Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The World of Dim Sum

I wrote on my earlier blogs how much I disliked Sundays whether I am having a good time or not. This Sunday is no different. I thought hi Sunday what can I do today to forget that your friend Monday is just round the corner? Andrew (my husband) suggested Dim Sum and we called this eating activity Dim Suming but usually Chinese called this activity 'Yum Cha' which means drinking tea.

Dim Sum are little dishes that consist of either fried or steamed meat, seafood or vegetables tasty morsels. These morsels are served either in bamboo steamers or small plates. The best way to describe them is  'Chinese tapas'. If you haven't  been Dim Suming before I will include in this blog the basic etiquette so that you won't feel overwhelmed and behave like a first timer on a Japanese sushi conveyor belt! Totally clueless! You should also take your time when eating dim sum over a cup of 'cha'.

In this country,when you sit down at the table you will find a piece of paper with either numbers or description of certain dishes. The dim sum menu is either on the table or the waiter will bring you one. You look at the menu, pick what you want and you tick and state the quantity on this paper next to the items. The waiter will come along, check the orders and leave a copy on your table. At this point, you order anything additional that you like. I would suggest that you order hot Chinese Tea. The logic behind it is that it helps digestion especially if some of the dim sum are fried. It helps cut through the fat. Well on this particular day we ordered the following. Please note that dim sum arrive at your table as and when they are ready. They don't arrive at the same time!
Deep fried yam paste with meat stuffing

Steamed 'Har Kau' (Prawn Dumpling)

Steamed Chicken's Feet with Black Bean & Chilli (Dont be afraid, they taste incredibly amazing)

Crispy Beancurd Prawn Rolls

In addition we also ordered the following..(this can be found on the normal menu as addition to your dim sum)
Roasted duck and crispy pork

Crispy Noodles with Seafood

Ermm.... on reflection, shouldn't have ordered that much but that is the beauty of dim suming. You should order loads as you can taste different morsels and whilst it is not common practice to takeway leftovers in say a tapas bar, it is perfectly normal in a dim sum restaurant, even encouraged!

Dim Sum is becoming increasingly popular in this country. There are several modern Dim Sum restaurants in London ie Ping Pong and the delectable Yauatcha. These places has taken the traditional Dim Sum eating, give it a twist and make it trendy combining it with fancy teas and scrummy cocktails.

Traditional Dim Sum is quite different. In Asia, when seated on your table, you will immediately notice the hustle and bustle of the place.  Instead of ordering the dim sum on a menu, waiters come along with a trolley full with different dim sums and you pick what you want. You just have to point at the array of tasty looking morsels. They put it down and tick the paper on the table. You then take the paper and pay at the counter when you finish. Simple! Unfortunately due to space issue in this country, it is difficult to replicate this :(

But there are a lot of lovely Dim Sum restaurants in this country. So go on, go dim suming today and if you want me to come with you, I am absolutely delighted to. But be warn, I order loads! If you want some recommendations, I am happy to direct you too :)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

atCatharines Concept and Next Event - Saturday 13th August 2011

A lot of people have been asking me what is an underground restaurant. Funnily enough, because we are in Bath, people think we are in a vault below ground. Whilst that could be amazing and add to the notion of being 'underground', I am afraid I will have to burst the bubble! But we offer better....

atCatharines is not your conventional restaurant. atCatharines is a concept which brings people and food together in our living room. We serve our food 'dinner party style' on one long table. There will be people there you might or might not know and we think that is the best way to enjoy food, in a warm, intimate and relaxed environment. It is also a great way to meet people you won't have otherwise met or simply get together with friends. All this while having good food and wine. We both love entertaining so we will be hosting the dinners but won't join in (well maybe for a glass or two...maybe three)

Location:  Larkhall (address will be given nearer the time to guests)
Arrival time: From 7.30pm for drinks and chit chat, 8pm (or thereabout) for dinner
Food: Welcome drink, Canapes/Homemade bread, fixed 3/4 courses or several tasting plates, coffee and treats. You won't know what you are eating till you are here but we promise it will be excellent :) But please let us know if you have any dietary requirements (life threatening and genuine ones only please)
Wine: BYO (Bring your own). We will suggest some wines nearer the time. We have wine coolers for white wine and cork screw. It is very much DIY.
Costs: We ask for £20 - £25 per person pre- paid donation
Dress code: Dress up (We do even when slaving away in the kitchen)
Instruction: Have fun!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

atCatharines Launch - Friday 22nd July 2011!!

