Chinese braised nuts

Most Chinese restaurants always serve a little ‘snack’ the moment you sit down at the table. These Chinese braised nuts (groundnuts) are a common feature, and I personally think they are a fabulous appetiser. Being in London means I don’t get to eat this as often as I’d like – which means there was only one solution: make it myself.

chinese braised peanuts

I’ve tweaked the recipe over my last few attempts, and I am finally happy enough to post the recipe. It is a very simple recipe, but does need a prolonged cooking time to ensure the flavours absorb into the nuts.

chinese braised peanuts

Chinese braised nuts
  • 500g raw peanuts/groundnuts (I prefer skinless ones)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp five spice powder
  • 5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 5 tbsp kicap manis (alternatively, use dark soy sauce + 1 tsp sugar)
  • 3 star anise
  • 60g rock sugar (any other white sugar is fine)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • orange peel from one orange (optional)
  • 5 cups water (you may need a few extra cups of water, see below)
  1. Wash the peanuts, drain, and place in a slow cooker/heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Add all the other ingredients to the pot.
  3. Cook on low heat (covered) for 2-3 hours, until the nuts are cooked through. Gently stir the mixture every 30 minutes. You may need to add in extra water as you go along – do not let the liquid dry out, as this will cause the peanuts to burn.
  4. Eat warm, or leave to cool and eat at room temperature.
On another note, here’s wishing all my Chinese readers a very Happy Chinese New Year! 恭喜发财, 万事如意! 
I leave you with a photo of us tossing ‘yee sang/yu sheng’ (Chinese New Year salad). Essentially, the higher you toss, the more luck you get!
yee sang
May the year of the Horse bring much joy, good health, prosperity, and good food!
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[instagrammed] – Asparagus & avocado pasta

avocado asparagus pasta

I almost forgot about my grand plans to chip at the backlog with some ‘instagrammed’ posts.. So here’s one.

This asparagus & avocado pasta is something I’ve made many (many) times, especially on a weekday when I cannot be bothered to make something too involved. Am so glad I happened to have both asparagus and avocado in my fridge at some point, or I might have never discovered this delightful combination.

You can find me on instagram as @breadetbutter – where I post a lot more regularly than I do here. 😉

Asparagus & avocado pasta
Serves 2 (generously)

  • 250g pasta of your choice (I usually use linguini or spaghetti)
  • 2 avocados
  • 150g asparagus (I use asparagus tips), cut into 1cm lengths
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Bunch coriander (approx 30g)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
1. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. 1 minute before the pasta is done, add the asparagus to the pan. When draining the pasta, reserve some of the pasta cooking water – you may need it later.
2. Whilst pasta is cooking, halve and peel the avocados. Chop one avocado into small 1cm cubes, and the other into larger chunks.
3. Place the large chunks of avocado into a blender, along with the coriander, lime juice, and olive oil. Blend until it forms a thick smooth paste.
4. Place drained pasta and asparagus back into the (same) pan you were using earlier. Add the blended avocado mixture. The mixture may be quite thick and gloppy, if so, add some pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired sauce consistency. The sauce should coat every strand of pasta.
5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
6. Serve pasta onto plates. Top with small cubes of avocado. Other ingredients you can use are pine nuts, extra coriander, sesame seeds, chilli flakes.. An endless list really! Drizzle with some olive oil (if you wish), and eat.

Scarpetta’s tomato basil spaghetti

I can’t believe it’s 2011 already. I mean, could time pass by any more quickly?

Everyone always tries to be healthier in the new year, especially after the Christmas/New Year “stuff yourself silly” festivities. Although I don’t believe in dieting (hunger makes me grumpy), I do believe in trying to eat healthy. So for the rest of this month, I will be trying to eat more greens and fish, and less dessert. Not sure how well I will actually fare with this, considering how much bbq pork belly I ate in Koba today… oh well. 😛

But in the spirit of healthiness, here is a fairly healthy pasta recipe. (I say fairly healthy because there is some butter and Parmesan used in the recipe.) I first saw this recipe on Jaden’s blog, was immediately taken by the simplicity of the recipe, and so bookmarked it. I have lots of bookmarked recipes, so this was left for a good period of time. But this pasta kept on popping up on the food radar, with everyone raving about how good it was. Which obviously meant that I *had* to try making it.

