Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Ginseng Salad and Stuffed Pumpkin

After our fun afternoon spent picking vegetables at the weekend, we've spent the last couple of days deciding what to do with them all!

Inspired by Maya's Ginseng Leaf Salad I decided to create my own version...  This turned into an exercise in rummaging-around-the-fridge to see what might work in a salad, so the finished dish bore very little resemblance to Maya's salad, apart from the ginseng leaves of course!

It lacks the colour provided by the pomegranate seeds, orange slices and torch ginger in Maya's, but I used fresh pineapple to provide sweetness, cashew nuts for some texture and thinly sliced chives and preserved garlic for some bite.  It was dressed with lime juice and toasted sesame oil, which is one of my favourite Asian flavours.  These leaves are amazing - they don't wilt at all, so I you can leave it for ages before serving.  I enjoyed the unusual flavour and texture of the ginseng leaves - a new experience for me.  A lovely light supper or side dish.

Almost as soon as I had got home from veg picking, Maya had e.mailed me a recipe for pumpkin.  Maya participates in a weekly recipe challenge called French Fridays with Dorie run by chef Dorie Greenspan, where bloggers around the world all cook the same recipe each Friday and post about it on their blogs.  This week the recipe is the temptingly titled 'Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good'.  Maya sent me the link to the recipe (which can be found here, on Epicurious) and wondered if I might be interested in trying it too?

Interested?  How could I not be?!  This recipe looks wonderful, and infinitely adaptable too.  I made it for supper last night.

There's something very satisfying about hollowing out a pumpkin...  took me right back to my Hallowe'ens in Canada.  These pumpkins have lots of flesh, so this one didn't have a huge cavity once I had removed the seeds and stringy stuff (I'm sure that's the technical term for it...).

I used the Epicurious recipe as a basis, but freestyled for much of the way, just choosing what felt right - and what was in the fridge/larder!

Here it is, stuffed and ready to cook.  The filling ended up consisting of the following:

a slice of granary bread torn up into chunks
a handful of chives, chopped
a large red chilli, chopped
2 'bockwurst' sausages, chopped
a handful of grated mature cheddar
a large 'squidge' of creme fraiche (it comes in squishy packets here!)
a splash of milk to loosen the mix
garlic pepper to season

As the recipe states, it's hard to give a cooking time as all pumpkins are different, and I suspect different fillings might cause it to cook at different speeds too.  Anyway, mine was done in under 2 hours, and looked and smelled incredible.

The sausages imparted a wonderful smoky flavour, and the cheese and creme fraiche were deliciously melted and gooey.  I cut the pumpkin into large wedges and the filling oozed out into the baking tray as I did so - satisfyingly messy!

There is no question that I'll be making this dish again (and again and again I suspect).  Minus the sausage it would make an excellent vegetarian meal, and it could be adapted in hundreds of different ways to suit different palates.  I'm looking forward to seeing what the French Fridays with Dorie group do with it - I'm sure it will give me lots more ideas.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Vegetable Picking

I feel very blessed to have met Maya...  not only is she great fun, a fabulous cook and excellent company - but her mum is the most amazing gardener, with an incredible plot full of beautiful organic produce!  This weekend Maya invited Rob and me round to her parents' house with a couple of her other friends to pick some of the vegetables that were ripening.  Her parents were actually away, and I was a little worried that they'd come back to find the garden pillaged of all the veg - but when I saw the fabulous (huge!) plot, I could see why they were happy to let people harvest a little...  Maya's mum clearly loves gardening and delights in growing all the produce that the wonderful Brunei climate allows.

Gorgeous orchids.

Rambutan on the trees and vegetable beds everywhere.

Maya introduced us to lots of exciting new plants - in this picture I'm sniffing some garlicky-scented leaves.  Other plants were more familar, and Maya soon had us snipping away with the secateurs:

Lovely fat ears of sweetcorn.

And my favourite - pumpkins (or squash - we couldn't quite decide on which they were!)

Moving round to the OTHER vegetable garden (I said it was huge!) we then found long beans (still teeny!), Australian spinach and ginseng.  There were also aubergines too, but not yet quite ripe for the picking.

 Oh yes, and chillies - LOTS of chillies!  We picked the red ones (birdseye?) and a few of the fiendishly hot orange Scotch Bonnets.

Not edible, but beautiful - Papyrus from Egypt.  I took a stalk to show my class as we've been studying Ancient Egypt!

After a sweaty hour or so in the garden, we all went inside for tea.  In true Maya form it wasn't just a cup of tea of course, but beautiful purple sweet potato pie and delicious dark chocolate and caramelised orange tarts - drool!

Maya has more photos of the day on her blog here, along with a recipe for a ginseng-leaf salad.  I made something similar last night... but that's for the next blog-post!  We're having such fun using our haul of veg.

 We started simply, stir-frying the spinach with garlic and oyster sauce as a side-dish, but have plenty more excitements on the way this week...

Thanks Maya!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Chocolate Potato Chips

A couple of weeks ago I discovered a newly opened shop here in Brunei, Royce' Chocolates.  (No, I have no idea what that apostophe is for either...).  Of course I had to pop and and have a browse and was so amused by the following product that I took a photo on my phone and immediately uploaded it to Facebook:

I pondered whether this was a good idea or not and received many many comments on the photo, veering from 'Try them, they look interesting' to 'Yeuk, they sound horrible' and just 'no no no'!

