Yaki Gyoza

This is a guest post my a friend of mine, Joe. These look delicious- great job Joe- just a pity I wasn’t there to taste them.

Cooking exotic food can be intimidating. The ingredients can often be difficult to obtain, and when you use substitute ingredients, it doesn’t turn out quite right. With traditional dishes, memories of cooking with parents and grandparents make them feel achievable. Even slightly further afield, my long and happy history of eating other European dishes reassures me that I’ll be able to reproduce them. As a result, it is easy to develop a chronic imbalance in confidence. For me, this was typified by gyoza, a filled dumpling always first in my order when I eat at Japanese restaurants. I had imagined that some sort of wizardry was involved in their construction. After learning to make sushi this week (which still feels like preparing an incantation, even after learning some of the secrets), and with a salt-toothed girlfriend to please, we steeled ourselves for an attempt.

Gyoza Frying

The results were reassuringly close to the real deal. Yaki gyoza have a delicious variation in texture, arising from flash frying one side before steaming, which is more or less fool-proof. Making the filling is even easier. The only real sticking point is stretching a dough thin enough to achieve the delicacy gyoza-lovers will recognise. This is a real challenge and, first timers as we were, we didn’t quite satisfy on this front. I’m told ready made wrappers can be found in asian supermarkets (for a soft option). However, having since made them again, I can say that the results are rewarding if you have time and patience to achieve a thinner finish. The lesson here is that exotic recipes don’t necessarily tax a different skill-set from familiar ones (and that Japanese food is really excellent).

Gyoza Steaming

Yaki Gyoza

Makes at least 16 (serves 2 for a main, or 4 as a starter)

Gyoza wrappers
150g strong white flour, plus extra for rolling
pinch salt
100ml boiling water
vegetable oil, for frying
Prawn filling
200g prawns, cooked and finely chopped
1 bunch spring onion, finely chopped
2cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
sesame oil
oyster sauce
lemon zest
salt and black pepper
Dipping sauce
soy sauce
rice vinegar

1. Prepare the dough. Sift the flour into a large bowl and mix in a pinch of salt. Bring some water to the boil and add slowly to the flour, stirring with a knife or chopsticks, until the mixture comes together. Beware making the dough too wet. Let the dough rest for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile prepare the filling. Combine the prawns, spring onion and ginger with a generous glug each of sesame oil and oyster sauce. Season generously (taste bearing in mind that the seasoning needs to lift the flavour of the dough too).
3. Make the gyoza. On a generously floured surface, knead gyoza dough until smooth and elastic. Roll as thin as possible and cut into circles of diameter ~10cm. Place a large teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each wrapper, wet the edges, and crimp to achieve a cornish pasty shape. Pinch tightly to seal.
4. Cook the gyoza. First heat a glug of vegetable oil over high heat in a shallow pan with a lid. Fry the gyoza until golden brown. Immediately add ~100ml of water and cover with the lid. The dumplings now need to steam for two minutes, so do not remove the lid. Beware the dummplings sticking to the pan; the word Gyoza is taken from the chinese Jiǎozi or “pot sticker”! Using a decent amount of oil and shaking the pan from time to time should keep everything on track.
5. Serve the gyoza. Scoop out the dumplings and serve immediately with your choice of dipping sauce. I like the acidity from rice vinegar, but chilli heat works great too. The filling is of course enormously flexible; any east Asian flavours will be delicious, but make sure it packs plenty of umami. The dumplings can also be deep fried (age gyoza) or boiled (sui gyoza) but the above is the tastiest and simplest method.

Ready to eat Gyoza



Buffalo Chicken Wings

I went to a friend’s place for Superbowl Sunday, and, asked to bring a dish for the meal, a friend and I thought we would have a crack at some Buffalo wings. We did some online searching, and simply made what we found in a “consensus” recipe. They went down brilliantly, even with somebody there who used to own a wings store. The wings were so easy to make, and turned out so well, that two weeks later I made them again.

Uncooked Buffalo Wings

What surprised me most was how cheap chicken wings were. I paid under £2 for a 700g box, which, granted, is a lot of bone as well as meat. But one box of wings will easily feed one person, and will probably feed two, so you are getting great value. The wing is not a very useful cut of chicken, and the only use off the top of my head is for snack wings like this, so perhaps that is why they are so cheap.

The hot sauce suggested in the recipe was also surprisingly easy to find. I went along to my local Sainsbury, thinking I would find whatever was the closest substitute, and lo and behold there was Frank’s Hot Sauce. Making the wings a second time, I found the same sauce bottles in Morrison’s. Given the taste of the sauce, I would imagine that the recipe would benefit from the original product, so if you can get hold of it, I think this will be reflected in your wings.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

This recipe is based on one we found online. This should make enough wings for two hungry people. Also, you’ll need a sharp knife to cut the wings in half.