This tomato basil spaghetti is one of the most popular dishes at New York’s Scarpetta (so I hear), and I’ve read about people who specially make a trip to Scarpetta to try this dish. And after making it, I can see why. The freshness and sweetness of the tomato sauce that coats each strand of spaghetti is infinitely better than ready made pasta sauces – and when you think about how simple it is to make, it will make you want to give up on premade sauces altogether.

The original recipe calls for fresh plum tomatoes, but I used a mixture of fresh and canned plum tomatoes. The quality of your tomatoes are important, as you want the freshest and sweetest tomatoes you can find (they don’t necessarily have to be plum tomatoes, I’m sure other varieties would work just as well). Quality may cost more, but trust me when I say it will be worth it when it comes to making this sauce.

The spaghetti is served with a garlic basil oil, which in my opinion brings the dish to another level whilst not overpowering the star of the event – the tomato sauce. The oil is made by infusing garlic, fresh basil leaves and a pinch of chilli flakes in hot olive oil. I might take the “lazy” route the next time I make this, and infuse fresh basil leaves in store bought garlic olive oil (Waitrose does a fantastic one which I use everytime I don’t want to chop garlic). Plus I think that the intensity of garlic is more evident in the store bought oil – I’m a HUGE fan of garlic you see.

Scarpetta’s tomato basil spaghetti
Adapted from this recipe on Steamy Kitchen, who adapted it from Scarpetta and Scott Conant

For the sauce:

  • 6 ripe tomatoes (preferably plum tomatoes)
  • One 400g can of peeled plum tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of red chilli pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the garlic basil oil:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6-8 whole cloves garlic
  • 10 whole fresh basil leaves
  • Generous pinch crushed red chilli pepper flakes

To finish:

  • 500g spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly

To prepare the tomatoes: (you get to skip this whole part if you use canned tomatoes)
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water nearby.
2. Whilst waiting for the water to come to a boil, cut a small X on the bottom of each tomato. Ease tomatoes into the pot and boil for about 15 seconds, then promptly move them to the waiting ice water.
3. Pull off the tomato skin with the tip of a knife (a normal butter knife works fine).
4. Cut the tomatoes in half and use your finger to flick out the seeds.

To prepare the tomato sauce:
5. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the tomatoes (both fresh and canned) and red chilli flakes to the pan, and season with salt and pepper. It’s safer to under-season at this point, as the sauce will reduce down later.
6. Let the tomatoes cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until they become soft and mushy.
7. Use a potato masher to mash up the tomatoes. (You don’t have to mash it all into a smooth paste, but I try to mash it up as finely as possible.)
8. Cook the tomato sauce for 20-25 minutes, until it thickens. Whilst the sauce is cooking, make the garlic basil oil.

To make the garlic basil oil:
9. Put the olive oil, garlic cloves, basil leaves and pepper flakes in a small saucepan, and heat over low heat. Allow the ingredients to warm slowly to release their flavours.
10. When the garlic is lightly browned, turn off the heat, and let it cool.
11. Before using, strain the oil and discard the solids.

And to put it all together:
12. Cook the spaghetti in boiling, salted water until just shy of al dente. Drain and reserve a little pasta cooking water.
13. Add the spaghetti to the tomato sauce and cook over medium high heat, gently tossing the pasta and the sauce together with a couple of wooden spoons. (You can use tongs but this increases the risk of breaking up the wonderfully long pasta strands.) If the sauce seems too thick, add a little pasta cooking water to it to thin it down.
14. Remove pan from the heat, and toss with the butter, basil and Parmesan.
15. Serve the spaghetti into plates, drizzle with the garlic basil oil, and serve!

The food of Florence [Part 2]

It has been very warm in London lately, and the sun has brought back many fond memories of my recent trip to Florence. In an ideal world, I’d jump on a plane and fly out to Florence again (because it has truly won its place as one of my favourite holiday destinations)… but for now I’ll just have to be content with looking back at photos and reminiscing.

As I mentioned previously, the only part of the trip I planned (besides where we would stay, of course) was the food. I actually had a list of restaurants tucked in my handbag, which I constantly referred to in the time we were there. One of the places that was high up on that list was Osteria I’Tozzo di Pane. I read many good reviews about this cozy little Italian tavern, tucked away in a quiet street away from the bustling tourist spots. It took a while to find it, but boy am I glad we did. The food was simple, but oh so good. And to top it all off, they had the most beautiful outdoor dining area – if only we had similar places in London! I can’t think of how to describe the area, so I’ll let a photo do the talking.

