Friday, 26 September 2014

Bucatini with Beef Meatballs

My middle child doesn't have friends over to play often, due to crazy logistics this year for the children, and us parents. Sometimes it feels as if we are ruled by the schedule of (particularly my eldest's) various extra-curricular activities, but a few friends have assured me that this happens in their households too. This year, we are starting him on some of the same classes as his sister, and next year I hope that everything will become easier when they are (hopefully) all at the same school.

This is the last week that I will be home relatively early (early enough to do school pick-up), so we have taken a few days to have his friends around to play. On Tuesday I did egg-fried rice, which didn't go down too well (and I hate sending a child home without being sure that they are full), so I found out in advance what today's guest likes eating. It turns out he loves meatballs, so I procrastinated until 10pm last night, then got on with it.

Whilst the sauce was cooking, I found out that our guest wasn't a fan of vegetables ("I don't eat them"). But he did say he ate pasta sauce, so once the sauce was cooked, I took a stick blender to it and pureed it all. The smooth texture of the sauce worked well with the meatballs, so I'll probably continue to puree in the future.

I normally prefer to use a combination of pork and beef for meatballs, but didn't remember to defrost any pork. These meatballs are easy to make and cook, and freeze well for a standby dinner.

Middle child, despite cleaning his plate (save one meatball, which was snaffled by his sister), protested that the meatballs were not as nice as the ones served in the school canteen!



  • 400g beef mince (I used 10% fat Aberdeen Angus mince)
  • 4 tbsp. stale breadcrumbs (I used wholemeal bread, which I had previously whizzed in a processer and put in the freezer)
  • 2 tsp chopped mixed herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram) or 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 5-6 twists of freshly ground black pepper
Makes approx. 35 meatballs

  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stick of celery, finely diced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 x 400g tins of peeled plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 50g cubed pancetta (or use sliced streaky bacon)
  • 1 red chilli
  • Ground black pepper to season
  • Olive oil and/or sunflower oil for frying
  • (Optional) Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • (Optional) Grated cheese


  • Place the mince, breadcrumbs, chopped herbs, garlic, egg, parmesan cheese and pepper into a large bowl. Using your hands, squidge everything together until the mixture is thoroughly combined
  • Line a plate or tupperware box with greaseproof paper. Take a small amount of the mince mixture in your hands and roll it to make a meatball, around 2.5 - 3cm diameter. Make sure that the mixture holds firm and place on the plate/box. Repeat, placing the meatballs a small distance apart from each other. I use a box, and interleave the meatballs with greaseproof paper
  • Cover the plate/box with clingfilm or a lid, and place in the fridge overnight

Beef meatballs, ready for the Fridge

  • Heat a heavy-based pan and add 2 tbsp. olive oil. Heat until the oil is moderately hot and add the pancetta. Brown the pancetta, then add the onions and garlic and stir for 3-4 minutes until the onions are glossy and softened (don't let the garlic catch and burn)
  • Add the diced carrot to the pan and stir for a further 4-5 minutes
  • Add the plum tomatoes, rinsing out each tin with approx. 1/4 tin of water and adding to the pan
  • Add the tomato puree, celery, dried mixed herbs and balsamic vinegar and stir well to combine
  • Using a knife, pierce the chilli a couple of times, then add to the sauce
  • Bring the sauce to the boil, then cover and lower the heat to a simmer
  • Simmer the sauce for45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft
  • Remove the chilli, then puree the sauce until smooth with a stick blender, and add some more water if it seems too thick. Continue to simmer on a low heat, covered, whilst you cook the meatballs and pasta
  • Heat 2 tbsp. olive or sunflower oil in a frying pan and add the meatballs (approx. 6 per child or 8 per adult). Brown the meatballs until they have a lovely rich colour

Brown the meatballs until they have a lovely rich colour

  • Add the meatballs to the sauce, replace the lid and simmer for 15-20 minutes
  • In the meantime, boil a large pan of salted water. Add a splash of oil, and add 100g per adult of pasta to the pan (I used bucatini, but any long pasta would be fine)
  • Boil the pasta according to the instructions on the pack. When the pasta is ready, drain and place into warmed plates
  • Add the meatballs to the pasta using a slotted spoon, then add generous amounts of the sauce to the dish
  • (Optional) Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and add grated cheese (I used cheddar) and more ground black pepper if required
  • Serve with a big glass of red wine

Bucatini with beef meatballs

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Cod Wrapped in Bacon, with Samphire, Potatoes and Tomatoes

Most children who are brought up in a household with Chinese cooking will be acquainted with seaweed in some form or other, and I don't mean the crispy green stuff that you get in the chippy (which isn't seaweed). One of my favourites is 紫菜湯, a yummy soup with ginger, pork, dried shrimps and fronds of greenish-brownish seaweed, which are sold in dried pancakes, and soaked and rinsed of sand several times before being dropped into the soup at the last minute to create that wonderful salty, iodine-y taste of the sea.

I really like samphire, and wish that it was available more readily. I was excited to see it at the Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, and picked up a box without a clue how to cook it. It has that lovely seaweedy taste, and a freshness and bite that goes well with a crispy slab of white (I suspect pink also) fish. Stir-frying seemed to work well, the fishmonger also told me that it's normally just boiled for a few minutes.

Be gentle with the salt in this dish, as the bacon and the samphire will both add to the flavour of the finished plate.



  • 2 cod loins
  • 6 slices streaky bacon
  • Large handful of samphire
  • 8-10 baby new potatoes, washed (I used British Gems from Sainsbury's)
  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes
  • Lots of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, rosemary, parsley, thyme, oregano, marjoram
  • Salt and pepper to season
Serves 2



  • Preheat the oven to 190 degrees fan
  • Prepare the potatoes by cutting in half and placing in a single layer in a roasting dish. Add the chopped herbs, 6-8 twists of the salt mill and 10-12 twists of ground black pepper (adjust seasoning according to taste). Pour over 3-4 generous lugs of olive oil, and stir to mix the seasoning and oil with the potatoes
  • Place the potatoes in the oven for 35 minutes
  • Pre-heat the roasting tin for the cod in the same oven
  • Wash the cod loin and dry on kitchen towels
  • Sprinkle the cod with a few twists of black pepper, the wrap the streaky bacon around each loin, folding the ends underneath snugly

Wrap the streaky bacon around the cod loins

  • Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large, heavy-based pan and heat until very hot (oil is moving around the pan). Place the cod loins, "tidy" side down, to the pan. Brown for 3-4 minutes, taking care not to move the cod around the pan too much
  • Using a spatula, turn the loins over and brown the bacon for a further 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, but reserve the frying oil
  • Place the loins on the pre-heated roasting tray and add the halved cherry tomatoes, cut side facing upwards. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a little salt, pepper and mixed herbs, and drizzle olive oil over
  • Place the roasting tray in the same oven as the potatoes, for 15 minutes

  • Place the browned cod loins in a dish with the tomatoes
    • Wash the samphire and drain. Cut off any woody stems
    • Reheat the pan containing the oil that was used to brown the cod. When the oil is hot, add the samphire and stir-fry for 5 minutes
    • Add a few twists of black pepper to the samphire and stir well before removing from the heat. Place on a warmed plate, then add the cod, tomatoes and potatoes. Serve immediately
    Cod Wrapped in Bacon, with Samphire, Potatoes and Tomatoes

    Wednesday, 10 September 2014

    Carrot and Coriander Soup

    My youngest has been pestering me for "carrot soup" for a couple of weeks now. Where he got the idea from, I haven't a clue. Anyway, I finally got around to making this, prepped last night and made in the slow-cooker today. It tastes fresh, sweet and a little tangy. It is also unbelievably easy - moreso if you buy ground coriander and don't bother dry-roasting and crushing the seeds yourself.