So....Last night was kick off atCatharines...and now the house is clear, the dishwasher has been emptied of its last load and all the plates are back in the cupboards, it’s time to reflect...and on reflection I think this might end up being really rather self congratulatory....

Our day yesterday started possibly slightly earlier than originally anticipated, when we decided (some may say foolishly) to meet in Larkhall village at 8am to go for a run. (‘jog’ may be a slightly more accurate description of what actually happened – along with a touch of walking)

Task two was to send out smoke signals to see if anyone could dig us out of what was becoming an ever increasingly deep hole and come up with any tables around which we could seat our guests, visions of having to tell people they would be sitting cross-legged on the floor were becoming a possibility so it was a blessed relief to hear from the lovely, life saving Sam Hopkins at Beacon Hall who came to our rescue, for which we will be eternally grateful!  

So there it was, 2 tables (at the cost of one broken car aerial – convertible MG’s and 5 foot trestle tables turned out not to be such a happy partnership). Phyllis flew to our rescue with her car boot.  Picking up our brand new business cards from the lovely people at Ralph Allen Press in Bath came next. Finally all the shopping was done, and then came one fairly major (all be it brief) panic attack and a calming limoncello shot and with that it was time for our culinary efforts to begin – slightly behind schedule at 2.30pm.

Pre Dinner drinks & Canap├ęs
Boozy homemade pink lemonade
Homemade Serrano ham and salami twists, olive tapenade sticks

Aubergine wrapped ricotta and pinenut gnocchi with tomato concassee

Main Course
Braised free range lamb shank tagine with apricots and tomatoes
Chickpea, butternut and spinach tagine (V)
Citrus cous cous and minted yoghurt 

Bramley apple and olive oil cake with maple syrup icing, green apple sorbet

Coffee and homemade rocky road petit fours

                                                    Enjoying the remnants of the icing....

All done!

All in all a successful launch!  

 Roll on Saturday 13th August for the next evening atCatharines - details will follow shortly! 

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Not on top of the world but....

I promised for the recipe of my Thai Glass Noodle Salad tonight and I have to say I kind of failed. I had every intention of doing it but fate intervened. I had some really bad news today, I can't say it is the end of the world, it is more like I am disappointed in something or someone. I can't really describe how I feel but I can't say I am on top of the world! But.. but... after half a bottle of Premier Cru Chablis, an Indian takeaway (my husband's suggestion, hence no home cooking tonight!!), baking another cake and making my green apple sorbet for tomorrow's launch dinner.. I am feeling better. Alcohol and cooking I think is a great combination (ah well I can't lie, the Indian takeaway was divine too). As I am writing this I can smell the cake from the kitchen and that is such a divine smell knowing you are fully responsible for creating that. Then all the disappointment and resentment starts to melt away slowly....

I will include my Thai Glass Noodle Salad soon but tonight I think I am going to retire to the rest of the Chablis, making sure my sorbet is at the right consistency and my cake is cooled down properly for assembling tomorrow. I might not feel on top of the world right now but making sure my guests are tomorrow is my first and foremost priority! X

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Simple Dins Dins...

This week is the launch of atCatharines on Friday 22nd July 2011. I am super busy at work and not to mention up to my eyeballs in getting organised for this Friday. I ordered the lamb shanks this morning from Walter Rose butchers and they are delivering tomorrow. I am not going to tell you the menu and spoil it for my guests but if you follow the next few blogs you might have an inkling...shhhhhh...

