Monday, 26 July 2010

Coriander and tomatoes in the garden

coriander and basil
I don't grow much foodstuff in the garden, a situation I must rectify. In the meantime, here are photos of coriander, basil and tomatoes coming along nicely.

home-grwon tomatoes on the vine

wild strawberry
And a lone wild strawberry that survived the wood pigeons. They have such a great flavour, a bit like the impossible sweets from childhood. The strawberries, that is, not the pigeons.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Roast potatoes and parsnips

Sorry for the hiatus but I'm trying to find time to write up another couple of blogposts including a review of the Kam Sang Chinese Restaurant in Scarborough.

In the meantime, here is a photo of the roast parsnips and potatoes I cooked the other day. The spuds were crunchy on the outside and powdery soft on the inside, while the parsnips were like crisps made in heaven. Method: parboiling, frying in duck fat in a hot roasting tin over a flame, and then roasting at 190 - 200 for twice as long as any cookbook tells you. 15 minutes from the end, I drizzled honey over the parsnips, but I forgot the sesame seeds.

Not East Asian but cooked by someone of East Asian origins.

EDIT: Almost forgot. Very important to drain the potatoes after boiling for a few minutes only (I do about five minutes). Reserve the water for gravy, replace the lid and then SHAKE the pot so you fluff up the outside ready to be seared in the hot fat.

Monday, 12 July 2010

How to cook Nasi Goreng: classic Asian fried rice video Part 2

PART TWO plus recipe

The second part of how to make Nasi Goreng, the traditional East Asian rice dish with ginger, garlic and prawns. Accompanied by chicken and rich peanut satay sauce. Demonstrated by my good friend Denise Ingamells. Warning: strong flavours. May damage your waistline.

Nasi Goreng is a classic rice dish fried in a savoury paste with prawns and a fried egg to top it off. We’re serving this with roast chicken pieces and a peanut satay sauce, and fresh spinach.

Yesterday, I posted the first of two videos showing how Denise makes it. Here’s the concluding part with the full recipe as follows. (Part one here.)

For four people with big appetites. Begin with the rice.

Nasi Goreng rice — microwave or perfect boiled rice method
2 mugs basmati rice
4 mugs water

Microwave for 12 minutes

Then start the roast chicken with satay sauce.

Roast chicken:
12 chicken thighs and legs
Peanut oil
Dark soy sauce
I teaspoon thick soy sauce (or treacle)
Chinese rice wine
3-8 garlic cloves, crushed
Generous root of ginger
2 teaspoons of cayenne powder
Sprinkle of lemon juice

Mix everything together and cook in the oven at 180 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Peanut satay sauce:
Toasted peanuts
1 Spanish onion, diced and fried to caramelise
3 teaspoons coriander
Coconut milk
1 teaspoon Lazy Chilli
Handful of palm sugar
Soy sauce

Fry up onion to caramelise and puree roughly in processor. Add the roughly pureed onion back to pan, then add ground ginger, garlic and peanuts (roughly ground)

Paste for Nasi Goreng rice
Garlic, ginger, chilli and onion, all ground finely in processor
Add palm sugar
Generous splash of soy sauce
1 teaspoon tamarind
4 teaspoons fish sauce
Soy sauce
Powdered coriander
Chinese rice wine

Mix together the paste ingredients.

Raw prawns, deveined
Cooked prawns
Spring onions, sliced
Sesame oil sprinkled on top at the end of cooking

Fry the raw prawns in peanut oil (or rapeseed or sunflower) over a high heat. When they’ve turned pink, add the paste and continue to cook, turning all the time. When they’re almost done, add the cooked prawns (for different texture).

Add the cooked rice and continue to cook over the high flame, turning gently all the time.

Add spring onions and cook for a little longer. Remove from heat and sprinkle with a little sesame oil.

Fry sliced Spanish onion until brown.
Plus four free-range eggs

Pour over boiling water, turn and press out the excess water. Add a touch of Oyster Sauce and garlic oil.

