Chicken Soup (for the soul)

The best dish in the world is chicken soup made by someone you love especially for you. I had quite forgotten the magic of this simple soup that nourishes the soul until someone who loves me made it for me a week ago. He said, with a wry smile, there are seven jewels of Asia in it.

I paid if forward today and made it for someone I love deeply. I can’t quite figure out all the seven jewels of Asia, but here’s my version:

  1. 1 organic chicken quarter (I used chicken breast)
  2. 10 red Chinese dates
  3. A quarter cupful of goji berries
  4. A fee shitake mushrooms
  5. 3 cloves garlic, roughly smashed
  6. 3/4 inch ginger
  7. 1 chilli (or less)
  8. Szechuan peppercorns
  9. Bok choi
  10. For garnish: fresh flat leaf parsley
  11. For garnish: spring onions
  12. Salt and pepper

Boil everything except the boy choitogether (I boiled mine for 2 hours, with a dash of cider vinegar). In the last 2 minutes before serving, add the book choi. Season and garnish. Serve with love ❤

(I love the delicate flavour of this version, as opposed to my usual more hearty one)

Adobo – a much-loved Filipino dish

My youngest child’s godmother is Filipino, and when she and her daughter came to stay with me in London for a few days, I decided to make her national dish. It does take a lot of work but it is well worth it – what a heart-warming comfort food! It was actually a joint effort – I started it off and she finished the cooking process. This is our version (she added Worcestershire sauce and fried onions and fried garlic as garnishing).

Step 1:

Pork belly, preferably with a thick layer of fat

¼ cup salt

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp ground black pepper

1 star anise

3 bay leaves

3 cloves garlic chopped

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp cider vinegar

1 cup water

Cut the pork into thick long strips, about 1 inch wide.

Mix all other ingredients thoroughly and pour over the pork. Marinade the pork in this overnight (I do this in a casserole dish that I just put into the oven the next day).

The next day, roast the pork in its marinade, after wrapping it on top with parchment paper and wrapping the top of the casserole dish with tin foil.

Bake in an oven (235F/160C) for approximately 3 hours.

Put on a wire rack to cool and then refrigerate overnight.

Step 2:

Deep fry the pork in hot oil until the skin is crispy. Slice the thick pork strips up.

Step 3 (making the gravy)

1 cup water

1 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp sunflower oil

3 bay leaves

2 tbsp black pepper

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2/3 cup coconut milk (this is optional, Rona said her daughter prefers it without).

Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes until rich and thick.

Step 4:

Heat up the pork and put in the gravy.

Fry sliced onions and garlic in sunflower oil to garnish.

Slice spring onions to garnish.

Serve with boiled rice and poached eggs. This is our simple Filipino dinner.

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PS: It tastes even better as leftover. Woy took it to work in a Tupperware – rice at the bottom, meat ladled on top and sauteed vegetables on the side. he said it’s almost as good as his bigos, the Polish national dish – recipe coming up next!

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“Gourmet Challenge” Quiche

When my children were tiny and right up to their teens, we often spend the summer in our family hideaway on the Sierra Tramuntana on the isle of Mallorca. Here, for the blissful weeks of summer, we would live and eat simply.  What’s lovely is that over the years, many friends joined us at Melcion and the love grows.

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Photo: my father and my son Jack.

One of our favourite family games at Melcion is Gourmet Challenge. The premise of the game is very simple: you have to rustle up a gourmet feast just from the ingredients you can find around the house and the garden.

The idea is quite simply Waste Not, Want Not. I abhor gratuitous trips to the supermarkets just to pick up one or two missing ingredients – what a waste of petrol, what a waste of time and what a waste of money, because you always end up buying more than what you set out for.

And the best thing about a Gourmet Challenge is you never really know what you’re going to get, and it is fun!

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Photo: my little gourmets.

So, on this rainy day, I made a “Gourmet Challenge” Quiche. I found an old bag of spinach in my freezer that had been thawed and refrozen so many times, a leek (slightly off), two tomatoes and half an onion. I had the usual staples in my house – milk, cream, cheese, butter, eggs, garlic.  I even made the pastry from scratch!

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C/350 deg F.

For the pastry:

  • 100g unsalted butter, straight out of the fridge
  • 200g flour, sifted
  • 6 tablespoon cold water.

