A bit of a medley of things here, as the title suggests. Have got the cooking and baking bug again, which is really great, so I’ve been cooking from scratch most nights, instead of eating nonsense from a tin, packet, jar or other pre-packed receptacle. I know that this isn’t exactly one of the great sporting achievements of the year but I am pleased about it nonetheless.
Is nonetheless one word? Let the spell checker decide… Yes, yes it is. Ok good.
So the aforementioned angry pasta is penne arrabiata con pollo arrosto. Here is a picture of it looking in the mirror , or perhaps just of two bowls of it. Ooh the mind-bending trickery. This was enormously spicy, just to the point of being bearable and almost over. I like spicy food but I’ve never liked it for the sake of it; if being hot is part of the balance of flavours then great, but if it just burns my mouth till I can’t taste anything then what’s the point? Some people tell me that is the point in itself, and to that all I can say is ‘it would be a dull world if we were all the same, but you are still wrong’. This pasta probably isn’t proper arrabiata, to be honest, I didn’t look up a recipe for it. What I did was roast some mini chicken breast fillets and six fresh tomatoes with paprika, herbs du Provence, salt, black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, at gas mark 4 for 20 minutes. This was too long as the chicken was a little dry in the end, fifteen would have done it I think. The flavours were good though, and the skins just lifted right off of the tomatoes which is what I was going for. I sliced the chicken into bite-sized pieces and sat it aside, with the skinned tomatoes. I then sautéed some onion, garlic and two fresh red chilis, de-seeded, until the onion was transparent. I added the tomatoes then, with the juices from the roasting pan, and squashed them down with a potato masher. I stirred it around and added tomato puree, to thicken, then left to simmer while I got the pasta on the boil. Once the pasta was a two minutes off being ready, I put the chicken in with the sauce and stirred through to heat, then drained and added the pasta. We served it with more black pepper. Well, I did, the G man thought I was a bit wrong for adding more heat, but I insisted that it was OK because it was a *different* heat. Which I stand by, for the record. The sauce coated the pasta and chicken without drowning them, and the garlic and onion flavours came through even though the chili clearly wanted the plate to itself. In short, I was really pleased with the end result, and not displeased with the photo, even though it is a bit too shiny…
Now a record of what happens when you get a bit drunk before you decide to make Chinese food. I wanted to make use of the rice paper spring roll wraps that I’d bought a while back. I had a read of the instructions and they seemed pretty straightforward; soak the rice paper in water for 20 seconds, dab it until it’s dry and a bit sticky, wrap up your filling. There is then the option to deep fry them. I hadn’t deep-fried anything in a long while and the thought of crispy spring rolls filled with leftover chicken fried rice from during the week was too powerful to be denied. I went for it. I had a drink first, though. I would like first and foremost to state that I did not cause any damage to myself, my kitchen or to anything else. Nothing went on fire, nothing melted, nothing even burned. Nevertheless, I can’t recommend drunken deep-frying, it was a bit scary at moments. The metal spoon I was using to take things out of the oil and then habitually leaning on the side of the pot threatened to tip the whole lot over more than once, causing me to adopt the lesser-seen ‘drunk rabbit trapped in what it thinks are headlights but are really two bicycles’ pose. Also, the spring rolls looked pretty suspicious (hence ‘suspicious packages’ above) and then the photo of them is pretty blurry, as I didn’t have the patience to get a better one. I should really clarify that I literally had *one* drink before making these, I wasn’t really what you might call *drunk*. I wasn’t what you might call completely sharp and in control of a pot of almost simmering oil either, though, so I guess it’s swings and roundabouts. After we had these, which tasted immeasurably better than they looked, especially when dipped in liberal amounts of Lingham’s garlic, ginger and chili sauce, we had a lovely bowl of stir fried pork and veg with rice, a picture of which you may observe on the right. This was a kind of cheat’s game, since I’d bought a pack of stir fry veg ready to just chuck in to the wok. I had marinated some diced pork steaks in a mix of dark soy, crushed garlic and ground ginger for about an hour, then threw them in to cook with some thinly sliced fresh ginger and a drop of groundnut oil. Once the pork looked 98% cooked, I threw in the veg and added the rice that I’d cooked in the microwave while the pork finished marinading. Then I took a blurry photo of it. it tasted pretty good, I love pork with the soy, garlic and ginger flavours. It’s important not to over-cook it because the moistness of the meat carries the flavour; if it’s too dry you just don’t get the benefit of the marinade at all.
