Sunday, 29 December 2013

Roast Rib of Beef

My childhood memories of Christmas are of all of my 婆婆's mates coming over on Christmas day: Uncle Jack and Aunty Chow Ping with Ang and Ben, 陳伯 and 陳母, 姑姐 and cousin Suzanne, and also the Tsai and Lee families. 婆婆 would cook a massive Chinese meal, with stir-fried king prawns in tomato sauce, steamed sea bass with ginger and spring onions, dried oysters cooked with hair moss (髮菜) and lettuce - there were many many more dishes, I remember the table used to heave with them. After the meal, 婆婆 would play mah jong with my dad and her friends. My mum and various aunties would watch Chinese videos and we children would be sent upstairs to play and chat. My memories are heavily laced with the smell of cigarettes and brandy, and the loud (and comforting) noise of mah jong tiles being swept around and mixed, occasionally accompanied by the loud bang of one being slammed onto the table, followed always by some cursing at the poor quality of the tile. This used to go on until at least two in the morning!

I don't know when we moved from a Chinese-style Christmas to a Western-style Christmas. It will probably have happened as my 婆婆's friends passed away, and she became more frail and less able to organise and rule our household. I can't even remember whether we ever had a Western-style Christmas whilst she was alive. I do remember my first ever attempt at a roast, aged maybe 15 years old. My dad was convinced I had the temperature settings all wrong, and kept sneaking past and turning up the heat on the oven. Eventually it came out burned to a crisp on the outside and bloody on the inside. We ended up slicing it, then stir-frying it with soy sauce.....

20-odd years later and we're still arguing about roasts! I used a halogen cooker for the joint this year, and he murmured "I think you should turn it", "perhaps you should turn it", "I would turn it if it was my roast", until I snapped and yelled "All right, all right! I'll turn it!", whilst my father-in-law creased up at the exchange. Once I'd taken the lid off, Dad then said "here, let me turn it, you don't know how to".... and once again I reverted to a petulant teenager (although I nearly dropped the roast in the process of turning it...).

This joint was enormous - 5.14kg in total, 17 people at the dinner table on Christmas day and we are still eating it 3 days later. It's since been turned into a very successful beef and tomato, and also accompanied noodles twice. I absolutely love The River Cottage Meat Cookbook, I find the temperatures and timings to be spot-on for roasting. I think that this book actually changed the way I think about and buy meat, and would thoroughly recommend it. A larger roast (greater than 3kg) requires a longer initial "sizzle" at high temperature, before a shorter cook at low temperature. I went for medium-rare, and the results were pretty well received. I was planning on taking photos of all of the trimmings, but got carried away and forgot. We had the roast with pigs in blankets, yorkshire puddings, sprouts with bacon, chestnuts and onions, mustard-roast potatoes, carrots boiled with orange and cumin, braised red cabbage, roasted golden beetroot in balsamic vinegar, and beef and red wine gravy. And copious condiments, of which horseradish was my favourite.

It's important to rest the joint once it comes out of the oven. This gives a chance for the juices to "settle" back into the meat, and even up the outside and the inside of the roast. I tend to put it on a warmed tray, cover it with foil, then throw a teatowel over the foil, and get on with making the trimmings.



  • 1 rib of beef on the bone - I asked for 5 ribs, which came to 5.14kg (1 rib would serve around 3-4 adults)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sunflower oil
Serves 16-20



