Miso Chicken, Slow Baked Tomatoes and Fresh Spinach Salad

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Here in the UK we are enjoying a flashback to the summer of 1976, apparently. I was only one at the time so have no recollection of the ‘great summer’ but we are now into weeks, not days, of glorious warm sunshine with temperatures climbing up to 33 degrees in west London. When the weather is hot I love to get creative with my salads and try out different flavour and ingredient combinations. This one I created awhile ago when a friend, who has certain culinary likes and dislikes was coming over to supper. I started with the miso chicken and spinach and then built from there, digging out interesting ingredients from my fridge and pantry along the way. The overall mix of flavours works really well to the extent that I have now cooked this salad multiple times and thought you would appreciate having it too. It’s great for a picnic, lunch or supper, is hugely versatile and if you keep the chilli oil marinade to one side for guests to help themselves, then the whole family can enjoy the dish.

Miso Chicken Slow Baked Tomatoes and Fresh Spinach Salad

Serves 4-6

 For the Chicken Marinade

500g chicken breasts

3 garlic cloves, grated

1 inch ginger, peeled and grated

2 tbsp sweet white miso paste

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp light soy sauce

*******

parchment paper

3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

250g puy lentils

1 avocado, chopped

6 slow baked tomatoes marinated with chilli

chilli oil from the slow baked tomatoes (see above)

250g fresh spinach

1. First you need to flatten the chicken breasts as they will cook under the grill more evenly and quicker if they are thinner. Place a large strip of parchment paper underneath the chicken breasts and another similar sized piece on top. Then using a rolling pin gently hit the chicken pieces which will begin to flatten. Check to see how they are looking and if they need to be a little flatter continue to hit them with the rolling pin. If you overly bash them they will begin to break apart so flatten them to the extent that they still keep in tact.

2. Place the flattened chicken breasts into a freezer bag and then add the grated ginger, garlic, sweet white miso paste, soy sauce and sesame oil. Using your hands massage the ingredients thoroughly into the chicken pieces. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer if you can.

3. Heat up a small frying pan and when it is hot add the pine nuts being careful not to burn them as they toast quickly. Keep them moving around the pan and after a minute they should have toasted nicely.  Place to one side.

4. Heat your grill (you could also use a griddle pan or BBQ!) to 200 degrees centigrade and place the marinated chicken directly onto your oven rack. Place some baking parchment/foil underneath to catch all the bits than fall through the rack – these will also taste great in the salad.  The breasts will need around 6 minutes each side. If they look a little undercooked leave them for a minute or two more and vice versa.

5. In a large mixing bowl add the spinach, chopped/sliced avocado, puy lentils – for speed I often use the Merchant Gourmet brand – see here, pine nuts and slow baked tomatoes marinated in chilli. Whilst you can of course slow bake your own and marinate them in chilli oil (which I will get around to doing so at some point – will make a great blog post) I opt for the Sacla brand – see here. Chop the tomatoes up slightly and then gently mix all the above ingredients together.

6. Once the chicken has cooled slightly slice into stripes and mix gently into the salad along with the bits that had fallen through the rack. Add a little of the chilli oil from the slow baked tomatoes and place extra in a small pouring jug.

7. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and allow guests to serve themselves. I find it is best eaten at room temperature.

It is surprisingly filling and leftovers the next day taste equally good, so just refrigerate if you have some left over.

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First impressions of Hong Kong and getting over jet lag

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There is always something rather thrilling about going on a trip or a journey, but when you’ve never visited the destination before there is an added level of excitement and anticipation. The smells, sights, sounds and general fever of the place seize you almost immediately as soon as you step foot on to Hong Kong soil. I always knew that the place would be frenetic with activity but seeing and experiencing it in the flesh is another thing. Hong Kong is buzzing and bustling with people. An initial impression is the sheer number of people who all live here side by side, or perhaps more aptly I should say – on top of, in huge towers reaching to the stars. Vertical living is very a la mode and living in dinky dwellings is standard practice.

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Whilst a lot is packed into Hong Kong there are also places to be found where there is an element of calm and serenity and to watch the world go by. One of the first places that I went to visit was the Man Mo temple, which is the oldest temple in Hong Kong, having being built in 1847. I thought it was necessary to experience the old if I was to truly understand and appreciate the new and besides I always enjoy visiting temples and churches when visiting a new country as I find it helps to better understand the underlying fabric of that country.

