Sunday, October 19, 2008

Home Cooking with Friends

Pork and Leek
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
This weekend we had another "Come Cook with Us" dinner party. The theme today was Chinese food and our friends were two graduate students in the department where I work - both from Taiwan and both working in the same laboratory. We'd originally invited more people but for one reason and another the others hadn't been able to come. So ours was an intimate affair and all the more relaxing for me as a result.
Braised Pork Ribs
Braised Pork Ribs
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
Steve and I got a late start on Saturday as Friday had been a particularly intense work day for me and I'd been on my feet for the better part of 10 hours. We got up, dressed, had a cooked breakfast and went out foraging on Mill Road for supplies for the dishes I'd decided to prepare for the party - braised pork ribs, home-style stir fried aubergine and slow-braised chicken.

I am a great lover of meat but for reasons unknown to us we seldom eat pork. Pork is a very popular meat in Chinese cuisine. So we came away from our trip to Andrew Northrop Butcher's with a whole lot of pork ribs and pork mince (made from the meat under the ribs). Our next stop was Seoul Plaza where we bought some tofu and spring onions. From there we went to Al Amin and got a small chicken.

Back at home I started on the ribs. Chinese-style ribs are usually cut into 1.5 - 2.0 inch pieces for ease of eating with chop sticks. I set to chopping the ribs with my cleaver with glee - what a racket I made! After I'd finally chopped them all I froze some and plunked the others into a pot of cold water and brought that up to the boil. These were boiled for 3 minutes and the water then poured away and the ribs rinsed of any residual scum. Then I added some water back to the pot, tossed the ribs in, added some seasoning and let that come back to the boil. I simmered the ribs in the sauce for about an hour, partially covered, stirring every so often so that all of the meat spent time in the sauce.

Next I chopped up the chicken and following the recipe in my favourite Chinese cookbook, the New Chinese Cookery Course by Kenneth Lo, I prepared the Slow-Braised Chicken dish.
While I was cooking, Juching and Chantal arrived. They'd brought their supplies and had between them 3 dishes they wanted to cook.

Chantal was first up at the stove and she prepared a very tasty fatty pork and leek stir fried dish while Juching prepared her vegetables and assembled her ingredients. Juching's contributions were a beef mince and barbecue sauce dish AND a sticky rice cake and vegetable stir fry. I'd never had sticky rice cakes before and these were a real revelation! They were chewy and tasty and very satisfying to eat. Chantal's pork dish was 'to die for' - subtle and very moreish. Juching's beef with barbecue sauce was very unusual because the barbecue sauce was nothing like American barbecue sauce. It was spicy and contained fish sauce or fermented fish. It was delightful and strange to eat.

Stir-fried Pak Choy
Stir-fried Pak Choy
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
All in all we had seven dishes between us - including a wonderful Korean tofu dish, from the book Korean Cooking by Young Jin Song. Steve has made this subtle, deceptively simple and stunning dish one of his specialities and it is one of my favourites.  The vegetable box gave us bok choy so I made stir fried bok choy, naturally.  In accordance with the sheer volume of food before us, we spent quite a long time eating - going back again and again to the dishes arranged at the centre of the table. The chat was about food and cooking and they paid me the best possible compliment in the world - they said that my dishes tasted very Asian and that they wouldn't have guessed that they had been cooked by a Western person. Wow... that was indeed a fantastic compliment!

We chatted long after we'd finished eating, lingering over the drying rice grains and solidifying pork fat. Slowly we extricated ourselves from our reverie; I served chocolates and tea. We were so buoyed up by our evening together that we all agreed to have a repeat performance of the dinner sometime soon!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Vegetarian Potluck Dinner!

Aubergine and Tomato Curry 3
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
Where do I begin? This was an idea that all of us had one night, walking back to the department after a celebratory meal in town. The occasion was Anbu's successful thesis defence. Steve and I wound up walking with a group of Indian friends and talking about food (my favourite topic!). It was then that we decided to have (and host!) a vegetarian Indian potluck dinner. As we were all merry and buoyed up by Anbu's success, Steve and I were quick to agree - it would get us started on, what we hope will be a sociable Winter. It was only later that I got nervous - cook curry for Indians... was I nuts??!! I guess I was. 

Steve sent out an invitation to this 'event' to friends via Facebook. Unfortunately Anbu, whose party had inspired us, couldn't make it. But he sent me a recipe for a spicy Aubergine (a.k.a. Brinjal, Eggplant) and Tomato curry (above).  I decided to make that and having received a bunch of Cavalo Nero for the THIRD straight week, I substituted it into a recipe for cabbage and carrot and coconut.  I decided to make coconut ice cream, too, since I didn't really know who would be bringing what, as well as some fragrant rice and a pot of dal.

Vegetable Rice by Saroj
Vegetable Rice by Saroj
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
Steve and I shopped and cooked for most of the day before our guests arrived. In the evening, Saroj (who seems to be the 'elder brother' of the group!) arrived first with his contribution of a vegetable rice dish ('pilau rice') and a large tub of rice pudding for dessert.  The others dribbled in a bit later.  Once we were all together, we got busy warming and assembling our dishes and taking photographs. 