  • Pour a few tablespoons of sunflower oil into a bowl and add a teaspoon of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Mix together, then rub the mixture over the joint. If the joint is not already tied with string, bind it between the ribs - this will keep the meat nice and firm, and prevent excessive loss of the yummy juices during cooking.
It only just fit in the halogen oven!
  • Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees fan, and place the joint inside. Cook at this temperature for 20 mins (joints up to 2kg), 30 mins (joints over 2kg) or 40 mins (joints over 3kg)
  • After the initial sizzle, turn the oven down to 165 degrees fan. For a medium-rare joint, roast for 13 minutes per 500kg (joints up to 5kg), or 11 minutes per 500kg (joints over 5kg)
Halogen oven kept the meat lovely and moist
  • (For guidance, I cooked this joint for 40 minutes at 220 degrees fan, then 115 minutes at 165 degrees fan, and turned it once, halfway through cooking)
  • After roasting, remove the joint from the oven, cover it with kitchen foil, and rest for 30-45 minutes (this for me is the time to get the roasties and the rest of the trimmings on)
This is the roast when it came out of the oven
  • Remove the string, carve into slices according to your desired thickness and serve immediately
Roast rib of beef

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Fish-Fragrant Pork and Aubergine Pot (魚香茄子煲)

There are several different ways of cooking this dish, but this one got the seal of approval, not only from my dad, but also my mum (who doesn't like spicy food) and even the toddler. The aubergines release a lot of water, so don't worry if your dish looks a little dry to start - keep stirring it occasionally, and you will see the sauce begin to appear.

There are a few ingredients which might be difficult to get outside of a Chinese supermarket, but you could try substituting the toban jiang with yellow bean sauce and chopped chillis (keep the seeds in if you want some heat), the Shaoxing rice wine with dry sherry, and the salted mackerel with a tablespoon of Thai fish sauce.



  • 1 pork loin steak, minced
  • 2cm cube fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 pinch ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cornflour
  • A few drops of sunflower oil
  • 1 aubergine
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp spicy toban jiang (辣豆瓣醬 chilli bean sauce)
  • 2 spring onions, whites and greens chopped into 5mm lengths
  • 1 aubergine
  • 1 small piece (2 X 3cm) salted mackerel
  • 80ml water
  • Sunflower oil for frying
  • A few drops sesame oil
Serves 3-4



  • Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger over the minced pork. Add the ground white pepper, the cornflour and a few drops of sunflower oil and combine well. Cover and marinade for at least 30 minutes in the fridge
  • Soak the mackerel for 10 minutes in boiling water, then peel away the skin and bones, and flake the flesh roughly
  • Half-peel the aubergine lengthways, so that you get a stripy effect. Slice the aubergine lengthways, then cut the slices into matches, roughly 10-12mm sides. Cut each match in half, the size should be similar to that of chips
  • Heat a tablespoon of sunflower oil in a hot wok, until the oil is moving. Add the spring onions and stir-fry rapidly for 10 seconds
  • Add the minced pork and garlic, and stir-fry rapidly, until the pork is browned
  • Add the Shaoxing rice wine, light soy sauce, sugar and toban jiang, and stir rapidly to combine. Add the aubergines and salted mackerel, and stir the mixture together to coat the aubergines
  • Add 80 ml water to the wok and bring back to the boil. Reduce the heat to moderate, cover and let cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to the base of the wok
  • When the aubergines are softened, thicken the sauce if required by adding 1/2 tsp cornflour mixed in 20ml water
  • Remove from the heat and add a few drops of sesame oil. Serve immediately

Fish-Fragrant Pork and Aubergine Pot (魚香茄子煲)

Monday, 9 December 2013

Pork Ribs and Papaya Soup (木瓜排骨湯)

So on one of my sad Friday evening ambles to the supermarket, I spotted a couple of papaya for 39p and how could I resist? I swear it was Il Divo blaring "Oh Holy Night" over the loudspeakers that messed with my head.

Pretty much the only time I ever have papaya is after having a baby, as it's rumoured to be good for milk production - and my dad has a "bible" of all of the foods that a new mother can eat. Literally, meal by meal by meal for about six weeks post-birth! We usually come to blows by about week 4, but really Dad, I love and appreciate your efforts!

This soup is normally done with peanuts, but the youngest is starting to show signs of a peanut intolerance, so I've substituted with almonds. I've used "north" (bitter) and "south" (sweet) almonds in this soup, and the mix should be approx north:south 1:3. If you can't get the north and south almonds, then use raw peanuts (a small handful) or even maybe try normal almonds.