    Needless to say, when presented with the desired carrot soup, the youngest had a strop and insisted that he had really meant "bomato soup".

    The children took exception to the coriander leaves (placed purely for aesthetic purposes), but cleaned their plates. They loved the soup accompanied by cheesy garlic bread, although the youngest was very suspicious about "why mummy made a flower with the bread?"



    • 50g butter
    • 1 onion, finely sliced
    • 6-8 carrots, peeled and chopped into large pieces
    • 1 smallish floury potato, peeled and chopped into large pieces
    • A piece of peeled raw ginger, approx. 2cm cube
    • 1 tsp coriander seeds (or use ground coriander)
    • 500ml chicken stock (I used a cube of Kallo organic chicken stock)
    • 1 dessertspoon  crème fraiche
    • A pinch of salt
    • About 10 twists of ground black pepper
    • Coriander leaves to garnish
    Serves 4



    • Heat a frying pan to a moderate heat, and add the coriander seeds. Stir the seeds in the pan until they begin to colour, and release aroma. Remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool, then crush the seeds with a pestle and mortar
    • Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. When it is melted, add the sliced onion and fry gently for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened and glossy
    • Place the carrots and potatoes in a slow-cooker. Grate the ginger into the pot, then add the ground coriander.
    • Pour over the hot chicken stock, add a pinch of salt and 10 twists of ground black pepper
    (at this stage I let the whole lot cool overnight and put the slow-cooker on in the morning for yummy tea at 5pm)
    • Place the slow-cooker on low, and cook for 8 hours. If you don't want to use a slow cooker, place all of the ingredients in a large saucepan, cover and boil gently for 30 minutes
    • When the vegetables have cooked until soft, remove from the heat. Add a dessert spoonful of crème fraiche, then blend the soup to a smooth puree
    • Check and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve immediately with something toasty and oily

    Carrot and Coriander Soup

    Monday, 8 September 2014

    Salt and Pepper Ribs (椒鹽排骨)

    I could do with perfecting this recipe, as it's the first time I tried it. I would like to try the "double-frying" method mentioned in many recipes, but I tried slow-cooking to see if the tenderness could be retained, and to get some juices for a sauce.

    Last weekend, we went to meet up with some rather wonderful friends, Simon and Kate, whom I can always rely on for belly laughs. The children were so unwilling to leave that we ended up going for dinner at the New Orchid Garden.

    I was pleasantly surprised! I don't often go to Chinese restaurants that predominantly cater for western people, because the menus are very different, and the staff tend to look at you suspiciously, making you feel like a fraud. Then there's the usual "should I speak English or Chinese? Should I speak Cantonese or Mandarin? What on earth should I order from this menu? Should we put all of the dishes in the middle of the table, or does everyone stick to their own chosen dish? Aaarrrggghhhh!" internal conversation.

    Nevertheless, we had a lovely meal, the service was very good and we all left feeling stuffed. The children behaved until we left, two hours after their bedtime! And they loved the prawn crackers. I felt a bit traitorous ordering foo yung and chips for them though.

    The eldest loved the salt and pepper ribs, and salt and pepper anything tends to be a favourite of mine (although I prefer squid or chicken wings). I've tried to recreate the recipe, but it will need a little work, and an update next time I make it.



    • 12-15 meaty pork ribs
    • 1 tsp coarse salt
    • 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
    • 1 tsp black peppercorns
    • 2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
    • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
    • 2 tbsp water
    • 1 tsp corn starch
    • 1/2 onion, finely sliced
    • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
    • 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
    • Coriander for garnish (optional)
    • Sunflower oil for deep frying
    Serves 4



    • Heat a wok or a heavy-based pan and add the salt, black peppercorns and Szechuan peppercorns. Stir them around for a couple of minutes, until they begin to release their aromas. Be careful not to let them burn
    • Remove from the wok and allow to cool. Crush in a pestle and mortar, then stir in the five-spice powder
    • Add the corn starch to the soy sauce and Shaoxing rice wine, and mix the marinade well
    • Add half of the salt and pepper mixture to the marinade and mix well
    • Pour the marinade over the ribs, and stir well. Cover and leave overnight in the refrigerator
    • Put the ribs into a slow cooker, add the water  and cook on low for 4-5 hours. After this, remove the ribs, drain off any excess liquid (retain if you want to make a sauce) and sprinkle the remaining salt and pepper mixture over the ribs
    • Heat approx. 3-4 cm depth of sunflower oil in a wok until the oil is moving around. You will know when it is ready if you put the end of a wooden chopstick in the wok, and bubbles start to appear
    • Add the ribs, 5-6 at a time, and deep-fry for 3 minutes until golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper between batches
    • When the ribs are all cooked, transfer to a warmed plate. Remove all but 1 tbsp oil from the wok
    • Heat the oil to a medium-high heat and add the sliced onions. Stir-fry quickly for 1 minute until the onions turn glossy. Add the garlic and chilli and stir-fry for a further minute.
    • If you wish to make a sauce for your ribs, add the retained juices from the slow-cooking process to the wok, and boil hard until the volume is reduced by 1/3, and the sauce is thickened and glossy
    • Pour the onion mixture over the ribs and serve immediately
    Salt and Pepper Ribs (椒鹽排骨)

    Monday, 30 June 2014

    Lemony Fried Pork Steaks (檸檬醬煎豬排)

    I have to admit, this one didn't go down well at all with the children, which surprised me slightly. They love salmon steamed with lemon, ginger and soy, and are used to eating pork, so what's not to like?

    Lemon chicken is one of those "not really Chinese" dishes, in that it appears on Chinese takeaway and restaurant menus, but not so often in Chinese homes. For this reason, it was one of those guilty treats on the very rare occasions that we got "western Chinese food" from the takeaway - along with sesame prawns on toast, crispy (not really) seaweed, salt and chilli ribs and ... well I can't think of anything else. To be honest, I would usually opt more for a steak and kidney pudding or battered cod and chips (with mushy peas and gravy or curry sauce) if I was to get anything from the Chinese takeaway!

    To me, this pork version did taste pretty good, and also unusual in our household, because there's a lot more sugar than I usually use in cooking. The loin steaks were sliced as thin as I could and marinated overnight, and were packed with flavour. The peas provided a nice taste and textural contrast to the pork and lemon sauce. The sauce was sweet, without being too sickly. Although it didn't go down well with the children, I'll probably be serving it again in an attempt to turn them.