2x 700g packs chicken wings
2x 148g bottles Frank’s Hot Sauce
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 tsbp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic granules
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1. Cook the wings. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. With a sharp knife, carefully cut each wing in half. Roll the wings in flour, and place on a large foil-lined roasting tin (or two, if you are making a lot), and cook for 30 minutes.
2. Make obligatory joke about buffaloes having wings.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Add all of the sauce ingredients into a sauce pan and stir. Reduce slightly until a little syrup-y. When the wings are done, pour the sauce over, and toss and turn the wings to coat in the sauce. Enjoy.

Buffalo Wings

Fifteen Minute Meals

Flambeed Chicken Ingredients

One of Jamie Oliver’s successes has been in trying to get people to cook good food, healthily, in their day-to-day lives. Notably he’s made recipe books based on the concept of 30 minute meals and more recently 15 minute meals, which hope to give nobody the excuse that they are too busy to cook proper food. Starting from ingredients you might buy from a supermarket, you can do all of the cooking and have the meal ready in either 30 or 15 minutes, and there are a variety of recipes to keep meals interesting.

Whilst I agree with the sentiment- that nobody is too busy to cook properly, and we should be encouraged to make quick food over eating ready meals- I’m not sure I agree with the approach. I’m much more a fan of the slow food movement. Very few foods benefit from cooking quicker than you might otherwise, steak is the only one that comes to mind. Evolution has trained us to cook food slowly, to break down proteins and so reduce the cost of digestion. Many cultures in the world have key communities built around the cooking process, and I’ve often used cooking as a social event. Finally, slow food creates complexity in a dish, combining many flavours over a long cooking time, whereas cooking quickly rarely creates a dish that is anything more than the sum of its ingredients.

But slow food requires time and effort, you say. Time, yes, but effort? No. Most stews, and even more complicated dishes like cassoulet or confit, are little more effort than putting ingredients in a pot. The results are usually great, you often have leftovers that can be tomorrow’s dinner or put in the freezer, and stews don’t often matter whether you return to them after three hours or four. Even if you can’t be in the house for that long, you can use a slow cooker, or program the oven to turn itself off after a certain amount of time. So, if I’m giving advice on how to cook with minimal effort, it would be to slow cook.

Easy Red Thai Curry Ingredients

However, recently Mrs. Oxfood challenged me with coming up with some proper 15 minute meals, rather than just meals that required fewer than 15 minutes of effort, so here they are. In coming up with the recipes, the first difficulty was ingredient preparation. Meals which have ingredients which require lots of peeling and chopping with naturally take a long time won’t fit under the 15 minutes mark, unless you are ruthlessly efficient. (My favourite example for this is onion soup. If you put “1kg onions, peeled and roughly chopped” on the ingredients list, the soup takes 5 minutes. If you put “1kg onions” on the list, the soup will take 30 minutes.) The second difficulty was reducing. Many stocks and sauces require reducing to thicken, and this takes time. To avoid this, I simply used stock cube and only put a small amount of water in: pre-reduced, in some sense. You do lose flavour development, but it is hard to do these dishes in 15 minutes otherwise.

The two dishes I made were flambéed chicken, and our easy thai curry. They’re among our day-to-day recipes, but contain few ingredients, can be adapted to whatever you have in your fridge, and can be sped up easily. We really like them, and they worked fine in the 15 minute version, but the dish just isn’t as good as when we make it normally. If I’m honestly recommending how to cook them, I would suggest you use longer on the sauce reductino to allow complexity to develop and flavours to mingle. I’ll say well done to Jamie Oliver for getting people to cook more day-to-day, but I think slow food is the way to do this, not fast food.

Flambéed Chicken

Just a note to be careful with the flambéeing part here. Think about how you are going to do it safely beforehand.

200g dried pasta.
400g chicken breast (diced, if you can)
1 pot Tesco finest crème fraiche d’Isigny
2 tbsp dried tarragon
4 tbsp brandy
1 match
1 stock cube made up in 150ml water
olive oil for frying

1. Boil a kettle and get the pasta cooking.
2. Dice the chicken breast if you haven’t already and heat the oil in a large skillet/pan. Fry the chicken until browned.
3. Pour the brandy over the chicken and set on fire. Stir until the flames are put out.
4. Add the stock, crème fraiche and tarragon. Season the sauce. Over a high heat, stir while the mixture is reducing to the desired consistency. Drain the pasta, the pour sauce and chicken over it.

