Monday, 11 May 2015

Chinese Elvis French toast: Salted duck egg custard and strawberry stuffed French toast brulee

Brunch is officially back bitches. I don't know where it went, why I stopped going or how I ever fell out of love with it - but its officially on my radar to have as many times as possible in one week. Whilst having a meal replacement shake at work one morning, someone asked what I was drinking. As I had already had breakfast,(thus defeating the point of it being a meal replacement shake), I replied 'it's brunch'. And it hit me that it was depressing on two levels; one being that I had technically had two breakfasts and the other being that the definition of brunch was demoted to a meagre, sawdust flavoured liquid. That is most certainly not brunch in my eyes. A glorious spread of eggs, avocados, BACON (its importance is justified by the capital letters) and pancakes should be the staple base of any brunch. And proper coffee. However, whenever I go to brunch, I tell myself I'll go for the sweet options of waffles/french toast - and my mind is changed last second to a more savoury choice. All to change with this recipe I would hope.

Decades ago, Hong Kong saw the rise of Cha Chaan Tengs - a pseudo Western-Canto mixed cafe - to provide cheap, Western food to locals who had developed a penchant for drinking British tea and eating cakes. If you ever go to HK, you've got to go into one of these cafes - pop a squat and eat like a true local - be it macaroni and soup for breakfast, noodles for lunch or club sandwiches galore. However, the best duo in my books that is always on my menu is French toast - HK style is pretty much deep fried and with a generous lashing of butter and syrup, perhaps peanut butter and condensed milk if you're feeling lavish, and washed down with a milk tea (that's black tea with condensed or evaporated milk mind...just to add to the caloriefest). I'll always opt for the sweet option vs. savoury when in Hong Kong. French toast has a special place in my heart, and my arteries.
This recipe takes it to the next level though - I thought, how can I make HK style French toast even more calorific and sinful? How can I increase the chances of pulmonary failure on a plate? Ah yes, stuff the bad boys with a rich and decadent custard. Nope, let's go one further and make a rich, salted duck egg custard. Let's throw in some strawberries as a count towads your 'five a day'. Sure. A great Hong Kong dim sum is a custard bun - comforting pillowy dough with a subtle custard inside. Let's take that custard and make it richer with a salted duck egg and have a hint of coconut to complement the strawberries in a French toast. Not complicated or necessary to do - but I was intrigued to try and make work. I'd probably advise to guzzle this down with some milk tea and Gaviscon...purely for precaution.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Banh xeo pork belly pancakes

This week at work there has been a lot of chat about unassuming and totally pointless interview questions. As we are constantly recruiting, the interview process does tend to get a little dull, and we were thinking of idiotic questions that would keep us amused and see how interviewees reacted. A couple food for thought questions such as 'Why don't we eat turkey eggs or drink pig's milk' are totally pretentious, but you would get to see a reaction and their ways of thinking to try and respond...(FYI, we don't ask these questions and if we did, we wouldn't want the correct answers we would just want the most creative ones. We're not all wankers in the ad industry, promise). Our whole office is consumed by this 'white and gold/black and blue' dress question (STILL)- if you haven't seen it already, you're obviously not at one with the INTERNET as everyone is talking about it.
I ask myself the same, infuriating question this time every year. We get all in a hubbub about Pancake day, everyone loves it and happy smiley faces stuffed with lemon and sugar, nutella, condensed milk and peanut butter (anyone? it's damn delicious) are all around. As I'm tucking into my umpteenth pancake, I always always always say...'Why don't we eat pancakes more often? They're so goddamn tasty'. It's not just about the inefficiency and low return on investment on my beautiful copper pancake pan for its annual outing, its the fact that every farmer's market, brunch menu or street food stall throughout the year I just seem to forego the pancake option and eat something else. BUT WHYYY??? We should have a bi-monthly Pancake day - raising awareness for pancake craved bellies. Maybe I could be one of those charity muggers on the street, but encouraging people to save the Pancake and its meagre one day of fame a year. As I write this I realise I've officially gone mad and this is way too into my odd train of thought for anyone reading this to care about. So I'll just stop there and talk about one of my favourite savoury pancakes from Vietnam.