    • Approx. 300g pork loin (I bought a small pork loin joint) or pork escalopes
    • 1 handful of frozen petits pois
    • 2 spring onions, washed, trimmed and finely chopped
    • Juice and finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
    • 90ml water
    • 2 tbsp sugar
    • 1tsp cornflour, mixed with 20ml water to thicken
    • Sunflower oil for frying
    • A few drops of sesame oil

    For the marinade
    • 1 clove of crushed garlic
    • 2cm cube of peeled fresh ginger, finely grated
    • 1/2 tsp sugar
    • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp. Shaoxing rice wine
    • 1 tsp Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce
    • Pinch of ground white pepper
    Serves 2



    • Rinse the pork chops, dry on kitchen towels and slice as thinly as you can (it helps to put the pork into the freezer for 30 minutes beforehand), or buy ready-sliced escalopes. Place the pork inbetween a couple of sheets of clingfilm and bash with a rolling pin a few times to tenderise the meat
    • Place the chops in a bowl and add all of the marinade ingredients. Stir well to mix, then cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or overnight
    • Make the sauce. Place the sugar, water and lemon juice in a bowl and stir to mix
    • Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a wok or large frying pan, until the oil is moving around the pan and very hot. Shake any excess marinade from the pork steaks and place in the pan. Let the steaks sit in the pan for 30-40 seconds before moving them, to allow them to brown and colour nicely. Turn once and let them brown on the other side too. When the steaks are cooked through (2-3 minutes), place them onto a warmed plate and set aside in a warm oven
    • Pour any excess oil from the pan, leaving about 1 tbsp remaining. Add the spring onions and fry for 10 seconds, before adding the lemon and sugar mixture. Bring to the boil and add the petits pois. Boil for 30s or until the peas are cooked through. Thicken the sauce by adding the cornflour emulsion, a little at a time, until the desired consistency has been reached.
    • Add the grated lemon zest and sesame oil, stir and remove from the heat. Pour over the pork steaks and serve immediately

    Lemony Fried Pork Steaks (檸檬醬煎豬排)

    Thursday, 19 June 2014

    Moroccan Lamb and Aubergine Stew

    I bought some Asian aubergines when I was last at the Chinese supermarket, with a view to making some Fish-Fragrant Pork and Aubergine Pot (魚香茄子煲), but it never really happened. Most of the minced pork went into a Steamed Pork with Salted Eggs (咸蛋蒸猪肉) dish, and then I kind of lost momentum.

    I've been trying to make more use of the slow-cooker lately, and this dish worked nicely. I find that sometimes stews come out too watery, but there was no need to thicken or reduce the liquid content this time - perhaps it was the addition of pearl barley. When I switched the slow cooker on, the liquid level only came up to about half-way the height of the ingredients.

    The children were suspicious, but when told it was based upon their favourite Moroccan Lamb and Couscous, they gave it a go and cleaned their plates - the middle and the toddler are suckers for chick peas. It was a little more heat than they are used to, so of course they had to cool down with ice cream afterwards!



    • 400g diced lamb
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 1 aubergine, cut into 2cm dice
    • 1 red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
    • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
    • 1/2 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (keep some seeds in if you like heat)
    • 150g mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth and cut in half
    • 150g dried chick peas, soaked in plenty of water overnight (or use a tin of chick peas)
    • 3 tbsp pearl barley, rinsed
    • 1 tin of peeled plum tomatoes
    • Plenty of olive oil
    • 400ml lamb stock
    • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
    Spice Mix
    • 1 tsp cumin seeds
    • 1 tsp coriander seeds
    • 1 tsp ground ginger
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • 2 tsp dried mixed herbs
    Serves 6-8



    • Heat a pan on the hob to a moderate heat and add the cumin and coriander seeds. Stir in the pan for 30 seconds or so, until the seeds begin to brown and the aromas are released, then remove from the heat. When the seeds are cool enough to handle, crush them to powder using a pestle and mortar
    • Add the ground ginger, cinnamon and mixed herbs to the powdered cumin and coriander, and stir to mix
    • Place the onion, aubergine, pepper, lamb, mushrooms, chilli and garlic in a large bowl. Add the spice mix, plenty of olive oil (I would say 4-5 big lugs of it - the aubergines and mushrooms will soak it up) and black pepper. Mix well to combine, cover and leave for at least 30 minutes to infuse the flavours.

    Lamb, vegetable and spice mix

    (I left this in the fridge overnight, then just put it in the slow cooker with the other ingredients in the morning, and had a tasty tea ready by 4pm)
    • Drain the chick peas, then place in a pan with cold water, bring to the boil and boil for 15 minutes
    • Place the lamb and vegetable mix into the slow cooker, and add the chick peas, rinsed pearl barley, tinned tomatoes and lamb stock. Stir to combine, making sure that the meat is not exposed at the top (it dries out), then replace the lid and cook on low for 8 hours
    • When the stew is ready, add salt and pepper to your taste
    • Serve with couscous or rice

    Moroccan Lamb and Aubergine Stew

    Moroccan Lamb and Aubergine Stew

    Tuesday, 17 June 2014

    Slow-Cooker Ham and Vegetable Soup

    My kitchen is currently in tatters, due to some disastrous building work, and we have been surviving on one hob for the past few months, as our induction hob gave up the ghost. The kind man from Miele came out and charged me about £100 to tell me that it would cost more to fix than to replace.... nevertheless! A new hob is on order and should be with us in a week. Hooray! My dad will be pleased.

    This soup takes about 15 minutes' prep, then you put the slow cooker on as you leave in the morning, and it's ready for dinner, save a bit of chopping and blending. The children were adamant that their favourite soup ever was canned tomato soup (I have a soft spot for this too), but they deigned to scrape their bowls clean, which made me happy. It's filling and comforting



    • 1 onion, peeled and diced into 5-8mm pieces
    • 1 carrot, peeled and diced into 5-8mm pieces
    • 1 stick of celery, diced into 5-8mm pieces
    • 1 floury potato, peeled and diced into 5-8mm pieces
    • 1 slice raw ginger, peeled
    • 3 ripe tomatoes
    • 1 corn on the cob, stringy bits removed
    • The remains of a ham shank, skin/fat removed
    • 2 tbsp each of red lentils, pearl barley and green and yellow split peas (or use a handful of soup mix, such as this one)
    • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
    • A generous amount of ground black pepper
    Serves 5-6



    • Peel the tomatoes by scoring a cross into the base of each one, then submerge in freshly boiled water for 10 minutes. Drain the tomatoes and peel the skins off. Chop roughly
    • Rinse the pulses under running water
    • Place the ham shank into the bottom of the slow cooker, and add the onion, carrot, celery, potato, ginger, diced tomatoes, corn on the cob (break into half if necessary) and pulses
    • Add the dried, mixed herbs and ground black pepper and give everything a stir to mix
    • Cover with water and cook on low for 10 hours
    • When the soup is cooked, remove the ham shank, ginger and corn on the cob. Place about 1/4 of the soup mixture into a jug and blend until smooth. Return the blend to the soup
    • Using a sharp knife, scrape the corn kernels from the cob and return to the soup
    • Remove the meat from the ham shank and using a couple of forks, shred the meat thoroughly. Return to the soup
    • Give the soup a good stir and add a little more water, if it is too thick. If it is too thin, remove some of the soup, blend and return, and mix
    • Serve in big bowls with thick slices of toast (even better if you can melt some cheese on top)
    Slow-Cooker Ham and Vegetable Soup

    Sunday, 18 May 2014

    Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes and Chilli

    I love asparagus so much. The season has begun early this year, with asparagus available from the end of April. We get lovely stuff here, from Claremont Farm, Church Farm and Hawarden Estate. Like strawberries, I don't buy when not in British season, as the asparagus starts to lose its flavour very quickly after picking.

    There are so many ways to cook asparagus tastily - boiled for 5 minutes in water, stir-fried Chinese-style, baked in a hot oven with lots of butter, salt and pepper. Last night I had asparagus for the second night running, and decided to make use of some sad looking tomatoes which had been languishing in my fruit bowl. They were a little hard and unripe, but they did the job. In an ideal world, I would have used the reddest baby plum tomatoes I could find, but any of the interesting variety of small tomatoes you can find nowadays would be fabulous. We were using up leftovers, so I served with some sausages and mash (the tomatoey oil flavoured the mash nicely) but I'm not averse to eating the whole lot by myself with no other accompaniments!