Isn’t that just so beautiful? We dined at an odd time, so the restaurant was almost empty. From what I hear, it gets really busy during dinner service – and I can imagine why! We dined there twice, but both times were during lunch so we never got to see the outdoor dining area by night.

I was happily snapping photos of my surroundings whilst waiting for the food to arrive…

Carpaccio di bresaola con rucola, scaglie di grana e limone (very typical salami beef with salad and cheese).  So simple, yet so good. The beef carpaccio was seasoned to perfection, and complemented the bitter rocket leaves well. The cheese was just icing on the cake, because what dish doesn’t taste good with cheese? (Please note that I am an utter cheese fanatic though – when I was younger, I used to throw cubes of cheddar cheese into Chinese style soup because err.. well, I liked the meltiness of it. My mum thought I was completely bonkers by the way, so I won’t be surprised if you are appalled by this.)

Salsiccia di cinghiale con carciofi marinati e mozzarella di bufala (wildboar sausage with artichoke and buffalo mozzarella). I was on a slight artichoke-mad phase whilst in Florence, and would inevitably be attracted by any dish that had artichokes in it. Based on the deliciousness of the wildboar ragu at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, I decided to order this and I was very happy with my choice. I sometimes find it amazing how simple ingredients can taste so good, because this was what it was. The meatiness of the wildboar, woodiness of the artichoke, the freshness of the buffalo mozzarella and the sweetness of the tomato slices went really well together, and I truly enjoyed this dish.

Carpaccio di carciofi con scaglie di pecorino e limone (artichoke carpaccio with pecorino cheese and lemon). More artichokes, yes. I’m unstoppable when I’m on a food craze. Also, artichokes are rarely used as the star of the dish in London, and it was really nice to see it being featured so heavily in Florence. This was very good, and the artichoke carpaccio was perfectly seasoned. I suspect meat lovers may feel that the dish is lacking ‘meat’ though.

Orecchiette con salsiccia, cavolo nero e semi di finocchietto (pasta with pork sausage, black cabbage and fennel seeds). I absolutely LOVED this dish. I’d never even heard of black cabbage (also known as black kale/Tuscan kale) before eating this dish, and I’m so glad I now know that it exists. I felt that the addition of the fennel seeds elevated the pasta sauce to something really special. I was planning to order it again when we returned two days later…. but alas, they didn’t have it on the menu! (The menu had changed ever so slightly… it’s good though as it probably means the food they cook is dependent on the produce that is available on the day.)

Garganelli di pasta fresca con zucchine spek e zafferano (fresh pasta with smoked ham, zucchini and saffron). Now, we’ve all cooked a ham and zucchini/courgette pasta at some point. But I’Tozzo goes one step further and adds saffron. And my oh my it does it work well. This was a perfect example of how Italians manage to keep their pastas simple but so wonderfully delicious.

Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Again a wonderful example of how you don’t need many ingredients to create a stunning dish. I always find it hard to plate pasta/noodles, as mine inevitably ends up looking really un-artistic and ugly. I can only look at the wonderful pasta and noodle photos in Donna Hay magazine and hope that one day, I will learn how to plate noodles properly. Anyway, I digress. I meant to say that I loved how this was plated, and the sprinkling of chopped parsley added more colour and vibrancy to the dish. No paramesan with this dish: our waiter pleaded “please don’t use parmesan, pleeease” when he brought this to the table. Heh.

Filetto di maiale all’aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar pork fillet). I daresay this was R’s favourite dish in I’Tozzo, as he ordered it on both visits. It doesn’t look like much, but it definitely delivers on taste. The pork fillet was beautifully tender and each bite gives you a huge hit of balsamic vinegar. I enjoyed this, but not as much as R – but that’s because I have very sensitive teeth that don’t do very well with acidic foods like vinegar. Having said that I did eat a fair bit of this… as much as R would allow me to anyway!

Straccetti di manzo al vino rosso e finocchietto (beef in red wine with fennel seeds). This was good, but not as good as all the other dishes that we tried here. The beef chunks, whilst perfectly seasoned, were ever so slightly tough – which made me not as fond of it as I could potentially have been.

Panna cotta with a chocolate sauce. Now, compared to the panna cotta at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, this was much much creamier. I could literally feel the pounds piling on as I ate this. Not that it stopped me from finishing it, of course. My only gripe about this was that the chocolate sauce wasn’t thick enough.. perhaps an attempt to not make the dessert too cloying? If I could, I’d eat the panna cotta from I’Tozzo with the chocolate sauce from Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. If only.

