Sunday, 18 December 2011

Pre Christmas Feast with a twist

One more week to Christmas day but the it seemed the celebrations started late November. My office is piled high with chocolates and my colleagues are having them as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thankfully I am not a fan of roses! There are the countless Christmas parties, drink parties and not to mention the horrific repetition of Christmas songs on the radio. Forgive me if I sound like Mr Scrooge. I love Christmas. I never had Christmas like the ones here until 10 years ago and I still love it. I can't wait for the actual day, turkey in the oven, flowing champagne, log fires, long leisurely walks, mulled wine in the local pub then, of course there are the presents. Sigh... only 1 more week to go....

But then again, there are always pre Christmas feasts. Apart from the office parties, what I love is being able to catch up with close friends and treating them to a lovely dinner to celebrate our friendships and exchange presents. This year, we had our friends over and I was wracking my head as to what to cook for them. Turkey was out of the question. My genius of a husband suggested 'Steamboat' or Hoptpot or the chinese name Fo Wo literally translates as Fire Pot. In Japan it is also called shabu shabu. 

It is the way the food is cooked in a pot with a light broth and it is placed in the middle of the table. There are a variety of raw food available and each person is responsible of cooking and finding their food. You will also have a variety of sauces to dip your food in. Sounds fun, yes it is! It is an incredible sociable way to eat. In Malaysia where I came from and in a lot of Asian countries, steamboat is very popular. We have air conditioned restaurant to street vendors selling a variety of these type of cooking. In a steamboat restaurant, we pay per person and you can choose the type of stock you want. They have clear chicken broth to spicy tom yum. Then it is a buffet and you help yourself to the raw food. Beware as you will have to finish the food you take or else they are charge by weight. 

The most creative of 'steamboat' I have been to was in Malacca and we went there with my parents. We queued for an hour because the restaurant was so popular. Here they named it Satay Celup literally translated as Satay dip. I am sure most of you are familiar with the term satay and had tried it. Skewers of meat dipped in peanut sauce. Well in this restaurant, the raw food are cooked in a satay sauce. Instead of a light broth in the middle of the table we were given a pot of hot thick bubbly satay sauce. We then were shown the array of raw ingredients from king prawns to fillet of lamb and beef. I was dubious as I thought the satay sauce would be sickly but it was absolutely and utterly delicious and very very moreish. It is light and yet full of flavour. 

Satay Celup
My brother with a big prawn
Array of raw ingredients

I wasn't that adventurous as I don't think I can achieve the consistency of the satay sauce of that restaurant so I prepared the normal steamboat my mum used to prepare at home. Something homemade and full of love. I don't do this every often as it involves a lot of ingredients and preparation. We had chicken, sole, salmon, cod, pork, frog's legs, beef, 2 types of tofu and vegetables. We took about 2 - 3 hours of eating. Finally, as the broth becomes an intense soup, we finished it with some egg noodles and nestled in between are a couple of poached Burford Browns. The perfect ending to a perfect steamboat!

My steamboat

If you are interested in making one, contact me and I will teach you. 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Weekend Baking

Busy busy busy...It has been a crazy couple of months. My brother decided to get married at a drop of a hat so I flew to Malaysia for 2 weeks early November. Then I came back to to Christmas songs, frantic presents buying and Christmas market! I have to say 'Hail Amazon'! I have done almost all my Christmas shopping online which does take out the Christmas spirit somewhat. So I decided to head out to Bath and brace the crowd. So did I get the Christmas spirit?? Not even an ounce! I got grumpy walking around town then decided to head to Yen Sushi. While having my favourite soft shell crab roll, I contemplate heading home, put my jim jams on and bake a cake! I did exactly that.

When I was young, I often asked my mum at weekends why is she always making something and not resting having worked the whole week. Now I understand. Cooking helps me relaxed. Creating something new is quietly exciting and watching your loved ones enjoying what you create is satisfaction and a great sense of achievement. So sod going out. I'd rather spend more time cooking.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did which I found in a Waitrose magazine adapted from the River Cottage cookbook. Thank you Hugh.

Apple and Almond Pudding Cake

Serves 8

25 g unsalted butter
1 1/2 granulated sugar
4 dessert apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick slices
1/4 ground cinnamon

150g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
75g white or wholemeal self raising flour
75g ground almonds

1) Start with cooking the apples. Melt butter in pan and wait for it to sizzle. Add the sugar and stir until it bubbles. Add apples, sprinkle cinnamon, cook on medium heat for 5 minutes until slightly caramelized and tender but holds its shape. Remove from heat and cool.
2) Preheat oven to 170 degrees gas mark 3. Grease a 20cm springform tin and line the basement with baking parchment.
3) Beat together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Break 1 egg into the mixture and beat well then add the second egg along with the almond extract. Add a spoonful of flour (this helps the mixture curding)
4) Fold in the almonds and the rest of the flour with a large metal spoon. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and using the back of the spoon and smooth the surface.
5) Arrange the apples neatly ontop of the mixture along with any juices from the pan.
6) Bake for 45 - 50 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before releasing the tin.
7) I serve mine with creme fraiche but you can use double cream, greek yoghurt or custard.

Happy Cooking!