Serve the Nasi Goreng rice with fried egg on top. Plus chicken with satay sauce. And blanched spinach. Add fried onion garnish.

Thank the chef.

nasi goreng fried rice with prawns, chicken and satay sauce

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Nasi Goreng video: classic Asian rice & prawns plus chicken and satay sauce, Part 1

(PART 2 plus recipe HERE)

My friend Denise made us a wonderful meal last week. Nasi Goreng is a traditional Indonesian fried rice dish made with prawns, ginger, garlic, chilli and tamarind among a myriad of other tasty ingredients. We're serving it with roast chicken with a tasty peanut satay sauce with ginger, garlic, chillies and onion.

Here's how to cook Nasi Goreng in an easy two part video (second part here). Plus a satay sauce made simple but absolutely mouthwatering. Served over roasted chicken pieces and fried savoury rice. Strong pungent flavours for those who like their taste buds given a good time.

Interruptions by various males never knocked us off our true course: bringing you the best of Asian cooking. Amazing how much focus you have when you're hungry.

Part one of two parts.

Part 2 here.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Beef stir fry with ginger & garlic marinade

Stir-fried beef and vegetables is another way to use the basic ginger and garlic marinade.

Because the beef is shredded finely, you can use relatively tough cuts of meat that would normally require longer cooking and so keep the cost down. As a little meat goes a long way in stir-fries, even though this doesn't exactly qualify as vegetarianism, it's still a small step towards being kinder to our world's resources.

I've been buying rump tails of beef from the chill cabinet at Wing Yip Supermarket on the North Circular (London). It's a bit of the luck of the draw as sometimes you get tender cuts that can be flashed up in the pan as steaks, or it's connective tissue-heavy and best used for this dish. I get the 5kg pack and cut it into portions which I then bag up and freeze.

I like a strong flavour but you can adjust the ingredients to your taste.

Ingredients for two people:
Half a bulb of garlic (about 8 cloves), peeled and crushed
1 knob of ginger, peeled and grated or 1 dessertspoon of powdered ginger
1 dessertspoon of Demerara brown sugar, or palm sugar
A dash of honey (optional)
Soy sauce
Chilli seeds or sliced chillis (optional)

12oz to 1lb beef (rump tail or even stewing steak)
1 medium Spanish onion
1 red and 1 green pepper
A selection from mange tout, baby sweetcorn, cucumber batons, broccoli according to availability.
Fresh coriander
Peanut or rapeseed oil
Sesame oil

Sharp knife for Chinese cookingStart with a very sharp knife. I sharpen mine each time before I cook using this very effective Japanese minoSharp. I used to use a carborundum stone but this works better.

Shredding beef for stirfry with sharp knifeThe reason your knife must be sharp is that you have to shred the beef finely. This was always the sous chef job my mother gave me, and she trained me well! Which may explain my admiration for sharp objects.

Here's the chef's method. Note the bent knuckles so the flat of the knife blade rests against the upper finger joints instead of slicing through them.

Shredded beef for stir-fryIf you couldn't see through the beef once it was shredded, there'd be hell to pay. Hmm, I must be slipping. But at least I cut against the grain of the meat, keeping the beef tender by chopping up the long fibres of tissue.

Mix the marinade sauce into the beef and place to one side.

Wash and prepare the vegetables as we did for stir-fry noodles and seared salmon.

To cook, get a heavy frying pan or wok very hot and add a tablespoon of peanut or rapeseed oil. Heat until it smokes. Add the beef and stir.

Stir until all the pink disappears, add a splash of sesame oil, and place in bowl to keep warm while you stir-fry your vegetables in batches. Remember, hot but crunchy.

When the last vegetables are cooked, add all the vegetables and beef to the pan to briefly heat up. Add another splash of sesame oil as you stir.

Serve on noodles or boiled rice, and sprinkle with coriander leaves.

