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Following recipes and other controversial topics! 5 July 2006

Posted by cath in general info, help, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, Recipes, thai curry, Thai food, thai salad, thai soups, variations.
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One thing you all should know about cooking is that it’s all about personal taste. As the cook, you get to decide what ingredients to use and what your meal should taste like. For me, recipes are just guides, offering ideas and techniques, which are then adapted to what I have, what I like, who is coming round for the meal etc.

Variety is important. Everyone can have their own special way of making things, and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re new to cooking, you may find it hard to deviate from recipes, so here are some tips on what to think about when reading a recipe.

There has been some controversy about my Laab recipe so lets start with some thoughts about Thai salads and other Thai food…

A recent post included another recipe for Laab. The two recipes are very similar – a couple of different ingredients, including sugar in the alternate recipe, and slightly different cooking techniques.

Cooking can be a controversial topic, and you’ll find many different ingredient lists and techniques for basically the same dish – Thai food is no different. Depending what ingredients you can find, you may have to adapt and look for substitutions. Also consider where you are, what your personal tastes are, and what about your guests? My Thai cookery teacher always asked what a dish needed when we tasted it…his response was always “more chilli!” so my recipes are pretty spicy reflecting this. Having tried both spicy and less spicy (when entertaining guests) I think it’s always worth adding a little more chilli than you think, the heat really works with Thai food.

Here are some other things to think about:

I don’t like adding extra sugar when it’s not required, so I would generally only add sugar to sweet and sour and possibly shop-bought panang paste. Its all about personal taste, but here in the UK we rarely need extra salt or sugar – this is not a tropical climate! So think about who’s going to be eating your meal, and where, before chucking in any sugar…

When you’re learning to cook it’s good if you taste your food before and after adding extra ingredients. Thai food has four main layers of flavour: salt, sugar, sour and spicy. If you taste before adding fish sauce or lime juice to a dish you can see what a difference these ingredients make. In my laab recipe, mint provides sweetness, with fish sauce, chillies and lime providing their usual salt, spice and sourness. If you like extra sour, add more lime juice at the end, as discussed elsewhere, cooking lime juice reduces it’s sourness. Taste and adjust until it’s what you like, or what you think your guests will enjoy.

Kaffir lime leaves are a common enough ingredient in salad, but I am not a big fan – I prefer fresh herbs such as mint and coriander as they are more widely available locally (in the UK). Lime leaves keep well in the freezer and are a good ingredient to have on hand frozen to add to soups and curries for an extra lemony flavour. But frozen leaves don’t work quite so well chopped up in salads. If you want to try lime leaves in salads look out for fresh lime leaves and use them promptly.

Now for the most controversial topic – do we marinate the meat (albeit for just a few minutes) before cooking, or after! My recipe recommends adding flavour including lime juice to the mince before cooking, then cooking it all up. This is the recipe I was taught, but more interestingly, it is a technique I watched many times on stalls and in restaurants. Some Thai (and other regional) dishes are actually not cooked: prawns and other meats are sometimes ‘cooked’ by just marinating in lime juice – the acid in the juice ‘cooks’ the meat or fish so it’s technically no longer raw. In the case of Laab, this was always the first step, you will see the meat take on a less raw appearance as its sits in the lime juice while you prepare the rest of the dish. Cooking in this case just heats up the salad, properly cooking it where appropriate, Thai meat salads are usually served warm. Adding the hot meat to the herbs in the serving dish really brings out their aroma. Remember if you cook the meat for long, the lime juice sourness will dissipate so add some more at the end.

So: cook, taste, add the next flavour, taste again…this is the best way to learn and adapt to your palette and to understand the effect of making substitutions.

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Printing Problems 27 May 2006

Posted by cath in general info, help, printing, Recipes.
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WordPress and Firefox do not seem to like each other enough to print these recipes. Thanks to a few requests I am going to start doing something about that.

Starting with Chocolate Crispy Cakes (not very healthy but very, very good!). More will follow.

See the Printable versions of cookalicious recipes here.

All about making Bread 12 May 2006

Posted by cath in bread, freeze-friendly, general info, help, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients.
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InformationWith easy to use, dried yeast sachets, everyone can make great bread at home. The only other things you’ll need are: a quality stoneground strong bread flour (White, Wholewheat, Granary or a mixture), salt, sugar, butter or oil and water. You can add seeds, nuts, curry pastes, dried fruits, herbs, anything you like really to the basic dough.

Loaf of Bread

Homemade, Stoneground White Bread with Pumpkin and Sesame Seeds

At the moment I’m using a very good bread machine (Panasonic, Sd-253) – although, you may be surprised that I don’t cook my bread in the machine. I use the dough only programs. Bread looks much better and gets a lovely crispy crust if you bake it in a bread tin the oven – no matter how you make the dough.