I managed to make it to my local supermarket, pick up a few ingredients for dinner and also some ingredients for a drink I am welcoming my guests with this Friday. Time is really tight so I decided to make simple dins dins using some ingredients I already have and same ingredients for two different dishes. I am working late tomorrow and thank god my husband is very self sufficient (in fact a better cook than I am, don't tell him that, he will get big headed) so I only had to cook for tonight and Thursday night.

I picked up a packet of minced pork, a packet of raw tiger prawns, a packet of red chillies, 2 packets of coriander (buy 2 for £1.00, sucker for bargains) and a bunch of spring onions which comes to about around £6.50. I decided to make Wontons for tonight and then a Thai glass noodle salad on Thursday evening. These two dishes use all the ingredients above but taste completely different.

Today I am going to show you Wontons. Simple and can be made in advance or when you don't have much time. Wontons are little parcels usually filled with meat. You can have wontons in a broth or deep fried. In my hometown, Wontons Soup is a famous and common dish. There are 2 types, broth wontons noodles or 'dry' wonton noodles. The 'dry' type consists of a plate of egg noodles that has been tossed in soya sauce sometimes topped with 'char siu' (Chinese BBQ Pork) and a bowl of wontons on the side. The broth ones has noodles and wontons together in a bowl and as the name suggests it comes with a light broth.

In this blog, I am going to teach you to make the Wontons in a light broth.  You can serve it as main course or as a starter.

Wonton Fillings (Makes around 37 wontons)
200g minced pork
70g diced raw prawns
3 tablespoons soya sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon of white pepper
2 tablespoon of cornflour
(Mix all of the above and set aside at least for 1/2 hour)
Note: The cornflour should bind all ingredients together and should look like this

Stock and other stuff
1 pack Wonton skins (thaw if frozen, takes 1/2 hour)
1 egg (lightly beaten, set aside)
1 stock cube
1 litre water (enough for 20 wontons, I am freezing 17 wontons)
2 sliced spring onions
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1) Hold your palm flat. Take a piece of the wonton skin and put it onto your palm. Put a small dollop of filling in the middle. Dip your finger into the egg mixture and wipe it around the outer edges of the skin
2) Close your palm gently, give it a squeeze to bind the filling to the skin. Repeat on all the skins. Set aside. Note:If this is not done properly, the filling will fall out from the skin. 
3) Heat 1 litre water with 1 chicken stock cube, wait till stock boils
4) Drop the wontons gently into the boiling stock
5) The wontons take 6 minutes to cook
6) Dish up, sprinkle with spring onions, 1 tsp sesame oil

I ate these while watching TV and on the sofa. My mum will be mortified! I only use half of the raw ingredients I bought at the supermarket. I will be making my Thai Glass Noodle Salad on Thursday with the rest of the ingredients and include the recipe on the next blog :) Righto shower and then bed time. Night night fellow readers.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sunday Lunch...

I do not like Sundays. My friends said I am mad! 'How could you not like Sunday, what is there not to like?' Well the thing is Sundays always feel like the end of something for me. When I have a great time I do not like Sunday, when I am not having a good time, I do not like Sunday even more. Sunday must hate me. There is however one thing I love about Sundays ......Sunday lunch!
No matter whether I am cooking the lunch or the lunch being cooked for me, like today, it is always great. What is great for me is not just the food but the whole experience. I love the smell of meat cooking coming from the oven, the mountain of roasted potatoes and vegetables, the drinking 2 hours before the lunch and then the fight to make the gravy (well at my household anyway). That is just the beginning! Then everyone sits down and the feast begins. It is like a well orchestrated scene of meat being carved, bowls being passed around, wines being poured....It just goes on and on and on, oh the pudding, more wine, coffee...then nap time!
That is exactly what we did today. Nicola our wonderful friend invited us for lunch and I have been looking forward to it all week! We arrived and she greeted us with homemade bread.

