Brownie Points.

So DH made a request for some kind of pudding to be purchased on my food shop on Friday, and I decided to do one better and make a chocolate brownie. Yes, from scratch.

I have blogged about various cooking/baking ventures in the past and I can confidently say I am not a big fan of dessert. I much prefer to rustle up a meal, as ingredients tend to give or take. There is no forgiveness with a cake.

I decided to follow the Hummingbird Bakery‘s recipe (see link for full ingredients and instructions). This was my second attempt at baking something from this book, after I had a go at chocolate cupcakes.

Melt the dark chocolate with the butter in a heat proof bowl over simmering water, making sure that the bowl does not touch the water.

Once melted, remove the bowl from the pan. Add the sugar and mix, then add the flour and mix. Finally, crack the three eggs and stir until thick and smooth. Pour the mixture into a cake tin lined with grease proof paper; you might want to spread it over two, like I have, to make a thinner brownie.

The book says to cook for 35 minutes at 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3, however mine was in there for an hour despite my efforts to make the brownie thinner.

All in all I think it was pretty successful. Maybe next time I’ll choose a shallow cake tin to make sure the centre of the brownie isn’t too gooey. Despite this, it set perfectly fine and tasted absolutely delicious with vanilla ice-cream. Yum.

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That’s How I Roll.

When thinking of your favourite typical Chinese food, spring rolls will probably come to mind. However, the Western take on spring rolls is to submerge it in oil and hope for the best. If you have not tried spring rolls in a reputable restaurant (not a Chinese take-away) or from an old Chinese grandma (all old Chinese people are great cooks), you have not come close to the real thing. I have always been a bit snobby when it comes to Chinese food, but I think it is to be expected as I am of Chinese descent.

I hope to one day become a fine cook and connoisseur of Chinese cuisine, so I thought I would tackle my first hurdle and try my hand at making spring rolls.

Ingredients:

 800g of pork mince

20 king prawns

4 spring onions

2 grated carrots

100g cornstarch sticks

40g black fungus

8 seafood sticks

1 clove of garlic

1 tsp of cornflower

A splash of soy sauce

pinch of salt

ground pepper

1 pack of spring roll pastry sheets (usually 30 sheets in a pack)

egg white

vermicelli noodles (optional, to eat with your spring rolls)

Vietnamese fish sauce (optional, to eat with your spring rolls)

shredded little gem lettuce (optional, to eat with your spring rolls)

What’s next?

An hour before you start making the spring rolls, soak the black fungus and cornstarch sticks separately in boiling hot water. This will help them soften and it will be quicker to cook later on.

Prepare the king prawns and add them to the food processor with the pork mince, spring onions, chopped garlic, cornflower, soy sauce, salt and ground pepper. You may have to do this in batches, as I found I had too many ingredients to fit the bowl.

Shred the seafood sticks and grate the carrots, or get your husband to do it… After soaking the cornstarch sticks, boil for a few minutes until they become soft and transparent. The longer they are immersed in water, the better, however I only soaked them for an hour.

Add the cornstarch sticks, black fungus and grated carrots to the prawns/pork mixture and stir well until fully incorporated.

Now you are already to start wrapping. Place the mixture onto a sheet of pastry in a long rectangular shape and fold the bottom corner over the mixture.

Fold in both sides to envelope the mixture.

Roll pastry tightly to ensure the mixture is compact. When you reach the end of the pastry, dab a small amount of egg white to make sure it sticks.

Repeat thirty times until you have used up all of the mixture and pastry sheets…

Cooking the spring rolls requires lots of oil and a big pan, if you do not own a deep fat fryer. My grandma cooks them in a wok but we settled for a large saucepan instead. Do not question the use of the potato masher below, I am only an amateur cook!

If you use a large wok or a deep fat fryer, you will most probably shorten your cooking time. It took us quite a while to get through all thirty!

We ate our spring rolls with vermicelli noodles, little gem lettuce and Vietnamese fish sauce (known as Bún Chả Giò in Vietnam), but of course you can eat them with anything you desire.

Le Lasagne.

We have been making them for many years now but lasagne is still one of my favourite dishes. Prior to meeting DH, I would insist that I did not like lasagne and refused to eat it. This stems from my previous experiences of lasagne in my old school canteen and those pre-made packets from M&S you shove in the oven. But now I have had a change of heart and I can assure you, my homemade lasagne tastes delicious and nothing like those artificial meals.

Ingredients:

4 lasagne sheets

400g beef mince

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

1 onion

3 mushrooms

garlic (however much you like)

an array of vegetables (this is optional – it will be fine with just the onion, mushrooms and garlic, however I like to mix in lots of veg for variance. This time I included baby sweetcorn, leek, red pepper and spinach)

grated cheese

For the white sauce:

knob of butter

1/2 tsp of plain flour

5oz of milk (add more as needed)

What next?

Heat the pan, add some oil and start cooking the mince. After it has browned a little, pour in the whole tin of chopped tomatoes and allow it to simmer whilst you chop your veg. You can also pre-heat your oven to gas mark 7 or 200 degrees Celsius.

Add the veg, minus the spinach, to the pan and stir. Do not allow it to boil, keep at a medium heat for around 20 minutes. As the mixture simmers, the flavours will absorb into the chopped tomatoes and the mince will become tender.

Whilst this is cooking, you can start to make your white sauce. Add the knob of butter into a saucepan and allow it to melt. Once melted, add the pain flour and mix it together. As it turns into small clumps, slowly add the milk and stir as you go. Keep this at a low heat because you do not want it to boil. After a few minutes, the sauce should thicken. If it becomes too runny, add some grated cheese.