I cooked this soup in my 婆婆's 3 litre crockpot (probably older than I am). It could also be cooked in a pan, brought to the boil then simmered for a couple of hours, or in a vacuum cooker.



  • 350g pork ribs
  • 1 dried octopus (章魚幹)
  • A thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
  • 2 papaya, deseeded, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 red dates (jujubes)
  • 1/2 tbsp north almonds
  • 1 1/2 tbsp south almonds
  • 2-3 tsp salt
Serves 6



  • Rinse the dried octopus and scrape off any sand or grit. Cut into 3 or 4 pieces
  • Place the ribs into a pan, pour over boiling water and boil for 5 minutes, to get rid of any scum and impurities. Drain and rinse under water
  • Place all of the ingredients except for the papaya into a 3 litre crockpot and pour over enough water to nearly fill the pot
  • Cook on high for 6-7 hours. 2 hours before the end, add the papaya to the pot
  • At the end of the cooking, add 2 tsp salt to the soup and taste. Add more salt if required, until you have achieved the required taste
Pork Ribs and Papaya Soup (木瓜排骨湯)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Deep-Fried Sprats with Red Chinese Vinegar (油炸鯡魚點醋)

The reduced fresh produce appears on the shelves at around a quarter to 8 in the evening at our local Sainsbury's, and when it's a supermarket day, I can usually be found lurking around the aisles at this time. Last night I came home with a packet of sprats for 50p, a bream for £2.60 and a couple of papaya for 39p each. My mum and dad would be proud of me, but I'm not a patch on my best friend, Yin's mum, whom I think managed Christmas dinner for under a fiver last year!

Although I prefer to get my fish from the fishmonger, the choice at the supermarket, especially when it's reduced, is fine. The bream went straight into the freezer (along with last week's bargain dover sole, which doesn't actually freeze that well) for another day, and the papaya will be turned into soup with pork ribs. The sprats pretty much need to be eaten the next day, and although the fishmonger said I didn't need to gut them, I personally prefer to, I think it makes the taste much cleaner.

The eldest loves to dip her sprats into red Chinese vinegar, and was last seen rather worryingly drinking it straight from the bowl. The middle child preferred tomato ketchup, and the toddler still prefers to run around and create merry hell, rather than eat anything. The fish is fried until crisp and crunchy, so bones are not a problem.

Unfortunately, I think the oil for frying probably costs more than the fish!



  • 400g sprats
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • A large pinch of salt
  • A large pinch of ground white pepper
  • Sunflower or vegetable oil for deep-frying
Suggested Dips: Chinese red vinegar, tomato ketchup, Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce, sweet chilli sauce

Serves 2-3



  • Using a sharp knife, cut the heads off the sprats and cut along the underside through the belly. Scrape/pull the guts out and discard. Give the sprats a quick rinse
  • Place the sprats onto kitchen towels and dry thoroughly
  • Place 1 tbsp cornflour, a large pinch of salt and a large pinch of ground white pepper into a plastic bag (I use a sandwich bag) and shake thoroughly to mix
  • Add the sprats to the bag, close and shake around until they are coated in the cornflour mixture
  • Remove the sprats from the bag and dust off any excess cornflour
  • Place 3-4cm depth of sunflower oil into a small wok and heat until very hot. I test this by placing a wooden chopstick into the oil, and when it starts to bubble, you know the oil is hot enough
  • Add the sprats, 4-5 at a time to the oil. Be careful not to overload the wok, or the sprats will turn soggy. If you want to fry more sprats at a time, then increase the depth of the oil, but it should never reach more than a third of the height of the wok or pan. The sprats should be able to move freely when you swirl the oil around the wok
  • Keeping the heat high, deep fry for 2-3 minutes, swirling them around the wok periodically and turning them once
  • Remove from the wok and place on a warmed plate on kitchen towels
  • Repeat until all of the sprats are cooked
  • Remove the kitchen towels and serve immediately with an assortment of dipping sauces

Deep-Fried Sprats with Red Chinese Vinegar (油炸鯡魚點醋)
Deep-Fried Sprats

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Brazilian Meatloaf

The credit for this recipe goes to the mum of my friend, Julio. I find that children look at it suspiciously, poke it around a bit with their forks, and after being persuaded to take a first bite, usually ask for seconds.

