January 2009


Here’s a recipe that went down very well in our household! I’ve always viewed sloppy joes as kids’ food, food for picky children unable to force down anything green. It’s also one of those recipes from America that never really made the trip across the Atlantic and so I’ve only learned about it through television sitcoms and online. Still, it was something I’d never made before and it would add to my minced meat recipe repertoire! I cooked them one weekend late last year and served it up with tater tots and sauteed Brussels sprouts on the side. Perfect sloppy food for a sloppy weather Sunday and yes, we even ate in front of the telly. The meat was extremely tasty (how can it not be with all the ingredients in the sauce) and not as junky as I imagined it would be. Yes, it was a bit messy to eat but isn’t that the point?

Sloppy Joes for Dinner

Once again, this is a recipe that can be tinkered easily: I used mostly what I had around – a diced green pepper would also be good in here and feel free to season it to your liking. Like it more ketchupy? Go ahead! Maybe even some barbecue sauce would be good!

Sloppy Joes
inspired by a recipe from Dinner with Julie
serves 4

454g ground beefsteak (1 lb)
80 mL (1/3 cup) ketchup
250 mL (1 cup) tomato passata
1 tbsp sugar (I increased this to 2 tbsps as my ketchup was low sugar, low sodium)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp chili powder (optional)
2 tbsps chili sauce (optional, or a few dashes of Tabasco)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 buns (hamburger buns or those roughly that size)

Heat about 2 tbsps of oil in a large saute pan and sweat the onion, carrot and celery. A chopped green pepper would also be good here but I didn’t have one. You want the vegetables soft and this should take about 10 minutes. Add the ground beef and brown the meat, breaking it up in the process, about 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except the buns) and stir through. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly. You’ll probably want to taste it right about now to adjust the seasonings and if it’s a bit too thick, add some water. While it’s simmering, you can also slice in half and toast the buns. Sandwich the sloppy meat in the buns and serve immediately.

I served these with tater tots on the side. And, no, go find your own!

Well, I hadn’t actually given much thought to what I’d do for Chinese New Year this year and so defaulted to my family’s usual meal of Chinese hotpot, or steamboat. Only thing was my family’s spread around the world this year and it was just going to be me and Blai. So, what goes into a hotpot for just two?

Ingredients for the Hotpot

Well, pretty much the same as in any hotpot only we stick to our favourites and keep the quantities manageable! Sliced pork (so paper thin!), beef balls, fish cake, enoki mushrooms, fresh shitake mushrooms, choi sum. Again, we cooked it as we always have in my family, in plain water, as the ingredients cooking in there will give flavour to the eventual stock. We’ll try simmering a few aromatics in there next time though.

Cooking

After all the food was eaten up and the cooking stock was then extra flavourful, we tossed in a small packet of mung bean vermicelli and a couple of eggs. That was some super soup!

Noodles and Eggs at the End

I have written about hotpot before and a general guide can be found at this post. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s actually healthy too! I’ll be making it again this winter so long as the weather stays cold.

As an attempt to unstress this past weekend, I even put together this lantern from some red packets (ang pow) that I received free when I bought the sliced pork (strange gift, no?). I remember doing something similar in school in Singapore when I was about seven years old but that ended quite unhappily as I managed to put a staple through my finger. Luckily, there were no mishaps this time.

Red Packet Lantern

Oh, and if you’re curious, the lantern is hanging from an ornamental saw, a traditional Thai instrument I got for Blai when I was in Chiang Mai.

After a week of non-stop writing and editing at work, I’m feeling a little bit of writer’s block/fatigue. Please forgive me for just sharing some photos of a lovely meal we both cooked together one weeknight. Pasta au gratin. By itself, the homemade tomato sauce was just a bit too sweet but when the pasta was topped with grated cheese and grilled (broiled), the balance was just perfect. I’m planning on making everything au gratin now – hooray for toasty cheese!

Penne au Gratin

My First Plate of Pasta au Gratin

Anyway, if you didn’t know, it’s Chinese New Year on Monday and it’ll be the year of the Ox. I’ll be having my mini-celebratory meal tomorrow on the Eve and I hope to have some nice photos and possibly a post for you!

Happy Chinese New Year!

I’m not sure what’s so Cuban about Cuban rice, or arroz a la cubana as it’s known in Spain. This dish for one is white rice topped with tomato sauce and a fried egg. Sausages seem to be a popular accompaniment and depending on the region, there’s sometimes a fried banana too. Arroz a la cubana is also popular in the Phillipines but ground beef and diced vegetables are usually sauteed with the tomato sauce and a fried plantain is a normal accompaniment.