Flambeed Chicken

Easy Red Thai Curry

1 can coconut milk
200g beef steak (diced if possible)
3 tbsp red thai curry pasty
150g rice
sugarsnap peas, to serve

1. In a pan, begin reducing the coconut milk. Boil a kettle and get the rice going.
2. Dice the beef if not already done. In another pan, fry the beef until brown. Add the beef and the thai curry mix to the coconut milk and reduce to the desired consistency.
3. Drain the rice, and serve.

Easy Red Thai Curry

Fruity Pork Terrine

Making Pork Terrine

Terrines are easy, pre-prep, smart starters. They are ideal for dinner parties, or when you have guests over. They can feed a crowd, and any leftovers can work as almost like a pâté in sandwiches or on toast. Given their culinary versatility, the lack of equipment usually required to make them- in this case just a loaf tin- and how straightforward cooking is, terrines are a very useful thing to add to you culinary repertoire. So why I hadn’t made one until recently is a mystery to me.

To make a terrine, start with an ingredient that lines a loaf tin well, like bacon or smoked salmon, and line the loaf tin with it. Then, just fill it with whatever you want, and cook if necessary. They’re that easy.

Here’s a recipe for a terrine I made. I started off with a recipe from BBC Good Food, then decided I wanted to change a few things. Overall we found this one to be a little bland, which is why I have added a little more fruit than the recipe was originally designed with, and similarly more herbs. When we served it at a dinner, it went down very well, and quickly. If you want to make a fancy starter, and haven’t done much cooking before, I would highly recommend a terrine as a good place to start- great taste for minimal difficulty. Score one for terrines.

Pork Terrine, Damson Chutney, and Toast

Fruity Pork Terrine

Serves 10-12. You’ll need a large loaf tin to cook the terrine in. We used a friend’s home-made damson chutney to accompany, which worked very well. This is adapted from a recipe from BBC Good Food.

300g pork loin
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp thyme
2 tbsp brandy
16 rashers dry-cured rindless streaky bacon
1kg sausagemeat
100g shelled pistachios
around 30 dried apricots
50g dried cranberries
fruit chutney and toast, to serve

1. Make the pork loin mix. Dice the pork loin. Crush the garlic and add, along with the brandy. Leave for a few hours, or overnight if you have time.
2. Make the sausagemeat mix. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausagemeat, thyme, pistachios, and cranberries.
3. Assemble the terrine. In your loaf tin, lay the bacon rashers to cover the tin. Put half of the sausage mix in, then a layer of dried apricots (see photo below), then the rest of the sausagemix. Finish off with a layer of the pork loin mixture.
4. Cook the terrine. Heat oven to 160ºC. Fill a large roasting tray with boiling water. Cover the loaf tin with foil, then carefully place in the hot water, then place the tray in the oven for 1hr. Chill until ready to use, scraping off the jelly.

Two Can Dine for £10

The Marks and Spencer Offer

Mrs. Oxfood and I often take part in the Marks and Spencer’s offer “Two Can Dine for £10”. For those who aren’t familiar with the offer, on various weekends, M&S give you a choice of a main course, a side dish, a pudding, and a bottle of wine (or non-alcoholic alternative) for £10. Although the weekend is often when I do a lot of my cooking, the option to just pick the menu we fancy, with little washing up or other effort, and to try something different is often a tempting one. Don’t think the food isn’t good quality food either. We’ve had beef wellington, salmon en croute, whole roast chickens, soufflés- food that would be a real effort to match in quality at home. “Two Can Dine for £10”, or, as I used to call it as an undergraduate, “one can dine like Lucullus for £10”, would be a good offer on the basis of the food alone.

So, given that you always pay more for pre-prepared food, I wanted to see if I could beat the M&S offer at home, trying to match the quality and price. I usually pay attention to the cost of food and where money can be saved, so hoped I could make the most of my £10. The first question was then how to divide up the £10 among the food I had to produce. A bottle of wine was clearly going to be the most expensive item. The M&S wines I’ve had have been pretty reasonable, and nowadays it’s hard to find a reasonable bottle of wine under £5, so half of the money would have to go on wine. After that, things get tricky. To match the M&S quality, I could have just make a simple stew, which would have been very cheap, but anything ‘exciting’ with meat in would just ruin the budget. So meat and fish were pretty much out.

