Tuesday, 9 February 2016

An interesting soup ingredient

When we were over in France at Christmas-time we bought a few foodstuffs and ingredients to bring home with us, one of which was this:

These are vermicelli, or fine noodles, flavoured with Potimarron, a type of Winter Squash (Cucurbita Maxima), sometimes called a Hubbard Squash. According to the list of ingredients on the pack (blessedly short!) the vermicelli includes 4% of the Potimarron. The French name "Potimarron" is a merger of "Potiron" (Squash) and "Marron" (Chestnut), which will give you and idea of the taste - which is nutty. The most commonly encountered variety of this vegetable is Uchiki Kuri.  Researching this, I found that "Kuri" is the Japanese word for Chestnut. Hardly a coincidence, I suppose!

These vermicelli are evidently intended for use in soups because they are chopped into convenient 2cm lengths. This makes eating your soup a lot easier than would otherwise be the case.

This is the recipe for the soup I made:

1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Approx 200g celeriac, peeled and diced
4 or 5 spears of Sprouting Broccoli (or equivalent green veg, perhaps cabbage), chopped into 2.5cm lengths
75g vermicelli, or similar fine noodles
1.5 litres stock
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 squeeze from a tube of tomato puree (mainly to add colour)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pan and soften the onion, carrot and celeriac, without browning
Add the stock and the Sprouting Broccoli
Simmer gently for about 15 -20 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still firm
Add the vermicelli and simmer for another 5 - 10 minutes until they are fully cooked and soft (not "al dente")
Season to taste

This is the end result:

The taste of this soup was indeed "nutty", but also ever so slightly sweet, just like a pumpkin is. Nice!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Harvest Monday - 8th February 2016

The third and last of my PSB plants reached its peak this past week. This is "Early Purple Sprouting".

PSB "Early Purple Sprouting"

I harvested some really fine spears from it. They are the ones on the right in this photo below:

In this next photo you can see some of the spears just before cutting:

I also harvested some more spears from the "Red Spear" plant. They are the ones at lower Right here. They are much darker than the pale "Early Purple Sprouting" ones - but still not red!

I also got another batch of Brussels Sprouts. These ones are "Cromwell":

They are quite small, and of course the outer leaves look a bit manky, but I'm sure they will be nice when prepared for cooking.

On Saturday I pulled up the last of my container-grown Leeks, the "Apollo" ones:

All I can say is that by this year's standard they were "not bad". Still a lot smaller than I would have liked, but considering that they were basically leftovers, they have done all right.

This is my contribution to Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave over on Our Happy Acres, so please visit him and see what other people have been harvesting this week.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

A new take on Lamb Hotpot

One of our favourite ways of eating Lamb is in the traditional Northern dish "Lancashire Hotpot", with Lamb and potatoes cooked long and slow and then browned on the top. My dish is one of my own invention; one which turns Lancashire Hotpot on its head and browns some meat and veg first before adding gravy and beans later, to make it into what is almost a stew.

This is where it starts: red onions, carrots and potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks then slathered in vegetable oil and sprinkled with copious quantities of finely-chopped fresh Rosemary (from the garden).

Then I seared a couple of Lamb Rumps (a total of about 300g of meat) in a frying-pan, with a little oil and butter.

As soon as the meat was beginning to go just a little brown at the edges, I removed it from the frying-pan and placed it on top of the vegetables and put the whole assembly into the oven where it cooked at 160C for an hour.

After an hour the vegetables were just starting to take on some colour at the edges. This was the point where I added a litre of stock made with a Knorr "Rosemary and Red Wine" stockpot, and a small tin of Flageolet beans. I pushed the meat well down into the liquid so that its juices would add flavour to the gravy.

I added some slaked cornflour to thicken the gravy a little. In retrospect, I think a bit more thickening wouldn't have gone amiss...

The potatoes were perhaps the best bit of this dish - soft, but not mushy, easy to mash into the strong savoury gravy. I was really pleased with the level of flavouring delivered by the Rosemary too. Very noticeable but not overpowering. I was glad that I had chopped it finely, because Rosemary leaves are quite tough and eating whole ones can be unpleasant.