Cut the cold, hard butter into small cubes (save the wrapper for greasing the flan tin).  Rub the butter and the flour until they resemble breadcrumbs.

Add the water. Knead the dough, but not excessively, because you are not making bread! Shape into a ball, wrap the dough in beeswax wrap (or cling film, if you don’t have it) and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Grease the flan tin with the butter wrapper. Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough.  Line the greased flan tin with the dough. It doesn’t matter if your dough crumbles – you can see from this photo that mine didn’t come away neatly in one large piece and I had to patch it up!

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It is highly recommended that you pre-bake the flan before adding in the filling, but I didn’t. If you wish to do things by the book, here’s how (as my mother would):

Line the pastry with foil and weigh down with baking beads or beans. Place the tin on a baking tray, then pop in the hot oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove the beans and the foil, then return to the oven for a further 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden.

For the filling:

Here’s the thing: baked cheese tastes good, no matter what.  This quiche that I made was especially yummy because I crumbled garlic Boursin into it (such decadence).

  • 3 large, organic eggs
  • 50g grated cheddar
  • 1/4 a garlic Boursin
  • 6 tablespoon creme fraiche
  • Approximately 50ml cooking cream
  • Salt and pepper

Mix all together until you have a thick slurry – adjust the volume of cooking cream used. Season generously.

These are the possible vegetable filling for your Gourmet Challenge Quiche (only the first four ingredients are important, the others are up to you):

  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • One red onion, sliced
  • Half a bunch of thyme
  • Few rashers of bacon
  • Frozen spinach, thawed, and water squeezed out
  • Leeks, sliced

Saute the garlic in olive oil until fragrant. Add the rest and continue to saute until thoroughly coated with the garlic-olive oil. Pour this into the prepared flan dish and finally, pour in the cream-egg-cheese slurry.

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Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the filling is almost set. Leave to cool slightly, then carefully remove the flan tin. Delicious either hot or cold, and lasts for a couple of days in the fridge….enjoy 🙂

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My cookbook, The Ca’n Melcion Cookbook which chronicles the food of those magical summers, is available on Amazon. Click on this link for a free preview.

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Classic Stroganoff

I went for dinner at my dear friend Alan Thatcher’s, and it seems sublime that we were sat in his English garden on Phuket island eating this traditional fare from home.  I literally licked the bowl clean and recreated it (without Alan’s pizzazz, of course) two days later.

Here it is:

  1. 500g fillet steak (this recipe works equally well with pork)
  2. 1 cup good quality beef stock
  3. 1 large Spanish onion (sliced)
  4. 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
  5. 1 cup mushrooms (quartered)
  6. 50ml sour cream
  7. 1 cup brandy
  8. Pinch of paprika
  9. Juice of 1 lemon
  10. Knob of butter
  11. Salt & pepper to taste

(I added frozen peas whilst Alan used sliced carrots).

  • Sear the meat in butter. You must sear the meat.
  • When browned (about 30 seconds in a hot pan) add the onion and garlic. Saute until both are soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and stir for a minute or so.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT the sour cream.
  • Bring to boil until you get a thickish gravy.
  • Add the sour cream, stir in until thoroughly mixed.  If you are adding frozen peas, now is a good time. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes, adjusting the consistency.
  • Season generously.

Delicious with pasta or boiled rice. My kids loved this!

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One of my loveliest memories from my youth is of my parents walking on the coast of our beloved Hampshire, picking samphires from the sea.

“Yukky,” I used to grimace.

“In the war, we used to eat this, and the seaweed called carrageen moss, for the minerals. It saved our health, during the food rationing years,” my mum would say again and again.

On impulse, I decided to forage for samphires but chanced upon lovely beds of glasswort instead, so emerald in the summer sun in Bosham, again, one of the favourite places of my childhood.

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Glassworts are also known as sea beans, and you could eat them raw. But the taste is more ‘acceptable’ to the palate not used to the strong taste.

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Cooking instructions:

First of all, make sure that there is no pollution in the area where the glasswort grows. Anti-foul from boats are poisonous!

Boil for 10 minutes in a large pan of water (this will remove some of the saltiness.

Blanch immediately in cold water to keep its crispness.

Toss in olive oil and toasted sesame oil.

Top with finely grated ginger and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with avocado to soften the taste.

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Note: what I love is the fact that this tastes like the seaweed dish I once fell in love with in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo….and to think, I can pick it in my backyard, literally!