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The temple did not disappoint and as I strolled around it I particularly enjoyed the heady aromas from the incense coils that hung from the ceiling. From the outside the temple stands surrounded by tall tower blocks, which makes a slightly surreal sight.

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Near to the temple I came across this wonderfully vibrant street art that really appealed to me; I think Banksy would definitely approve.

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Getting to know a city I like to amble around on foot as this not only helps me get my bearings but also see what the locals are up to. Street food sellers were out in abundance selling all manners of temptingly delicious snacks to feast upon.

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As our body clock is a little confused at the moment, we are eating at rather random times of the day, that said little Z and big A always seem to be hungry around tea time and therefore are ready for a little cake to give them some energy before more sight seeing then supper. We have come across a number of bakeries selling all manner of wonderful tasting cakes. Egg tarts are popular here as well as buns filled with red bean paste.

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We visited a fish market, but it is unlike the fish markets we have in the West as the fish here were not to eat. Oh no, if you want to find fish and meat to eat as well as vegetables and fruit you need to visit a ‘wet market’ which are scattered all over Hong Kong. I hope to take some photos of these over my stay so watch this space for more on this soon.

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Tropical fish for sale at the Fish Market in Mong Kok

Our first evening meal out in Hong Kong was dim sum at the very popular Din Tai Fung, which is in fact a Taiwanese import. It’s famous for it’s Xiao Long Bao, which are steamed pork dumplings filled with broth and dipped into vinegar and ginger – basically little mouthfuls of joy! I liked the way that they had instructions on how to ‘eat’ the little darlings. How very thoughtful!

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The winner on the dim sum stakes so far though comes from Hutong where we ate delicious tasting dumplings filled with pork and fennel – ones I wouldn’t mind attempting to make when back in London. Another favourite at Hutong was the Chicken Pot with Sichuan peppers, addictively delicious and not as ‘hot’ as you would think!

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As I mentioned we have all been experiencing a bit of jet lag so I decided to make a southing, homely broth for our first lunch on Hong Kong soil. After gathering a few ingredients I made the following dish, which seemed to hit the spot after a long journey. I kept ours vegetarian, but it would taste equally good with a bit of salmon or trout thrown in for a couple of minutes. Here is how to make it.

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Jet lag Noodle Broth

Serves 3 (and enough for seconds)

splash of olive oil

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

3 tbsp light soy sauce

1 heaped tsp of vegan Bouillon/vegetable stock

boiling water (to cover veg and noodles)

generous handful of Chinese broccoli (Gai Lan) or regular broccoli/spinach/pat choi

6 small tomatoes, halved

3 eggs, boiled, shell removed and halved

2 packs of udon noodles (or 3 if you are serving just adults)

1. Place the eggs into a pan with cold water and when the water has boiled cook the eggs for 4 minutes, less if you like it soft boiled.

2. Meanwhile place a little oil in a medium sized deep pan and when it is hot add the garlic and ginger and stir for a minute before adding the soy sauce.

3. Next add the boiling water so that it reaches a quarter of the way up the pan – you can add more a little later. Add the Bouillon or vegetable stock that you are using and stir well.

4. Add the Chinese broccoli and after 2 minutes add the udon noodles. You may wish to add a little more boiling water at this stage. Taste to see if it requires a little more soy sauce. Add the tomatoes no more than a minute before serving so that they still hold their shape. If you prefer softer vegetables then cook the Chinese broccoli for a little longer, but I find a couple of minutes is more than enough.

5. Serve with a slice or two of boiled egg.

Warming, delicious and ever so quick, before you collapse and have another little sleep.

Other ingredients that would be great to add: fresh chilli, spring onions, fresh salmon/trout, mushrooms.

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Dan Dan Noodles and an alternative Christmas

Christmas this year is going to be somewhat different from our usual traditional Christmases in England, to put it mildly. I have always spent Christmas with my parents, siblings, their partners and my husband and daughters, enjoying good food, mulled wine, long walks in the woods and on the Downs, games (we especially like this one) where we all pretend we’re not that competitive (but we secretly are!), carols and general merrymaking.

