Half Scottish, Half Japanese. Tempura Mars bar?

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I began writing this blog in October 2010 as a new father documenting food in his family. Before I knew it, I was in the final of MasterChef 2012. Now cooking is no longer just a hobby.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Sunday Chicken Part 1

Last week, I recalled the childhood story of Stone Soup, which MiMi remembers as Nail Soup. I have since discovered that it is also known as Axe Soup in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. This week, childhood nostalgia also took me to Eastern Europe. Chicken Kiev, may have originated in Moscow in the early 1900s but takes its name from the capital city of Ukraine. It was popularised in Britain in the late 1970s by Marks and Spencer as what they called a 'recipe dish', or a 'ready meal' in other words. By the 1980s, it was a dinner party favourite.

The first thing you will need to do for this dish is make a compound butter. "Beurre composé," by its French culinary term in Larousse, is just butter with other ingredients mixed through it; garlic, lemon and parsley in this case, but you can make Asian compound butters with chilli and spices. You might as well take a whole pack of butter, since you can freeze it and use it for other dishes. Soften the butter in a bowl. You can use a microwave on a low setting but don't melt it as the ingredients will sink to the bottom if it is not still semi-solid. Peel 3 or 4 garlic cloves and mince them finely with a knife or use a garlic press. Fold the garlic into the softened butter, along with the zest of a lemon and a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley (or coriander, if you prefer). Spoon the compound butter back into the packet or onto some foil and roll it into a log. Put it in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Garlic compound butter
1x 250g pack of salted butter
4 cloves of garlic
Zest of 1 lemon
Large handful of flat leaf parsley (2 tbsp once chopped)

Once the compound butter has set hard, preheat the oven to 180 Celsius and start making the Chicken Kiev. Take 2 chicken breasts and trim off the mini-fillets and any rough edges. Set these aside to make chicken burgers for the children. There are two approaches to filling the chicken breast with the compound butter. I went for the incision approach. Take a sharp, but narrow bladed knife and insert it into the middle of the chicken breast. Swivel it a little to form a pocket but be careful not to go through the fillet. Slice the frozen compound butter into shards and stuff them into the pocket. When you make the incisions, try and make them so that they face upwards when you place the chicken fillet on a baking tray. This way, when the garlic butter melts, it will have a more difficult job leaking out.

Make an incision but go in from a higher angle than this

The alternative method is to butterfly the chicken breast first and flatten it. The advantage of this method is that the finished cutlet will cook more evenly. The disadvantage is that it is a little more work and breading it may be more fiddly. Furthermore, if you don't have a meat mallet, you may have to use a saucepan.

Jay using his initiative. If you don't have a meat mallet, improvise.
If you go for the flattened approach, you will have to fold the chicken breast carefully around the frozen butter. Next, set up a pané station (pané is French for breaded).

Breadcrumbs, seasoned flour, egg
Chicken Kiev ingredients
1 chicken breast per portion
Garlic compound butter, above
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
4 tbsp of breadcrumbs (make your own in a food processor or buy ready made) 

Dip the chicken in the flour first, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. If you want  thicker crust, repeat the "egg-flour" stage. The chicken breast on the right has an unfortunate bald patch - this is where I was holding it with my thumb.

Shallow fry the chicken breast in vegetable oil on both sides, then transfer to a baking tray. Use one with sides, in case the butter melts and makes a mess in the oven. Bake in the oven at 180 Celsius for about 15 minutes. By then the butter will be molten, but basting the chicken from the inside to keep it from being dry. Personally, to complete the nostalgia effect, I would serve it with fries; potato wants to soak up the garlicky juices but retains its crispness. However, on this occasion, I served it with lentils and cabbage, both of which I wanted to use up. I simmered the lentils in chicken stock for about 15 minutes, while the Kiev was in the oven, then added shredded cabbage for the last couple of minutes.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Stone soup

Dtom Yam gung (Tom Yum soup)

As a child I loved the folk tale of stone soup. It is the story of a hungry tramp who knocks on the door of an old lady asking for some food. She turns him away, so he pulls out a large, polished stone and sets off to make stone soup in a pot over a fire. The old lady is curious and comes to see how he is getting on. The tramp persuades the old lady to add vegetables and garnishes one by one until he has created a delicious potage.

