My take on Chicken Riesling

When I’ve had chicken cooked in a white wine sauce before I’ve appreciated the slight tang, the almost creaminess of the sauce. It’s been years since I had it so I decided to put one together last night. I didn’t bother with a recipe, instead I put it together with the building blocks I knew from experience would work. I have no idea if it’s traditional or not, but I’m pleased with the results.

Working off the principle that color is flavor I first trimmed the excess skin and fat off of a whole chicken, about 1.9kg to start with. Trimming isn’t essential, it’s all down to taste. Because this is a braised dish any fat off the chicken is going to stay in it as there’s nowhere for it to go. Too much fat can make it greasy to me, but others may like it. After trimming I browned all four sides of the chicken and put it on a plate to wait until later.

The base was a roux, wanted a flavorful roux, not a white one. I also wanted to fry off some shallots. I also didn’t want to take forever so I decided that the 3 chopped medium sized shallots would be cooked by the time the roux was ready, so I took the risk and cooked them together. 50 grams of butter or so and a heaping dessert spoon of flour, plus a tiny bit extra gave the right consistency, then I added the shallots in. The mix ended up being a bit tight so I added another 15 grams of butter or so, which loosened things back up again. Gentle heat, I kept stirring, hoping it would work. While I did that I boiled up 500ml of water and added a chicken stockpot, I also opened up the bottle of riesling. A bit of that may have gone into a glass for me at the same time. This was an okay bottle of riesling, lacking the sharp mineral character I like, but it had body, and the right balance of sweetness and acidity for the dish.

The roux started to turn slightly, then deeply golden. I was right, the shallots were just right by the time it was done, getting nice and soft. 2 cloves of chopped garlic went in for about a minute, until I could smell it, then I added 250ml of the wine, plus the 500ml of stock. I added to that a medium pinch of salt, a few twists of pepper, and a sprig of thyme from my garden. The chicken went back in and I cranked up the heat until it started to bubble, then covered the pot and put it in the oven at 160C. It’s important to bring it up to a boil before you put it in the oven or it add substantially to the cooking time.

The length of time to cook it depends on the size of the chicken, for the size of chicken I was using I figured on an hour and a half, in the end it was closer to 1:50. It was probably done after 1:30 but about 25 minutes I put some chunks of broccoli into the pot, some submerged in the liquid and some on top of the chicken, wherever I had space, cooking that added some time on. As the chicken was perfectly tender, juicy and pulled apart I’ll do 1:50 next time as well.

I served it with crushed new potatoes, which soaked up the sauce, and it was a hit. Tender, juicy chicken, rich sauce with a bit of fruitiness, and broccoli that took on the flavors. I’ll definitely be making it again!

Curries are back!

When you have small children your food world shrinks. Children’s tastes tend to be for the simpler, sometimes blander dishes, certainly less spicy. Our policy has been to eat as a family most of the time, and everyone gets the same thing. Sure, we’d sometimes feed the kids earlier and then have a separate dinner ourselves which had some kick, but I found that we’d be having the same things over and over.

That doesn’t mean we ate badly, though, far from it. I know some parents with children who have teenagers that eat french fries and dry pasta exclusively – where do they get their nutrients from? My son was eating sushi before he could talk – I didn’t serve it to him, he took it off my plate when he was a toddler and just ate it, then took the rest of mine – so I knew we were going to be okay. The thing is small children have their favorites and don’t want to stray too far. For some reason he’d eat sushi, but sauces were out – he didn’t try gravy until he was nine. Chili was on plates often, as was chicken in many forms, any roast meat, braised dishes, and any form of potato you choose. Vegetables were never a problem either, carrots, broccoli, even brussels sprouts would be eaten with minimal complaints.

So what I am I complaining about? Many parents would consider that a dream, but I missed curries and other spicy foods. There’s a huge variety from all over the world and I love them all: Thai, Indian in its many styles, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Caribbean. The only times I’d get those were those rare times my wife and I would go out or make a separate meal. I wanted to get more bold flavors in, and more spice, like Tex-Mex. I also wanted to bring in more ‘adult’ ingredients, like wine and saffron. If my kids saw a shallot they may get it in their heads it’s not to their liking.