So yes. This is just a glimpse of the wonderful dishes at this cozy and friendly osteria. I daresay we experienced the friendliest and most helpful service here – our waiter (whose name I forgot to ask for!) was the most cheerful waiter I have EVER come across, and was constantly humming/singing. It also helps that he recommended an excellent gelato shop to us, and even marked it on my map! (I shall blog about gelato in a future post.)

Delicious food and excellent service. Could a girl want any more?

Osteria I’Tozzo di Pane
Via Guelfa 94/r
50129 Firenze
http://www.osteriatozzodipane.it/en_home.html

A birthday cake (and some food)

I still remember the first time I baked a birthday cake – it was about 4 years ago in my tiny little kitchen, where I impulsively decided to bake a simple chocolate cake for my flatmate. Being completely clueless about cake decorating, I just used halved strawberries along the sides of the cake, and was happy when it looked reasonably presentable. Fast forward to 4 years later, when I start planning what cake to make at least a week in advance, and inevitably ending up with too many ideas.

I went through the very same process during R’s birthday, and didn’t actually manage to decide which cake I would make until I was shopping for the ingredients. Shocking, I know. Anyway, I finally decided on Tartelette’s chocolate, mango and coconut cream cake. The vibrant colours just looked so beautiful, and I knew R would like the tropical theme of the cake.

(Edit: Just a note to say that all this took place more than a month ago, I just didn’t get around to posting till now. :P)

As you can see, I didn’t do terribly well with the cake as I am completely incompetent when it comes to splitting cakes into half. I have much to learn! 😛 Alternatively, I may just bake each layer in a seperate tray instead of trying to split an already thin cake into half… Despite the rather “uneven” look, the cake was delicious. The sponge layers were the best sponge cakes I’ve ever baked, and I think I’ll be using Helen’s recipe from now on. I did find that the mango mousse was not “mango-ey” enough for me, but this may have been because I used canned mangoes instead of fresh.

I topped the cake with some raspberries, lemon swirls, and dried mango slices (only thought of the mango once I sliced it up, which is why it’s not in the photo above).

And of course, it wasn’t just about the cake – there had to be some food as well…

A very simple proscuitto wrapped tomato/buffalo mozzarella salad, topped with fresh basil leaves and a dash of olive oil. This was inspired by a recipe in Donna Hay magazine (as always!), and was wonderfully delicious. I chose this primarily because it was very simple, and because I knew I would be spending a long time on the cake. Definitely something I will make again in the future.

Beer bacon wrapped beef fillet with a mushroom sauce, served with cheesy semolina. This was also a Donna Hay recipe. I was originally slightly disappointed as my sauce was not as dark as it appeared to be in the photos that accompanied this recipe – but as it still tasted amazingly good, I just had to be content with less attractive photos.

In the end, we were so stuffed from all the food that we couldn’t even eat the cake. That’s saying something as I always have room for dessert. R just blew out the candles, and we had to wait till the next day to eat the cake.

The recipe of the chocolate mango and coconut cream cake can be found here.

Beer bacon wrapped beef fillet with mushroom sauce
Adapted from a recipe in Donna Hay magazine, issue 40

  • 2 rashers bacon
  • 3/4 cup dark ale
  • 2 x 200g beef fillet steaks
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 150g chestnut/white mushrooms
  • 150g oyster mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup beef stock
  • 2 slices of cheese (I used raclette)

1. Place the bacon rashers in a bowl, and pour the ale over it. Leave to marinade for at least 1 hour.
2. Remove bacon rashers from the bowl, and reserve the ale. Wrap a bacon rasher around each beef fillet steak.
3. Heat oven to 180°C. In the meantime, brush the steaks with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Cook the steaks in a hot ban for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until they brown. Place the browned steaks in a baking tray and cook for 8-10 minutes (I like my beef to be medium-rare). Set aside and keep warm.
5. Heat some oil in a pan, and fry the mushrooms until they are browned (should take 1-2 minutes). Add the beef stock and reserved ale, and cook for 2 minutes. If you want to make the sauce thicker, either add some cornflour to the mixture, or cook until it reduces.
6. Place the steaks on a plate, top with the raclette cheese, and spoon over the mushroom sauce.

