Monday, 19 August 2013

Stir-Fried Cabbage with Bacon (煙肉炒椰菜)

I'm sure that there's some cabbagey-bacony dish in many cuisines - something like it always pops up on the Christmas table, and I have happy memories of having lunchtime teppan-yaki cabbage and bacon in the food court downstairs in the Metro Tower in Shanghai, when I worked there back in 2001.

We've been away for a week, and 3 days before we went, my parents emptied their fridge into mine (they were going away too). This led to much frantic peeling, chopping and freezing, and heartbroken chucking of fruit and veg into the composter. Some things I left in the fridge, including a sweetheart cabbage which I'd picked up for 10p or something in my local Waitrose on a Sunday afternoon. I used this in tonight's dish, coupled with the remainder of a packet of pancetta and it was lovely - but standard white or green cabbage and streaky bacon would be just as tasty.


  • 1/2 sweetheart cabbage, shredded into 5mm strips
  • 3 strips of pancetta or streaky bacon, cut into 5mm strips
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 slice of raw ginger, peeled and bashed with the flat of a cleaver
  • 1/2 tsp chicken powder
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 50ml water
  • Few drops sesame oil
Serves 2 as a side dish


  • Heat a wok or heavy-based frying pan until very hot. Add the pancetta/bacon and fry (without disturbing it too much) until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and put to one side. Drain away the oil, until approx. 1 tbsp remains in the pan. If you do not have this much oil from the pancetta or bacon, top up with sunflower oil
  • Heat the pan back up and add the slice of ginger. Fry quickly for 30 seconds to flavour the oil, then add the shredded cabbage. Stir-fry quickly for 1 minute until the cabbage is glossy - take care not to burn the cabbage
  • Add the garlic to the pan and stir-fry quickly for 1 minute, before adding the chicken powder, sugar and water. Mix to combine, cover the pan and lower the heat, until the water is boiling but not too vigorously. Boil for 4 minutes until the cabbage is softened but still with some bite
  • Add the pancetta or bacon back to the pan and heat through. Remove from the heat, then add a few drops of sesame oil and mix in
  • Remove the slice of ginger and serve immediately in a warmed dish
Stir-Fried Cabbage with Bacon (煙肉炒椰菜)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Cauliflower Cheese

I remember when my older sister started to earn money, probably around 14 or 15 years old. She and I both spent our teenage years teaching younger Chinese children - mainly additional help with English and Maths, and preparing children for the 11+. Often the children just needed some extra attention, as their parents were busy in the evenings working in takeaways or restaurants, and didn't have English as a first language. For some reason, my younger sister didn't follow this route of money-earning, but was instead set to work in a friend's chippy, for the princely sum of £1.42 per hour! Tuition was far more lucrative, and for those years, I think my rates ranged from £8 - £15 per hour. Not bad!

Anyway, at around this time we also started being allowed out to town on our own after Saturday Chinese Youth Club at the Pagoda Centre. My sister used to buy us treats with her wages (we still laugh about how my parents constantly told everyone she was so caring and generous for buying us a yoghurt!!). As a special treat, we sometimes also got western ready meals from Marks and Spencer for our dinner - two favourites being cottage pie and cauliflower cheese. I'm still hugely comforted nowadays by a plate of cottage pie, or cauliflower cheese, both served and mixed up with rice, of course.

My eldest and youngest loved this cauliflower cheese last night, although the middle one fussed and turned up his nose. We had it with boiled new potatoes and chicken thighs wrapped in pancetta, and it was very pleasant - although if we had not had potatoes to be used up, I would have definitely served it with rice. It could be varied by using broccoli florets, and maybe sprinkling some breadcrumbs over the top.

Update: I added macaroni to this dish last night, and it went down brilliantly with at least two children. Cook approx. 50g macaroni per person for 2/3 the time stated on the packet. Stir it into the cheese sauce before pouring it over the cauliflower, sprinkle with cheese and bake in the oven.


  • 1 medium-sized cauliflower
  • 40g butter
  • 40g plain flour
  • 400ml milk
  • (Optional) A pinch of mustard powder, or a teaspoon of mustard (English or Dijon would be fine)
  • 130g grated cheddar cheese
  • (Optional) Grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top
  • A small pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and ground white pepper to season
Serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a side