Then I made my take on enchiladas mole. I was leery about this, my previous experiments into Mexican had not been wild hits, so when I put it on the table I had plenty of other things too in case they turned their noses up at it, which I expected to happen, but I was determined to bring in more variety.

The entire tray was gone in no time. The kids even had seconds, which they rarely do, and I saw that things were changing. Since then I’ve been steadily expanding the repertoire, with Thai curries, more noodle dishes, and more sophisticated flavors. My wife made her Chicken Saag, and the kids loved it! Last night I made my take on chicken riesling, and not my son got extra sauce and told me that it was on par with baked chicken. From him that’s high praise.

Next up: paella!

Low and slow chicken curry casserole

I made this tonight and it’s all kind of awesome! It’s pretty quick to prepare and the longer you cook it the better it gets. It’s rich, and the chicken melts in your mouth! I didn’t even need my knife, it went back in the drawer clean!

Equipment: medium size dutch oven or le creuset style pot, oven, knife, hands, eyes, the usual
1.5 kg chicken pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp flour
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
.5 tsp chili powder (adjust to fit your tastes, I used hot)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar (can use regular)
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp chicken bullion powder
300ml water (or so)
oil (I used olive)

Preheat your oven to 130C, about 250F. Heat up your dutch oven and put a bit of oil on the bottom. Pull the skin off your chicken, and fry half in the hot oil for 4-5 minutes, discarding the rest. When brown remove the cooked chicken skin and discard. The reason for pulling the skin off is that I don’t like how the skins get soggy after a long slow cook, I like to fry them off like this to get a fried chicken flavor into the dish. You can leave them on if you like, if you do then fry the chicken skin down to brown and them remove them before the next step.

Next put your chopped onion into the casserole and saute on medium heat until they start to soften, then add the garlic and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add the flour and stir for a minute to get the flour cooked, if you don’t cook it you can get an uncooked flour taste in the dish. Add the tomatoes and cook for a minute or two until they start to get mushy, then add the ground spices and brown them off for a minute. Add the chicken in and stir to coat. Add enough water to come almost to the top of the chicken, probably about 300ml. Don’t overdo the water or your sauce will be diluted. Add the fish sauce, palm sugar, vinegar, and bullion powder, stir in, then cover and put it in the oven.

How long to bake depends on how much time you have. This could be ready in 45 minutes on a high oven, but I cooked this low and slow because I had the time, over 2 and a half hours with 30 minutes resting at the end. Taste it halfway through and see if it needs anything. When done take the cover off and let it rest for a bit. Serve over rice.

East Wittering Sausage and Chicken Curry Casserole

Months ago my wife started talking about going for a summer holiday. As we now have a two year old and a 5 month old the idea of packing the whole family up and flying somewhere didn’t really appeal, especially since we’d have to spend so much time tending to a baby that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of being wherever we’d gone. So going somewhere within easy driving distance was definitely the plan. Claire did some research and we decided that we’d do a real family holiday with Claire’s parents, brother and his girlfriend and their 8 month old daughter. So it was going to be 6 adults and three small children in a house by the beach in East Wittering on the south coast of England for a week of sun and sand castles!
It was a really good idea, the only problem with it was that the weather hasn’t cooperated. We arrived Friday in gale force winds and rain, the next day was beautiful except for winds gusting up to 45mph which sandblasted us nicely. Then on Sunday nature in her infinite wisdom saw fit to dump an entire month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. Yesterday (Monday) we woke up to the sound of rain drumming on the roof, which was pretty familiar to us by then, it was the sheet volume of it which amazed. It was is a giant hose was spraying a constant stream of ocean onto our house. Not knowing that the local area was experiencing serious flooding I decided to take my son to a big store in Chichester in order to buy him a raincoat and umbrella which we hadn’t anticipated him needing. Swimsuit yes, bucket yes, sun cream yes, rain gear no, so I set about to rectify the situation so my little guy could at least leave the house once in the week.
Once we were in the car a few minutes the impact that the rain was having on the local area started to become apparent and I began to think that perhaps I would be better off getting my son a floatation device rather than a rain slicker. The fire department was out in force, busy pumping water out of the local homes and businesses. One of the roads out of town was closed and the other was passable with some massive ponds to cross. Nevertheless I soldiered on, determined to bring home the bacon (literally, as bacon was on the shopping list). I had successfully navigated the enormous lake that the road had become and I had an immense sense of satisfaction from it.
Two things stopped me. One, the A27 was backed up 12 miles and getting the last mile to the store would have taken hours. Second, the snoring from the back seat notified me that my son was fast asleep and he was having an early nap. Quitter! Still, we weren’t getting there anyway because of the massive traffic problems, it took me 20 minutes just to get into a position to turn around. Anyway, unable to get to a big store we fell back on the small local ones which were remarkably well stocked considering the natural disaster taking place around us and we were able to get enough for me to make the concoction I’m about to tell. This was completely ad-libbed, I ‘ve never seen any recipe like this, it was all completely improvised. I wanted to make a rich, hearty dish to warm the insides that can serve a bunch of big eaters and came up with this, my Sausage and Chicken Curry Casserole:
7 chicken thighs
14 sausages (meaty ones like italian or solid pork sausages)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 carrots, sliced
1 head of brocolli, florets separated from the stem. Chop the stem in the same size pieces as the carrots
2 cups peas, thawed
900ml chicken stock (about 4 cups)
2 tbsp sweet soy sauce (or 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce and 2 tsp sugar)
150ml low fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup corn meal (polenta)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp curry powder