Making Bread Dough…
If you want to make your own bread dough, there are several options:

  1. You can knead it by hand – this is actually not hard to do as you have to be rough with bread so as long as you give it a good 15 minutes of stretching, folding, turning, thumping, squishing, rolling and whatever else you like, it should be fairly happy.
  2. You can use a dough tool or hook in a food processor – simply add the dough mix, along with water at room-temperature (this is crucial) to the processor and letting it knead the bread for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Use a bread machine – in this case you are best to follow the instructions in the guide book. Some machines offer a dough-only option, so you can set them up to make the dough for you whilst you’re at work. The machines include resting periods, kneading and the dough can be left in the machine to rise slowly after the program has finished.

Of course, in the bread machine, you can just let the bread bake as well. However, adding the extra prooving and maturing time, and turning the bread out to bake in the oven produces a far superior result.

The longer prooving time gives a better texture and you may be surprised at the weight and substantial feel of the resulting loaf.

Tip # 1: Let dough rise slowly, you can proove bread dough at room temperature, or even in the fridge overnight.

Preparing for baking…
Once you’re satisfied with the prooving, it’s time to knock the dough back – this just means to pummel and throw it about a little to remove all the air bubbles, then kneading again a little. It only takes about 5 minutes and if using a machine to make the dough, that’s all the hard work there is!

You then simply shape the bread into a fat sausage, put it in the bread tin and dust with seeds (optional) and a bit of flour.

Leave the bread to rise and fit into the tin – usually you want it to double in size. The rate at which this happens depends on the temperature, but leaving it for a few hours at room temperature in the kitchen is usually sufficient.

Pre-heat the oven to a very hot temperature, 210 deg C on my extra hot fan oven seems to do the trick (up to 230 deg C in an electric oven). Place the bread in the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes.

It should be brown, cripy, and fall out of the tin when ready. To check it’s cooked through, tap the base – it should sound hollow. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Tip # 2: Put a tray of water in the base of the oven to improve the loaf crust during baking.

A timetable for making bread…
Option 1: Start making this bread in the morning, place ingredients in the bread machine, start and leave to make Dough but not bake the bread. Get on with the day’s activities. In the afternoon/evening turn out the risen dough onto a floured (use strong bread flour) worktop. Knock the dough back, shape and place in a lightly oiled bread tin. Leave, uncovered on the worktop (away from draughts) for about 1-2 hours. Pre-heat the oven, bake for roughly 30 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack overnight. Perfect for eating in the morning.

Option 2: Start making this bread in the afternoon/evening, place ingredients in the bread machine, start and leave to make Dough but not bake the bread. In a few hours, the dough will be ready. Turn out into a large bowl, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge overnight. Remove the risen dough first thing in the morning and allow to warm up a little. Turn out onto a floured (use strong bread flour) worktop. Knock the dough back, shape and place in a lightly oiled bread tin. Leave, uncovered on the worktop (away from draughts) for about 1-2 hours. Pre-heat the oven, bake for roughly 30 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack before cutting. The bread should be ready to eat by lunchtime.

Other options: The bread can be left to rise for longer in the fridge – for example overnight and the next day. Make sure you use a large bowl to allow the bread plenty of room to expand.

Storing Bread…

Homemade bread does not keep fresh for long periods like store-bought sliced loaves. Wholemeal breads tend to go stale quicker than white breads as well. Best to store them in a bread bin. I also use a cotton bread bag to store bread inside the bin. The crust will soften after storage, which is why leaving it out overnight to cool keeps the crust crisp. Once cut into, bread will quickly stale.

Freezing bread is a good option. Freezing a whole loaf is a good idea if you eat a lot of bread. Freezing slices is better if you only need the odd bit. The slices defrost quickly or can even be toasted straight from the freezer.

Another option is to refresh your bread from the tin. Wrap in foil and place in a hot oven for 5-10 minutes to recrisp the crust and improve the texture of bread that has softened and begun to stale. Of course, slightly stale bread toasts well. Also use up stale bread by processing to crumbs and storing in the freezer – can be used in many recipes.

Recommended Flours

Wholemeal Flourspacer.gifGranary Flour

Tip # 3: Look out for stoneground bread flours from local mills, the flour is much more nutritious and produces high quality, nutty flavoured bread.

How much bread to make?

One 400g (weight of flour in dough) loaf makes a medium loaf easily makes 4, two-slice sandwiches, and several slices of toast or some breadcrumbs.

I usually make 1 loaf on Monday for lunchtime sandwiches Tuesday/Wednesday and possibly Thursday. Then to for a change, I’ll buy a loaf from the market on a Saturday morning (usually Sourdough as that’s a challenge I have still to face in breadmaking!)

You can make larger loaves, just the same method – maybe adding a little extra cooking time for a very large loaf.

Alternatively, make a large batch of dough and use it to make 1 loaf and a number of small rolls (shape, allow to proove again and bake for around 10 minutes in the oven). The extra dough for the rolls can also be kept in the freezer until required before prooving and baking. Similarly, made dough for loaves can be frozen until required.

Tip # 4: Cold and frozen dough will take much longer to proove. It needs to warm up to room temperature first before it really starts to increase in size. This just means a longer wait, which is why you may prefer to bake and then freeze any extra bread for use another day. If you are using frozen dough, take it out of the freezer in plenty of time – defrosting it and bringing it up to room temperature may take up to 24hrs.