Eat like a King, cheaply, seasonally

Inspired by Tom Hunt’s article, How to eat like a chef for less than £20 a week, I ventured out to the lively North End Road market to see what bargains I can find:

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Despite my son getting his motorbike stolen by yobs in the market (London is becoming increasingly lawless), I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole array for fruits and vegetables on offer, even exotic ones. This place is such a cultural melting pot – it feels as if the world had arrived at the outer fringes of Fulham:

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I bought:

  • Rhubarb £1.50 for 1 kg
  • Strawberries £2 for a large punnet
  • Raspberries £1 for a small punnet
  • Blackcurrants £1 for a small punnet
  • Red peppers £1 for 4
  • Large Aubergines £1 for 3
  • Button mushrooms £1 per bag
  • Red onions £1 per large bag
  • Avocados £1 for 4
  • Rocket leaves £2 for a very large bag
  • Spinach £2 for a very large bag
  • Garlic £1 for a bag

I popped into the supermarket:

  • to buy Brie (on offer) for £1
  • a loaf of seeded loaf 65p
  • one tin of chopped tomatoes 50p
  • Beetroot 60p

Total cost of shopping: £17.25.

Challenge:  to feed four adults with big appetites who are spoilt when it comes to food (i.e. steak and truffle mash are common fare).

This is what I rustled up:

Breakfast:

Oat porridge with berries (and some stewed rhubarb for that extra kick)

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Lunch:

Brie and rocket sandwich with a large salad bowl

Dinner:

Aubergine and pepper stuffed with garlic mushrooms, onions and aubergine on a bed of creamed spinach.

Dessert:

Stewed rhubarb with leftover strawberries.

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Verdict:  “Yummy, but not everyday please, Mum!!!!”

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So we are back to this (great book, by the way, my all-time favourite, it beats Delia and Nigella hands-down)… but it’s expensive to cook from this book of family favourites.

Conclusion:

I’m still a long way off from being as accomplished as Tom Hunt when it comes to budget cooking 🙂  So here’s my challenge to you: what is the minimum you can spend for a day of healthy and yummy menu for ravenous, growing folks?

 

Sourdough ciabatta

There is nothing quite as satisfying as baking bread by hand (fortunately, my family loves bread, in particular, my focaccia). You can find my recipe for a very simple focaccia here.

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But today I am going to give you my recipe of sourdough ciabatta.  It’s rather different in taste and also in methodology. I prefer the ciabatta, actually, because it’s chewy with that sourdough taste which I love.  It’s just sooooo good!

But warning, don’t attempt this if you get freaked out by sticky dough….it difficult to wash off!

First, you have to make the biga, the starter.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 teaspoon, dry yeast, but make sure that it is still alive, which means it should get frothy after standing in warm water;
  • 1/4 cup warm water;
  • 3/4 cup water at room temperature;
  • 350g unbleached all-purpose flour.

DIRECTIONS for the biga

Mix the yeast in the warm water and let it stand for about 10-15 minutes. It should get frothy and creamy.

Stir in the flour and the remaining water into the yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon and stir for about 5 minutes until a sticky dough forms.

Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 24 hours (and more!).

Ingredients

  • 500g biga (what you made above yields that);
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast;
  • 5 tablespoons warm milk;
  • 1 cup water at room temperature;
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 500g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

 

DIRECTIONS for the ciabatta

Mix the yeast and milk together, and let the mixture stand for about 10-15 minutes.

When it is frothy and creamy, mix it with the biga, oil and water.

Add the flour and the salt.  Knead in the mixing bowl. Note: the dough will be sticky, but DO NOT add more flour. Then knead in a floured surface for a few minutes.

Put in an oiled bowl, cover with a warm towel and let it rise for 1 hour 30 minutes or thereabouts.

Then knead again until the dough is elastic (it’s OK if it is still a bit sticky).

Divide into four, knead again and let it rise for another 1 hour 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350degrees.

Pull dough into rectangular shapes (shown below).

 

Bake in a heavy baking try lined with parchment paper.

Bake for about 30 minutes, opening the door after 10 minutes to spray the oven with cold water. Do this a couple of times.

You may wish to add chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes and/or pesto to make a really delicious Italian bread.

Quinoa and dates energy balls

Quinoa is one of those amazing food that is gluten-free, high in protein and is also one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. I normally cook a pot and use it as salad base.