Preheat the oven to 180c, 375f. First we want to get color on the meats, so grill or fry the sausages to brown them. Don’t worry about cooking them the whole way through, we want the color. Next heat oil in a frying pan to medium-hot and mix the flour, corn meal, and salt in a bowl. Coat the chicken thighs in the flour mixture and brown both sides in the frying pan. Again, don’t cook them through, just get the color on them. Make your chicken stock and let it cool to room temperature, then add the yogurt to it. If you add the yogurt to hot liquid it will probably split. Transfer some of the oil from the frying pan into another pan (don’t get all the burnt gritty bits through, they don’t taste good) on medium heat. Add the carrots and brocolli stem pieces and saute for 3-4 minutes. This is because the carrots and brocolli stems take much longer to cook, without this step they will be tough when the rest is done. Add the onion and saute another couple of minutes, add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the curry powder and one tablespoon of the flour mixture and fry a couple of minutes. The flour will thicken the sauce, and frying it will keep it from tasting uncooked. Frying the curry powder will help release its flavor and frying it will keep it from tasting powdery, especially in hard-water areas.
Next add your liquid mixture. If you didn’t add your yogurt to the cooled stock before then add the stock and take it off the heat, then add the yogurt a spoon at a time, then put it back on the heat. Add the sweet soy or soy and sugar, then taste. You want the sweetness of the sweet soy or sugar to balance out the sourness of the yogurt, with just enough salt to taste. You want it to be thickened a bit but not too much, don’t worry it will thicken more later. In a casserole dish (don’t ask me how big, this is cookware in a rented house, if you can fit it all in, then it’s just right 😉 put the chicken on the bottom, then the brocolli, then the sausage. Pour the liquid in, then put it in the oven uncovered. Make sure all the brocolli is submerged, don’t worry about the sausages. Bake for 20 minutes after the mixture starts to bubble. 5 minutes before the end put the peas on top. Once it is done let it cool for about 15 minutes before serving over rice.

This fed 6 but could stretch to 8 if you had some bread and/or salad on the side. Variation-wise you could add some ginger, or put in some fish, or try other vegetables, it’s very flexible.

The best meatloaf I’ve ever had, and it’s mine!

Meatloaf is one of those unsung crowd-pleasing dishes that nobody ever seems to write about. There are some recipes but many times they try to make it fancier than the simplicity of a block of cooked ground meat can sustain. Meat loaf should be simple, comfort food, but there’s still zillions of variations on it. Tonight I decided I wanted a turkey meat loaf and I decided to wing it, no recipe. I had an idea what I wanted to make but it was pretty much unformed until I started.

The thing with ground chicken or turkey is that it has little flavor on its own but it’s great as sucking up and enhancing whatever flavors you add to it. Get it right and it’s delicious, under-season it and it’s gonna be bland bland bland! Also, it’s very lean which is why its so healthy, but a small amount of strategic fat adds a bit of richness and depth. This came out so well that I just had to write it down before I forgot what I did!

