18 October 2014

Prawn Briyani

Ed and I are pescetarian...ish. This was a recent development after our Grand Aussie Tour, so we've had to explain the reason for this switch many times in the last few months. This explanation usually follows a meek, almost reluctant request for more pescetarian-friendly dishes to be ordered. And it always starts with The Time We Went To The Petting Farm. To cut the long story short, we find them too precious to demand that their lives be given up just to satisfy our wants. 

That being said, we are pescetarian-ISH, which means we try not to be too strict with our diet if it is inconvenient. At communal meals, we eat only the seafood and vegetables, unless there is leftover meat. It is one thing not to want to take life, but quite another to waste it once it has been taken. 

With this new diet though, our options are definitely more limited. For Ed, who possibly loves Indian cuisine more than any other cuisine, it means not being able to eat his favourite briyani because it is usually available only with chicken, mutton or beef. Personally, I am barely affected because my perfect Indian meal is simply a vegetable set (i.e. free flow white rice and the two vegetables of the day) with a side of sotong (aka squid) in black sauce. If I'm feeling particularly hungry, I'd add a fish cutlet. And as I like my vegetables light, crunchy and not drenched in a heavy sauce (as is usually the case in Northern Indian cuisine), I have a particularly soft spot for Karu's Indian Banana Leaf Restaurant along Upper Bukit Timah Road. I think they probably realised that their free flow cabbage was getting such a following that it should always be one of the two vegetables of the day, which is a little ironic but I'm not complaining. That was a slight digression, but I couldn't help inserting a plug for Karu's. 

Anyway, given how this new diet has prevented Ed from getting the full Indian experience, I'm sure you can imagine how incredibly excited and pleased he was when he chanced on a recipe for Prawn Briyani. We were doing some quiet reading in bed when he startled me with his sudden exclamation, and promptly saved the recipe onto my iPad for me lest I forget.

It looked delicious, so I surprised Ed with it one night when he returned home after a night class. To be fair, the recipe was really easy. The only time-consuming part was possibly peeling and de-veining the prawns. But seeing Ed's face morph as he realised what a treat I had prepared for 'supper' (at 1030pm, yeah I know, really bad habit), made that little effort absolutely worth it. 

One of the tweaks I made to the recipe, as suggested by Ed, was to make a quick prawn stock from the prawn shells to cook the rice in. (This suggestion almost brought me to tears! Oh how far my dear sous chef has come from those days when the only method of cooking he was familiar with was boiling [insert blank] in plain water.) That might explain why the briyani I made turned out much deeper in colour than the one in the original recipe. Considering how little stock I needed to cook just 1.5 cups of rice, I had to boil down the stock so it became incredibly concentrated and full of flavour. The other tweak was to simply use a fish curry powder in place of the tumeric powder, which I had just run out of. And because I used chilli padi in the paste for the prawns, I figured the meal wouldn't be complete without a cool cucumber recipe. The author provided a kachumber recipe, but I kept it simple by mixing diced cucumber with mint, finely diced shallots, and adding some vinegar and salt to taste. It provided a much needed refreshing contrast to the heat and spice in the Prawn Briyani. This combination of recipes is definitely a keeper, and even seems like something I can prepare in larger quantities quite easily! A huge plus when thinking of what to bring to your next potluck, perhaps?

Prawn BriyaniServes 2-3 Recipe adapted from here

1 1/2 cups rice (basmati preferred)500 grams large prawns, shelled and de-veined (reserve the shells, including heads)
1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tablespoon fish curry powder

1/4 cup packed with chopped coriander
1/2 - 2 chilli padi, depending on your tolerance for heat
1 piece of ginger, about 3cm long
3 cloves of garlic
5 tbsps of oil
1 medium-sized shallot, chopped
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/2 cinnamon stick
30 grams butter
1/4 tsp whole cloves
5-6 whole green cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of mint, chopped


For prawn stock:

Over medium heat, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a medium-sized saucepan that can accommodate all the prawn shells. 

Add prawn shells and fry until the shells turn red. 