Monday, 5 July 2010

How to order Chinese food from the window: Canton Restaurant WC2

Chinese restaurant Canton LondonThe Canton
11 Newport Street
London WC2H 7JR
T: 020 7437 6220
Sun-Thurs 12 noon - 11.30pm
Fri-Sat 12 noon - 12.30am
Cost: £6 to £15 per head without alcohol.

I'm devoting my first restaurant review to an old favourite of mine, The Canton in Soho, London.

I started going here in my youth in the 1980s when I could club for England and go nights on end without sleep. In those days you'd emerge from Alice's or Gossips or the Kit Kat Club in the early hours, famished and longing for hot tasty food, and you would head straight for either breakfast at the Cavendish Hotel or something spicy at the Canton.

The Canton is no longer a 24 hour establishment, sadly, due to Westminster Council indulging killjoy impulses. But it is still going strong as a good inexpensive and reliable eatery.

For a speedy meal when I'm caught in the West End I usually do what my fellow Chinese bredren do under the circumstances and order from the window. Typical of Cantonese cuisine, you'll find roast duck, chicken, crispy fat pork and char siu hanging up over trays of squid, pigs' ears and roast gizzards. The Roadkill Special, as it struck me once when viewing the flattened poultry, is quick and delicious, and costs little more than a Big Mac meal or other High Street fast food. Duck and char siu (lean barbecue pork) on boiled rice with a garnish of vegetables and a pot of green tea is around £6.

If you go during peak eating times times, expect to find yourself sharing a table with other diners. The service is brisk but friendly and no-one hangs around for a long lingering meal. This is fast food Chinese-style.

The other day a friend and I felt adventurous and ordered a plate of the usual duck and char siu plus the pigs' ears and squid with choi sum in oyster sauce and boiled rice. Shame, they've stopped serving gizzards due to a fall-off in demand. Can't imagine why. We probably eat this every time we chow down on your average sausage, if you're lucky.

Chinese squid pigs' earsSquid and pigs' ears The dominant flavour of the pigs' ears is star anise as found in Five Spice powder. The cartilage makes this quite crunchy — a favourite Chinese texture — and the covering skin melts down slightly so it's gelatinous. The squid is tender and the tentacles a little chewy, as I like them.

Chinese restaurant duck char siu CantonRoast duck and char siu pork The duck and char siu were tasty as always, although the duck is quite fatty.

Chinese duck pork squid Canton restaurantServed on plain boiled rice to cleanse the palate between bites, and with fresh choi sum with oyster sauce, this is great traditional Chinese food for carnivores.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

How To Make A Chopsticks Rest

A quickie. Should you find yourself in the sort of joint where they provide chopsticks in paper wrappers, and the table setting lacks the requisite elegant porcelain chopsticks rest (as found in the more upmarket establishments), you can give your table a touch of class (I won't say which one) as well as amuse your dining companions for entire seconds with this neat little trick.

chopsticks rest trickPlace your chopsticks vertically on the table with the open end of the wrapper uppermost. Hold the top of the paper and pull down the length of the chopsticks so that you end up with a ruffle of paper.

chopsticks rest trickPlace ruffle of paper on table, rest chopsticks on it, admire – and prepare to be admired.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Perfect boiled rice — the easy way

For years, I've been simultaneously puzzled, astonished and amused by those who boil their rice in an excess of water, then drain and wash out the starch under running hot water. Never mind that hot water from the boiler adds copper from the pipes — not exactly the healthy option — what madness is this?

Yes, I know lots of Chinese now use electric rice-steamers, but I prefer to cook mine the analogue way. Apart from not having the room for storage (mine is somewhere deep in the bowels of the shed), it's the culinary difference between driving automatic and manual.

Preferring the feel of the gear stick in my hand, here's how I do it.

First, choose your rice.