    • 400g asparagus spears
    • Approx. 150g small tomatoes - my choice would be baby plum tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
    • Salt and ground black pepper to season
    • 1/2 red chilli (leave a few seeds in for heat)
    • 1/2 clove garlic, peeled and sliced as finely as you can
    • Copious amounts of strong, punchy olive oil
    Serves 2 as a side, or me as a main



    • Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees fan
    • Trim the woody ends from the asparagus (you can do this by bending both ends and the stalk will snap where the woody bit ends), and wash well in a few changes of water
    • Drain the asparagus and lay in a roasting tray
    • Wash the tomatoes and cut into halves or quarters, depending on the size. Using your hands, squash the tomatoes a little over the asparagus so that they become mis-shapen and give up some juice, but do not disintegrate. Lay on top of the asparagus
    • Finely slice half a chilli, keeping a few seeds/pith in if you like some heat. Add the chilli and the finely sliced garlic to the tomatoes and mix them in lightly
    • Drizzle the olive oil over the tomato and asparagus generously, and season with salt and ground black pepper

    • Place in the oven for 12 minutes, then remove and serve immediately
    Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes and Chilli
    Served with sausages and mash on the side!

    Wednesday, 7 May 2014


    Has anyone noticed the recent lowering of veg prices in the supermarkets? I thought Sainsbury's seemed cheaper than usual, with a selection of vegetables for 69p, but then my thrifty mother informed me that I was being ripped off, and that Asda and Aldi were doing the same vegetables for 50p.

    I've totally lost control of my fridge and freezer for a few reasons:
    1. My parents came to stay for a week to help when we were short of childcare, and I surrendered my kitchen to them (this is normal, and much appreciated Mum and Dad!). We also got a night out whilst they were here - thanks again!
    2. My in-laws came to stay for a few days the following week, and they eat a different type of meal to my parents. They also very generously offered to babysit, so that we could experience the eating of a meal without having to get up once from start to finish.
    3. We've just had a lovely Bank Holiday weekend in Shrewsbury, where I did no cooking whatsoever
    What this does mean though, is that I was frantically stuffing food into the freezer before we left, and putting all remaining vegetables into Lakeland Stayfresh Longer bags, in an attempt to preserve them for this week. Somehow I ended up with 2 aubergines, and decided to try a moussaka.

    I've titled this post "Moussaka" because like my family spaghetti "bolognaise", I'm sure it contains ingredients which might be frowned upon by purists. I had about 150g of soaked chickpeas which I pulsed in a food processor and added to the lamb mince, also a couple of bags of mozzarella cheese (2 weeks past sell-by date...). The result was lovely tonight - I hope you enjoy it too.



    • 450g lamb mince
    • 1 onion, finely diced
    • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
    • Olive oil for frying and roasting
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 tsp chopped oregano
    • 1 tbsp Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce
    • 150g chickpeas, soaked overnight, then drained and boiled hard for 15 minutes (or use tinned chickpeas)
    • 2 aubergines, rinsed and cut into round slices 5mm thick
    • 1 X 400g tin of peeled plum tomatoes
    • 1tbsp tomato puree
    • 250g sliced mozzarella cheese
    • 1 handful of grated parmesan cheese
    • 3/4 pint of milk
    • 40g butter
    • 2 dessert spoons of plain flour
    • A pinch of grated nutmeg
    • Salt and pepper to season
    Serves 4-6



    • Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees fan
    • Soak the aubergine slices in a large bowl of salted water for 30 minutes, to remove the bitter juices
    • Pulse the chickpeas in a food processor, so that they are coarsely chopped
    • Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan to a moderate heat, then add the onions and fry for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and fry for a further minute, stirring constantly
    • Turn up the heat and add the lamb mince. Brown the mince completely, then tip the mixture into a colander and drain away the excess oil. Give the pan a rinse and return to the heat
    • Return the lamb mixture to the pan and add the chickpeas, bay leaf, oregano, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and Lea and Perrins, and add plenty of pepper to season. Stir well to combine
    • Bring the pan to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Check the pan regularly, and add small amounts of water if the mixture appears to be drying out
    • Brush oil over a couple of baking trays and pre-heat in the oven
    • Drain the aubergines, rinse with water and shake well to get rid of excess water
    • Lay the aubergines in a single layer on the baking trays and brush with olive oil. Add ground black pepper

    • Bake the aubergines in the oven for 30 minutes, turning once
    • Make the béchamel sauce. Heat the butter in a heavy-based pan over a moderate heat. When it has melted, add the plain flour and stir-in to make a roux. Cook over a gentle heat for 1 minute
    • Add the milk, a little at a time, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Continue adding until the milk has reached a thick but pourable consistency. Add a small amount of salt and pepper, and grate a little nutmeg into the sauce. Mix thoroughly
    (I used two baking trays as I was cooking for two separate meals)
    • Place about 1/2 of the mince mixture into a baking dish and add 1/2 the aubergines. Repeat with the mince mixture and add the remaining aubergines on top
    • Pour the béchamel sauce over the aubergines and top with sliced mozzarella. Add a handful of grated parmesan cheese, then bake in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes until the top is browned and bubbling
    • Remove from the heat and serve immediately. I like mine with rice and some green vegetables


    Baked Cod with a Cheese and Mustard Crust

    This recipe is so simple, and perfect for a quick dinner after school. It takes about 5 minutes to prepare and 12 minutes to cook. I made up the breadcrumb and cheese mixture at night and kept it covered in the fridge, only adding the oil when I was ready to cook. When just cooked through, the fish is moist and juicy, and its mild taste is nicely offset by the strength of the cheddar and mustard. The children had it with mash and peas (well, the middle ate two peas, which is two more than he ate last time they were served), but it would also go nicely with some simply cooked pasta, tossed in butter or olive oil, salt and pepper, and any manner of green vegetable... courgettes, asparagus and fine beans spring to mind.



    • 2 thick fillets cod or similar firm white fish
    • A large handful grated cheddar cheese - aim for similar volumes of cheese and breadcrumbs
    • 1 slice of stale bread (I prefer seeded but any bread is fine, and the crusts are fine too)
    • 1/2 tsp English mustard powder (has to be Colman's for me)
    • 4-5 enormous shakes of olive oil - or 20-25g of butter, cut into small cubes
    • 1 tbsp pine nuts
    • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
    • Salt and pepper to season
    Serves 2-3



    • Pre-heat oven to 195 degrees. Oil a baking tray and pre-heat in the oven
    • Whizz the bread to breadcrumbs in a processor, or chop roughly
    • Mix the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, mustard and dried mixed herbs with the pine nuts together in a bowl, and season well with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil (or butter) and mix well
    • Press the breadcrumb mixture down onto the fish fillets and place on the baking tray

    • Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cod is cooked through and the crust is browned
    • Serve immediately
    Baked Cod with a Cheese and Mustard Crust

    Served with mash and peas

    Sunday, 20 April 2014

    Slow-Cooker Leg of Lamb with Soya Bean Casserole

    I think I'd instinctively do this recipe with cannellini beans, haricot beans and maybe some borlotti beans. However, I've had a jug of soaked soya beans in my fridge for some time - good intentions involving pork belly and yellow bean sauce never materialised - so soya beans it was tonight.