Note: I also served this with some cheesy semolina. This was simply semolina cooked with milk and some soft cheese.

Burger heaven

The weather in London has been terrible lately – rain, rain and more rain. (With a little bit of sunshine thrown in once in a while.) If I had my own way, I would hide indoors the everytime it rains, curled up in my duvet whilst drinking a hot drink of some sort. Unfortunately life can’t stop whilst the weather is miserable, which is why I turn to food to cheer me up.

I first came across these burgers in Donna Hay magazine – they were in a feature called ‘Posh Patties’, and I fell in love almost immediately. The burgers looked so good that I was almost salivating with hunger. Though to be fair, I love most of the photos in Donna Hay magazine, as it is the ultimate food porn. I mean, the photographers manage to make lemon slices look absolutely stunning. How ridiculous is that? 😛

I love most burgers, and these are no exception. I especially like the vegetarian burger as it uses halloumi, which has a very meaty texture, and goes amazingly well with the grilled vegetables. I also decided to make the burger buns from scratch as I have this disease where I feel the need to use my beloved KitchenAid stand mixer at every possible opportunity. The buns came out really well and I was very pleased with how they turned out!

Burger buns
From the King Arthur Flour website

  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I later felt this might have been too much, I’ll cut down on sugar the next time I make this)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1 egg + 1 tablespoon water
  • sesame seeds

1. Put the lukewarm water and sugar into a bowl of a stand mixer, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Sprinkle the yeast over the sugar and water mixture, and leave for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to “bubble”.
2. Add the bread flour, salt, egg, and butter to the yeast mixture, and mix on low speed (with a dough hook) for 8-10 minutes until the mixture forms a nice dough. If you find that the dough is too sticky, just add more flour until the dough doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl.
3. Pour oil into a large bowl; use a some kitchen roll to oil the bowl. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with clingfilm or a tea towel, and leave to rise until doubled in size. (usually takes an hour)*
4. Divide dough into 6 equal portions, and shape each portion into a burger shaped bun. Leave to rise again until they become very puffy (about an hour). **
5. If you wish, brush the burger buns with an egg wash, and sprinkle sesame seeds on the tops. Alternatively, just dust the buns with flour.
6. Bake the buns in a preheated oven at 190°C, for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool.

*It was at this point I left the house to do some shopping, and I ended up leaving the dough to rise for a good 3 hours.
**I only left it to rise for 15 minutes as I didn’t have enough time to wait a whole hour… or roughly translated as: I was getting hungry. 😛

Roasted tomato, aubergine, and halloumi burger
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
(Serves 2)

  • 1 tomato, thickly sliced
  • 2 burger buns, sliced
  • 1 aubergine, sliced
  • 200g halloumi, sliced
  • olive oil
  • harrisa mayonnaise (I added some harissa to Japanese mayonnaise, how much harissa you use depends on how spicy you want your mayo)
  • caramelised red onions
  • rocket leaves

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the tomato on a baking tray and brush with oil. Roast for 20 minutes or until cook. Set aside.
2. Brush the bun halves with oil, and place them (cut sides down) on a non-stick pan over a high heat, until the surfaces are golden brown.
3. Heat a grill pan (I use a Chasseur grill pan) over high heat. Brush the aubergine slices with oil, and grill for 2 minutes on each side. Cook the haloumi slices in the same way.
4. Spread the bun halves with the harissa mayonnaise. Top the bottom half of the burger bun with the tomato slices, aubergine, haloumi, caramelised onions and rocket leaves. And enjoy!

Cheeseburger

Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
(serves 4)

  • 500g beef mince
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 portebello mushrooms
  • 4 burger buns, halved
  • olive oil
  • 200g sliced Swiss cheese
  • caramelised red onions
  • rocket leaves

1. Heat the oven to 180°C.
2. Mix the beef mince, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce in bowl, and mix to combine. Divide into 4 equal portions, shape into patties and wrap it in a slice of Swiss cheese. Place on a baking tray, and roast for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted and patties are cooked through.
3. Place the mushrooms on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, and roast for 8-10 minutes. (I cook the mushrooms and the beef patties in the oven at the same time)
3. Brush the bun halves with oil, and place them (cut sides down) on a non-stick pan over a high heat, until the surfaces are golden brown.
4. Top half a burger bun with another slice of cheese, beef patty, mushroom, caramelised onions, rocket leaves and top half of the burger bun. Sit back and bite into the meaty goodness that is this burger.