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Strawberries and more uses for that Vanilla Sugar… 29 May 2006

Posted by cath in cakes and treats, desserts, easy, fruit, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, shopping notes.
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Strawberrys

Yesterday we had fresh strawberries (Scottish) from the Farmers Market, and to be extra bad we were dipping them in my home-made vanilla caster sugar.

The vanilla sugar worked really well with the strawberries…so tick another reason why you should go buy some fairtrade vanilla pods from Barts Spices or Ndali.

If you’re still buying strawberries at the supermarket – stop! These fresh strawberries from the market were much juicier and sweeter, and had a better bite to them than the imported stuff, or strawberries that have simply been travelling and kicking around too much in depots.

Summer is definately here, but the strawberry pick your own time (here in Scotland) is not quite upon us. We should be out picking our own at Lowes farm by the end of June…more about that when the time comes.

Here is another picture in the meantime…

closeup

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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!

Notes > Thai Ingredients Part 4 > Staples 29 March 2006

Posted by cath in general info, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, shopping notes, Thai food.
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InformationAsian Supermarket Staples
Buying Thai Rice:

Buying large bags of rice from the Thai or Chinese Supermarket is great value, here is my favourite brand, but others are also good. Look out for AAA quality and the words “New Crop”. Also it is worth double checking that you are not buying “broken rice” which although cheaper is long grains that have been broken or crushed, so it won’t make the best fluffy steamed rice.

I actually prefer Thai rice to Basmati (although many people still consider this to be the finest rice you can buy), by all means use Basmati if you prefer it, but think about trying Thai Fragrant Rice with your Thai food.

thai fragrant rice

Cooking Thai Rice:
I am lucky enough to have a fantastic National (aka Panasonic) Rice Cooker (5-portion) from Thailand which I have been using for years to cook ‘easy and right every time’ steamed rice. If you have the space, and cook a lot of rice, then investing in one of these is really worthwhile. You simply measure the rice in the provided cup, give it a little rinse, then add cold water up to the appropriate mark in the pan and switch on. 10 to 20 minutes later (depending on the amount of rice being cooked) your rice is perfectly cooked – magic!

However, if you don’t have a rice cooker – try the following options:

  • Microwave steamed rice. Using a very large glass bowl or dish, with a lid, place 1 small (i.e. coffee) cup of rice per person in the base and fill up with twice as much water (or make sure there is a bout 2cm of water covering the surface of the rice). Steam in the microwave on high for 12 minutes with the lid on. Then check the rice to see if it’s cooked. It should be soft with a small bite to it, not chalky. Put back for a few minutes if it needs more cooking.
  • You can also buy special rice cookers for the microwave which include measures similar to a stand-alone rice cooker – look out for these, they are really good and especially good for doing 1 or 2 portions quickly. The one I have is Japanese, so I can’t tell you where to find them, but I have seen microwave steamers in the UK, so have a look in your local cook shop.
  • You can cook rice on the stove top – again using the reduction method, i.e. measureing the amount of water added carefully (1 part rice to 2 parts water) and letting the rice absorb the water with the lid on – don’t lift the lid early as the steam will escape and your rice will not cook as well. It should take around 10-15 minutes again, depending on the amount of rice. The benefit of the absorption method is that there is no draining and your rice will be fluffy rather than soggy.

Other Staples from the Asian Supermarket
Fish Sauce

thai fish sauce

A thin, brown, salty liquid used instead of salt, similarly to soy sauce in Thai recipes. Darker sauces are higher in quality and have a strong fishy taste rather than being just salty.
I like Squid brand and try not to think about what is in there or how it’s made :)
Seriously though, soy sauce can be used as a substitute, especially for vegetarians, but nothing compares to the classic taste of fish sauce in your Thai dishes, try it!

Coconut Milk

coconut milk

Although fresh coconut is far superior, it is not something that is easy to get hold of here in the UK. If you fancy making it yourself I’ll post a recipe for that in the future. For now, to get started, tins of coconut milk make an excellent substitute.
Here are my two favourite brands. Aroy-D (‘Aroy dee’ meaning yummy in Thai) and Chao Koh. Be careful of buying cheap brands as they have too much liquid and not enough coconut in the can. Also watch out for sweetened versions of tinned coconut milk – make sure you are buying unsweetened milk for your curries, even desserts as you can add your own sweeteners (i.e. palm sugar) and have more control of the final flavour.