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1kg (2 lbs) ground turkey or chicken (aka turkey mince)
1 egg
2 inches worth crackers or saltines (unsalted). I used table water crackers but any plain cracker will do. If you don’t have them use breadcrumbs. Stale is fine!
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
120g (4 oz) grated cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp ground savory
1/2 tsp ground sage
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chili powder
a couple of twists of black pepper
1/3 cup ketchup

for the glaze:
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup sweet soy syrup (or use teriyaki sauce)
Alternatively use a can of condensed tomato soup and add plain soy sauce and a bit of sugar.

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F, 210 degrees C. In a small frying pan put some olive oil and saute the onion on medium heat until it begins to soften, then add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes before removing from the heat. We don’t want them cooked, just have the edge taken off of them. Add them to the rest of the ingredients in a big bowl and mix well. Don’t add any extra salt, you won’t need it. There’s salt in the cheese, soy, and ketchup and that’s enough. Once combined well put a spoon of the mix on a plate and microwave it for a minute, then let cool and taste. There should be a bit of richness from the cheese, saltiness and umami from the soy, and umami, sweet, sour, and saltiness from the ketchup. If you want more richness add cheese, if it needs more zing add a bit more ketchup, and if it needs salt add more soy. Keep microwaving and testing until the balance is right. If you can’t taste the herbs that doesn’t mean you need to add more, this is because the herbs need more cooking time for the flavors to come out. You want the consistency to be thick enough to hold it’s shape, if it’s a bit too loose add some more crushed crackers or breadcrumbs. The crackers and breadcrumbs have 2 functions: one is to make it hold together, the other is to absorb the juices and keep the flavor from running out.
I prefer to put the mix into a bread tin although any dish will you. You can mold this into any shape you want or just lump it into a blob, just make sure whatever you cook it in has sides as there’s going to be some juice! It’s not huge amounts as this dish is pretty lean but there will be some. Don’t pour it away, it’s delicious! Once in the oven this will need to cook 45 minute to an hour depending on the shape you make it. As for the glaze if you want to get fancy you can brush it on halfway through cooking or if you’re pressed for time add it at the beginning, it’s just going to be a bit more crispy. Don’t be sparing, slather it on! Make sure that you get the meat up to 160F/70C as this will kill any salmonella or other bugs, and underdone chicken is horrible tasting anyway. Serve with your choice of starch and veggies.
Everyone loved this at my dinner table tonight. I gave my 2 year old son a big chunk and it all went down the hatch. I’ve been told that we will be having this again.

Pasta with sausages, spinach, and beans

I often cook without a recipe, throwing something together for dinner using a new ingredient or something special I’ve found. Yesterday I picked up some really good sausages from this market that comes once a month to Wanstead. I’ve had them before and they’re outstanding just grilled on their own but I wanted to do something with them that was more interesting. I also found some good spinach as well. So much of the spinach you get in the supermarket is pre-bagged baby spinach and while it is convenient in that you can just open the bag and throw it into dishes or salads it doesn’t actually taste like anything, and if it doesn’t taste like much it probably isn’t that nutritious either. The spinach I got was real big leaf spinach with real flavor.

The reason I talk about the ingrediants so much is that this italian-style recipe is so simple that the quality of the ingredients hugely affects the end result. If you use flavorless sausages and spinach then the dish will be flavorless too. Whenever you make any italian style dishes, or any simple dish, that’s the most important thing to remember. The ingredients below are what I used, you can change the balance to whatever you like, use greens or kale instead of spinach, or put in brocolli or beans, it’s all up to you.
6-8 sausages, whole
1 medium onion chopped
3-4 cloves garlic chopped
2 big bunches spinach, washed and roughly chopped
600ml water
1 knorr chicken stockpot or chicken stock cube
2 tsp dry italian herbs
1 can cannelinni beans, washed
1 tbsp cornstarch or flour
2 tbsp cream (optional)
half a box pasta shells, penne, or whatever you’ve got.
olive oil
vegetable oil