The easiest and quickest to cook is white rice. I was brought up on long grain American rice but I really like white basmati and fragrant Thai. The problem is that, being refined, with the husk and nutrients that sit just under the skin removed, you get a hypoglycaemic hit as all those carbohydrates make demands on your poor old pancreas to pump out insulin.

However, working on the principle that a little of what you fancy is what the doctor ordered, enjoy it but maybe not every day.

I usually use organic brown basmati as I get the nutrients plus roughage and it doesn't take quite as long to cook as standard brown rice.

A mug of rice for two peopleFor two people, add about a mug of dry raw rice to a small saucepan and give it a rinse under cold running water. White rice has a lot of loose starch on the surface so you'll have to do this several times, swirling it with your hand, until the water runs clear.

Add water to depth of one knuckleThen, instead of fiddly measuring devices, add water up to a depth of one knuckle above the white rice.

No matter how much you cook, the principle is one knuckle depth of water above the rice. This is true of white, but for some strange reason, it's a little less with brown. About three-quarters should do it.

Chicken stock cube and boiling riceAdd a sprinkle of salt or low-sodium salt. I cheat and crumble in one Kallo organic chicken stock cube.

Place a tight lid on top and bring to the boil over a high heat. Then turn all the way down — you want the lowest heat so make sure the pan is on the smallest ring. Simmer for 15 minutes for white Thai fragrant and basmati, 20 minutes for long-grain white rice, 40 minutes for organic brown basmati, and ten years, I mean, 50 minutes for standard brown rice.

Whatever you do, DO NOT remove the lid and have a poke around. Control your curiosity and trust me. If you have a glass lid, you'll see little steam holes appearing in the rice as the water is absorbed. If not, think of Schrodinger's Cat. It is both cooked and not cooked until the moment you are allowed to peek. (Dear lord, now I've mentioned cat in a recipe!)

perfect fluffy boiled riceRemove from the heat at the end of the cooking time, open the lid and give it a stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, and immediately replace the lid so it can continue to steam under its own steam for another five minutes and fluff up.

There it is, via the traditional Asian method. Serve with something delicious from this blog.

EQUIPMENT NOTE: If you don't want to burn your rice, use a pan with a thicker base. I use a steel pan with a thick copper base. But if the rice does catch, Chinese people like the crispy bits, as long as it's not burnt to the point of being bitter.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Stir-fry noodles with garlic, ginger and seared salmon

Stir-fried vegetables with noodles and seared salmon fillets is a simple dish that's quick to make once you've washed and prepared the veg. The principles here form the basis of a lot of Cantonese cooking so it's worth trying this recipe. You cut the vegetables into more or less bite-size pieces that can cook quickly in very hot oil so they are hot but still crunchy inside.

Sauce: garlic bulb, fresh ginger root (or powdered ginger), brown sugar, light soy sauce, half teaspoon chilli seeds (optional).

Egg Noodles (or gluten-free rice noodles if you prefer wheat-free)
1 x red & 1 green pepper, deseeded, sliced
1 medium Spanish onion plus small red onion (optional)
1 or 2 dried chilli peppers or 1 fresh (optional). Sliced.
2 x salmon fillets. Very fresh as they will be seared outside and raw inside.
Schwartz Steak Seasoning
Peanut or rapeseed oil
Sesame oil

Make up your ginger and garlic marinade as I showed you last week. This is your cooking sauce. If you slice the last bit of ginger and add it when cooking the vegetables, you get the additional taste-bud hit when you bite into it.

vegetables for sir fryingYou can also select vegetables from baby sweetcorn, mange-tout, broccoili, water-chestnuts. My Dad used peeled and deseeded cucumber, plus celery, cut into batons. Today, I've bought some baby sweetcorn and broccoli sprouts but there's a whole wide world of fresh vegetables out there for you to choose from.

