Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Star of the Show

Humey and Clare took me out for dinner last Tuesday, as part of my seemingly neverending birthday celebrations. They took me to Tai Pan. It is on Upper Brook Street, on the edge of Manchester University's Campus, right next to W.H.Lung, which is a Chinese Supermarket.

The place has never appealed to me from the outside because it's housed in an exterior which could easily be the goods delivery warehouse part of W. H. Lung, and I have never read anything about its food- nor have I tried- so it was a good job it was recommended to me.

I had the Kung Po Duck. The pieces of meat came in a sticky dark red sauce with pieces of bamboo shoot, carrot, green capsicum, ample cashew nuts and little cross section slices of red chilli. It was very sweet and spicy hot without being sweet and sour. I started to wonder what type of sweetener they had used for the dish. The duck meat was very salty and chewy, and had its skin on. It almost reminded me of bacon somehow.

Having scoffed too much starter, my own as well as sampling pieces of Humey's and Clare's, I barely made a dent in the main, and it was hauled away and returned in a foil carton with cardboard lid. I stopped short at making yesterday's dinner into the next day's breakfast and saved it for lunch.

An overnight stint in the fridge really does let the flavours develop. It didn't taste as sweet yesterday and the heat of the chilli had worn off somewhat. The duck was as salty as the day before, but this time my taste receptors detected a new flavour: star anise! What a trip for my tastebuds. It must have contributed to the mystery sweetness which I couldn't put my finger on the night before.

One of my kitchen's cupboards is healthily stocked with spices - not so much herbs and neither do I get them fresh to my shame) but one thing I do lack -well two things: Chinese five-spice, and one of its principle ingredients, star anise.

It's not for want of trying, albeit the type which is the opposite of persistent. I last had Chinese five-spice in my cupboard four years ago, and the dish I made with it was disappointing and far from the Chinese food I was trying to recreate.

This is also not my first encounter with star anise. I have seen old sweet jars filled with it, for it is an ingredient of garam masala. My mother grinds her own blend in a manually operated stainless steel machine which, along with the recipe for this spice mix, I hope to inherit some day.

Going back to the duck, I was fascinated with it. I have only ever eaten it twice before the meal at Tai Pan; once ten years ago in an average-tasting dish at a Chinese restaurant, and shredded on a cheese-and- tomato-free pizza along with hoisin sauce and cucumber at a time some nine years ago when it was very in vogue. I wonder if it is still the case. The duck was quite dry, chewy and salty, I left the skin, but not without sucking as much of its sticky anise-y flavour as I could. But it dawned upon me how well the duck took to being spiced and seasoned despite having a very distinct taste of its own. Fighting fire with fire sometimes does work.

I am discovering meat, having not really eaten any flesh apart from fish and seafood for about eight years, and it's taking a while. I'm convinced that duck can be more tender and melty. I'm not desperate to confirm that, but when I do, I hope it will be with gusto, care and consideration.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Finally, some graphics.

My birthday celebrations continued, and yesterday a picnic was taken to the Greater Manchester Museum of Transport. I took some roasted vegetables, some ful medames from a can which I had seasoned insufficiently and this:

I found some arame seaweed in the cupboard which I soaked in water. I then simmered tofu in the soakwater with added salt, vinegar and soy sauce until most of the stock had gone. Draining the rest off, I stirred in the seaweed. It wasn't the most amazing tasting thing I have ever made, but at least it wasn't the only thing I had to eat.

My elderflower champagne is now ready, and quite a bit more potent than the bottle I was given by Jo for my birthday. It tastes a lot dryer too. I think it's because I put too much yeast into it (One teaspoon for two litres of water. Possibly even two teaspoons!). You can even see a yeasty sediment at the bottom. I added the yeasts because the natural yeasts in the blossoms did not seem to be powerful enough to kick start the bubbling process. With my first batch I thought the water I added was too hot, thus killing off the yeast, so with my second batch, I made thoroughly sure that the water was blood heat, doing all but testing it with my elbow. Still no action. I have added a subtle one teaspoon yeast to 4 litres of water for my second batch and hope this will be less dry and sedimenty. Here it is:

And finally to my first attempt at a custard-based ice cream. I had wanted to make White Chocolate ice cream, possibly streaked through with raspberries. But I shopped in a rush and found no white chocolate. I opted for 70% cocoa dark instead.

- I didn't constantly stir the custard when thickening it because I was busy breaking up the chocolate. I think this caused tiny tiny lumps. Happily, it did not affect the texture of the ice cream.
- Perhaps this was because I used too much chocolate! You may think there's no such thing, but I really should have used a dark chocolate recipe rather than substituting the white for the dark. This did affect the texture I think, it was a little less smooth than it could have been. And too chocolatey if that is indeed possible.
- I heated up fresh cherry pieces with minimal water and a bit of sugar. I let this cool completely before adding to the ice-cream. The syrup seemed to melt the ice-cream a tad, so I anxiously started my stir and freeze process to rescue it
- I tried to balance the excessive chocolate out with the 100ml remaining cream I had and didn't stir it in properly. You will see bits in the picture if you look closely.

Fortunately, it tastes all right and there are fans of the ice cream in the house as the following will testify to:

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A Birthday Picnic

Hm, I'm really going to have to sort the titles out with this one.

I had a picnic with Sabbi on Formby beach of tangerines, mint chutney flavour crisps, humous, a cous cous salad with beetroot, courgette, olives, butter beans and seeds; black beans with garlic, lime, coriander and chipotle chillies; mushrooms and seaweed with lemon, garlic and butter.

we ate our leftovers on the train and a middle-aged man complained that the smell turned his stomach and we should throw our paper plates away. "This isn't India, you know," he said. I'll leave you to work that one out because it makes no sense to me.