However I tried to go about designing a menu, the lesson was very clear: you need to have a well stocked store-cupboard. Every recipe idea I came up with involved “a third of x” or “a coating of y”, which would bring the cost way over £10 if you had to buy all the ingredients, but if you have them already in stock, your cooking becomes cost-effective. Whenever I use a recipe with a new ingredient- even something obscure like pomegranate molasses- I’ll buy it, just so I have it for next time. Here, I’ve made use of a large bag of dried porcini mushrooms I bought, which were expensive at the time, but used in small amounts over many meals they have gone a long way. I would really recommend having a well stocked kitchen, it takes a while to set up, but will make your cooking a lot more economical.

With no meat or fish, I went for a mushroom risotto, which is one of the few vegetarian dishes I’ll often order. You only need a few ingredients, and it is easy to make, albeit not simply putting things in the oven like the M&S menu. However, it was still difficult to get a high-quality risotto to come in for much less than £5. I had to give up on the side dish, and really skimp on the pudding, going for a “posh jelly”, which looked and tasted nice, but wasn’t much more exciting than fruit and jelly. Enjoyed with a northern Italian white, the meal we had was very nice. But with all the time and effort put into it, it wasn’t a contest between my attempt and what we could have had from Marks and Spencer’s. It’s a brilliant offer, great value for money, and comes highly recommended from the Oxfood household.

Physalis and Tangerine Jellies

Wild Mushroom Risotto

20g dried porcini mushrooms (cost £1.25)
200g risotto rice (cost 50p)
200g closed cup mushrooms (cost 85p)
100g mascarpone (cost £1)
1 tbsp mixed herbs (cost NA)

1. Make the risotto. Soak the mushrooms for 15 minutes in 800g water. Strain the water through a muslin into a pan. Heat the mushroom stock, and add the risotto rice and herbs, and simmer until the rice has absorbed all of the stock. Pan fry all of the mushrooms, and add to the risotto. Finally, stir in the mascarpone.

Physalis and Tangerine Jellies

1 pack tangerine jelly (cost 40p)
1 pack physalis (cost £1)
whipped cream to garnish (optional)

1. Make the jelly. Peel the physalis, leaving two left over to garnish. Put them into the bottom of a glass. Make the jelly according to the packet instructions, and pour on the physalis. Leave to set for 4-5 hours. Garnish with the remaining physalis and whipped cream if using.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Sourdough Bread

These last few weeks I have been keeping a pet at home. It requires attention every day, and feeding regularly. It definitely smells. But that’s where the comparison stops, as this pet certainly isn’t fluffy, and doesn’t greet you looking for food when you get home at the end of the day. No, I’ve been keeping a sourdough starter, which we have taken to calling “Saccy”, after the latin name for yeast, Saccaromyces cerevisiae.

Sourdough starters are used, unsurprisingly, to make sourdough bread. My first experience of proper sourdough bread was on a windy pier in San Francisco, where we had one of the famous Boudin Bros. sourdough rolls hollowed out and filled with clam chowder. After eating the steaming hot clam chowder, we tore apart the bread, now soaked in creamy soup, and finished that off too. I found I wasn’t particularly a fan of the sour taste- something that puts a lot of people off sourdough bread- but the texture was fantastic. Another feature of sourdough bread, the idea of having a starter in the fridge that matures, and that you keep developing as you make more and more bread, really appealed too. So recently, as I have been getting more confident with making breads, I thought I would give making sourdough bread a go.

Sourdough Starter on Day 1. Just a lump of watery flour at this point.

Sourdough Starter on Day 1. Just a lump of watery flour at this point.

The interesting thing about sourdough starters is that they don’t contain any yeast- at least any added yeast. You simply take whatever yeasts are floating around in the air when you are making the starter, and by having plenty of flour available for growth, you’ve got a fermentation going. But the yeast isn’t all you get in the air. You also get some bacteria, and it’s these bacteria which produce acid, which makes the bread sour. The bacteria also prevent spoiling and reduce the speed at which the bread becomes stale, and before the industrialisation of baking, these were desirable features to have in bread. But these bacteria do have to be taken into account while cooking. According to Harold McGee’s McGee on Food and Cooking:

Because growing microbes consume nutrients rapidly, and produce acid and other growth-inhibiting substances, starters need to be divided and refreshed regularly, two or more times per day. Adding new water and flour dilutes the accumulated acids and other growth inhibitors, and provides a fresh supply of food. Aerating the starter- whisking a liquid one, or kneading a doughy one, supplies the oxygen that yeasts require to build cell membranes for new cells. The more frequently a starter is divided and refreshed, the better the yeasts will be able to grow, and the more leavening power the starter will have. (McGee on Food and Cooking, p545).

For logistical reasons, I can’t divide a starter two or more times a day, but if you are able to, you should get a better quality product. Here’s how I made my starter, based on a recipe from The Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

Sourdough Starter on Day 3. Starting to get some action, and definitely smelling yoghurty.