Well, amongst the Facebook comments was one from Maya who told me that she had several boxes of these from Hari Raya so would bring me one to try!  We were meeting that week for a sushi lunch, and sure enough, Maya very kindly brought along a box of milk chocolate ones for me (they also come in white chocolate and caramel flavours!).

We opened them almost as soon as I got home with them...  and they really are crisps/potato chips (depending on where you come from!) covered in chocolate!

And the verdict?  This was the plate about 30 seconds later:

Despite the bizarreness of the concept, they were actually extremely nice, and fiendishly addictive!  I'm a great fan of the combination of sweet and salty (salted caramel?  Yes please!) and these contained a hint of salty tang which married beautifully with the milk chocolate (which, by the way, was delicious - yes, I know, Asian chocolate that tastes nice?  It does exist!).  I'll be honest, the potato-ness of them is just a little odd, potato isn't usually found in sweet products, but we managed to get over that pretty quickly.

I think I may just have to purchase some of these at some point...  after all, there are 2 other flavours to try!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Bill's Everyday Asian

Bill's Everyday Asian is Australian chef Bill Granger's ninth book, but the first one of his books that I've ever bought.  I'd heard good things about him, that his recipes were light and fresh, that he wrote in a personable and chatty way... and yes, that he was easy on the eye too! Living in South-East Asia as I do, I love to cook and eat Asian food, but sometimes feel that I'm not doing enough of it.  I worry that I'm not taking full advantage of the local ingredients so easily accessible here.  So when a friend recommended this book, I felt it was one that I needed to purchase to provide me with some inspiration that I felt was lacking.

And my verdict?  I'm glad I did!  I've had the book for a couple of weeks now and it's a real pleasure to read.  It's beautifully laid-out with plenty of mouth-watering pictures.  I spent the first week simply browsing through it, filling the pages with post-it notes to indicate my must-try recipes, and in the last week or so I've made no less than 4 meals from it.

The first dish was cooked for pudding on the last night of my parents' visit to Brunei - Banana Batter Cake.  We don't often made desserts any more (it's just not the climate for ribsticking hot puds) but Bill described this as an Asian take on Sticky-Toffee Pudding so I knew I'd have to try it. 

It was one of those self-saucing puddings that seem vaguely sinister when you are preparing it, as the batter is topped with lots of brown sugar and then a cup of water.  It looks as though it will never work, but when it emerges from the oven it has created an amazing caramel sauce.

The pudding is almost clafoutis-like in texture, a dense batter but topped with sliced bananas instead of cherries.  Bill recommends serving it with coconut milk, but we took the easy option and used vanilla ice-cream. 

It was delicious, and I'll definitely be making it again.  Apparently it serves 4, but they must be 4 very greedy people as we got at least 6 portions out of it.

My next meal was made - no cooking involved - as I was feeling the need for a detox.  This may or may not have been related to the Banana Batter Pudding!  The Vietnamese Chicken Salad with Carrot and Mint had immediately struck me as one of the most appealing recipes in the book.  I love Vietnamese food, even more than Thai food I think.  This was almost like a coleslaw, made as it was from sliced chinese leaves, beansprouts and carrot, but pepped up with a zingy Vietnamese dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, chili, ginger and garlic.  Extra crunch was added with toasted peanuts, and some protein courtesy of shredded chicken breast.  Another important addition is fresh herbs - mint and basil leaves.

This was a mild faff to prepare as it involved lots of chopping, plus the carrot had to be 'pickled' for 20 minutes, but I will definitely be making this again, it was gorgeous.  It wasn't difficult, just a little time-consuming.  Next time I'd be tempted to make a larger amount as it makes a great lunch-dish the following day.

Another salady dish followed later in the week - Chargrilled Chicken Salad with Pineapple and Basil.  I had bought a whole chicken for the previous dish and just used the breasts, so for this dish I used the legs, thighs and wings.  Bill suggests using thigh fillets, but mine seemed the easier option given what I had.  The meat was marinated in fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, oil and turmeric. Bill said to leave it for 15 minutes, but I left mine for 48 hours!  Instead of grilling it as he did with the thigh fillets, I roasted the meat which gave a great crispiness to the skin, and left a fabulous sticky residue in the pan, rich with the flavours of the marinade.

The meat was served  on top of a basil salad garnished with fresh pineapple wedges, and with a chunky cashew nut relish on the side.

Again, this was fresh and zingy, and felt very virtuous!  The pineapple didn't really do it for me I have to say, perhaps because my pineapple wasn't perfectly ripe?  But the chicken was beautiful, tender and very flavoursome.

I'd make it again, but perhaps play with the salad combination a little.  The basil was a great addition.

My final dish was an attempt to use up half a pumpkin that had been languishing in the fridge for several days, so I tried Bill's Butternut Squash with a Sesame Glaze.  This involved boiling the squash/pumpkin in a small amount of water, soy sauce and brown sugar until the squash was tender and the liquid evaporated to a sticky sweet-salty glaze.  It was then sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.  This was super-easy and tasty, but far too sweet for our liking.  I'd do it again, but with about 1/4 of the sugar in the recipe.  It didn't look beautiful (so no photo!), rather a brown sludge actually as the pumpkin doesn't hold its shape well, but it was a simple supper served with plain rice and some stir-fried, soy-sauce-doused pak choi.

I still have plenty more post-it notes throughout this book, so I know I'll be cooking from it a lot more in the future.