Yesterday, Jemma was upset with me because I trumped her pasta, pesto and roast vegetables with a Thai version of stone soup. I have monopolised the kitchen for the past several months while I've been practising for Masterchef and it is fair to say that her cooking has got a little rusty.

When I arrived back last night, she had carefully cut up red onions, mushrooms, carrots and bell peppers, dressed them in olive oil, herbs and salt and was about to put them in to roast. There is nothing wrong with pasta, pesto and roast vegetables on a Monday night and I do like to have one or two vegetarian dinners each week, but on this occasion, I had other plans. It was a little mean of me, then, to pull out some ingredients and invite her brother James, who is staying with us, to make Thai stone soup in the time that it took to roast the vegetables (about 10-15 minutes).

This Thai stone soup I speak of, is in fact, just Tom Yum soup. 'Dtom' means 'boil' and 'yam' means 'mix together'. It is a wonderful soup to make in January, especially if you are on a post-Christmas diet, because it is healthy but surprisingly filling, detoxifying but pleasantly invigorating! And it's very quick - only the speed of your chopping will hold you back. If it's all chopped and ready to go, it can be ready in less than 10 minutes.

Dtom yam gung (Hot and sour soup)
Serves 2

1. Take 2 bowls that you are going to serve the soup in.
2. Fill them full with water and pour them into a saucepan. Switch the heat on full.
3. Add a thumb of fresh ginger or galangal (peeled, preferably).
4. Add a stalk of lemongrass (bruised and chopped into 4 pieces). You're essentially making a ginger and lemongrass tea, so bring it to the boil and then reduce to a simmer.
5. Add one small onion or a leek (sliced).
6. Add one red birds eye chilli (sliced, with seeds).
7. Add three mushrooms (sliced).
8. Add three cherry tomatoes (sliced in half).
9. Add one large handful of raw, peeled prawns (about 75g). You could also add one small chicken breast (sliced into thin strips) instead of, or as well as the prawns.
10. Add 100ml of coconut milk and switch off the heat. Now it is time to season it so that it is SWEET, SOUR, SALTY and HOT!
11. Add one teaspoon of palm sugar - SWEET!
12. Add one teaspoon of tamarind paste (optional) and the juice of one lime - SOUR!
13. Add one teaspoon of fish sauce (nam pla) and a large pinch of salt - SALTY!
14. Add one teaspoon of red chilli paste and stir in well - HOT!
15. Thai stone soup. Delicious, healthy and quick. But it will taste even better with a handful of roughly chopped coriander, sweet basil and spring onions.

One technique is to put the raw prawns in the bottom of the serving bowl and marinade them quickly in the sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and chilli paste. The prawns will cook with the heat from the soup and the seasonings retain their vibrancy. And remember the golden rule of seasoning - you can always add more.

If this takes your fancy, here is the ingredient list.

2 full bowls of water
1 thumb of ginger, peeled
1 stalk of lemongrass, bruised then chopped roughly
3-4 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
1/2 leek or onion, sliced thinly
1/2 red birds eye chilli, sliced thinly (leave the seeds in)
2 mushrooms, sliced
1 chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
50g of raw prawns, peeled back to the tail
3 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
100ml of coconut milk (optional)
1 tsp of palm sugar (though any sugar will do)
1 tsp of tamarind paste (optional)
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp of red chilli paste
1 tsp of fish sauce (nam pla)
1/2 tsp of salt

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Baby MasterChef

Tasting and stirring

To celebrate his daddy getting an apron as one of the Final 12 contestants in Masterchef, Hector's nanna (my mum) made him an Masterchef apron from a pillow case! She even did the embroidery herself - it's a little bit wonky, but it's brilliant all the same. Thank you, Nanna! Here he is at his cooking station!