The closest Cuban dish I seem to be able to dig up is huevos a la habanera, or Havana-style eggs, which Wikipedia describes as “fried eggs served over white rice and fried plantains” while other recipes describe as baked eggs on a sofrito. Now I can sort of see the origins of Cuban rice if we look at a combination of these two descriptions.

Arroz a la Cubana

Anyway, I was, of course, introduced to this dish by Blai, who had it at home and at school and even at some restaurants. And I felt like making it again (it had been at least a year) last week for dinner, mainly to use up some lovely chipolatas wrapped in bacon (leftover from Christmas, frozen for the new year) by having them on the side.

Instead of the usual white rice, we have garlic rice. In a pot, fry some chopped garlic gently in oil and just when it starts to colour, tip in some washed white rice; we used basmati. Add salt and a couple of bay leaves and stir to have the garlic and oil mixed thoroughly with the rice. Add enough water (the golden rule is 2 parts water to 1 part rice for cooking rice on the stove) and cover and let simmer. When the water’s mostly boiled off, turn off the heat and let the rice sit, still covered, to allow the rice to steam – this makes fluffing the rice much easier.

Our choice of tomato sauce is homemade, of course, and made with fresh tomatoes. We gently soften a chopped onion in olive oil before adding lots of chopped fresh tomatoes and cooking down the whole lot until thick. At this time of the year, a spoonful of sugar in the sauce never goes amiss. Salt and freshly ground pepper are musts. Some dried oregano is optional. If you have some leftover tomato sauce, say from when you were cooking pasta, this is the perfect way to use it up!

We left out the fried banana but it’s quite straightforward to do. Peel a banana and slice it in half lengthwise. Fry gently in oil until cooked through. And we just grilled our sausages or you could use any cooking method you like.

Finally, the crowning glory (at least to me), the fried egg. (Mine looks a bit rubbish this time since I was testing out a new itsy-bitsy frying pan I bought in Barcelona.) I believe the liquid yolk is important as it’ll flow over the rice and tomato sauce and it’s just delicious to put it plainly.

Now that all the parts have been assembled, it’s time to plate it all. I like my components relatively separate so that I can control the proportions of each bit on my spoon – I’m a little weird like that. Blai likes to mix up the whole lot so it becomes quite the amalgam of rice, sauce and egg. It’s all personal preference though so don’t take this as some kind of gospel!

Oh, this one’s late…very late. Flash, the pop-up restaurant at The Royal Academy of Arts Burlington Gardens, has just recently closed after opening for just 80 days. The restaurant was run by the people behind Bistrotheque, another restaurant I’ve been meaning to try, but since this one seemed more fun, I made a booking for early December 2008. As it was a while ago, my thoughts are a little shaky so I’ll quickly run through the dishes we had.

We started by sharing a starter of Ham hock and smoked eel terrine, watercress sauce, toast. The terrine was very pleasant, served cold with the sauce on the side. There wasn’t much eel but what there was was delicious. We sure could’ve used more toast – which was so thin, I would have called it Melba toast.

Ham Hock and Smoked Eel Terrine

Blai then chose the Duck confit, spinach, wild mushrooms, mustard sauce. He relished this, the duck was soft with crispy skin and the creamy sauce. He did wish he had more duck though!

Duck Confit

I felt like something lighter and so chose the Pan fried river trout, crab and creamed leeks, herb gnocchi, gremolata. The trout was just what I wanted: light and fresh. I don’t recall tasting much crab with the leeks but it was lovely nonetheless. I could have done with more of the fried gnocchi, which were delicious.

Pan Fried River Trout

On the side, we shared a serving of seasonal vegetables, which turned out to be roasted carrots. Quite nice they were actually.

Roast Carrots

We always leave room for dessert (though with the size of the portions beforehand, we were still somewhat hungry)! I had the Chocolate and raspberry cake, raspberry sorbet, chocolate tuille. Though well made, I was slightly disappointed that the cake tasted exactly like the chocolate cake that I make at home! The rolled tuille was filled with the raspberry sorbet which was unexpected.

Chocolate and Raspberry Cake

Blai though had the winner with the Orange pannacotta, blood orange sorbet, polenta tuille. I don’t remember the little taste that I had but he was raving about it for the rest of the meal!

Orange Pannacotta

There was a surprising listing under the tea section of the menu – beef tea. When asked about it, our waitress lit up and told us it was a tradition of the Royal Academy to have this mixture of Bovril and sherry at their annual meeting. Sounded lovely but not for us that time!

Beef Tea!