Shrimp Paste

shrimp paste

A strong smelling paste made from dried shrimps (so I’m told!), dark in colour and is used sparingly in soups, pastes and dips. These pots of paste last well in the fridge or larder. Anchovy paste can be used as a substitute, or anchovies and water blended is another option. Shrimp paste adds an intense fishy and salty flavour to dishes.

Vegetables > Beetroot 20 March 2006

Posted by cath in Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, Recipes, variations, vegetables.
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VegetablesDo more with Beetroot

I’ve been buying fresh beetroots from the market for a while now. But just what to do with them? – I wasn’t too sure except for cold cooked beetroot in salads and Austrailian-influenced sarnies.

Well, good news! At the weekend, peeled, chunky pieces of beetroot were added to an experimental venison stew. I had no particular recipe for the stew, but starting with good stewing principles and lovely fresh ingredients it’s pretty easy to make something that tastes good. (I recommend the The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for in-depth discussions about stewing).

Anyhow, I’m pleased to say that 2-3 hours later the stew plus beetroot was a great sucess – particularly the beetroot addition. Perfectly cooked, quite stewy tasting in the first bite, but really beetrooty towards the middle – an amazing find and something I’ll be doing again – particularly with dark meats in rich porter, ale or wine based stews. One to remember!

Venison Stew with Beetroot

Venison Stew with Beetroot served with homemade crusty bread.

Other beetroot experiments
Beetroot in stew was not the first experiment actually, roasting beetroot was the first real break from tradition for me. Again, roast beetroot was a real surprise, very tasty, and so easy to do! Just peel and chunk, then coat in (hot) goose fat (oil for veggies) and cooked in a hot oven for 1-2 hours, turning once or twice (depends how big you’ve cut them and how well done you want your beets).

No picture of roasted beetroot – I was too slow and they were all gobbled up!

Check out these beetroot from Thisselcockrig Fruit & Veg (at the Farmers Market in Edinburgh):

Fresh Beetroot

Fresh Beetroot

Note: you will get very purple hands washing, peeling and handling fresh beetroot. Don’t worry – it doesn’t last long!

Notes > Thai Ingredients Part 3 > Thai Aubergines 12 March 2006

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

Pea Aubergines are small, fairly bitter versions of an aubergine. They have a fairly tough skin, and burst satisfyingly in the mouth. They are are usually added to curries, especially Thai Green Curry (Gaeng Kiaw Wan). They cook quickly, and are usually added to curry for about 5 minutes to soften slightly.

pea aubergines

Pea Aubergines

 

Green or Apple Aubergines are larger, round varieties of aubergine, about the size of a plum. They are green and white, and are usually quartered and added to curries, especially Thai Green Curry (Gaeng Kiaw Wan). They discolour quickly, so are chopped and added immediately to the curry, and cook in 5-10 minutes when they have softened slightly.

thai aubergines

Apple Aubergines

Pictures of Thai Ingredients 12 March 2006

Posted by cath in general info, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, Thai food.
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InformationIngredients for Pomelo Salad

What is a pomelo?

A pomelo is a member of the citrus family – it is much larger than a grapefruit, the Thai variety is usually green, like limes.
To get a sense of scale, here is a pomelo with 2 white grapefruits and 2 limes.

citrus and pomelo


Ready to make pomelo salad?

Pomelo salad is a spicy, fruity, sweet, sour and salty Thai classic…highly recommended. Here are the ingredients laid out…

ingredients

On the table (from top-left): Pomelo, lime juice, limes, tomatoes, fish sauce.
On the plate (clockwise from top): cashew nuts, bird’s eye chillies, lemongrass, beans, garlic, corriander.

And the finished dish:

finished dish - pomelo salad

Thai Recipes > Salads > Pomelo 12 March 2006

Posted by cath in Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, preparing thai ingredients, Recipes, Thai food, thai salad, very spicy.
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SpicySpicy Pomelo Salad
(Dtam Somoh)

Serves 4 as a lunch with sticky rice or as a dish in a main meal
Ingredients:
1 pomelo – prepared into shreds (see instructions below)
2 cloves garlic -– finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass -– thinly sliced
3-10 bird’s eye chillies
a generous bunch of coriander -– split into stalk (finely chop) and leaves (roughly chopped)
a handful of cashew nuts (plain) or peanuts -– roughly chopped
4 tomatoes -– quartered
2 snake beans (or several fine beans) -– cut into 2cm lengths
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice (roughly the juice of 1 lime)
A selection of fresh vegetables e.g. white cabbage or Chinese leaf, green beans (or snake beans), cucumber, celery