  • Remove the leaves from the cauliflower, cut into florets and rinse
  • Plunge the florets into boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain and arrange snugly in a baking tray. Pre-heat the oven to 185 degrees fan
  • Melt the butter in a heavy based saucepan and when it starts to bubble, add the flour. Using a balloon whisk, mix the flour and butter to form a roux, and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring all the time
  • Add the milk to the roux, a splash at a time, whisking as you go. You will find that the roux remains lumpy, then eventually starts to thin and flow. Keep the heat on medium, adding more just as it begins to bubble. When all of the milk is added, you should have a thick, glossy sauce
  • Add the cheddar cheese and (optional) mustard, reserving a little cheese for sprinkling on top. Continue to stir the mixture until the cheese has melted and the sauce is of a smooth consistency
  • Pour the sauce over the cauliflower cheese and sprinkle the remaining cheddar (and parmesan if you're using it) over the top. Place it in the oven for 25 minutes, until the top is browned and bubbling
  • Remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes before serving
Cauliflower Cheese

Served with Chicken Thighs wrapped in Pancetta and Boiled New Potatoes

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Slow-Cooked Duck with Lotus Root (蓮藕炆鴨)

It's been a slow blogging week. To be honest, I've been having a series of disasters in the kitchen, so there's been nothing of an acceptable quality to share. What have I learned?

1. Cauldron's marinaded tofu is rubbish. Better to buy the normal stuff and fry it - or even better go to Chinatown and buy some authentic stuff. Or make your own (I'm kidding). Still, needs must, and they sell it in Sainsbury's. I've had two attempts now at stir-fried tofu and veg and both of them have been pants

2. Trying to come home from work on time, cook, chat with your big sis, disentangle the grumpy toddler from your legs whilst manoeuvring a wok of hot oil, set the table for 5 kids and 2 adults - and get everyone's hands washed whilst the food is still hot - is a feat for a better woman than me. I should have gone to the chippy!

3. Not everyone is in the fortunate position of having a whole cooked duck in the freezer because they couldn't get through the food their parents brought them before it went off. Not everyone except the Chinese, that is.....

So I cooked this dish with the defrosted cooked duck, which was originally meant for 香酥鴨, or crispy shredded duck - that most beloved of Cantonese dishes and one that no-one makes better than my Dad. He forgot to bring the pancakes that day, so into the freezer it went. I'm going to write this recipe as if it was a raw duck I was starting with, as the cooked duck fell apart too much in the slow cooker. When I (ever) get around to making it again, I'll update the photo.

Lotus root can be bought from the Chinese supermarket, and is a tasty, firm-textured ingredient. It is quite fibrous, which might not be to everyone's liking, but I love it - it's very versatile and can be served cold and sweet as a Shanghainese appetiser, but I prefer it slow-cooked or in soups, so that it takes on all of the flavours it is cooked in (I copied the image from Cooking the Books).

Lotus Root


  • 1 duck, jointed into portions
  • 1 packet of lotus root, sliced into 1cm thicknesses
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconsituted by soaking in hot water for a couple of hours and sliced thickly
  • 5 slices of ginger, bashed with the flat of a cleaver
  • 4 cloves of garlic, bashed with the flat of a cleaver
  • 3-4 stalks of spring onion, roots cut off, green and white parts cut into 6cm lengths
  • 1 tsp sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 star anise
  • 800ml water
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil for frying
  • 2-3 shakes of sesame oil
  • (Optional) salt for seasoning

Sauce Mix
  • 1 piece of fermented red beancurd (南乳), with 1-2 tbsp of the sauce from the jar
  • 1-2 tsp sugar (I used granulated sugar, but rock sugar if you have it, is better)
  • 1 tbsp miso paste (I used Clearspring miso paste from Sainsbury's)
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1-2 tsp cornflour
Serves 4-6


  • Using a fork, prick the skin of the duck all over (it's probably easiest to do this before you chop it into portions)
  • Heat the oil in a wok until very hot. Add the duck pieces and fry until the oil starts to render, and the duck is well browned. Remove the duck from the wok, shaking off any excess oil, and place into the bottom of the slow cooker
  • Add the ginger, garlic, spring onion, sichuan peppercorns and star anise to the wok and stir-fry quickly until fragrant. Remove from the wok and place into a spice pouch. Tie the pouch and place it into the slow cooker
  • Drain most of the oil from the wok and add the fermented red bean curd (南乳) with its sauce. Mash it up and fry it in the wok, then add the remaining sauce ingredients and stir-fry briefly. Add the sliced mushrooms and lotus root slices and mix well
  • Add the mushroom and lotus root to the slow cooker with as much of the sauce as you can scrape out. Add the water until a couple of cms from the top of the mixture, and cook on low for 8-10 hours
  • Turn off the heat and add salt to taste if required. Add a couple of drops of sesame oil
  • If you prefer the sauce to be thicker, place the contents of the slow cooker in a wok, and reheat to a gentle boil. Add increments of cornflour mixed in water (1 tsp cornflour to 20ml water) and mix into the sauce until you have achieved the required consistency

Slow-Cooked Duck with Lotus Root (蓮藕炆鴨) - I need to update this photo next time I cook it!