in a large saute or casserole pan (with a lid ) on high heat add a few tbsp of vegetable oil, not olive oil as olive oil geta bitter and can burn on high heat. We are going to brown the sausages without cooking them through. You can skip this step if you like but the browning causes caramelization and adds great flavor, so brown 2 sides of the sausages and remove them to a plate to cool. Discard the oil in the pan and let it cool to medium heat. Start boiling your pasta now. Add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add your onion. Saute until soft, add your garlic and flour and saute another minute or two. The flour is going to thicken the sauce and you want to cook it a bit. Add the water, stockpot or cube, herbs, and bring to a simmer. Don’t add any extra salt, there’s salt in the sausages, stock cube, spinach, and on the outside of the pasta from the salt in the water, and that’s plenty! Add your spinach and cover. Stir your pasta, make sure it doesn’t stick together. Slice your sausages up. After 5 minutes of simmering add your beans and sliced sausages, stir in, and cover turning the heat down to low. Cook your pasta until it is just a bit underdone and then scoop it out or drain it and put the pasta into the pan. If you do drain it save some of the pasta water, you can use it to add extra moisture to the dish if it gets dry. I use a big strainer I got at a chinese supermarket, they are great for scooping pasta.

Put the heat back up to medium-high with the lid off and add your cream and stir. The pasta is going to finish cooking in pan and so will soak up the flavors of the dish. Here’s where you may need to add some of that pasta water. You want there to be enough sauce to coat all the ingredients but not too much. Taste and season if necessary. Once the pasta is done (should be 1-2 minutes maximum) turn off the heat and serve as it is.

This was a real crowd-pleaser, my son even ate some of the spinach and that’s an achievement!

Wok to Walk – I’d wok elsewhere

I was walking through Soho in London and I came upon a noodle bar called “wok to walk” on Brewer street and thought I’d get some takeaway noodles for lunch. The place certainly looks promising with a trendy look and feel, organized and clean cooking area, and 3 step menu. There’s 2 types of chili sauce on the tables along with your standard asian restaurant accompaniments It’s all fresh and made to order in front of you and service was quick. I decided on udon noodles with chicken and broccoli with Thai coconut sauce as it has a couple spicy-looking symbols next to it and I like some heat. The portion size was disappointingly small for my £6.35, nevertheless I headed back to work with a sense of optimism which was unfortunately misplaced.

Overall the food was pretty disappointing. Although the noodles and broccoli were well cooked the chicken was dry and there wasn’t nearly enough of it and the broccoli to warrant the cost of the food. Still, a good sauce would have made it all worthwhile but sadly the Thai Coconut I chose because of the 2 fiery heat symbols next to it on the menu was devoid of both spice and flavor. I got a hint or two of lemongrass but no fish sauce or lime, none of that tongue-coating sweet-sour-salty wonderfulness you would expect from even a moderately good thai sauce and there wasn’t even a hunt of heat. I know that there’s a big difference between what I and your mainstream human consider hot but I can tell you with absolute certainty that no chili has been even brought into the vicinity of that poor excuse for a sauce.

Whomever created Wok to Walk spent plenty of time on the look and feel of the place and not nearly enough on the quality of the food. I didn’t come in because they had trendy-looking white-on-orange signs, I came in because I wanted some good food. If I’d paid half the price I did I still would have considered it a waste of money and at the price I paid it’s highway robbery. Do yourself a favor and go to Wasabi or Samurai instead. It’s not made to order but it’s much better value for money.

across the pond – a cooks guide to the US-UK #1

I love to cook, so when I moved from the US to the UK I immediately set about getting used to the ingredients, measurements, etc. You can find just about everything in the UK as you can in the US although sometimes it has a different name. Measurements are a bit different as well, so it’s vital that you know where your recipes come from and have the right measuring equipment. I have a set of US cups and UK cups and I use whichever is appropriate. When baking especially if you use the wrong measurements things can go seriously wrong, so it’s worth double-checking. The metric system is supposedly the official standard in the UK but many recipes use the old imperial measurements. It’s confusing; road measurements are in miles but you buy fuel by the liter. weird.