This year, however, my husband (Mr B) and our daughters are spending the whole Christmas vacation in the Far East – well, Hong Kong to be exact. Whilst I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy initially at the thought of being away from all the traditional festivities and family in England over that period, I am now thinking of it as an adventure that I will throw myself into and try and embrace.  It won’t be the same as being in England and we won’t try to make it so, instead we’ll have an alternative Christmas that will be exciting in its own right.  There are certain traditions that I will seek out, even over there (I love a good carol), but in many respects it might be refreshing to have a change as a once off.

As bizarre as it might seem, as I have travelled a lot in Asia in the past, I have never been to Hong Kong, so am looking forward to exploring the region and hopefully getting under the skin of what makes Hong Kong tick. I am looking forward to trying the food in particular and somehow I need to adopt a Chinese local to show me the ropes on some of their local specialities. The food markets are also going to be a highlight so if any of you lovely people out there have any recommendations re the above then let me know. On the food front I far prefer low key local as opposed to an ostentatious, flashy restaurant where people prefer to be seen rather than enjoying the food itself – you know what I mean and I am sure you are in agreement! I will blog from Asia so watch this space from mid December.

High up on my Christmas wish list (I hope my family is reading this…..maybe wishful thinking!) is Fuchsia Dunlop‘s book ‘Every Grain of Rice – Simple Chinese Home Cooking’ . For those who don’t know, Fuchsia is a cook and food writer specialising in Chinese cuisine having lived, studied and travelled extensively in China. Back in July (15.7.12 to be exact) there was an article in ‘The Observer’ newspaper with Fuchsia’s recipe for Dan Dan Noodles. I tore it out and promised myself to cook this dish over the coming months. Dan Dan noodles, or Dan Dan Mian, as it is also known, is a real classic Sichuan dish that traditionally is served on street stalls by vendors who carry a long bamboo pole (dan dan) over their shoulders balancing baskets either end full of the soupy noodle dish. There are a multitude of recipes for this dish on the web, but I thought that I would sample Fuchsia’s recipe to begin with.

I can honestly say that this dish is off the charts delicious. Initially when I saw the ingredients I did a double take as I didn’t have them all in my pantry. My local Asian grocers also didn’t have some of the ingredients, in particular: sweet bean/fermented sauce, Chinkiang vinegar and Tianjin preserved vegetables, but this only made me even more determined than ever to get the ingredients necessary to make an authentic Dan Dan noodle dish. My saving grace came from discovering Wai Yee Hong, the online Chinese supermarket, based in Bristol, England. They had everything I needed and delivered the ingredients in a very efficient speedy manner. So if you are at a loss, order on line and the ingredients will be sent to you in a couple of days. Simple and hassle free.

Fuchsia’s recipe serves 2, but I felt it was easier to write it out for 1 person and then you can just double up as necessary depending on how many guests you are serving. I found it easier to make up individual sauces in each bowl and then add the noodles and mince, as opposed to making one bowl and then serving into guests bowls. Basically this way allows for you to alter the sauce slightly depending on personal preference (ie: I omitted the chilli oil when serving my daughters). It’s far more straightforward that it sounds and really takes no time to prepare.

Dan Dan Noodles

Adapted from Fushia Dunlop’s book Every Grain of Rice, whose recipe was printed in ‘The Observer’ 15.07.12. Her original recipe can be found here

Serves 1

(double/ triple/quadruple up according to numbers that you are feeding)

1 tbs vegetable oil

75g pork mince

1 tsp Shaoxing wine

1 tsp sweet bean sauce

1 tsp light soy sauce

100g dried Chinese wheat flour noodles – I use these

For the sauce

1 tsp light soy sauce

2 tsp of chilli oil (I use one that has flakes and shrimp in it), to taste

3 large heaped tsp Tianjin preserved vegetables

1 tsp Chinkiang vinegar

2 spring onion, finely sliced at an angle

300ml noodle cooking water stock (200ml if you are serving in smaller bowls or if you prefer it less soupy)

1. Add the cooking oil to a pan and stir fry the pork mince until it browns in colour.

2. Add the Shaoxing wine and stir into the mince, followed by the sweet bean sauce and soy sauce. Cook together for a few more minutes pressing the mince to the side of the pan with the back of a spoon so that it begins to clump together slightly.