One by one the dishes made their way to the dining area until we had a veritable 'groaning board' of different dishes on the table; the melange of colours delighted the eye while the aromas wafting up from the table sharpened our already-keen appetites. It looked like a Thanksgiving day spread. As it happens, this day was the first day of Navratri a 9 night/10 day Hindu Festival celebrating the female divinity. Our gathering could hardly have been set for a more auspicious date.

We gathered around our table and passed dishes around, talking and laughing together like old friends. The dishes were remarkably different in style and flavour and complemented each other (while the diners complimented each other's efforts!). What looked like much too much food for six turned out to have been rather well-judged.

Swetha, Saroj and Samir - our accomplices and guests
Swetha, Saroj and Samir
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
Sriram - one of our accomplices!
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg

After the meal, our guests surprised us by taking over the kitchen and doing the dishes! (Thanks, guys!) They left us the left-over food, too, so we will be having a reprise tomorrow evening. A request for a 'pause' before dessert was agreed to by all after which we devoured the desserts; Saroj's rice pudding was fragrant and delicious and my coconut ice cream, a nice addition to the pudding.

All and all we had an excellent time and, judging by the smiles and laughter, so did our guests.

Enjoy food and friends!


Anbu Paramasivam's Aubergine and Tomato Curry


1 large aubergine (or 4-5 smaller aubergines, in large chunks)
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 tbsp vegetable oil
2 green chillis, de-seeded and chopped
20 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 - 1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp fennel powder
4-5 fresh tomatoes, chopped (or 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes)
water of tamarind pulp (see below)


For the Tamarind water:

2 tbsp dried tamarind
3 tbsp hot water

Soak the tamarind in hot water for 10 min.
Mash the pulp till the water turns brown.
Discard the pulp and add the water to the recipe, as above

Mix 1 tsp tamarind paste with 2- 3 tbsp hot water and add this to the recipe...)


1. In a heavy cast iron frying pan heat 1 tbsp of the oil then add the mustard and cumin seeds and fry for 10 seconds. Once they are popping, cover quickly and remove from the heat for a moment. Return to the heat and add the onions, chillis and curry leaves.

2. Stir and fry until the onions have softened then add the turmeric, chilli powder (depends how hot you like it) garam masala and ground fennel.

3. When the spices become fragrant and have lost their 'raw' quality, add the chopped tomatoes and tamarind water.

4. Add the tomato purée and bring up to the boil and stir to combine the flavours.

5. Add the diced aubergine and salt. Cover and simmer until the aubergine pieces soften and absorb the flavour of the spices, about 20 minutes.

Check the seasoning, adding more garam masala, salt or pepper if required.

Garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves and serve.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fried Rice and Spareribs

Fried Rice
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
Today was 'shopping day' for us - we went up on Mill Road (on a week day, for a change - we are still in 'vacation mode'...).   I bought a long-desired (very garish!) striped broom and dustpan set, a teapot (red!) and a much-needed new tea cosy (and learned that they don't sell tea cosies in Switzerland and so are kept in stock at small shops all over Britain!). After a day spent cleaning and shopping, I wanted to cook something that was easy (but not necessarily 'quick'...). 
I had some spareribs that we'd bought on Saturday from Andrew Northrop and, digging around in the fridge discovered some left-over rice from several days ago. I rarely cook fried rice because it's supposed to be a dish to be prepared from leftover rice (which Steve and I rarely have!).  So on discovering this 'rare' ingredient in our fridge, we just knew we had to make fried rice. More rummaging turned up some panchetta (destined for a cabonara, no doubt!) and a couple of lovely "golden yolked" eggs; these are produced here as a speciality item and are recognisable by their (very) bright yellow yolks which distinguish them from the usual, anaemic-looking, pale-yolked eggs that have become the usual fare here. We combined these ingredients with some onions and green peas and created a beautiful fried rice dish to accompany our slow-cooked pork spareribs. The spareribs themselves benefited from a seasoning mix brought back from China by a friend.  I browned the spareribs (which I first seasoned with salt and 5-peppercorn mix) in oil, garlic and ginger.  Once browned, I added boiling water to cover, Chinese cooking wine, Chinese sugar "candy" - a dark brown sugary substance - dark soy sauce, a bit of MSG (which, I read recently, is widely - and shamelessly - used in Chinese cooking in China) and some salt.  This was left to gently simmer for about 1-1/2 hours, and checked regularly to make sure nothing stuck and the level of the cooking liquid was sufficient to keep everything cooking together.

After this time, the meat looked about ready to leap off of the bones. I checked the seasoning and adjusted according to taste, thickened the sauce a bit with a couple of tablespoons of corn starch (corn flour) mixed with cold water and served it with the rice.

And was it delicious? :)
Of course.