Once the white sauce has been made and the mince/veg are ready, you can now start preparing your casserole dish. Cover the base with a layer of mince, followed by a sheet of lasagne, then spread the white sauce on top.

Continue layering until you have reached the top of your casserole dish. I usually do mince, lasagne sheet, white sauce, spinach, lasagne sheet, mince, white sauce and so on. The reason behind putting the spinach within the layers is so it keeps its shape.

Once you have piled it high, sprinkle lots of grated cheese on top. It is now ready for the oven! Cook for approximately 30 minutes, but obviously regularly check just in case.

Once it is cooked, it should look something like this… Yum.

 

A whole new ball game.

I decided to be adventurous yesterday and push myself to the limits. This resulted in prawn balls.

If you remember, not long ago I tried my hand at various Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese (or if you prefer, Asian) dishes, which were generally a success. This time, I attempted to make prawn and pork balls on skewers to be cooked on the barbecue. This was pretty adventurous because 1) I am quite nervous about cooking prawns because I never know if they are still raw, 2) I had only ever eaten these at my Aunt’s barbecues and had no idea how they were made. After a few phone calls to my Grandma (an expert in cooking) and my Aunt (who has previously made and cooked prawn balls) and a little research on the internet, I set forth for my big experiment.

Ingredients:

20 king prawns

400g pork mince (the small box)

1 clove of garlic

1 chilli

1 green pepper

1 tsp of cornflower

pinch of salt

pepper for seasoning

So what next?

First you need to prepare the prawns. This is long and tedious, but must be done to ensure they are thoroughly cleaned. Assuming you have bought prawns that are headless, to begin with you need to de-shell the them. The next stage is to slice them right in the middle – I find it easiest to go from the top to the tail downwards. Inside you will find a string, the intestines, which can easily be pulled out from one end of the prawn. It is not life threatening if you decide not to do this, but it will taste gritty otherwise.

Once you have done this, slice them into small pieces. I slice and de-poo each prawn as I go, but do whatever is easiest for you. You may want to wash them after, but to be honest, they have been in a shell and should be fine.

Place the mushed up prawns in the food processor with all of the pork mince, a generous pinch of salt, 1 tsp of cornflower (to make it stickier), pepper (add as much or as little as you feel necessary), chopped up garlic and chilli. I tend to remove the seeds from the chilli, but if you are feeling particularly daring leave them in.

Chop your green pepper into small chunks and get your skewers ready. Roll the prawn and pork concoction into a medium sized ball on a flat surface using the palm of your hand. Make sure the prawn balls are not too big, as this will take longer to barbecue and be at risk of being undercooked. Then slot the balls onto skewers, with peppers in between; this may get tricky as time goes on as the mixture becomes stickier. I also found that they would fall off the skewers, in which case I would re-roll the ball and delicately slot them back in between the peppers.

Lastly, place them on the barbecue to cook. It is not necessary to cook them on a barbecue, you can also grill or fry them (obviously without the skewers for the latter). If you do decide to cook them on a barbecue, be wary that the prawns will be cooked quicker than the pork; it is best to place them on before the barbecue gets too hot, or perhaps as the last thing you cook.

All in all, my experiment was a success! It took a while to cook on the barbecue, probably because of my constant paranoia that they were underdone, but it was definitely worth the wait. They were very tasty and DH loved it.

Cooking up a storm.

Over the weekend, I have become quite the cook. Over the years DH and I have mastered British and Italian dishes to perfection; our dinners varying from stews to roasts to lasagnes. This weekend however, I decided to take it one step further and try my hand at the Chinese dishes I find so daunting. I am so used to visiting my Grandma’s house for my weekly Chinese fix, but now I am a mother, I need to learn the tricks of the trade myself, if I am to have my son familiar with his Chinese heritage. Hopefully if I start now, he will never know how unskilled his mother once was.

We started off with prawn crackers, how very stereotypical. This was not very experimental at all really – It involved heating up oil in a pan and dropping small discs we bought from a packet in Tesco for 59p. They would expand and open up into an editable form. Simple, yet an effective start to what was to come.

Next I made an attempt with Thai green curry. Even though I followed a recipe, it went slightly wrong. I am one of these pedantic obsessives who insist on following instructions word by word, and because of this, I did not question ‘four tablespoons of curry paste’. If I had consulted DH, I would have discovered that in his previous attempt two tablespoons was too hot. Alas, I did not consult anyone but Felicity Cloake (founder of the Guardian recipe) and my curry went down in flames. All in all, with the consideration of it being excessively spicy put aside, it was very flavoursome and tasty. Luckily it was accompanied with fragrant jasmine rice to soften the blow. My second attempt will only have one tablespoon of curry paste and I imagine it will be superb.

I did not intend to make starters, main and dessert, this just happened by accident. My next experiment was Vietnamese Black Eyed Beans and Rice Pudding, with the recipe taken from this website. I wanted a way to include black eyed beans in DS’ diet for its nutritional value; it is very high in protein, carbs and fibre to build him up big and strong. Coconut is also very high in the good kind of fat, not saturates. I am obsessed with feeding him goodness, but I will save that for another blog.

As you can see my version does not look as appetising as the one pictured on the recipe, or maybe I am just not a photo genius. Either way, it was delicious. Almost as scrumptious as my Grandma’s, which is good enough for me.