
dash of sesame oil
  1. Mix all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Dissolve the salt and cornstarch in water and cooking wine. Mix well with the meat and form into about 1-inch balls.
  3. Deep fry meatballs for about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  4. In a wok, heat up 2 Tbsp oil. Stir fry the chilli pepper and garlic until aromatic.
  5. Add the snow peas and button mushrooms and stir fry for 1 minute.
  6. Stir in the carrots and meatballs. Cook for a few seconds.
  7. Add the sauce and bring to boil. Simmer for 2 minutes. Dish up and serve.