The surroundings were wonderfully eclectic and the plates used were adorable! I was quite tempted to get myself a teapot but the price tag at the accompanying shop definitely put me off. If you’re interested, it looks like they’re selling off all the fixings when the restaurant closes, dishes included. Overall, the food was very good and would tempt me to Bistrotheque. Hopefully the portion sizes will be a little bigger though…

Flash
The Royal Academy
6 Burlington Gardens
London W1S 3EX

The title translates to “The kings and their cake”, their cake being the tortell de reis served up in Catalunya and Spain. Of course, it’s just a cake to celebrate Three King’s Day on January 6, or Epiphany as it’s known in other countries, not that the kings actually brought a cake (such as the tortell pictured below) along with them (though if you went to see the pessebre, nativity scene, in Barcelona’s cathedral, you’d be forgiven if you believed that the kings brought gifts of gold, frankincense and a bonsai tree).

El Tortell de Reis

In London, the French style galette des rois is easier to find, what with the profusion of French patisseries. This is a puff pastry filled with a almond frangipane filling. Inside the pastry is a single fève, traditionally really a bean but now a porcelain figurine, and if the fève were to land in your slice of galette, you are declared king or queen and get to wear the cardboard crown that comes with the pastry.

Now, this version in Catalunya is a ring of brioche-like cake filled with frangipane and topped with colourful candied fruit. It appears to be similar to the gâteau des rois more popular in the south of France. Anyway, the main difference seems to be the inclusion of two trinkets inside – both a fava bean and a porcelain figurine. The recipient of the former has to pay for the cake while the winner of the latter gets the crown.

Cutting the Tortell

We had an early lunch the day we left Barcelona (on January 6th itself) and afterwards, Blai’s mother brought out this grand tortell. From what I’ve seen in practice, the knife always seems to hit at least one of the favours inside! Oh, it was so delicious with the soft bready cake, the sugared fruit, and the sweet marzipan filling. The marzipan/frangipane filling was especially delectable and I could have just had bucketfuls of that.

And here’s a photo of all the goodies found both within the cake and decorating it outside.

Goodies

This brings to an end my short series of posts from Barcelona. For all my photos from this past trip, please visit my Flickr photoset.

That night, after the fantastic paella lunch, I met up with Trig (you know him as Aidan Brooks: Trainee Chef) for dinner and let him choose the place. Along for the ride was his friend, who currently cooks at Comerç 24, and two of my friends, who hopped over to Barcelona for a short trip! He brought us all to Cerveseria Catalana, a tapas place on c/Mallorca, just off Rambla Catalunya. The place was absolutely rammed and at 8pm, there was a half hour wait for a table. Those that arrived just a little after us were told an hour.

When looking through my photos, it’s apparent that we went through a lot of food – more than I remembered! What I do remember was how delicious and how fresh everything was. Here’s the rundown:

Pa amb tomàquet – bread with tomato: the first thing that pops into my head when one says Catalan food. These little bread sticks went down easily. (And if you’re not a fan of tomato, try rubbing one on some bread and then dousing the lot with olive oil – you might be surprised.)

Pa amb Tomàquet

Pasta salad – when Trig ordered this, I was surprised. I mean, pasta salad?! What arrived was this plateful of spiral pasta with tuna in a mayonnaise dressing. It was so simple yet it was the best pasta salad ever – perhaps the mayonnaise was homemade?

Pasta Salad

Pimientos de Padrón – no hot ones within this pile unfortunately!

Pimientos de Padrón

Tortilla – the classic Spanish kind with potato. It was just slightly soft on the inside – scrummy.

Spanish Tortilla

Grilled asparagus – lovely and not too soft.

Grilled Asparagus

Fried artichokes – totally different from the battered ones that Blai’s mother makes. These are just thinly sliced and fried like crisps.

Fried Artichokes

Croquetes with chicken – these were alright, not the best I’ve had but not too shabby.

Chicken Croquetes

Patatas bravas – who can say no to fried potatoes topped with mayonnaise and a spicy red sauce? OK, so the sauce wasn’t all that fiery but the whole dish was still good.

Patatas Bravas

Filets of beef – oh ho! These were gorgeous and even caused the neighbouring table to exclaim.

Beef Filets

Grilled squid – so tender and not a hint of rubberiness!

Grilled Squid

Manchego – cheeeeese. I like manchego and its slightly dry texture.

Manchego

Steamed mussels – these looked very simple but must have been steamed with various aromatics as they were just gorgeous.

Steamed Mussels

Mushrooms with garlic – again, these were simple and yet so ridiculously delicious. I’m definitely going to make these at home.

Mushrooms with Garlic

And finally for dessert, an alcohol soaked cake with whipped cream. Actually, we were expecting another cake filled with custard inside but this was still lovely.

Cake

After all this food and drink (beers and Cokes) the total was only 20€ per person – even with the current exchange rate, this was an absolute bargain! Thanks again, Trig!

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