Sliced vegetables for Chinese stir fryWash the peppers and baby sweetcorn. Halve the sweetcorn lengthways. Deseed and slice the peppers. Skin then cut the onion in half — top to bottom. Cut each half lengthways (from sprout to root end) two or three times, depending on size, so you have three or four chunks of onion. Separate the layers of the onion — very Zen, ma-a-an.

Wash the coriander, separate the bottom leaves from the stalks, and keep the stalks to add to the stir fry. (The leaves are sprinkled raw on top at the end.)

Put on a pan of salted water to boil for the noodles. Don't do what I did and skimp on size, meaning you end up with the water level near the top so you can't boil vigorously. You want it at a fairly rolling boil so allow plenty of room for the noodles to kick up.

Heat up a tablespoon of peanut (or rapeseed) oil in the wok or heavy-based pan you are going to use to fry in. It should be big with highish sides as you are going to be moving around very hot ingredients. Frying pans with a thin base will not give you a good result and will be murder to clean afterwards.

Now ... some chefs say you should add the sauce to the oil before the ingredients to flavour the oil. But whenever I try that I end up burning the sauce. So what I do is get the oil smoking hot and add the vegetables ONE BATCH AT A TIME.

I start with onions. They should sizzle as they hit the hot oil. Move them around with spatula so they don't catch, and after a few seconds, add a tablespoon of the sauce, a few slices of chilli pepper, then a dash of sesame oil.

Keep stirring for a few moments. Don't overcook. Remember, hot but crunchy. Remove to a dish and cover with a lid to keep warm.

Heat more peanut or rapeseed oil in the pan and do the same with the other vegetables, batch by batch, until they look like this.

Noodles only take 4-6 minutes to cook, depending on the type. Add noodles to the boiling salted water — one block per person. (They usually come in measured proportions.) You can place a lid at an angle to lessen the steam produced, but don't cover fully. Turn down a bit but keep the noodles at a lively boil.

I keep the skin on the salmon fillets as, like crackling, the skin is often the best bit if you like texture.

The salmon just gets flashed in the pan so that it is raw in the middle. Get the oil hot as you sprinkle the salmon with one of my favourite cheat ingredients, Schwartz Steak Pepper Seasoning. Drop the salmon into the pan, skin-side down. Turn onto its side if it's thick enough, and end with it upper-side down. If you really can't face the prospect of raw fish, do it for longer but turn the heat down. You have to be gentle with fish. But it should still be moist and flaky inside.

Meanwhile, drain the noodles. At this stage, you can have a bed of noodles with vegetables on top, topped with the salmon. Or, you can fry the noodles if you really need those extra calories, turning all the time so they don't catch. Then add the vegetables and any remaining sauce and mix together for a few moments. Pop the salmon on top and sprinkle with coriander leaves.

I can't understand why some people seem to flinch at the mere mention of sesame oil. It has a delicious toasted nutty flavour. Because cooking weakens the flavour, add it at the end.

This is a healthy dish with very little of the vitamins and nutrients lost in the process of cooking. But bear in mind that there is salt in the soy sauce and wheat in a lot of noodles.

UPDATE: I am reminded by a vegetarian friend that they also have to eat. So ... you can use tofu cut into cubes and blanched in boiling water for a few moments to firm it up. Then treat the same as the salmon. You can also add cashew nuts or sunflower seeds to the stir-fry for protein. But do be aware that seeds and plant oils are high in Omega 6. Veggies are likely to be short of the long-chain EPA form of Omega 3 which is mostly found in fish. Read more here.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Chinese ginger and garlic marinade: basic and easy

Here's a Chinese marinade my dear old Dad taught me when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, Grasshopper.

It's a basic one made from crushed garlic, grated ginger root, brown sugar and soy sauce. Dark soy is usually used in marinades but, as this one is being used in a stir-fry with seared salmon, I went for the light soy. Remember that light soy is a bit saltier. I've also added a few crushed chilli seeds for variation on the theme.