Garlic, tomato and basil bread...so yummy....It was soft, bursting with flavours of garlic and tomatoes and the occasional basil

Salmon en croute with mascarpone pesto, great selection of vegetables

Chocolate Meringue Eton Mess with cherries 

    Ahh blessss.......

We laughed, we drank, we drank somemore, we ate and ate and ate, picked at leftovers and then a couple of us fell asleep as Reds decided to put the golf on! It was a great Sunday, a great end to the week but I still maintain I don't like Sundays and this time it is because I had such a great time and did not want it to end.  I know I know I am mad!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Not a millionaire....

Yes by now everyone in the country or best part of Europe will know the Weirs are the jackpot winner of £161 million. Am very very very disappointed. I didn't check my ticket till later in the week and I really thought it would be me! I started to plan what I would do, where I would go you know the usual stuff.... Phyllis and I finally checked on Thursday morning and I could see the disappointment in Phyllis's face too especially we have promised to give a considerable amount of money to each other. Well bugger! Bugger bugger bugger...
I hate the winners already but I saw them on TV yesterday and I have to say I really like them. They came across as a really nice couple and although I wish it would be me but that's life my friends. I wish them all the best and then thought well I am not a millionaire but nothing to say I shouldn't at least try to enjoy life like one...on a budget of course! So I commiserate the news with leftover ingredients from the fridge, whipped up a quick and yummy dinner, put some Prosecco (would have been Champagne if I have won, grrr) in crystal glasses and pack for my night away in Tudor Farmhouse in Clearwell.
Stir fried pak choi with beansprouts, chilli chicken and plain boil rice...Hmmm comfort food

I bought a Groupon night away to Tudor Farmhouse sometime ago and it was lovely. In a sleepy town of Clearwell in Gloucestershire, lies this fantastic gem, in fact all the houses we came across were immaculate! The thing that surprised me was the quality of food in this town. We had lunch in a pub which smoked their own duck, baked their own bread and air dried their own ham!! I was in heaven. Then it just got better. We had dinner then breakfast at the Farmhouse. Provenance of food is evident at this place because they put where their bacon, sausage, butter and bread came from!! The hospitality was also top notch. I worked for a luxurious country hotel before and this little farmhouse hotel gave it a run for its money!

At this stage I do feel better for not winning! And to be honest I don't think I will ever be a millionaire but I will always find ways to enjoy life and it is possible to have a lifestyle of one if you are creative :) But Weirs, if you are reading this by come miracle I won't mind having a few millions.....

Friday, 15 July 2011

The other Katharine's first blog...

Having watched the ‘atCatharines’ brand develop over the last couple of weeks in this Blog, twitter and through Catherine’s seemingly endless list of contacts, I think it’s probably about time to introduce myself....I am the other ‘Catharine’ in this opperation, chief table layer, chief dishwasher loader and self appointed wine pourer. While I can fairly safely say that there will not be many pictures of my dinners making an appearance on here I would hope that every now and again I will be able to offer up something of interest...My passion for cooking doesn't quite rival Catherines, but I can follow a recipie and thoroughly enjoy it, it's the idea of having a house full of people to cater to and all the bits and pieces that go with it that makes me smile.
Just as Catherine learnt to cook hanging off her mother’s apron strings in Malaysia I too learnt from the matriarch of my family (although slightly less glamourously in suburban London)  who, I have to say, has hosted a few parties and dinner parties of note in her time, the food invariably warranting comments like 'did your Mum really make that Katharine?' to which the answer has always been 'yes she did, but I  did help...' (usually with the stirring). And while Catherine was kept at an arms length from the Wok, I spent a large part of my youth peering at pans on the top of the Aga, frequently with a teaspoon in hand adopting the role of official ‘taster’. (A role I hope to reenact with some regularity with this new venture.) - The Beef Ho Fun I was fed by Catherine on Wednesday was amazing ...and you can read all about how to make it! 

There will without doubt be more to follow, but in the meantime I think I speak for both of us when I say we are both very much looking forward to seeing you all atCatharines in the future! – Xxx the other Katharine  

Thursday, 14 July 2011

atCatharines Progress...