    We've spent a very noisy two days with family visiting. The children have bickered their way through a morning on Thurstaston Beach, an afternoon at Church Farm and a day at Erddig (where masses of wild garlic could be found in the play area). Tomorrow we are planning on visiting the Eaton Estate, and I am hoping for a calmer day.

    Because we've been out and about, I've been aiming for ease when it comes to meals. Tonight's lamb was prepped before bed last night, then cooked on the low setting for 9 hours. It was eaten without too much complaint, a minor success after what has felt like two days of shouting! There were some new flavours for the children - olives, capers and anchovies - which met without too much protest.

    I chose the squattest leg of lamb that I could find, in order to squish it into the slow cooker. A way around this would be to buy the lamb already boned. I probably wouldn't use shoulder for this dish, as it would be too fatty.



    • 1 leg of lamb, approx.1.6kg
    • 1 onion, finely sliced
    • 1 cup of dried soya beans
    • 4 ripe tomatoes, finely diced
    • 2 tbsp tomato puree
    • A splash of red wine
    • 2 tsp dried mixed herbs (thyme, oregano, marjoram, basil, dried chilli)
    • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat of a cleaver
    • 1 tsp capers, roughly chopped
    • 1 anchovy fillet, finely chopped
    • 8-10 green olives, pitted
    • Salt and pepper to season
    • Olive oil
    Serves 8-10



    • Soak the soya beans in plenty of water overnight. Drain and rinse, then place in a large pan with plenty of water. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse off any remaining scum
    • Place the sliced onions, soya beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, red wine, mixed herbs, garlic, capers, anchovy and olives into a 6.5l slow cooker. Mix well to combine and level the surface
    • Place the leg of lamb on top of the beans and pour over a few tablespoons of olive oil, until the top of the lamb is coated
    • Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper
    Ingredients in the slow cooker

    • Cook on low for 9 hours
    • (Optional) Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Carefully lift the lamb onto a roasting tin and place in the oven for 5 minutes to brown and crisp up the outside
    After 5 minutes in a hot oven

    • Pour the bean casserole into a large pan and boil hard for 10 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce
    • Serve with mashed potatoes
    Slow-Cooker Leg of Lamb with Soya Bean Casserole

    Sunday, 6 April 2014

    Pan-Fried Rainbow Trout with Black Bean and Garlic Sauce (蒜蓉豉汁煎虹鱒魚)

    Rainbow trout is a relatively cheap and abundant fish. It is an oily fish, and a source of omega-3 oil. We haven't had it for a long time - the bones can make it a bit tricky for young children, especially if you are my husband and can't remove meat from a fish without mushing all of the bones up with it. I used to roast it in a hot oven with a horseradish creme fraiche and sliced potatoes, a recipe which comes from Jamie Oliver's "Return of the Naked Chef". It suits strong flavours, and worked well tonight with ginger and black bean and garlic sauce.

    I remember as a child, not being phased by meat and fish that looked like meat and fish, and I would like for my family not to be sensitised to such things. Growing up in a catering family, I was used to following my dad around during the school holidays, going to the wholesalers at Prescott Road in Liverpool at 5am to buy meat and vegetables for the restaurant. When I started my career as a summer student, I took a basic food hygiene course run by Essex council. The lady asked if anyone had been in an abattoir, and I put my hand up. Her immediate reaction was "oh really? And how was it? I hear the abattoirs in China are very different to how they are here!". I don't think she was expecting me to mention that the abattoir I'd visited had been in Birkenhead. Mind you, that wasn't quite as toe-curling as the ante-natal class in Surrey, when I was pregnant with the eldest. The physiotherapist had been discussing birthing positions, and noted that women in the 3rd world tended to give birth in the squatting position. She then turned to me in front of all of the expectant mums and asked "so, do you know how to squat??!!", much to the amusement of my husband. When we had all had our babies and become friends, we had a good laugh about it.



    • 1 rainbow trout, scaled and gutted
    • 3 slices of raw ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
    • 50-75ml water
    • 1 heaped  tsp black bean and garlic sauce
    • (Optional) 1/4 tsp cornflour mixed in a little water for thickening
    • Sunflower oil for frying
    • Handful of fresh coriander, chopped
    Serves 1 (or more as part of a meal)



    • Wash the trout inside and out, and pat dry on kitchen towels
    • Add two tbsp sunflower oil to a hot, heavy-based frying pan and heat until the oil is smoking
    • Add the trout to the pan and leave it for 3-4 minutes whilst it sizzles on a high heat and crisps the skin. Reduce the heat slightly and leave for a further 1-2 minutes
    • Turn the heat back up to high, then flip the trout to the other side and repeat
    • After 10 minutes' frying, check that the fish is cooked right through by separating some of the flesh with a sharp knife and making sure the flesh is opaque to the bone
    • Remove from the heat and place on a warmed plate
    • Drain off any excess oil until there is approximately 1 tbsp left in the pan. Heat the oil until it is moving in the pan, and add the ginger. Stir-fry rapidly for 30 seconds - make sure it doesn't burn
    • Add 50-75ml water and 1 heaped tsp black bean sauce to the pan. stir to combine and boil for 30 seconds
    • (Optional) thicken the sauce with a little cornflour mixed in water, if required
    • Pour the sauce over the trout
    • Garnish with fresh coriander and serve immediately (we had it as part of a meal with rice, fried "purse" eggs (煎荷包蛋) and stir-fried lettuce)

    Pan-Fried Rainbow Trout with Black Bean and Garlic Sauce (蒜蓉豉汁煎虹鱒魚)

    Sunday, 30 March 2014

    Moules Marinières Classiques

    I was in Sainsbury's last week, when I noticed that the mussels were on offer, £1.30 for a 500g bag. I think (hope!) that the mnemonic for the months that mussels are in season is that if the month has an "r" in it, you're generally ok. The local eateries tend to showcase local mussels from the Menai Straits, but I think the nicest mussels I've had are from Loch Fyne - they are large, plump and juicy, with very little grit.

    The children were not brave enough to try them this time, and I couldn't be bothered to make my own frites, so I texted my husband to pick up some chips on the way home. The local chippy is closed for a few weeks, so he picked up some rather sad and soggy looking skinny fries from the kebab shop next door. However, 10 minutes in a hot oven crisped them up nicely, and they made an acceptable cheat for the evening.



    • 1kg live mussels
    • 1 glass of dry white wine (I picked up a bottle of Chardonnay)
    • 1 medium onion, finely diced
    • 2 sticks of celery, washed and finely diced
    • 30g butter
    • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
    • 75ml double cream
    • A small pinch of ground white pepper
    • A large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
    Serves 2



    • Rinse the mussels and pull the hairy beard from each one. Discard any with broken shells, or that do not close when tapped on a hard surface, then soak in a couple of changes of water to get rid of any sand and grit
    • Heat the butter gently in a wok (don't let it brown and burn)
    • Add the onions, garlic and celery to the wok, and stir for 3-4 minutes to soften
    • Increase the heat, drain the mussels and add them to the wok, with a pinch of ground white pepper
    • Stir the mixture, then add the white wine and bring to a moderate boil. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until the shells have opened
    • Uncover, stir in the cream and a large handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
    • Serve immediately, with crusty bread or thin chips

    Moules Marinières Classiques

    With takeaway chips!