UK Chinese often use Golden Syrup instead of sugar. You can experiment with a dollop of honey as well, although that's an interesting fusion rather than traditional Chinese cooking.

1 small bulb (whole bulb, not a clove) crushed garlic,
1 heaped dessertspoon grated ginger root (peel first)
1 heaped dessertspoon brown sugar
Half cup of soy sauce (light used here)
Optional: Half teaspoon chilli seeds

Chinese marinade with ginger, garlic and sugar
From the top, clockwise: crushed garlic, chilli seeds (optional), brown sugar, grated ginger root.

Chinese marinade with ginger, garlic and sugar
Note that the main ingredients — garlic, ginger, sugar — are in roughly equal proportions: third, third, third. Mix together with soy sauce to make a paste.

Chinese marinade with ginger, garlic and sugar
It should look something like this, a thick sauce. OK, you're ready for cooking.

USES: In stir-fries. To marinade meat or fish, make it a bit thicker by using less soy sauce, remembering to score the meat first. Make fresh each time, although the salt in the soy sauce should mean this is good in the fridge for a few days.

CHEAT POINT: If you are in a rush or have run out of fresh root ginger, you can use a dessertspoon of powdered ginger instead.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Scrambled eggs with hot chilli sauce

scrambled eggs on toastOK, this could have been a disaster.
I’d knocked up a quick scrambled eggs on buttered wholemeal toast for brunch today, using the organic potato, sweet potato and carrot mash left over from last night. I did this adding milk (optional), salt, pepper, chopped chives from the garden, and two eggs.

Instead of tomato ketchup, I thought I’d try a splash of sweet chilli sauce over the top. Unfortunately, I got my bottles mixed up and, instead of using the one on the right, I used the straight chilli sauce on the left which is fairly explosive.

However, it gave the meal a lovely piquant kick and tasted gorgeous, especially washed down with a cuppa tea.

(First posted at Wordpress 23rd June 2010)

Garlic preparation: two methods for crushing

I’ve seen people struggling with all sorts of ways to prepare crushed garlic for cooking. One of the more tedious tasks, it’s usually foisted onto the designated sous chef — in my home, Loved One.

But having discovered the perfect garlic press in Ikea, I’ve never looked back. I bought a load for my friends and they seem very happy with it.

The Ikea marvel is different from all the others because it has a large barrel into which you can cram entire fat cloves without them slipping out. It even separates the outer skin, squeezing the flesh through the holes and leaving the skin behind.

The only drawback is that the metal seems quite soft and over time (two years) you see little bits missing. I’m onto my second in about five years.

This may be obvious to some, but here’s how I prepare my garlic. I’m using the larger fresh elephant garlic here because it’s in season. It isn’t as strong as the common supermarket variety so you need more of it. The skin is softer and doesn’t have to be removed for use in the garlic press, but for the purposes of this demonstration I’m showing you the easy way to remove the skin. (Click on pix for larger images.)

What you need

Assemble garlic bulb, press, large knife and a bowl.

Skinning garlicDeskinning garlic clove

The secret of removing the skin without it cutting up under your nails is to give it a bash with the blade of a large knife, holding it flat by the handle in one hand and thumping down on the flat of the blade with the heel of the other.

Preparing garlicSkinned garlic clove

This splits the skin away from the clove so you can easily pick it off.

Ready to crush in the press

Place the clove into the garlic press …

… and squeeze.

Garlic grows from the barrel of a garlic press

The finished product.

Pure and simple. Pure unadulterated crushed garlic with no salt or other additives.

Pasting with salt as an abrasive
The real chef’s method but with a high salt content.

Peel your garlic cloves, cut off the tough end and slice the clove finely.
Slice crossways so you have tiny diced bits.
Sprinkle liberally with salt.
Place wide blade of knife on top at an angle of about 15 or 20 degrees (almost flat) and press down making tiny circular movements.
The salt acts as an abrasive and you end up with a fine paste depending on how long you keep it up.