Preparation:
1. Take the washed pomelo and cut a slice off the top. The peel and pith is quite thick and can be cut off in fairly thick slices. Quarter the pomelo as shown below and begin cutting off the peel and pith.

prepare pomelo 1

prepare pomelo 2

prepare pomelo 3

2. Now peel away the rest of the tough pith around the pomelo segments and shred them roughly into smaller segments, as shown below.

prepare pomelo 4

prepare pomelo 5

prepare pomelo 6

prepare pomelo 7

Finishing the Dish:

  1. In a large bowl, pound the garlic, lemongrass, coriander stalks and bird’s eye chillies together with the end of a rolling pin, aiming to bruise them slightly but not crush them.
  2. Add the chopped cashew nuts, tomatoes and beans and mix thoroughly, again bruising slightly but being careful not to crush the tomatoes.
  3. Add the shredded pomelo and mix well with a spoon, be careful not to crush the pomelo segments. Then add the chopped coriander leaves and stir through.
  4. Mix the fish sauce and lime juice and pour over the salad, mix again and serve immediately.

Serve with the cabbage leaves and other raw vegetables and with steamed white Sticky Rice.

Notes:
Thai fruit salads are typically served very spicy, with lots of fresh herbs and crunchy vegetables on the side.

What it looks like…

pomelo salad

Cooking Notes > Mince 3 March 2006

Posted by cath in general info, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, shopping notes, variations.
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InformationWhat's your Mince?

Pork mince is great! Do you want a change from the usual beef mince in your dinner? Try some Pork mince instead. It works really well in Bolognese and similar pasta sauces, also is fantastic in the Laab recipe.

I buy my pork mince from Piperfield Pork, it's available at the Farmers Market in Castle Terrace, Edinburgh. They do really great sausages, bacon, ham and chorizo too.

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 > Salads > Laab 1 March 2006

Posted by cath in Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, Recipes, Thai food, thai salad, very spicy.
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SpicyLaab
(Spicy Minced Meat Salad)

Serves 4 as a lunch with sticky rice or as a dish in a main meal

Ingredients:
500g minced meat – beef, pork, chicken or lamb
4 shallots – thinly sliced
2 slices ginza – finely chopped
4 tbsp fish sauce
4 tbsp lime juice (roughly the juice of 2 limes)
1½ tbsp chilli powder
a generous bunch of coriander – split into stalk (finely chop) and leaves (roughly chopped)
2 spring onions – chopped
a generous bunch of mint – roughly chop the leaves
3 tbsp sticky rice – roasted and ground
10 finely chopped small birds-eye chillies (Optional)
A selection of fresh vegetables e.g. white cabbage or Chinese leaf green beans (or snake beans) cucumber celery sweet basil leaves

Preparation:

  1. Begin by marinating the mince. Put the mince, shallots, ginza, fish sauce, lime juice, coriander stalks and chilli powder into a bowl and mix thoroughly
  2. Place the chopped coriander leaves, mint leaves and spring onion in a serving dish.
  3. Make the ground, roasted sticky rice by putting the rice grains (uncooked, not soaked) into a dry wok or small frying pan over a low heat and roast (no oil) for about ½ hour, agitating occasionally. When they are golden brown in colour, remove from the heat and grind in a pestle and mortar to a fairly fine powder (some larger grains will create a nice crunch to the salad).
  4. For an extra fresh and spicy laab, add the chopped birds-eye chillies to the finished dish.

To Cook:

  1. Heat a wok (or large saucepan/frying pan) on medium heat
  2. Stir fry the mince mixture for about 5 minutes or until the meat is cooked
  3. Transfer the hot cooked mince into the serving dish and mix with the spring onion, mint and coriander leaves
  4. Add the ground, roasted sticky rice and mix well

Serve immediately with the cabbage leaves and other raw vegetables and with steamed white Sticky Rice.

Notes:
Thai salads are typically served warm, very spicy, with lots of fresh herbs and crunchy vegetables on the side. You can substitute other herbs, such as Thai Sweet Basil, but I think mint gives the best flavour to this salad.

And the finished dish:

Laab Moo