3. In a serving bowl add all the ingredients for the sauce EXCEPT the noodle cooking water stock. If you cooking for others you can alter the quantities of the chilli oil depending on their love of chilli. For my daughters I omit the chilli oil and include all the other ingredients.

4. In a pan boil the noodles for the time it states on the packet – around 4 minutes. Stir them with chop sticks so as to separate them and prevent them from sticking. Noodles are similar to pasta in that you know they are done when the white centre has disappeared.

5. Drain the noodles, making sure to keep the noodle water to one side as this will become your stock. Run the noodles under cold water and drain off completely.

6. Place 300ml of noodle cooking water (or 200ml if you are using smaller bowls) into the serving bowl with the sauce and stir in together. Add the noodles and the mince on top. Give a good stir so that the ingredients are combined well and serve immediately.

The sauce quantities are very much a case of personal taste so if you prefer to add more chilli oil, Tianjin preserved vegetables, spring onions etc then go ahead and experiment to see what you like best. I do NOT add any salt to this dish as I find the soy sauce more than makes up for salt, however, Fushia does add a  1/4 tsp in her recipe so taste and see if you think it needs to be added.

A few other books on my Christmas wish list include:

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Spice Trip: The Simple Way to Make Food Exciting by Stevie Parle and Emma Grazette

Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen

Burma: River of Flavors by Naomi Duguid

Are there any others that you think should be on it? I’d love to know of any you would recommend. Don’t be shy and leave a comment below.


San Bei Ji – Three Cup Chicken

If you are looking for a crowd pleaser then look no further as I can guarantee you that plates will be licked clean if you serve up this dish. As well as cooking a pot for grown-ups, I made up a batch for Big A and Little Z (minus the dried chillies) and they absolutely adored it.

The dish originates from the Southern Chinese province of Jiangxi and is a speciality of Ningdu. In addition it has also become a popular dish in Taiwan. I can also guarantee it will become a firm favourite in your repertoire once you’ve tried cooking it once.

San Bei Ji literally translates as three cup chicken – the three cups being sesame oil, rice wine and soy sauce. This recipe uses the trio but less liberally and the result is outstanding and quite frankly addictive.

The last part of the cooking is done in a claypot, but should you not have one to hand (or a heatproof casserole dish) simply continue cooking the final part in the pot you have been using all along. Whilst not completely authentic it will still taste equally divine.

San Bei Ji – Three Cup Chicken

Adapted from Leemi Tan’s book Lemongrass and Ginger

Serves 4 (with no leftovers!)

1.2kg boneless chicken thighs, diced into bite sized pieces

1 tsp sunflower oil

3 cm of fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks

8 garlic cloves, whole and slightly crushed *

5 spring onions, cut into 5 cm pieces and thinly sliced lengthways

4 small dried chillies, chopped and seeds discarded (if you prefer it less chilli)

250ml Shaoxing rice wine

6 tbsp light soy sauce

3 tbsp sugar (whatever you have to hand)

4 tbsp sesame oil

1 handful of fresh coriander leaves

1 handful of thai basil leaves

1. Poach the chicken in boiling water for one minute to seal and then drain and keep to one side.

2. In a large pan add the sunflower oil and when it is hot add the ginger and stir fry for one minute before adding the garlic and continuing to cook for a further minute.

* to slightly crush garlic place a knife flat over the top and press down hard, allowing it to split.

3. Add the dried chillies and spring onions and continue to fry for another minute, stirring frequently. Add the chicken, rice wine, soy sauce and sugar and cover the pan and cook until the liquid has dissolved – this will take between 40-50 minutes; continue to stir occasionally.

4. Once the liquid has almost dissolved heat up a claypot/heatproof casserole dish either in an oven or if you are able to directly on the hob. Once the liquid has finally dissolved add the sesame oil and when it begins to bubble add the chicken pieces and fresh thai basil and coriander leaves and stir together for a few seconds.

5. Serve immediately so that it is sizzling hot.

Serve with boiled rice and  as a side I often eat it with steamed pak choi and some edamame beans – not particularly authentic but I find it works well.