    Tuesday, 18 March 2014

    Hearty Beef Casserole

    I've yet to really fall in love with my slow cooker(s). For Chinese soups and congees, great. For big joints of red meat, such as a shoulder of lamb or pork, lovely. For melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked beef flank and mooli, delicious. But for white meat and casserole, I haven't quite yet mastered it. Chicken is somehow lacking (maybe it's the uncrispy skin), and my casseroles end up more watery and thin than I would like, with the vegetables too soggy for my liking.

    I bought some casserole beef from Sainsbury's on offer, and decided to try it in the slow cooker. I was looking to make something that didn't take too much faffing, and that I could chuck into the pot and switch on as I left the house in the morning. In order to get round previous challenges, I added pearl barley to the mix, and used Knorr beef gravy pots, which have a thicker consistency than beef stock. The result was attractive, and the boys cleaned their plates. There was a pleasant mix of textures - the beef was soft, the vegetables retained a tiny amount of bite, and the addition of soaked green split peas gave a nice, firm contrast. I prepared the vegetables the night before, then soaked them with the pearl barley and the split peas. It only took 5-10 minutes to prepare in the morning.



    • 400g casserole beef
    • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
    • 1/2 small swede, peeled and diced
    • 1/2 onion, chopped
    • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
    • 1/2 cup pearl barley, rinsed
    • 1/2 cup green split peas
    • 560ml beef gravy, made using two Knorr beef gravy pots
    • Ground black pepper
    • 1-2 tbsp oyster sauce
    • 1 tsp sugar
    Serves 4-5



    • Peel the carrots and the swede, and dice into 1.5cm chunks
    • Wash and trim the ends from the celery, and cut into 2cm chunks
    • Place the carrots, swede and celery in a large pot of water, with the pearl barley and the green split peas. If you like, you can leave this in the fridge overnight
    • In the morning, place the soaked and drained vegetables into the slow cooker, along with the chopped onion and the casserole beef
    • Prepare the beef gravy according to the instructions on the pack. Place 2 gravy pots into 560ml of hot water in a pan, and heat slowly, whisking continuously. When the gravy boils, whisk at a gentle boil for one minute
    • Add the gravy to the slow cooker, along with the black pepper, the oyster sauce and the sugar. Mix well to combine, and push any bits of beef below the surface of the mixture, to prevent them from drying out
    • Switch the slow cooker onto low, and cook for 8 hours
    • Serve with mashed potato or steamed rice

    Hearty Beef Casserole

    Sunday, 16 March 2014

    Steamed Clams with Chilli and Yellow Bean Sauce (辣椒黃醬蒸蜆)

    This is the possibly the laziest dish I have ever made. I haven't been to the fishmonger for ages, and it was a real pleasure to visit him today. The display is always bursting with attractive looking seafood on a Saturday morning, it is hard to narrow my choices down! My friend, May, got 5 salmon heads for £1, which are wonderful stir-fried with plenty of ginger, garlic, black-bean sauce and fresh coriander, but also quite fiddly to eat. The children are still young and impressionable, so maybe I will get them used to seeing such food on the table now.

    I bought two rainbow trout for tomorrow's dinner, 5 large salmon fillets for the freezer, then I was torn between the clams, mussels and prawns. I settled on half a kilo of clams, the eldest was brave enough to try one, the middle child just wanted the shells for castanets and the youngest declared "yacky! Di-gusting!"..., then proceeded to eat a dipping bowl-ful of tomato ketchup, before dropping it and smashing it on the floor. The children had baked pollock in breadcrumbs (3 boxes (12 fillets) for £10 in Sainsbury's at the moment), so we all got our seafood fix this evening.

    I am knackered at the moment, with a very temperamental hob, so I was looking for an easy way of cooking the clams. I don't think it could possibly have got much easier!



    • 500g fresh clams
    • 1 tbsp yellow bean sauce
    • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
    • A pinch of ground white pepper
    • A good shake of sesame oil
    • 1 spring onion, cut into 4cm lengths and finely sliced
    • 2 slices of raw ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
    • 1/2 red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
    Serves 2



    • Place the clams in a large bowl and cover with water. Drain and repeat a couple of times to get rid of any sand
    • Place the yellow bean sauce, light soy saice, Shaoxing rice wine, pepper and sesame oil into a bowl and mix well to combine
    • Drain the clams and discard any which do not close when tapped sharply on the surface. Arrange in a dish and pour over the sauce. Add the sliced ginger and chilli, then mix well
    • Steam for 10 minutes (I put these in a steaming basket in the rice cooker just before the button popped up, then left them for 10-15 minutes)
    • When the clams are cooked, garnish with the spring onion and serve immediately with boiled rice and other dishes (we had stir-fried mangetout and mushrooms in oyster sauce, and baked breaded pollock)

    Steamed Clams with Chilli and Yellow Bean Sauce (辣椒黃醬蒸蜆)

    Saturday, 15 March 2014

    Salted Duck Eggs (咸鴨蛋)

    You can buy salted duck eggs in the Chinese supermarket, and I've always wanted to know how to make them. My mum and dad usually have a large jar of them on the go, so I tend to pinch a few. They make an easy accompaniment to dinner, steamed in a basket over your rice, as it is cooking, then cut into half, insides scraped out and mashed up with your rice. Another use would be to use them as an accompaniment to congee, preferably with a plethora of other yummy additions.

    As a child I found the whites unbearably salty but loved the yolks. Having now made my own, the whites are nowhere near as salty as the shop-bought ones. Salty eggs are essential in some wonderful dishes, such as Steamed Pork with Salted Eggs (咸蛋蒸猪肉), and soups such as pork, spinach and salted egg soup, which I will blog about once the latest batch are ready.

    I'm pretty sure they're not that good for you, but I do find myself craving one every so often. I found some suitably sized Kilner jars in Morrisons for a few quid each, so decided to have a go. I tried two recipes, one with shaoxing rice wine (said to give the yolks a rich yellow colour), and one without.



    • 10-12 duck eggs, wiped clean with a damp cloth
    • Approx. 1200ml water
    • 300 - 400g salt
    • (optional) 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
    • A pinch of tea leaves (I used Oolong tea, but you can use anything, including good old PG Tips)
     Makes 10-12



    • Make the salt solution. Boil approx. 1200ml water in a pan, depending on the size of your jar and the number of eggs you're salting. The ratio for salt saturation in the water is somewhere between salt:water = 1:4 and 1:3. Add 300g salt to the boiling water and stir until dissolved. Continue to add the salt, a tablespoon at a time, until the salt saturates and you see crystals on the surface of the water
    • (Optional) Add 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine to the boiling salt solution
    • Boil for a further minute, then add a pinch of tea leaves and remove from the heat
    • Leave to cool completely, until the solution is room temperature
    • Wash the storage jars inside and out with warm soapy water, then remove the rubber seals and place the jars into an oven at 90 degrees for 20 minutes or until dry. Leave in the oven to cool completely
    • Carefully place the duck eggs into the bottom of the jar, and fill almost to the top with the salt solution. Place a small dish or cup (I like the ramekins that you sometimes get when you buy posh desserts in the supermarkets) into the neck of the jar, so that the eggs are completely submerged. Seal the jar and leave for 35 - 45 days. I put mine in the garage, but my parents just used to leave theirs on the kitchen surface.
    Duck eggs ready for a 35-45 day salting
    • After 35 days, the duck eggs are ready to eat. The picture below shows my eggs, one with the Shaoxing rice wine, and one without. There was a slight difference (the eggs with the Shaoxing rice wine are at the bottom of the photo)
    Salted duck eggs (咸鴨蛋), steamed in the rice cooker and cut in half

    Tuesday, 18 February 2014

    Spinach, Tofu and Mushroom Soup (菠菜豆腐冬菇湯)

    I've been clearing out the fridge and freezer over the last two weeks. Being stingy, it pains me to throw out anything unless it's absolutely necessary, so you'll often find odds and sods that I think I'll be able to find a use for somewhere. It's also used as overspill when my generous parents turn up with about 2 weeks' worth of food to make sure that the family doesn't starve - very much appreciated in the busy weeks. On having a root around, I discovered; two bags of pork rind, a bag of random pork bones, a huge amount of mooli cake, some extremely old black pudding, a box of chicken carcasses, two boxes of peeled broccoli stems, a bag of wholemeal breadcrumbs, some pureed beetroot, some chocolate buttercream from goodness knows when and about a million random bread bags with only the end slices remaining (for the ducks).