Banh xeo. A 'sizzling crepe' of sorts, which is normally filled with thin slices of pork, prawns and beansprouts and is a staple on the little stalls and markets in Vietnam. Beautifully coloured to a warming yellow sunshine from a touch of turmeric, this pancake is made with rice flour, water and coconut milk. This should be as thin as a crepe, crispy on one side and light - and shared out between friends and eaten in a little hand roll of a lettuce leaf, mint and nuoc cham dipping sauce. Sensational. For this recipe, I decided to forego the beansprouts - I feel they are a little necessary for this dish (apologies for my lack of respect for the original...)  and had some caremelised pork belly to go in its place. Quick and easy. Lemon squeezy.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Hot dang! Northern China lamb & aubergine skewers with spiced buttermilk dressing

Just because its been snowing outside and your bones are shivering to an ill planned tap dance mess, doesn't mean we should say no to all the things that remind you of summer. There is nothing better than toasting yourself under a giant rug with a tub of ice cream (thank god we're over January and all the promise of healthy eating) when its freezing outside, or, when I'm out in HK, cooling down with a sweet condensed milk hot tea. Barbecues and grilling also works to this rule - it shouldn't just be synonymous with summer BBQ's and rooftop parties (ha, like I actually go to rooftop parties). 

Northern China's cuisine is amazing. Full of flavour and spice, it sometimes borders on the spice palates of middle eastern dishes and aromas. These lamb skewers are perfect for a winter salad or with a shovel sized portion of saucy noodles. For now, I've put this dish with a buttermilk ranch to give it a smack of cooling freshness to the spice of the lamb. I've been trying to cut down on carbs recently (a phase, I'm sure) so actually the skewers were alternated with aubergine to give a bit more variety and so you can actually just eat these as is and without a bowl of rice (a phase, let me repeat). 

The secret to this is in the marinating and the cut of meat you choose. The longer the marinate time, the better. The fattier the meat, the better. In some restaurants, skewers of lamb are alternated with chunks of fat that melt in your mouth. As much as that appeals, it sort of cancels out being any kind of good with the no carbs thing... but if you use lamb shoulder, it's a nice in between. In Hong Kong, lamb is a real treat - it's not used much in cooking as its not readily available, unless you're willing to fork out for some New Zealand expensive exports. So, something a little different out the normal HK diner repertoire for you all.
This week I've been out in Morzine skiing - wonderful snow and my one week of heavenly cheese and big dinners wonderfully cooked by chalet hosts Dot and Chris from Mountain Spaces. Their skill in cooking for 15 idiots a hot breakkie, afternoon cake and then a 4 course meal every day was astounding. I'm still salivating over the thought of the chocolate cake, confit de canard and the mountain of dauphinoise the group inhaled (not to mention unlimited wines). One night there were Asian chicken skewers...and I had to admit, I was a little doubtful I'd put my judgemental Asian food blogger hat on..but it was amazing. And it made me remember I had never written this bad boy recipe up for lamb skewers. It must be done!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Low carb courgette noodle ginger pow

From a buttery, guilt ridden deeelish dish last week to a simple, humble and healthy one today. Oh I just love the ridiculous expectations I set myself each year. Which now lends itself to eating out less (sob sob) to save for a wedding, and training my body not to be so dependent on rice and noodles (no one wants a tubby bride...sob sob). To be able to do a diet and save money without giving in to expensive diet plans, fancy juice cleanse fads and lowcalorie this and that is an arse. All you need is a bit of forward planning, a Pinterest board for good healthy recipes to inspire you and you're on your way. 
Noodles are my life line. A week doesn't go by without me eating them and the variety of different ones from around Asian cuisines is limitless. Udon, soba, ramen, egg noodle, prawn shell noodles...the scene in Charlie and the Chocolate factory where Willy Wonka opens the gates to a field of sweets and a chocolate waterfall doesn't do it for me. Replace the chocolate waterfall with a 16 hour ramen broth and the grass as noodles of every variety... Now that's the dream. 
But alas, low carbs means finding a substitute and by golly does this one fill the gap. I was given a fancy shredder type veggie peeler, which you normally use for spring onions so it made making courgette/zucchini noodles a simple task. If you don't have this, then a simple peeler will do (make ribbons and cut them to smaller pieces) or even a box grater works also. None of this spiralizer malarkey, but take the care in making these look like noodles and you might even trick yourself into believing it.