everything below is UK first, then US second

measurements: the UK uses imperial measurements and the US US measurements. The thing is they both use ounces, cups, pints, etc but the systems are very different. In the UK a cup is 10 ounces and in the US it’s 8. The ounces are almost the same volume so a british cup is 1.2 times the volume of a US cup. In other words if you use a UK cup to measure for a US recipe or vice-versa it’s not going to work very well. teaspoons and tablespoons are US measurements but are used in the UK as well.
Weights are the same in the UK and US, so a pound is a pound. In the UK large weight measurements are sometimes in stone, a stone is 14 pounds. 10 stone 3 is (14 X 10) + 3, is 143 pounds, which is a pain in the ass. generally in cooking you’ll never use the term however

brown bread flour – whole wheat flour <- brown bread is whole wheat bread... kinda. There are so many varieties in both places strong flour - bread flour <- these flours have extra gluten added. Don't use them when not called for. The word "strong" is used in conjunction with the type, ie strong brown flour plain flour - flour <- the white stuff, comes in bleached and unbleached in both places bicarbonate of soda - baking soda <- they're both exactly the same - sodium bicarbonate baking powder <- same in both places sweeteners: caster sugar - superfine sugar icing sugar - powdered sugar or confectioners sugar <- this is finer than caster sugar demerra sugar - raw sugar <- less processed, I use this pretty often as it has a slightly syrupy flavor. The only thing is it doesn't dissolve as easily golden syrup - the closest thing I can think of is brown sugar syrup dark treacle - dark karo, maybe molasses, there's no direct equivalent light and dark muscovado - this is just a fancy name for light and dark brown sugar jam sugar - sugar with added pectin, I'm not sure if there's a US equivalent as most add it separately. general terms: jam - jam, preserves, or jelly <- in the UK jam is a catch-all term jelly - jello, ie fruit flavored gelatin desserts <- if you ask for jelly with your toast in the UK you will get strange looks. vegetables: courgette - zucchini aubegine - eggplant coriander - cilantro <- we're talking the leaves here. Coriander seed is the same thing in both places. temperature: You'll see both Centigrade and Fahrenheit on UK recipes, but on almost all ovens there's only C, and in the US the ovens use F, so know how to convert the two. On really old UK ovens you might see Gas marks, like gas mark 1-8. Gas mark 1 is about 275 F and each gas mark number is an increase of 25F, so 2 is 300F. In practice the thermostats in most old ovens in any scale (and many new ones as well) are wildly inaccurate so back it up with an over thermometer. equipment: pans, pots, spoons, blenders, mixers, etc all are pretty much the same makes and go by the same terms. there are some terms that can throw you though cooker - stove or range <- an integrated, free-standing combination of oven and gas or electric burners. In the UK ovens tend to be almost exclusively electric while in the US you can get either gas or electric. hob - cooktop ovens: in he UK most ovens are electric and have a circulating fan and so are called convection ovens. These fans cook things faster and tend to heat more evenly although the fan is not always what you want depending on what you're cooking. Better ovens have different modes where you can turn the fan off. In the US convection ovens are rare and gas is as prevalent as electric. US ovens tend to be much bigger than in europe and you can get all sorts of nice features like warming drawers. grill - broiler <- On UK electric ovens the grill tends to be on the top of the oven itself where in US gas ovens the broiler is a separate drawer at the bottom barbecue - grill <- OK, some people in the US call it a barbecue as well, but I was confused, or more often confused others over here when I talked about buying a grill baking sheets - cookie sheets hints and tricks: google has great tools for conversion. If you type in "100 c in f" it converts 100 centigrade to fahrenheit andd vice-versa. "8 uk oz in us oz" converts uk ounces into us ounces, whereas "8 uk oz in us cups" will convert to cups instead. you can do ounces to liters, cups to liters, weights, etc. Convection ovens heat more evenly and cook food quicker than non-convection ovens, so when using a recipe keep that in mind. If I'm using a convection oven and the recipe is meant for a non-convection I will generally turn it down by 40-50 C or 90-100F. things that are hard to find in the UK: buttermilk - you can sometimes find this in the dairy section but if you can't find it just make your own. Add 1 tbsp of acid (clear vinegar or lemon juice) to a US cup, then add milk up to the 1 cup mark. Stir and leave to sit for 5-10 minutes. There you go italian sausage - on the east coast of the US in any supermarket you can get packs of italian sausage and I used to use it in many dishes or just fry it up by itself as it has great flavor. Impossible to find except in italian stores things that are hard to find in the US: tea: lipton is nasty, weak, and horrible. Tetley is a watered-down version of the UK tetley tea. yech