Add enough water to cover the the shells and turn down to low heat as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

For rest: 
Add the salt and fish curry powder to the prawns and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Using a food process, blend the peeled ginger and garlic, and coriander and chilli until it forms a paste. Add a little oil if the paste is too dry and needs some help to be processed into a smoother paste.
Heat 3 tbsps of oil on medium heat in a small saucepan.

Add peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and 1/2 bay leaf. Fry until fragrant, approximately 2-3 minutes.

Add chopped onion and fry until light brown, stirring constantly. 

Add half the paste and fry for another minute until fragrant.
Add prawn stock and bring to a boil. 
Simmer until you have just enough prawn stock to cook the rice as you normally would. But err on the side of adding less water as briyani is usually more dry. 

Wash the rice and use the prawn stock in place of water to cook the rice as you normally would.

Add butter, mint and 1/2 tsp salt before cooking the rice. 

Just before it is time to serve the dish:

Over high heat, heat 2 tbsps of oil in a frying pan large enough to accommodate the prawns and still have some space between prawns so that the prawns don't end up steaming. 

Add the remaining paste to the frying pan along with the rest of the bay leaf. Fry until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.

Add the prawns and fry until they just turn pink all round, about 3-5 minutes. 

To serve, top a generous helping of rice with the prawns and serve with a cucumber salad. 


Cool Cucumber Salad

1 cucumber, peeled, deseeded and diced
5 mint leaves, chopped finely
1 small shallot or 1/2 medium-sized shallot, peeled and finely diced
1 tbsp white vinegar

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, and add salt to taste.

09 October 2014

The Best Way to Cook Cauliflower

I first tasted this revelation at Artichoke, a Middle Eastern cafe and bar which serves hearty and comforting food. It was at a wedding celebration of two of our closest, smartest, grounded, unfussy and kindest friends. 

Approaching the buffet spread, my eyes actually glazed over the Roasted Cauliflower. They looked like knobbly brown and white bits. Without any garnishing, they certainly looked pretty plain. It wasn't until Ed told me how fantastic the Roasted Cauliflower was that I discovered how delicious those little knobs were. They tasted almost meaty! 

Being a very hardy vegetable which keeps up to a week in the refrigerator, I often reach out for it while grocery shopping. Having something that can be pulled from the refrigerator and placed on the table in half an hour is incredibly handy for nights when we're up late and feeling peckish.

The preparation is so simple that it feels almost silly having a recipe at all... so I shall have none. I simply tossed the raw, chopped up cauliflower in a generous amount of olive oil, and seasoned it with salt and pepper. I serve it warm after roasting it in the oven at 200 degrees celcius for 20 - 30 minutes, or until it has nice brown edges. 

04 October 2014

Hokkaido Milk Bread with Vanilla Condensed Milk

When I was writing the previous post on Cilantro Flatbread, I lamented how long it took to bake regular bread. But as I was typing the post, it crossed my mind that I should really exploit all the free time I finally have on hand to attempt the holy grail of baking (to me).  

While the thought was just lingering at the back of my mind, a newsletter from food52.com popped up in my email inbox with a recipe for Hokkaido Milk Bread. The name brought forward images of white fluffy pillows with a sweetness I could almost already taste. And I knew I had to make it. 

The recipe made reference to 'Christine's Recipes' but had some distinct differences, like the proportion of ingredients and the use of softened butter instead of melted butter. The adapted recipe seemed less fussy as well, recommending an overnight proofing in the fridge to split the work into two parts. Having lent my Kitchenaid to my sister-in-law for a bit, I had to knead the dough by hand and was therefore glad to continue the next day. 

The outcome was very rewarding, and probably a little more dense and chewy than the original recipe intended. It was really, really delicious. Since I split the dough into four separate mini-loaf tins, I had to exercise immense self-restraint to NOT bake (and immediately devour) every single bundle of dough. I even dug into the depths of my generosity and shared some with a couple of friends I met for tea today. And in the spirit of experimentation, I even have one tin in the freezer waiting to be tested in the oven in a couple of days' time. 