The first time we had this at Julio and Dani's house, the dish was accompanied by a really lovely cauliflower cheese - I don't know how he managed it, but Julio managed to wrap ham and cheese in and around the cauliflower, then take it out of the oven still looking like a whole cauliflower. It was a really lovely meal, and a really lovely day. I miss you guys!

I haven't made this for a while, but we had the school nativity on Friday, and some of the children's friends (and their mums, my friends!) came over after school. We haven't done it for a while, I think maybe once, since I started working full time in 2012, but it reminded me how much I miss doing it. Maybe early Friday leaving every so often could be a habit to adopt.



  • 400g beef mince
  • 1 packet (single portion) of powdered onion soup (use vegetable if you can't find onion)
  • 1 egg
  • 50g butter cut into cubes, preferably at room temperature (but don't stress if you forgot to take it out of the fridge, like me)
  • 6-8 slices of thin ham
  • A large handful of grated cheddar cheese
  • Ground black pepper to season
Serves 3-4 adults or 6 children



  • If your packet soup mix contains croutons, pour it through a sieve, remove the croutons and add any dried vegetables back into the mix
  • Place the beef mince, butter, egg, soup mix and ground black pepper in a large bowl and combine well. I get stuck in with my hands
  • Lay a length of clingfilm onto a flat surface - about the size of a normal baking tray
  • Place the beef mince mixture onto the clingfilm and roll/flatten with a rolling pin or your hands, until the mixture is 5-8mm thick. Aim for a rectangle shape
  • Lay a single layer of sliced ham over the mince, then sprinkle a layer of grated cheese over that

  • Using the clingfilm, roll the mince over, so that you a long, rather unsavoury looking roll of meat, wrapped in the clingfilm. Flatten slightly with your hand and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up
The less said, the better really!
  • When you are ready to cook the meatloaf, remove the clingfilm and place on a baking tray. Place into an oven at 180 degrees fan for 25-30 minutes
  • Remove from the oven, cut into slices around 2cm thick and serve. I like to serve with rice and assorted vegetables
Brazilian Meatloaf

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Steamed Fluke with Tianjin Preserved Vegetables (天津冬菜蒸比目魚)

Last Saturday, I dropped the eldest off at her Chinese class, and headed into town for my usual trip to the fishmonger. My friend, Regina, realised that this was the last class of term and panic-bought enough fish to last until New Year, it seemed!

It still feels like a bit of a treat going to the fishmonger on a Saturday morning, followed by a trip to the greengrocer. The displays are always full of a decent variety of fresh, plump, glistening fish and shellfish, and the fishmonger is always happy to chat, recomending what is in season and what came in the morning's catch, and asking us how we would cook certain ingredients. By the time we have finished, there's usually a queue behind us, and one of us has probably nicked the last of the prawns/clams/scallops.....

Last week, the fishmonger recommended that I try the fluke, that had been landed that morning. Having never tried it (or even flounder) before, I was intrigued. Normally, I'll buy a dover sole or a lemon sole if I'm after a flat fish. It was an ugly looking thing, but big enough to feed us all, so I picked one up for about £4. On this occasion, I also picked up 4 fat slabs of salmon, which got vac-packed for the freezer, and a couple of herring, which I seasoned, floured and pan-fried. The herring roe was delicious given the same treatment, and dipped in Chinese red vinegar.

I thought about pan-frying the fluke, but it was so fresh, I decided to steam it instead. It was an absolute treat. The flesh was light, delicate, moist and flaky, and the children gobbled it up. One day, I'll make them brainy! I used Tianjin preserved vegetable, which can be bought in Chinese supermarkets. It's a preserved, salted cabbage, which needs to be soaked and rinsed a few times, and is one of my favourite accompaniments for steamed fish.