Well I have to say it was a really good feeling to be able to see that we almost have everything in place to launch atCatharines properly. Kat came over to my place and I cooked Beef Ho Fun (recipe below) for us while we discussed ways to go forward over a cheeky gin and tonic. I had to admit I had poured way too much gin into mine and wondered if there is any point in putting the tonic in. We both worked full time in the hospitality industry and are hectic at the best of times so a little gin booster was a great way to start.

We are doing a test run with a few friends on Friday 22nd July. Pictures and details will be on the blog next week.... only if I manage to stay sober that is! We discussed menus and our logo ( I love it, it represents us perfectly) and most importantly we have set a date. Yes a date for our first ever event.

Next Event: It will be on Saturday 13th August 2011 atCatharines. More details will follow very shortly......Watch this space :)

If I have to be honest, whilst all this is very exciting, I am very nervous. Nervous for the obvious reasons I suppose. Nervous that I finally get to do what I want and share the passion with a good friend but it might fail, nervous that I might disappoint friends and family that have such high hopes for me, nervous that my guests won't enjoy the food and won't have a good time..blah blah blah.. the lists go on. But you know what...sod it! This is exciting and I haven't felt so fired up in a long time. I have never been what you called timid but when you are passionate about something and in my case; food in bringing people together, all I care about is putting a smile on the face of my diners.

This dish below always put a smile on the face of the people I cook for and I hope that you will use this recipe to put a smile on the ones you care for. It is called Beef Ho Fun. In my hometown, beef ho fun is a type of street food. Ho Fun refers to a type of rice noodles. It is flat and about 1cm wide. You can get a variety of sizes. You can get in in any Chinese or Oriental shops and in English it is called Rice Sticks. The street vendors cooked it in a big but very hot metal work with quite a lot of oil. The noodles always have a smoky taste to it and the edges of the noodles are slightly burnt. Rumours has it that the wok is never properly washed, but over the years have collected all the flavours which gives the dish its smokiness. It is absolutely delicious with succulent beef while the noodles are soft and once in a while you get the burnt crispiness. They also add beansprouts and spring onions to give it some colour and texture. In England, good Malaysian or Chinese Restaurant serve this dish.

I have included a recipe below which I modified. Unfortunately it doesn't have the level of smokiness of the street vendors but nevertheless it is a crowd pleaser.

Picture below of dry rice sticks and cooked rice sticks.

Recipe (for 4 people)
Marinade for at least 1/2 hour
250g beef
1/2 tsp white pepper
3 tsp corn flour
3 1/2 tsp soya sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil

6 x spring onions, sliced
1/2 red pepper. 1/oi2 green pepper (for colour, can be any colour peppers)
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
180 g beansprouts
3 tbsp of oyster sauce
1 tbsp of Chinese Caramel Sauce (optional) - you can buy it in most oriental shop
250g rice sticks
1 wok (metal if you have it, taste better and it makes a fantastic 'chah' noise which you can't get from a non stick wok)

  • Cook the rice sticks in boiling water until it turned opaque white, usually about 10 minutes. Just like pasta, pick a noodle up and taste. It should still have a bite to it and slightly chewy. Drain and run under cold tap. Set aside. Note: Water will turn slightly starchy when you are boiling the noodles, it is normal, if it gets too dry add some water. Stir often as it will stick
  • Chop all vegetables and set aside. 