Warning: Once you’ve started making bread, nothing you can buy in the supermarkets will ever be good enough again! However, you can get good quality baked bread from small bakeries, farmers markets and health food shops as well, so you don’t have to bake all the time!

‘Ready-meals’ the cookalicious way 29 March 2006

Posted by cath in freeze-friendly, general info, help, Info and Cooks Notes.
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freeze-friendlySo the world has gone 'ready-meal' crazy, how can you resist the temptation of the microwave and rows and rows of well-photographed gourmet dinners at the touch of a button (no washing up!)? If all the disposable packaging itself isn't enough to put you off, then how about knowing that corporations are controlling the quality and purity of the food you eat? Well, in case you wondering, I am not a fan.

There is a solution which works well if you put in a little effort. The simple rule is: whenever you're cooking something, ask yourself if it would freeze well, or refrigerate for another day and if so, make more than you need.

So, when I'm making a Chicken curry, I'll make it a large one. Then I'll also put on a Lamb curry too, often this involves many of the same ingredients, throw in some different veg with each pot and cook them up for slightly different times (Lamb benefits from a long stew in the curry broth). Two different curries make for a more interesting meal to put on the table. Crucially, I can also portion them up into containers to freeze or refrigerate for another day – instant 'ready-meals', only made to my own (high!) specifications, no funny stuff!

Obviously some dishes are ideal for freezing and reheating, others not. I wouldn't recommend making extra stir-fry vegetables, such delicate food is best cooked up fresh every time. Meals that freeze well include: meat and vegetable curries and stews, meat sauces (such as bolognese, chilli con carne), home made beef-burgers and big dishes such as cauliflower cheese, fish pie and lasagne.

I'll be putting an icon by meals I think are worth making on an 'eat one, freeze one' basis, so 'freeze-friendly' is now a cookalicious category.

At last, you don't have to cook every night!

Notes > Thai Ingredients Part 2 > Addition 1 March 2006

Posted by cath in general info, help, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, shopping notes, Thai food.
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InformationAnother few notes on Thai Ingredients

Sticky or glutinous rice can be bought in small and large quantities at most Chinese supermarkets, and comes in black and white varieties.

  • Black sticky rice is mainly used to make a sweet coconut rice pudding desert.
  • White sticky rice is used steamed for salads and also mixed with coconut and sugar to accompany deserts, such as mango and sticky rice.

White Sticky Rice

White Sticky Rice

 

Black Sticky Rice

Black Sticky Rice


Thai shallots or purple onions are very small onions with a purple skin, they are available in some Chinese supermarkets and some Asian grocers shops. European shallots, red onion or other onions can be used as a substitute.

Purple Shallots

 

Peeled Shallots

purple shallots 

Thai Recipes > Rice > Steamed White Sticky Rice 1 March 2006

Posted by cath in help, Info and Cooks Notes, not spicy, Recipes, Thai food, thai salad.
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Not SpicyKhaaw Neow
White Sticky (Glutinous) Rice

Serves 4-6

    
You will need:
1 scoop (i.e. a small cup or a yogurt pot) of white sticky rice per person
A large bowl for soaking
A steamer or equivalent
A large plate or tray for serving

Preparation and Cooking:

  1. Begin by washing the sticky rice in the bowl until the water runs clear
  2. Soak the sticky rice in water for at least 8 hours (this is best to do overnight, changing the water in the morning)
  3. Once soaked, drain the sticky rice and place it in the top part of the steamer (if the steamer has very large holes and the rice easily falls through, then use a muslin cloth under the rice to hold it in)
  4. Bring the water in the bottom of the steamer to the boil, once it is boiling it will start to cook the rice
  5. When steam comes through the sticky rice put the lid on the steamer
  6. Steam for about 20-30 minutes
  7. Remove lid and carefully after about 20-25 minutes, lift off the top layer of rice and test some rice from the centre – if it is not hard in the middle then it is cooked
  8. If the rice is still hard in the middle, replace the lid and cook for another 5-10 minutes until it’s done (the time will vary depending on the amount of soaking, and the amount of rice being cooked)
  9. Once cooked, turn the heat off and turn out the sticky rice onto a large plate or tray
  10. Using a spoon or fork, move the rice around, spread it out and turn it over, you are aiming to get rid of all the hot steam, if you do not do this the rice will go soggy
  11. The rice is now ready to serve warm or can be kept covered by a tea towel to serve later.

How to eat:
Sticky rice is traditionally eaten using your hands. A small amount is picked up and squeezed to form a small shovel about the size of teaspoon, which is held between the thumb and forefinger and used to scoop up some salad into a bite-sized portion of rice and salad

Steaming Equipment:
If you don't have a steamer, you can use a metal sieve fitted (closely) over a pan of water with a close fitting lid.

Tip! Steaming the rice requires that the steam is forced up through the rice ‘cake’, so any gaps between the pan and the steamer will slow down this cooking process.