To hark back to those suspicious looking spring rolls, here is the chicken fried rice that I used to fill them. I was sober when I made this, and I think it shows… I roasted the chicken for the rice because it was chicken thighs that I had, and meat cooked on the bone is always more soft and delicious than meat off the bone. I coated the thighs (steady on, I mean the chicken ones – I’m not *that* into Chinese food) with dark soy and possibly some other things, it was a while ago now, and banged them in the oven at 180C for twenty minutes. I let them cool enough to handle then removed the skin and chopped up the meat. In the meantime I had cooked some rice, again in the microwave. I have a microwave rice cooker, although I sometimes still manage to ruin it. I think it’s because I never take the time to rinse the rice and really should. I’ll do it next time to see how much difference it makes. I think that I’m also prone to cooking it just one or two minutes too long, which sends it over the edge and into Starchsville, which isn’t a place you want to be after dark, or in fact at all. So, I had the cooked rice and chicken, some sliced peppers and a bit of sweetcorn (both left over from yaki soba night). I then beat an egg in a ramekin and put a little groundnut oil and a little dark soy in the wok to heat. When they were hot enough, I put in the egg and essentially scrambled it, breaking it up and cooking into individual bits. I then tipped in the chicken, rice and veg. Once mixed, I seasoned with some light soy and a little each of sesame, spring onion and Sichuan pepper oils. That was it done – I made sure not too put in too much oil and leave the food greasy, but added enough for a subtle blend of the different flavours and a slight suggestion that oil may have been used in preparing this meal. I have definitely had worse chicken fried rice from a restaurant – what I like about making it at home is that you can have, as I said, a *suggestion* of oil without feeling like you’ve drunk half a gallon of it, and you can add some nice crisp veg, too. It can taste really fresh instead of tasting delightfully unhealthy – both have their own place, in my opinion.
The last thing that I have a picture of knocking about is steak ramen. I’ve covered ramen pretty thoroughly before so I won’t go into too much detail, but I was so pleased with how this one turned out that I had to take a picture, and what’s the point in taking a picture if you’re not going to encourage everyone to look at it and say ‘oooh’? I absolutely love this picture. Eating the ramen was pretty good, too. It has a mushroom dashi base, with spring onions and cabbage, and is topped with fresh chili rings and mustard leaves. Those mustard leaves need used up, you know. Plus, they’re pretty good. The effect was that the meat gave the amazing meatiness that only rare steak can provide, the dashi gave the earthy flavour of the mushrooms with the gentle spice of garlic, pepper and spring onion, the cabbage added body and freshness; the chili gave heat and crunch and the mustard leaves gave hits of sourness. I made a tomato, wasabi and chili paste to go in the soup, too, which I did use some of on my second bowl, but mainly I enjoyed it as it was. Looking at this picture makes me hungry, which I take as a measure of success.
I am now up to date with all the photos I want to post. I am having thoughts about what inventive meals to make over the weekend given that I have almost no money until Tuesday. I do have the faithful kitchen cupboards and freezer though so I reckon I can drum up something decent. Either that or it will be kidney bean, tinned mackerel, pasta and mushroom soup casserole all the way.
Tunes: A tune that was previously suggested for a post featuring a lot of Chinese food – long like the Thin White Duke. OH oh oh oooooooh… Little China Girl
Viewing: All this talk of Chinese food makes me think lovingly of one film in particular. It may not have won any awards, or be an artistic tour de force, or be remotely clever, but it cracks me up and Ashton Kutcher takes his top off in it. Aaaaaaaand theeeeeeeeeen?