Have started another batch of elderflower champagne. It looks pretty. I'll post a picture.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Heena 4 Chipotle 4-EVA

I am in love with chipotle (smoked jalapeno) chillies. This is better than love; this is addiction.

Such a hot hot taste, such a wonderful smoky flavour! I put it in with some beans, garlic, lime and red pepper and ate it with corn tortillas, tomato salsa, thick yogurt in place of sour cream and cheese. The dried chillies came looking like sun-dried tomatoes. I reconstituted a few and whizzed them up into a rough paste, and because they are so spicy hot, have a lot left over. I have been putting it into every meal I have eaten since I opened the packet.

I bought the chillies having been introduced to the taste by Matt, at whose house I ate some Guatemalan food; black beans with garlic and smoked chillies; salsa, guacamole, scrambled egg, rice and corn tortilla. He had spent time there and said that the Guatemalans he met often ate the same food with slight variation – probably depending on what was available- for many meals in a row. Imagine eating the same thing over and over again. I always thought I needed variety in my diet for taste's sake as much as nutrition- but maybe I wouldn't. I would like to think that I have more sophisticated tastes than my cat but she eats the same thing day in, day out and never tires of it. Maybe I could do the same. I'd like to eat the same thing over and over for a week, see how I fare. I think I'd be more than happy to do so if it had chipotle chillies in it.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

A Simple Lunch

Yesterday I made myself a modest rice salad for a late lunch. I only had basmati white rice and I wanted a grain which cooked quickly.

White rice drained and rinsed, roasted tomato, finely chopped fresh mint, raw garlic and chives, a splash of white wine vinegar. I chopped a bit of cheese and stirred it in on top because I knew I would get hungry if I didn't.

I'm really not that great on the different types of rice. I have eaten arborio, red rice, sushi rice in sushi, generic brown rice and wild rice - which isn't actually a rice, but a grass, but I want to know more. I'll let you know when I do.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Elderflowers, Starters for Mains, and Yummy Yogurt

Every spring / summer, I watch elderflowers bloom, give them a sniff as I walk past them, watch the tiny flowers fall to the ground, and before I know it, there are elderberries on the branches. I nibble one or two regretfully, wishing that I had done something with the blossoms. This year, I got my skates on and subsequently I have gone a bit elderflower crazy.

Last week, when looking for Grime and Nourishment to get a the recipe for Imam Bayildi, I found a pamphlet called "Well Fed- not an Animal Dead!" by Graham Burnett on the shelf, which I started to read. I was taken by one section, and after reading, I picked a reasonable amount of elderflower heads, maybe ten, gave them a rinse, and dunked them head-first into some diluted apple juice. (equal parts water and apple juice). I left for about one a half hours, and was left with a delightful refreshing elderflower drink.

This week I am trying to make elderflower champagne. I left the mixture for 24 hours, and it didn't start to bubble, as the recipe said it would. I fear this is down to the water being too hot and killing off the yeasts. The recipe said that to add yeast if it didn't start to bubble. I ignored that, and added some fresh elderflower heads, and a bit of warm water, a bit more sugar, lemon, and vinegar. I am leaving it for another 24 hours. If there is no action, I will relent and add yeast.

I have a nagging feeling that the champagne will fail. So I decided to make elderflower cordial to use up my excess. My hunt for that elusive ingredient, citric acid, led me around all of the chemists in the vicinity, the local Boots, and the nearest supermarket without success. There were elderflowers along the way and I couldn't help myself and picked more heads. I finally found the citric acid in the nearest chemist's to me. Isn't it always the way? So, now I just have to wait.

On Sunday, not knowing what to make when Rick came round for the Apprentice Final, I made a couple of starters and we ate them all. The first was a fried tofu with spring onions, in a spicy salty sauce. This was followed by chunks of roasted butternut squash, with toasted cumin seeds. I toasted the seeds in the oven in the leftover oil from roasting the squash, then threw on some salt.

But the most exciting thing I made was potatos baked in yogurt. Into the thick creamy yogurt I crushed garlic, added salt, cumin, garam masala, curry powder, chilli powder, then chopped in fresh parsley and fresh mint. I seasoned the peeled half-inch potato cubes, added a dash of olive oil then smothered the potato in the yogurt mix. I then baked it in the oven, and when they were done, I topped it with cheddar and mozzarella until they melted. It was delicious. I wished I had taken a photo. But then I didn't know I was going to have a food blog in which I was going to write about it. The only bad thing the potatoes weren't completely cooked so I would recommend parboiling them or steaming, then cooling before baking.

I have also been subsisting on polenta which I toast, add curry powder and salt, then adding yogurt until it cooks. It tastes a bit like the Gujarati dhokra but is less time and effort. I like it, but I imagine most people would think it disgusting. By the way, I don't just use curry powder willy-nilly. I never use it in curries. To me it has a fake curry taste. It's a bit like Dairylea in that respect: as long as you don't consider it to be the real thing or use it in place of the real thing, it's ok.

Welcome Note

Hello. Welcome to Stir, Season, Taste.

I decided to set up a food blog yesterday. Cookery is such a passion of mine, and easily my deepest- and longest-running passion by miles. Actually, it is probably the only real passion that I have. So I am surprised that I didn't do this much sooner.

My particular interests are food you can get for free; using up leftovers and inventing tasty dishes and adapting existing ones to suit vegans, vegetarians, people with food intolerances and allergies. But I will be writing about other things as well.

I hope it gets you cooking and and trying stuff out.