  • Heat wok with 2 tbsp of oil. Make sure it is smoking hot
  • Put in marinaded beef and flash fry for 1 minute. Remove beef and set aside. Note: careful of hot flying oil!
  • Add another 2 tbsp of oil. Add garlic, sliced onions and peppers, fry 1 minute
  • Add the noodles. Do not stir the noodles. Let it stick. Stir after 30 seconds. Repeat this 2 -3 times
  • Add spring onions and beansprouts.
  • Add oyster sauce, caramel sauce. Stir in until even. Taste. Add more oyster sauce it not salty enough. Caramel sauce gives it colour
  • Add back the beef
  • Stir for another 2 minutes until spring onions begin to wilt and beansprouts have lost their rawness but still remain crunchy. Beef should still be pink in the middle. 
  • Dish up and serve it with various chilli sauces

Left overs! I love putting the wok in the middle of the table so that everyone can pick at it! I urge you to do the same, it is immensely satisfying :-)

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

BBQ - The food of summer

Let's face it, the first sign of sun, we get our flip flops out, millions of wax strips and bottles of fake tan being applied, skirts and trousers get shorter and finally its the season of BBQ! It is the season where you see dads, boyfriends, husbands and partners get possessive over a cooking instrument...the BBQ! I don't know about other people but my father in law has his own rules! He needs company when he is BBQing but gets very annoyed if anyone gets too close and god forbid anyone tries to take over! It is his time to shine. I find this scenario ever so intriguing.

In Malaysia, BBQ is done at night because it is cooler and out of the sun. No one in their right mind will BBQ in the sun. It is super hot and humid and eating bbq meat is deemed to be 'heaty'. Chinese believe that foods have heating or cooling properties. This is to balance out the yin and yang in the body; I will talk more about the yin and yang in future blogs but going back to why it is intriguing..... BBQ at home is a social affair, we each have a skewer and with marinated meat on it we will cook our meat together. If and when the girls decided it is too smelly for their hair, they will bat their eyelids for the boys to do it for them so I guess they got it right here by having the man doing it instead and even more so make it the norm.

I find it fascinating how different cultures cook and share their food even with something as simple as BBQ. I would like to share with you a couple of different ways of BBQing I came across in my last holiday

Korean BBQ

BBQ is built into the table. It has a huge ventilation tube ontop so there is no smoke throughout the restaurant. Underneath the BBQ grill, there is a steel container which contains charcoal. We are cooking beef which is marinated in Bulgogi Marinade, a traditional marinade for meat. The cooked meat is then wrapped in fresh lettuce with accompaniments. (See below for recipe)
Korean Accompaniments - Lots of mini dishes to accompany the meat 

Cambodian BBQ

Fascinating!  I love the practicality of it and it was fun! As you can see it is like an upturned wok on charcoal. Oh yes... no gas as cooking on charcoal tastes so much better. They start you off with a piece of pork fat to glaze the dome. They provide a selection of meats, in our case it was crocodile, frog legs, venison and snake, vegetables and clear broth ! Very exotic indeed. What is so clever about it was the dome bit of the BBQ is for grilling meat and then all the juices flow downwards to the stock. The stock gets richer at the end and the diners finish it off with noodles and vegetables! 

I am not possessive as such but I have one but a simple rule for BBQ, whatever the way they are cooked or shared, the meat has to be marinated to enhance and create another depth of flavour for the meat. Here are a couple of ideas and what we had for dinner tonight; Mustard Crust Lamb Chops and Bulgogi Pork Ribs. I live in England so am happy to abide by the rules of men cooking the BBQ ;-) but I still wear the trousers in making the marinade and if I can get my way... insist that my one and only rule is to be followed and enjoyed.

Recipes for the marinade are below

Mustard Crust Lamb Chops Marinade - enough for 4 chops
Mix together:
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon  & English mustard
1 tablespoon soya sauce
1 tablespoon chilli sauce
1 clove garlic finely chopped
2 tablespoons plain flour

Bulgogi Marinade - enough for 500g of ribs
Bulgogi originated in Korea. The sauce can be used as a marinade or a dipping sauce for grilled meat.
Mix together:
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon mein chiang (Chinese fermented soy beans) - optional
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon toasted ground sesame seeds
1 clove garlic, 3 teaspoons sugar and salt to taste - crush to a paste - I did mine in a pestle and mortar
1 teaspoon chilli sauce
2 teaspoons finely chopped spring onions

I hope you try these marinade as they are easy to make and they taste completely different from each other. Happy cooking!