Tianjin Preserved Vegetable (天津冬菜)



  • 1 fluke or flounder, scaled and gutted
  • 3 tsp Tianjin preserved vegetable, soaked in warm water for 10 mins, then drained and rinsed a few times to remove grit
  • 3 slices of raw ginger, peeled and sliced into fine matchsticks
  • A very small pinch of ground white pepper
  • 3-4 big sploshes of seasoned soy sauce for seafood (or use light soy sauce)
  • A few drops of a flavourless oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower oil
Serves 2-3



  • Rinse the fish inside and out, and pat dry with kitchen towels. Lay dark-side up on a heatproof steaming dish (I use a metal dish, but anything will do, you might just need to steam for a few minutes longer)
  • Scatter the sliced ginger over the top of the fish
  • Squeeze any excess moisture from the Tianjin preserved vegetable, and scatter it over the fish and ginger. Sprinkle a very small pinch of ground white pepper over the top
  • Splosh the seasoned soy sauce for seafood over the fish in abundance - the sauce is great for adding to rice, so I always make sure there's enough to go round
  • Add a couple of drops of sunflower or grapeseed oil
  • Place the dish on a rack over water in a large wok, cover, and steam for 8-10 minutes, until just cooked through
  • Serve with boiled rice
Steamed Fluke with Tianjin Preserved Vegetables (天津冬菜蒸比目魚)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Thai Flavours Kohlrabi with Minced Pork (泰式芥蘭頭炒豬肉)

At this point, I will admit that I'm not sure what kohlrabi is called in Chinese, so I hope my dodgy memory serves me correctly here - because Google Translate said something I didn't recognise at all... I also have no idea whether kohlrabi features in Thai cuisine, but there was fish sauce, chilli and sugar in it, so it was more Thai than anything else.....

I would like to see kohlrabi available more widely - it's relatively easy to grow, and has a mild, slightly cabbagey taste. I like to cut it into sticks, stir-fry it, then add some water to the wok, cover and steam it until it still has some bite. You can add all sorts of flavours to it (but not fermented tofu!). With the minced pork, I fancied chillis, then the fish sauce seemed a logical addition.



  • 2-3 small kohlrabi (I bought one large, but the small ones are a bit less fibrous)
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 red chilli, finely sliced (leave the seeds in if you want heat)
  • 150g pork mince
  • 2cm cube ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • A pinch of ground white pepper
  • 1-2 shakes of light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour + additional for thickening
  • A few drops sesame oil
  • Sunflower oil for frying
Serves 4



  • Squeeze the grated ginger juice over the minced pork. Add a shake of ground white pepper, 1 tsp corn flour, 1-2 shakes of light soy sauce and a few drops of sunflower oil. Cover and leave to marindade for at least 30 minutes
  • Cut the top and bottom off the kohlrabi, and peel the skin layer off. Slice in half down the length of the kohlrabi, then cut down the length into sticks, approx. 1cm square at the top
  • Heat 1 tbsp sunflower oil in a wok until very hot. Add the pork mince and stir-fry until it is sealed, and has taken on some colour
  • Add the kohlrabi, chopped garlic and chilli to the wok and stir-fry rapidly for a minute or two, until the ingredients are mixed, aromatic and coated in oil. Take care not to let the garlic catch and burn
  • Add the Thai fish sauce, sugar, and 50ml water. Bring the mixture to the boil, then cover and boil gently for 7-8 minutes, until the kohlrabi is soft, but retains some bite
  • Thicken the sauce by adding 1/2 tsp cornflour mixed with a little water, if required, and bringing back to the boil
  • Remove from the heat, add a few drops of sesame oil. Stir and serve immediately

Thai Flavours Kohlrabi with Minced Pork (泰式芥蘭頭炒豬肉)