Kecap Manis – a great quick ingredient

I bought this ingredient years ago from a supermarket because I had no idea what it was and I was curious. As time has gone by I’ve used this Indonesian sweet soy syrup more and more as I’ve found more uses for it. Basically it is a mix of soy sauce, sugar, galangal (a strong variant of ginger) and spices. It’s pretty sweet but not overpowering, less salty than plain soy, but it still has that soy-y umami thing going on. It’s sticky so it makes a great glaze and it gives a nice dark brown color when added to a dish. I first started using it in stir fries when I thought something was maybe a bit to sour, adding kecap manis would balance the sourness without diluting the saltiness and umami. Once I was in a bit of a rush and I didn’t have time to make a glaze for some salmon I was putting under the grill (broiler in the US), so I spooned some on and spread it around and it was really good. I usually will cut it with a bit of vinegar when I use it as a glaze just to balance out the sweetness, it’s thick enough it will still coat and stick.

Lately I’ve found even more uses for this versatile sauce. If I need a teriyaki sauce I don’t bother with the traditional method of heating the soy, sugar, and spices until it all dissolves, I simply pour some kecap manis into a bowl, add some rice wine vinegar and maybe some water, and whisk. You can also cut it with more plain soy depending on what you are marinading. Maybe if I want some extra kick I’ll mix in some chilli powder or powdered ginger (or grated fresh if there meat will be marinading long enough, otherwise there’s not enough time for the flavors to mix). It may not be as good as taking the time to cook a traditional teriyaki sauce but I swear I can’t tell the difference. This is because the ingredients for a teriyaki sauce are extremely close to that of kecap manis, ie soy, sugar, and spices. (I know teriyaki sauce doesn’t traditionally have vinegar in it but I add it to mine when I’m marinading chicken, a bit less for pork, and very little for beef. It just works.)

My best example of how amazingly useful this stuff is was this past weekend when I realized I had no barbecue sauce. I had guests coming in half an hour and a lot of work to do to prepare, so I had no time to cook a traditional bbq sauce. I grabbed a bowl, poured in some kecap manis, an equal amount of tomato ketchup, a teaspoon of mustard powder, then a tablespoon or so of white wine vinegar. 10 seconds of whisking and I had the best bbq sauce I’d ever made myself and it took less than a minute to make.

Where to find it:: I’ve found small bottles of it at the supermarket in the asian section but I go through those fast. Best go to an asian supermarket or grocery store.

How to use it: I wouldn’t add it to everything but it has a multitude of uses. I’ve even added it to gravy once when I needed to balance some acidity from some red wine. I use this as the main ingredient for glazes, some bbq sauces, and it’s useful in marinades. I’ve tried adding it neet to a stir fry but the result wasn’t good as the high heat burnt the sugars and made the end product bitter, also it beaded up and didn’t coat. If you cut it with a bit of regular soy or water that won’t happen.

If you like asian cooking and don’t have it pick some up. Even if you don’t it’s still handy if you like asian marinades and bbq sauces.

Chili Recipe

I’ve been asked for my Chili Recipe (chili con carne for those in the UK), so here it is. This recipe serves about 4 hungry people (or 3 hungry musicians when I made this for my mother’s singers). Because this recipe uses ground pork and poultry instead of ground beef (mince to the Brits) I like to add some chewy pasta to give lots of bite. Brits usually like their chili with rice so feel free to leave the pasta out if you like. For those who want their chili with beef I suggest frying up the ground beef separately and draining the fat to keep the grease level down. The beauty of this dish is that it can be made a couple of days ahead of time and it just gets better. Make a huge batch and freeze it for months for those days you want something hearty. This isn’t some new-age fancy fusion recipe, this is bold, spicy, rich stuff to warm the cockles of your heart. As my grandfather used to say it “sticks to your ribs”.

The chili will be as good as the ingredients you put in but there’s no need to be extravagant. Good canned tomatoes and quality chili powder will make a better chili but you use whatever you can find. There’s a hundred varieties of chili powder of varying heat levels or flavors. I like to use some smoked powders but you can’t always get those. Mild chili powder, paprika (paprika is just a mild chili powder which is sometimes smoked, nothing more), dulce pimenton (sweet spanish paprika), etc will make a very tasty dish without much trace of heat. To add chili flavor without the heat you can drop in a couple whole mild chilis and then pull them out before serving. If you like heat then use some chopped fresh chili and some hot chili powders. I’m partial to using some smoked chili as I like the flavor.