"Anything with Lamb is good" said Jane, and she's right, it's hard to go wrong with Lamb, especially when cooked slowly, and with gravy! Lamb goes well with beans too... This may not be sophisticated food, but it is made with good wholesome ingredients, and from first principles too (if you exclude the tinned beans). None of that Ready Meals rubbish in our house!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

More pics from the Hoo Hing visit

Here are some of the "delicacies" that didn't feature in yesterday's post:

Pig's Ear:

I have eaten Pig's Ear, in Lithuania, where it is often served as a snack with a glass of beer. To be honest, I found it repellent!

This one is for Margaret, who I know will appreciate the description on this pack of Japanese noodles:

This must be nicer than it sounds:

This is Lotus Root - it naturally grows in these lines of linked tubers, making it look like sausages!

These are Lotus leaves. I think they are used in much the same way as Banana leaves, for wrapping food in during cooking, a bit like Europeans do with Cabbage leaves.

To my mind this product doesn't sound attractive - Grass Jelly drink. However, if I were Chinese, I'd probably think it very nice...not to mention healthy.

Most of my readers will know that I don't eat fish or seafood, so you can imagine what my reaction would be if served with Spiny Goby! It doesn't even sound attractive. Maybe it needs the Seafood Marketing Department to re-launch its image?

This, on the other hand, does appeal to me. A huge box of (uncooked) Prawn Crackers! I find that Prawn Crackers seldom taste very fishy, and I enjoy eating them - especially with peanut sauce.

This is the way to buy rice, not in those silly little 500g bags! These a 20kg sacks of USA Long-Grain rice.

I was intrigued by these smaller packs of red rice from Thailand, described as "Red Cargo Rice". I had to look up where that name comes from. This is what Wikipedia tells me: "The term "cargo" originates from the idea that this type of rice is exported/transported by ship/sea in bulk to the importers/distributors who then package the rice in small 1 kg bags for the market, unlike white rice which is usually pre-packed by exporters into 5, 10 or 25 kg bags."

I like the play on words on this product label. Tapioca Pearls flavoured with Pandan, with the brand name "Double Pandas".

This is deep-fried Tofu. It was being sold in very big bags so we didn't buy any.

But we did buy fresh Tofu. This is 600g for £1.09. The name of the producer is a bit unfortunate, isn't it? "Tofuking" sounds a bit dodgy.

The fresh Tofu has a shelf-life of only about 10 days, but we also bought some long-life Tofu which has a Use By date of 11/08/2016. (That's 11th August to you American folks!). At £1.39 for 349g this is not as good value as the fresh stuff, but I suppose you're paying for the convenience of being able to keep it in your larder until you need it.

I also couldn't resist buying these - Soba (Buckwheat) Noodles. I plan to make a Japanese-style soup one day soon, in honour of my friend Takashi Sato, from Osaka. He'll probably be horrified to learn that we paid £1.19 for (only) 250g!

You remember that when we were on holiday in Mexico last December we were pleased to be able to buy Achiote (Annatto) seeds in a local market? I had not previously seen them on sale in our shops here, but Hoo Hing had them. I think Annatto is used in some oriental dishes to create a bright red colour.

I am going to end my post today with another Chinese New Year- themed product. Oranges.

Oranges / citrus fruits (especially Kumquats, which symbolise prosperity) are closely associated with Chinese New Year, and houses are often decorated with small citrus trees laden with fruit, in much the same way as European people use a conifer tree at Christmas.

So, Happy New Year to all my Chinese friends and readers, especially Su-Lin whose blog is Tamarind and Thyme and JoJo Yee who writes Fusian Living.  Right now I'm off to the kitchen again...

Friday, 5 February 2016

Kung Hei Fat Choi

That's (Cantonese) Chinese for "Happy New Year".

This year Chinese New Year falls on Monday, 8th February, so today we thought it fitting to go and pay a visit to a well-known Chinese supermarket - Hoo Hing, at Mitcham, Surrey.