On a health note, freshly crushed garlic is better for your heart than processed. Garlic’s beneficial health properties may be due more to the hydrogen sulphide content than its antioxidants as previously thought. Science Daily

Instant Japanese miso soup for breakfast

Japanese miso soup for breakfastInstant. Usually a word to strike terror into the heart of a proper foodie when prefacing consumables such as “coffee”. But, as when it renders “gratification” immediate, “instant’ is not always a bad thing.

Just so here. In the pic, instant Japanese miso soup in Chinese mugs. How’s that for cultural fusion? Ideal for when you can’t face a full-on English breakfast but fancy a savoury hit.

Miso soup is usually found as an accompaniment to Japanese meals. It is light and comes in a variety of forms, always containing healthy seaweed.

The mug on the left contains Tofu Miso Soup, containing red and white miso soybean paste and tiny tofu chunks, and is made by adding hot water to the dehydrated ingredients. It also contains seaweed, green onion, kelp, bonito (fish) and, sadly, monosodium glutamate (MSG a sodium salt originally made from healthy seaweed but not healthy itself). Powdered kelp and bonito make up the traditional dashi stock when you add hot water.

The other miso soup comes in a fancier double sachet, with the miso in the form of a paste rather than dehydrated, and also contains spring onion, wakame seaweed and, ahem, “flavourings”.

The ingredients aren’t held in suspension so you need a spoon to get to the bits at the bottom

BTW, the mugs can be found for around £3 in Chinese supermarkets. They come with matching lids to keep your drink hot — ingenious but simple. I particularly like the blue and white rice-grain one on the left as it is thinner porcelain and doesn’t draw out the heat like lots of china. Similar to bone china, but not as delicate or expensive, this property means that you get a good cuppa tea even with a tea-bag. (Make mine a Picard Special: Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!)

(Brought over from WordPress)

Essential Asian food ingredients: the basics

Asian food productsWhat's in the Chinese kitchen? I can usually knock up a tasty east Asian meal at a moment’s notice without having to send Loved One up the shops and risk him getting lost in the pub while I fret over a smoking wok. You can too if you have the basics stored in the kitchen larder. Having a bag of prawns or seafood in the freezer, or a carton of tofu in the fridge, helps. As do peppers and onions.

The picture above shows a selection of what I was able to draw out from my cupboards just now. It gives me a wide range of flavours and textures with which to turn basic noodles or rice into something heavenly.

The staple of most Asian meals is either rice or noodles. I prefer brown rice or even brown basmati rice because it’s healthier — “punishment rice” as Loved One calls it. He’s more a potato guy but doesn’t look like one, fortunately for me.

The absolute must-have for Chinese cuisine is soy sauce: light or dark. This is fermented soy bean, grain and salt so you can put away the salt-cellar. Other bottles and jars contain: oyster sauce, black bean sauce, fish sauce, hoi sin sauce, plum sauce, BBQ sauce. In a while I’ll show you how to make a basic marinade as taught me by my Dad, but for now, purchased ready-mades will suffice.

I give a curry kick to some dishes using red or green curry paste, laksa paste, or crushed chilli seeds. As a cheat I sometimes use Schwartz Steakhouse Pepper which is gorgeous but expensive in the quantities that I use as it only comes in silly little jars.

Tins of waterchestnuts and bamboo shoots add a lovely texture to basic dishes. Tins of coconut milk, low fat or normal, are great for curries and laksa soup.

Spices should include powdered ginger, turmeric, dried chilli seeds and chillis, and five spice powder. Fresh flavourings come from garlic bulbs, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, coriander and fresh chillis.

Condiments include wasabi mustard, sweet chilli sauce.

Oils. I cook mostly with olive oil, peanut oil, sunflower and sesame. If you are worried about peanut allergy, use rapeseed oil instead. Peanut and rapeseed are what you use when you stir-fry and need to get the oil smoking hot. There’s evidence that high temperatures make lighter, healthier oils such as sunflower and safflower behave like carcinogenic hydrogenated fats, so use as little as possible. I always add a little sesame oil at the end for the wonderful pungent flavour.