Here’s some fresh/dried/powdered chili combinations for varying spice levels. Some you can only find in specialty stores but many of them are available at a good supermarket. I usually start with these amounts and add more later if the dish needs it:
1 whole mild chili
1 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp paprika, smoked if you can find it, or alternately ancho chili powder

1 medium sized chopped mild chili, or if you can find them, a whole smoked chipotle
1 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp hot chili powder (store bought or something more interesting like chipotle chili powder or cuyanne pepper)

hot (and I mean it):
1 large chopped hot chili or a couple of habaneros or scotch bonnets.
1 tbsp cuyanne pepper
1 tbsp chipotle chili powder (use hot supermarket chili as a substitute for either)

I don’t use bottled hot sauces when I make my chili as they are usually too vinegary and many add flavors I don’t like. Using fresh, dried, or powdered chili is cheaper and gives a better result than bottled sauces.

This recipe is very flexible meat-wise and you can customize it for your taste and available ingredients. In the states I usually use a mix of 1 pound (500 grams) ground chicken/turkey and 1 pound italian sausage which you can find in most grocery stores. In the UK you can’t find authentic Italian sausage many places and most popular british-style sausages are too mealy for this recipe, so I make it using either 2 pounds (1 kilo) of ground turkey or half turkey and half pork and spice it up. I prefer to make the sausage an hour or two ahead of time if possible.

pork/turkey sausage:
1 pound ground turkey/1 pound ground pork, or 2 pounds ground turkey
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground savory
1 tsp cumin powder
splash of red wine

get in there with your hands and mix well, then refrigerate for 1 hour if possible.

oil for the pan
1 pinch cumin seed
1 red or vidalia onion, chopped medium
3 cloves garlic, chopped chunky
sausage meat from above, or 1 pound ground turkey, 1 pound italian sausage, squeezed out of casings and crumbled
2 regular cans chopped tomatoes
chili mix from above
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil (or add some fresh chopped basil at the every end)
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
2 tsp unsweetened chocolate powder (or 2 tsp instant coffee)
ground pepper to taste
1 can kidney beans, rinsed (optional)
1 can refried beans (optional)
1/2 box chunky pasta like shells or fussili cooked al dente. (optional)
small handful of chopped fresh cilantro (aka coriander leaf)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
grated cheese for the top (optional)

heat the oil in a saucepan with a lid until it is hot but not smoking, add the cumin seed and toast for 30 seconds or so until they start to brown a bit (don’t burn them), then add the onion and saute until they start to soften. Add the garlic and saute until onions are soft and start to carmelize. If you have the space and a large frying pan brown the meat at high heat and then add into the pan with the onions as you’ll get better flavor from the meat, but if you don’t have the space or inclination just brown it along with the onions. Once the meat is browned add the tomatoes chili, cumin, oregano and basil, thyme, pepper, and coco. Simmer for at least 20 minutes as the longer you cook it the better it gets. Taste and add more chili or cumin as necessary. Speaking of cumin, this spice is as important to a good chili as chili powder. Don’t skimp! Don’t add any salt yet as salt can toughen the beans, and you may get some salt from the pasta, instead wait to add salt to taste at the very very end. Refried beans make the chili thick and rich but will also deaden the flavors, so if you plan to add them make the chili more spicy and more pungent than you’d have if you were leaving it out.
I prefer to add the kidney beans at least 10-15 minutes before the chili is done if I add them at all as it softens them. Adding them just before it’s done keeps them chewy. Add the refried beans and mix well. Before serving taste and add more chili or cumin to taste. Definitely add salt at this point. Some canned tomatoes are a bit sour so if it’s too tart add a small spoon of brown sugar or honey and try it again. Once you’re satisfied remove from the heat. If mixing in pasta make sure it’s very chewy, there’s no point in adding soggy pasta. Add the fresh herbs and serve.

Note: when tasting anything spicy remember that the heat is concentrated in the oils that collect at the top of the chili. If you skim the top when tasting you’ll get more spice than the rest of the dish, so always stir and try to get a sample from under the top.

– Without the pasta this chili can be used as a burrito or enchilada filling. A great pot-luck dish is to fill a baking dish with enchiladas, pour some mole sauce on the top, cover with cheese and then bake 15-20 minutes.

– you can use any chopped leftover meats instead of fresh ground meats. Marinated pork tenderloin is especially good.