    For dinner tonight, I defrosted the remaining portion of Slow-Cooked Chicken with Chestnut and Potatoes (栗子薯仔炆雞) and decided to use the pork bones to make soup. It gave me the chance to use up some stuff in the fridge too: half a box of tofu, about 6 days past its use-by but smelling ok, and the remaining bunch of spinach from the Chinese supermarket. This spinach is robust and hearty, pulled up by the roots and with the red iron tinge at the base of the stems. It needs to be thoroughly washed in a couple of changes of water before use, otherwise you will find little insects rising to the surface of your soup.

    The taste is fresh and packed with flavour; the umami hit of the shiitake mushrooms, the metallic bitterness of the spinach and the creamy softness of the tofu. I make the stock in a slow cooker overnight, then finish the soup just before we eat, but you can also cook on the hob - give the bones and shiitake at least 30 minutes at a gentle boil to let the flavour permeate the water.

    The bones were free and I am not worried about picking through them when they fall apart, however for a tidier dish, use some pork ribs or a pork chop instead.



    • 2-3 pork bones (or use 4-6 pork ribs, or a large pork chop)
    • 2 slices of raw ginger, peeled and bashed with the flat of a cleaver
    • approx. 1.5-2 litres of water
    • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
    • (Optional) 3-4 black peppercorns
    • 200g firm tofu, cut into 2-3cm cubes
    • A large bunch of spinach, washed thoroughly and chopped half
    • Salt to season
    • A dash of white pepper
    • A few drops of sesame oil
    Serves 4-6



    • Reconstitute the shiitake mushrooms by placing them in a bowl and covering with boiling water. Soak for at least 20 minutes, then remove any tough bases on the stalks
    • Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the pork bones and boil for 5 minutes to remove the scum. Drain and rinse thoroughly
    • Place the pork bones, ginger and shiitake mushrooms into a slow cooker and cover with water, to about 2/3 of the capacity of the pot. Add the peppercorns. Cook on low overnight
    • Skim any fat or remaining scum from the surface of the pot and pour into a saucepan on the hob. Bring to a rolling boil and add the tofu. Bring back to the boil for 1 minute
    • Add the spinach to the pot and bring back to the boil, until the leaves are just wilted
    • Season generously with salt and add a pinch of white pepper, until the soup meets the desired taste
    • Remove from the heat and add a few drops of sesame oil

    Spinach, Tofu and Mushroom Soup (菠菜豆腐菇湯)

    Monday, 17 February 2014

    Stir-Fried Mixed Veg and Tofu with Yellow Bean and Chillis (黃醬豆腐炒蔬菜)

    Goodness knows if the Chinese translation here bears any resemblance to the actual dish.... my Chinese is appalling. Enough to read my way through a menu, although we sometimes get some surprises at the table.

    We've just come back from a weekend in Scotland, visiting the in-laws. There was a delicious new baby to cuddle (who pooped all over my scarf), a toddler party, and the obligatory indulgence in wine, lorne sausage, gin, crisps and chocolate. Not that I'm complaining! The two boys went for a kilt fitting, ready for a wedding this summer, and the toddler melted my heart by saying "just like 婆婆!" when he was being measured up. I thought he would kick up a stink, but he's so used to being measured for the funky creations my mum knits for him, that he behaved impeccably - even if he did insist on calling every sporran a rabbit.

    So tonight we got back, minus two children, and I felt the need to EAT VEG and EAT CHINESE. Not because I haven't thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, but because I'm turning into my mum. Also because that was all that was left in the fridge. I used a whole red chilli, and although it was de-seeded, you could still feel the heat. If you're not too keen on spice, then perhaps use only half a chilli. Coupled with brown basmati rice (not so good for my sensitive teeth), it felt like a very virtuous dinner!



    • 100g mangetout, washed
    • 100g baby corn, cut into halves
    • 3-4 closed cup mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered
    • 200g firm tofu, cut into 2cm cubes
    • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
    • 1 tbsp yellow bean sauce
    • 1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
    • 100ml chicken stock
    • 1 slice raw ginger, peeled and bashed with the flat of a cleaver
    • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
    • Ground black pepper to season,
    • Sunflower oil for frying
    • 1 tsp cornflour, mixed with 30ml water
    • A few drops of sesame oil
    Serves 2



    • Remove the tough fibre from the mangetout by pinching the ends and "unzipping" the fibre from the side
    • Heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a wok until very hot. Add the tofu and shake around in the wok until golden on the outsides. Put to one side and keep warm
    • Give the wok a wipe and heat 1 tbsp oil until very hot. Add the ginger and swirl around the wok to flavour the oil. Throw in the garlic and chilli, followed quickly by the baby corn, mangetout and mushrooms and stir-fry rapidly for one minute, coating all of the vegetables in oil. The mushrooms will soak up a lot of oil, so keep the ingredients moving
    • Add the Shaoxing rice wine, chicken stock and the yellow bean sauce, with a shake of ground white pepper. Add the tofu back the the wok and mix thoroughly
    • Cover the wok and cook over a high heat for 1 and a half minutes. Uncover and add 1 tsp cornflour mixed with 30ml water. Bring back to the boil and stir to thicken
    • Remove from the heat and add 2-3 drops of sesame oil. Serve immediately with rice

    Stir-Fried Mixed Veg and Tofu with Yellow Bean and Chillis (黃醬豆腐炒蔬菜)
    Served with brown basmati rice

    Sunday, 2 February 2014

    Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic (蒜頭炒豆苗)

    I think this has to be one of my favourite vegetable dishes, tasting fresh and crunchy with a little iron tang. It doesn't appear in the restaurants or supermarkets very often, and when it does, it's only for a very short amount of time. You can get the bags of pea shoots in the salad section at some of the western supermarkets, but you'd be spending a hell of a lot before you actually got enough to make a decent side portion! It takes about 1 minute to cook from start to finish, so make it just as you're serving up and make sure there's a warm dish to tip it into.