Photo: quinoa with sugarsnap peas and garlic roasted courgettes in a light balsamic dressing.

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But last week, I decided to make energy balls with my red quinoa.

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked quinoa (cook according to packet instructions)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds and 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
5 teaspoons honey
10 pitted dates
¼ cup almond butter
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
A handful of raisins
1 tablespoon chia seeds

Method:

Heat the oven to 350°. Mix together the quinoa, oats and sunflower seeds with the honey, coating them evenly. Pour into a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake until brown and crunchy (around 20 minutes), stirring once or twice so that they brown all over.  Cool.

Toast the almonds.

Combine the dates, almond butter, coconut oil, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Add the almonds, chia seeds, and toasted quinoa and oats. Mix well with your hands and shape into balls (this recipe makes about 24).

Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Note: they are also tasty as granola.

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Adaptogens: for your body’s maintenance

I turned 50 last year and people often ask me what I do and eat to keep my youthfulness. Actually, I am quite a naughty girl: I am partial to dairy (milk and cheese!) and to the odd bottle of wine. And though I live an active and healthy lifestyle, my body does need additional nutritional support (especially in the last two months, where I have been stressed out – and in the next few months, when I go back to work!).  Here’s what I take:

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Our body needs so many things, especially if you live a busy, stressful lifestyle in a polluted city.  You’ve heard of co-enzymes, but what about adaptogens? These herbs and mushrooms have been used for centuries in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine.

Though it is not “hard science” yet, there is increasing evidence that these group of nutrients have the effect of normalising the body’s imbalances (adverse effect of stress, pollution and poor nutrition)  and slowing down ageing effects.

Personally, I incorporate adaptogens into my diet to balance out inflammation caused by dairy, alcohol, sugar and stress. I also use very little products on my skin, choosing instead to nourish it from the inside.

The most well-known adaptogen is of course, ginseng.

For women, these are particularly good:

  • Ashwagandha: Soothing.
  • Rhodiola: Calming.
  • Holy Basil: For vitality.
  • Shatavari: The Hormonal Harmoniser, Queen of Women’s Adaptogens.
  • Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng): For brain alertness and stamina.
  • Reishi Mushroom and astragalus: For the immune system.

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Photo: astragalus, licorice root, ginseng and holy basil stems.

I just throw the roots and barks (of what I need) into a slow cooker and boil overnight with some organic chicken carcass and vegetables. Seen here: fresh stalks from the holy basil.

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Living in Asia at the moment, I can get hold of these roots and barks very easily from traditional herbal shops.

Whilst home in the UK, I use the powder form.

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But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. For example, holy basil, which I put in my green smoothies and raw on my spaghetti, is a powerful adaptogen. Turmeric is another powerful one, which functions as an anti-inflammatory.

If you are not feeling 100% but can’t quite put your finger on why, then perhaps adaptogens might be what you need to bring your body back into balance. That’s what people in the olden days do to maintain wellness, instead of pill-popping. So do your research, speak with a few specialists and maybe try this.

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Almond cake with sunflower seed pralines

Wheat forms such a large part of our lives. Once, I had to care for someone who has IBS/coeliac disease and it literally took me a whole day to plan, research and cook the meals.  I didn’t mind actually, as I love spending time with food. Here’s my forays into making something nice for my friend who is trying to adhere to a keto diet:

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My friend Rona likes her sweet treats and she is supposed to be on a keto diet. As my daughter had been staying at her place for the past few days, I feel obliged to try my hand at keto baking (note: I am not an expert baker).

The first few efforts bite the dust. They taste like something from the bottom of a bird cage. Anyway, this one sort of works (thank you, sour cream) and not too bad. Sorry, there is sugar in it, though reduced….. the coffee, nutty bits make it more-ish. But still a long way to go, very amateurish but with lots of heart!

To make a coffee pralines:

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon coffee granules (NOT instant coffee, or they would dissolve)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Mix all together and put aside.

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups ground almond
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla essence.

Sieve together the almond meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Slowly add the powder mix into the butter-and-sugar mix, alternating with eggs and sour cream.

In a grease-proof baking tray, alternate 1/3 of the cake mix with the pralines.

Bake in a preheated oven (around 350F) for an hour or until firm.

Delicious with coffee 🙂

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