Sourdough Starter on Day 3. Starting to get some action, and definitely smelling yoghurty.

How to make a sourdough starter
Day 1: In a large bowl (1.5 litres was fine for me), put 50g strong white bread flour and 50g tepid water, give a good stir, cover, and leave for 24hrs.
Days 2-6: Add to the starter 50g strong white bread flour and 50g tepid water, give a good stir, cover, and leave for 24hrs.

According to McGee, the yeasts grow optimally at 20-25ºC, whereas the bacteria grow optimally in a warmer environment, at 30-35ºC. For this reason, you don’t have to worry about keeping the starter any warmer than room temperature. This also applies to the dough, so the usual rules of sticking the dough somewhere warm to rise or prove don’t apply.

Once you’ve got the starter, you can begin to make the actual bread. Because of the acids present, sourdoughs are not particularly good risers, even when you give them ideal growing conditions. Consequently the rising times are very long, days in some cases, so make sure you are organised before trying to make some of this bread. Similarly, don’t expect the same kind of lift in the oven that you get from normal bread- my loaf ended up rather flatter than I expected. Again, because of the acid, sourdough loaves are often slightly saltier, as this limits the bacterial growth and helps tighten the gluten networks. Otherwise, making sourdough bread is very similar to making regular bread.

Sourdough Starter on Day 6. More yeasty than yoghurty aromas, very bubbly. Ready to go.

Sourdough Starter on Day 6. More yeasty than yoghurty aromas, very bubbly. Ready to go.

Despite it being my first attempt, I got pretty reasonable results. As I said, the dough was quite flat, but I wouldn’t say it was dense, as my first attempts at regular bread were. I made my starter our of strong white bread flour, but different types of flours will give you starters that work in slightly different ways, so it might be that I try a spelt starter, for example. But I guess these are all things I can begin to explore once as my starter matures, and as I start to understand the chemistry going on.

Sourdough bread

This recipe is adapted from one in The Forgotten Skills of Cooking. I made one large loaf with these quantities. Reminder: the rising and proving times are long, so make sure you are organised before you try to make a loaf.

1 sourdough starter, as described above
600ml tepid water
1.15kg strong white bread flour
2 tbsp rye flour

1. Make the starter. See above.
2. Make the foam. Add 225g of flour and 225g water to the starter. Mix well, then cover and leave overnight. The next morning, add 225g flour and 225g water, mix well, and leave for 5-6 hours. When this is done, take out 450g to be your starter for the next loaf (you can refrigerate this for around two weeks).
3. Make the dough. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Knead (ideally in an electric mixer) for 6 minutes. Cover and leave for around 6-8 hours until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back the air, shape into loaves or baguettes as desired, then dust generously with flour. Cover and put in the fridge overnight.
4. Make the bread. Return the dough to room temperature and leave for around an hour. Preheat the oven to 230ºC. Bake for 35 minutes, leaving to cool on a wire rack when the bread is done.

The finished loaf. Great toasted.

The finished loaf. Great toasted.

Pizza Baguettes

Most of the time, when dinner or lunch is “leftovers”, it is hard to get excited. Even when you create a new dish out of already cooked ingredients, like my cheeseboard quiche, because the ingredients are not fresh, and at the end of their life, you often lose something. Obviously, to help the environment, and to be fiscally and gastronomically responsible, we want to eat up leftovers as much as possible. So finding recipes which make the most of them, and actually get people excited about eating them, is a worthwhile endeavor.

Here’s one of my favourite recipes for leftovers, pizza baguettes. The only ingredient you need in your store-cupboard, that isn’t leftovers, is tomato purée. Since you can buy tomato purée in squeezy tubes now, we tend to have one or two of these sitting in the fridge ready to be made use of here. Otherwise, it’s stale bread, and leftover cheese you might have, some herbs and spices, and whatever toppings you have or fancy. Sometimes we bother getting one or two extra ingredients fresh, or you can even go the whole whack and just make pizzas. But usually this lunchtime treat is just what we have lying around, and, given how quick and easy to make they are, it’s a wonder we don’t make them more.

Home-made Pizza Baguettes

Pizza Baguettes

Recipe here is for one person, but you can easily make more.

One stale half baguette
Tomato purée (approx 2 tbsp)
BBQ sauce (optional)
Leftovers for toppings (I like ham, mushrooms, and red onion)
Cheese, to finish

Make the baguettes. Preheat the grill to a low heat, about 160ºC. Cut the baguette in half lengthways, then spread the tomato purée and BBQ sauce on, if using. Add your ingredients, then top with the cheese. Place under the grill for around 5 minutes until the bread browns and the cheese melts.


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