While these could have been eaten neat, I happily paired it with my other new found fetish - homemade condensed milk. Who would have thought it would be so simple (just three ingredients! although it does require two hours of slow simmering), and so much more delicious than the canned version? Tasting the condensed milk for the first time was like tasting homemade marshmallows for the first time - the processed and readily available version was the only version I grew up eating and already tasted pretty darn good to me, but the homemade version was so much more nuanced in its flavours and won my heart very quickly. It made perfect sense that anyone would fiddle around with a very troublesome and sticky egg white and sugar mixture than just make a quick run to the supermarket for their marshmallows. Given how simple it is to make condensed milk - no special equipment needed either! - it makes all the more sense to give up the canned stuff and stick to only homemade condensed milk in future.

I use the recipe from this gorgeous looking food blog, but used half a vanilla bean in place of the quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract. I'm not sure what the equivalent would have been (nothing on the internet seems to be able to authoritatively recommend a substitution ratio either), but I would use the same ratio if when I make it again in future. 

It has been a while since I felt this ripple of pride in something I've made. It has even gotten me excited about waking up earlier to have breakfast!  

Click here for the very detailed milk bread recipe.

Vanilla Condensed Milk
Makes 1.5 cups of condensed milk

3 cups full cream milk
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean 

Mix milk to sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. 
Split the vanilla bean into two, lengthwise. Using the back of your knife, scrape the seeds from the pod and add to the saucepan. * 
Stir gently until the milk comes to a boil, then turn down the heat to low.
Simmer the mixture for two hours, or until the mixture has halved.  
Pour the milk through a sieve, into a sterilised glass container and let cool to room temperature. 
Keep in the fridge and try to keep your hands from it.

*You may also add the pod into the mixture if you like, but I usually throw mine into an existing bottle of rum stuffed with other empty vanilla pods for my personal bottle of ever-intensifying vanilla extract.

01 October 2014

Crazy about Pasta, Tomatoes and Anchovies

I've been cooking pasta quite frequently for lunch because it is a quick and easy dish to prepare, allows me to use up leftover bits of ingredients lurking in the fridge, and since I discovered the wonders of anchovies. I can't seem to resist buying pasta every time I walk down the pasta aisle, especially since the variety available in the supermarket has really grown over the years. So this recent pasta phase has proven useful in clearing the many stashes of dried pasta that have been accumulating across the kitchen. 

Along with buying too much pasta, I usually obsess over making sure I have at least a couple of cans of diced tomatoes in the kitchen. Ed knows my obsession very well and knows better than to stand between me and a shelf full of canned tomatoes ON SALE. I can't help it that they are so incredibly handy to have around for last minute pasta sauces or late night gazpachos. But I do admit that it is ridiculous to have anxiety attacks over whether I need to replenish my stock. I think my all-time high must be 6 cans of tomatoes... just hanging around. I fear my latest anchovy phase might join the ranks of canned tomatoes. 

But they really are just. so. incredible. I add only just enough to get the umami kick and this almost imperceptible layer of flavour that leaves people wondering and wanting more. It is like I have finally discovered the magic ingredient (that is not msg) to bring my pasta dishes up one notch. 

Inspired by the amazing mushroom pesto pasta I had in Perth, I concocted something similar from white button mushrooms, hand-chopped cilantro and parsley, mixed with minced garlic, a generous dollop of tahini, and some anchovies of course. I also added some minced beef to the mix for the protein. This was delicious, especially with a heavy-handed scatter of parmesan. 

It also kept surprisingly well in the fridge. The next day, I just added a little more olive oil and some water, reheated it over the stove and added some chilli for a good spicy kick. (Pictured below) I reckon it tasted even better than the day before! Overnight pasta usually gets too soft and even mushy, but the Bavette held up superbly. (Another reason to stock up?)

Unsurprisingly, I also made a tomato-based pasta. I combined just a few simple ingredients - minced pork, anchovies, canned tomatoes and parsley. A deceptively basic dish that was so good I could eat the sauce on its own. 

The many dishes one can come up with, with just those few staples is endless! Okay, maybe not endless, but surely plentiful. And then today, fate led me to this recipe for a Chinese Sausage Carbonara aka Lap Cheong Carbonara. Maybe lap cheong will be my new fetish?