If any of this looks so strange that it’s frightening you, don’t worry. I’m going to be walking you through some recipes so you’ll end up confident and familiar with the most exotic foodstuffs.

A basic list of ingredients you should have in your kitchen cupboards and fridge for cooking Asian dishes.

Dry goods:
Brown rice, basmati, long grain white rice, Thai jasmine rice
Egg noodles, wheat noodles, rice noodles. Fine and wide.
Dried Chinese/shitake mushrooms (have to soak for around 15 minutes before using)
Pre-soaked dhal (lentils) for South Asian cooking
Sesame seeds

Spices and flavourings:
Powdered ginger, turmeric, dried crushed chilli seeds, and five spice powder
Dry kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass
Whole coriander seed
Whole cumin seed
Whole black pepper
Whole dried Chillies
Fish stock cubes (I am such a cheat but who can boil up fish bones for months in order to get half a cup of stock?)
Organic chicken stock cubes. (Ditto)
Schwartz Steak Seasoning (cheats’ ingredient)
Salt (generally not needed if using soy sauce)
Sugar or golden syrup
Sherry or rice wine (chef’s privilege)

Sauces and pastes:
Soy sauce: light and dark (light is saltier, dark for marinades)
Tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
Oyster sauce, black bean sauce, chilli bean sauce, fish sauce, hoi sin sauce, plum sauce, BBQ sauce
Red or green curry paste, laksa paste
Shrimp paste
Sweet chilli sauce (for dipping)
Wasabi mustard (for dipping sashimi and sushi)
Cornflour or rice flour for thickening

Peanut (groundnut) or rapeseed oil for stir-frying (requires a hot temperature)
Sesame oil

Tins of waterchestnuts, bamboo shoots
Coconut milk, light or normal fat

Garlic bulbs, fresh ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, and fresh chillis
Spring onions
Kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass

Frozen pancakes for Peking Duck
Frozen prawns or mixed seafood
Frozen dimsum
Cartons of tofu (beancurd)
Clotted cream. Not Asian but I love it.

Plus fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables bought several times per week, if not daily

(Post brought over from WordPress)

East Asian foodie goodness: welcome to Anna Chen Eats

Welcome to my new blog, Anna Chen Eats, in which I explore all aspects of one of my favourite subjects in the whole wide world: East Asian food. Chances are it’s one of your favourites, too. So do check out my restaurant reviews, interviews, news, recipes and photos of a British Chinese blogger’s attempts to feed herself all things nice.

I’ll be scouring UK East Asian catering high and low (mostly low, she growled). Those cheap noodle bars are great — there should be on in every High Street and shopping centre. If I’m looking for fast food, I’d rather spend a few quid on a plate of spicy stir-fry noodles than a Big Mac.

But mid-to-high end is wonderful. We are spoilt for choice in the UK, mostly thanks to Britain’s colonial past. There’s a massive competition out there and the restaurant field can be a killing zone for restaurants that don’t get it right. I aim to guide you through the maze of eateries on offer. But gimme a chance — I can only do one dinner a day, no matter what Loved One says.

Want to know how Chinese eat at home? Hungry for that authentic experience? My own culinary know-how that I’ll be bringing you is everyday and practical, just like Mamma — and even better, Papa — used to make.

This is all subjective and about satisfying my own taste buds, and sharing that with you. As far as this blog is concerned, there is no right or wrong; just “does it work?” I hope you’ll stay for the ride.

I may stray from East Asian food if I am reporting my own cooking. A bit of a cheat, I know, but I guess that, as I am of Chinese extraction, my own experiments in the kitchen count as such, whether I’m cooking up a stir-fry or a nice fat bacon sandwich like the one I made for lunch today.

Happy eating.