    • 350g pea shoots
    • 1 large clove of garlic, chopped finely
    • 1 slice of raw ginger, peeled and bashed with the flat of a cleaver
    • A splash of Shaoxing rice wine (or substitute dry sherry)
    • 1 tsp Knorr chicken powder (or substitute a pinch of salt)
    • 1-2 tbsp Sunflower oil for frying
    • 2-3 drops sesame oil
    Serves 2



    • Wash the pea shoots in a large bowl of water, and discard any wilted leaves or tough stems
    • Drain the pea shoots and put to one side
    • Heat the wok until it is very hot and add the sunflower oil. Drop in the ginger and stir it around the wok for 10 seconds
    • Add the pea shoots and garlic, and stir-fry rapidly until they begin to wilt
    • Add the rice wine and chicken powder and stir-fry rapidly until the pea shoots are all just wilted
    • Remove from the heat and add a couple of drops of sesame oil
    • Stir to mix and serve immediately
    Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic (蒜頭炒豆苗)

    Sunday, 19 January 2014

    Roast Leg of Lamb

    This weekend, the eldest has been very excited to welcome a guest for a sleepover. I thought it would be a good opportunity to take my leg of lamb out of the freezer, and entertained visions of leaving it all day in the slow cooker, maybe with some sliced onions, a little wine and some redcurrent jelly. No hassle at all. It turned out to be yet another case of my eyes being bigger than... erm... my slow cooker, and I couldn't be bothered to find a saw, so I roasted it in the traditional way.

    It's been a lovely afternoon. The eldest and her guest have been keeping each other amused, and the middle stayed in the kitchen to keep me company whilst I cooked. He somewhat spoiled my solitude by watching "The Amazing World of Gumball" on the iPad, at a volume setting louder than my radio, but I wandered over to him every so often to give him a cuddle and a kiss, which more than made up for it.

    I admit, I put the lamb back into the oven for another 15 minutes after taking a photo - I prefer lamb to be served pink, but I thought it might be a step too strange for the children. There is plenty left to go into a shepherd's pie next week. I cheated on my gravy and added the scrapings from the tin to a packet of Colman's lamb and mint gravy.



    • 1 leg of lamb, approx. 2.25kg
    • 3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
    • 3-4 sprigs of rosemary, tender stems only
    • Grated zest of 1 lemon
    • Juice of 1/2 lemon
    • 2-3 tablespoons of sunflower oil
    • Salt and ground black pepper
    • 1 glass of white wine
    Serves 8-10

    Mustard Roast Potatoes
    Carrot and Swede Mash
    • 1/2 swede, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
    • 2 large carrots, cut into 2cm chunks
    • 25g butter
    • 2-3 tbsp milk
    • Salt and pepper to season



    • Using a sharp knife, make several cuts, 2-3cm deep, into the flesh of the lamb. Into each cut, push a sliver of garlic and a few rosemary leaves
    • Place the grated lemon zest, lemon juice, and oil into a bowl and add generous amounts of salt and pepper. Mix and massage all over the lamb joint
    Push slivers of garlic and rosemary into the cuts, and rub the lamb with the lemon/oil mix
    • Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees fan and add the lamb. Cook for 30 minutes, then remove the lamb from the oven, leaving the door open to cool the oven to 170 degrees fan. Pour a glass of white wine over the lamb, and return to the oven
    • Roast the lamb at 170 degrees fan for 70 minutes (guideline for pink lamb is 15 minutes per 500g after the initial sizzle)
    • Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave for minimum 30 minutes to rest

    Roast leg of lamb

    • To make the mustard roast potatoes, peel the potatoes and cut into 2-3 pieces per potato
    • Place in a pan and pour over boiling water. Boil vigorously for 7-8 minutes
    • Tip the potatoes into a colander or sieve and shake vigorously, to rough up the surfaces
    • Return the potatoes to the pan, add the mustard powder, goose fat, salt and pepper. Mix well with a spoon, until all the potatoes are coated in the oil
    • Place in a single layer in a roasting tin, and roast at 190 degrees fan for 40-45 minutes, turning once. If you don't have two ovens, roast the potatoes whilst the lamb is resting - it will still be warm as long as it is covered (you can throw a tea towel over the foil for good measure)

    • To make the carrot and swede mash, place the carrot and swede pieces in a pan and pour over boiling water
    • Boil vigorously for 20-25 minutes until soft
    • Drain the vegetables and return to the pan
    • Using a masher, mash and mix the swede and carrots. Add the butter and milk, and season with salt and pepper. Mash again, adding more butter and milk if you require, to achieve the desired consistency

    Roast lamb dinner with mustard roast potatoes,
    swede and carrot mash and broccoli

    Roast lamb dinner with mustard roast potatoes,
    swede and carrot mash and broccoli

    Saturday, 4 January 2014

    Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup (玉米雞湯)

    I'm a bit wary of eating in westernised Chinese restaurants, because it isn't really the sort of food that Chinese people eat at home, there isn't much on the menu that excites me, and I worry that I might be being judged by the staff for not being Chinese enough (I know they've got far more interesting things to think about, but still - if you've heard Chinese people talking about you, assuming that you can't understand them, it stays with you for rather a long time). I still recall a Christmas meal in Frodsham in 1995, where my colleagues were all looking at me interestedly, asking me to show them how to eat egg-fried rice off a plate with chopsticks (you don't).

    However, there are certain things on the western Chinese menu that make my mouth water when I see them being carried past my table - salt and chilli ribs, sesame prawns on toast and the smell of a sizzling platter. Also, banana fritters!

    We went to the Wah Lei Chinese association Christmas party, which was at The Slow Boat in Chester recently. It was the "all you can eat" banquet menu, which featured many of the usuals (sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken), as well as some less common (the curries and chilli dishes were very tasty). I was pleased to see the eldest tucking into salt and pepper chicken wings with gusto, and the middle hoovering up a whole bowl of chicken and sweetcorn soup.

    On New Year's Eve, we had a family meal of roast chicken and most of the leftovers from Christmas - roasties, sprouts, red cabbage and carrots, along with a lovely Christmas pudding, mince pies and as much brandy cream as people could manage. I was left with two chicken carcasses which were just too good not to do anything with, and remembered how much the middle child had enjoyed his chicken and sweetcorn soup.

    I've used a slow cooker to make the chicken stock overnight, but if you're short of time, just use pre-made chicken stock and chopped, cooked chicken meat. Watch the seasoning though, and don't add any additional salt before tasting.



    • Carcasses of two roast chickens
    • 1 onion
    • 1300ml water, or enough to cover the stock ingredients
    • 2 slices of raw ginger, peeled
    • 400ml can of creamed corn
    • 400ml can of sweetcorn
    • 2 eggs, beaten
    • Salt and ground white pepper to season
    • 5 heaped tsp cornflour to thicken (adjust this amount according to the amount of water/stock used)
    • A few drops of sesame oil
    Serves 8-10



    • To make the stock, put the chicken carcasses into a slow cooker. Add the slices of ginger, then peel the onion (removing the roots), chop it into half lengthways and add it to the pot.
    • Cover the stock ingredients with water and cook on low overnight
    • Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the onion and ginger, then remove as much of the chicken meat and bones as possible to a large bowl. Pour the stock through a sieve into a large saucepan
    • Using your hands, separate as much chicken meat from the bones as possible, then chop or shred the meat finely
    • Bring the stock to a rolling boil, then add the creamed corn and sweetcorn. Bring back to the boil and add the chicken meat. Stir well and reduce the heat to a moderate boil
    • Mix 5 heaped tsp cornflour with 50-70ml water, until you have a smooth mixture. Add this to the stock and bring it back to a moderate boil, stirring occasionally. If the soup is not as thick as you would like, add more cornflour/water mixture, a teaspoon of cornflour at a time
    • Reduce the heat to a gentle boil and stir with a ladle. Slowly pour the beaten egg into the soup, stirring continuously. When the egg has all been added, taste the soup, and add salt and ground white pepper to season.
    • Remove from the heat and add a few drops of sesame oil. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately

    Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup (玉米雞湯)