On the map, Mitcham is less than 40 miles from us, and the Sat-Nav predicted a journey time of 1 hour and 2 minutes, but in the event it took us considerably longer, due to various holdups and the scarcely-credible multiplicity of traffic-lights in the New Malden / Mitcham area! Still, it was worth the effort, because this place offers a very wide range of oriental goodies. It is more of a Cash-and-Carry than a supermarket, and I think the majority of their customers are the proprietors of restaurants. The look of the place is more like a warehouse than a conventional supermarket:

The goods on sale are mostly of a Chinese nature, though Malaysian items are well represented, as are Japanese. I had expected there to be more New Year merchandise on display, but it was not prominent:

We had come with a shopping-list which contained mostly tinned and dried items, things we frequently use and needed to stock-up on, but we were also on the lookout for anything that looked / sounded nice. We have a Chinese supermarket not far from us (in Reading) where we can get most of the items we use most often, but Hoo Hing has a much bigger selection, and it was nice to go somewhere different.

I wasn't attracted by the display of live Lobsters just inside the entrance.

But I was much more interested in the vegetables...

Krachai is also known as Lesser Galangal.

There was some very fine-looking Lemongrass

These are Thai Green Papayas, which we almost never see in the "conventional" shops. We get the sweet yellow ones occasionally.

Chillis of course. Of course!

Just recently Jane and I have been watching the series of programmes on TV about John Torode exploring the cuisine of Malaysia, which has re-invigorated our interest in this subject, so it was nice to see many of the staples available on Hoo Hing's shelves.

Belacan is shrimp paste, ubiquitous in Malaysian savoury dishes!

Sambal Oelek and Sambal Nasi Goreng are strictly speaking Indonesian condiments, but popular in Malaysia too.

Look at this - 10kgs of Malaysian curry powder in one tub - that would keep us going for a month or two!

There's no mistaking where this comes from... (It's palm sugar, by the way)

Many of the products eaten by people from Far Eastern nations seem odd to British tastes. I bet not many Brits would dare to sample these Chickens' feet!

Nor indeed Tripe in Black Bean sauce.

These Fish Balls would certainly not pass my lips!

These Chinese mushrooms are normally considered too strongly-flavoured for European tastes.

To those used only to Campbell's soup from a tin, this "Soup Stuff" might seem a bit outlandish. Don't ask me what was in it...

What about these? Hmmm, I wonder what the texture is like?

I had never come across Knotty Yam before, and I certainly wouldn't know how to cook it.

"Dried Fish Floss" sounds like a flavoured dental care product.

I remember these though. We used to get them sometimes for our girls, when we lived in Hong Kong.

Hoo Hing also sells non-food items, mostly aimed at the restaurant trade, like these woks:

I was quite taken with this glazed pottery soup-pot. It looked very attractive, and I seriously considered buying it, but I didn't think we could find a place for it in our kitchen. Besides, it was very pricey - not the £3.96 on the shelf-edge label below it!

At one end of the store is a restaurant, serving a small selection of basic Chinese dishes. Here's the menu:

Since it was lunch-time we decided to place an order, and we were very glad we did. The food was delicious and very reasonably-priced. We both had the same - No.22: Roast Duck and Pork with Rice (£3.29 per portion).

Apart from the difficulties (and consequent inelegance) of eating Roast Duck on the bone with a flimsy plastic spoon, it was lovely, and cheaper than a ready-made sandwich!

I'm not going to give a full run-down of what we bought, but just let me mention one item. We bought this big pack of Beef.

It is the cut called Eye Round - a bit like a slightly less choice Fillet. That pack weighed 1.808kgs, and cost only £9.38 - i.e. £5.19 per kilo. We think that is amazingly good value.

The pack contained two of these pieces of beautiful lean meat. We cut each one into three, each plenty big enough for a 2-person serving, and most of them have been frozen for use at a later date.

The trip to Hoo Hing would have been worth it just for the meat, but we also now have kitchen cupboards bursting with interesting oriental ingredients. I expect some of them will feature on our blogs before many days have passed!