Monday 2 June 2014

Fish Sauce for Dipping

You know that stuff that you get at the Vietnamese place that's in a little bowl with floaty carrots?  It's called fish sauce, but it's not the same as the fish sauce you get in the store.  It's actually very diluted and sweetened.  Also if you can use this to dump on to noodle bowls.  Here's the recipe:

Fish Sauce (for Dipping)

1 cup sugar
4 cups water
small handful of grated carrot
8 Tbsp vinegar
2 cloves garlic (crushed & minced)
6 Tbsp fish sauce (use Squid Brand)

1. This first part is a bit tricky so be careful.  In a saucepan melt sugar until it just starts to turn gold (this happens super fast and quickly turns too brown and nasty, if that happens start over).  Immediately add the water in, which will cause a hell-storm of spattering (you've been warned).  Things will calm down to a light boil, at which point you will stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
2. Add carrots, vinegar, garlic.  Let cool to room temperature.
3. Add fish sauce.  If you add the fish sauce when the mixture is still hot, you and everything in your house will smell strongly of fermented fish for a month.  This keeps in the fridge for a long time.

Spring Rolls

Many years ago a friend of mine and I took a Vietnamese cooking class through one of those adult education flyers you get from the City recreation department.  I had never done one of these things, so it was pleasant surprise when I found out the class was no-nonsense and we came in and got straight to the cooking.

Our instructor prepared a shopping list for us, which brands and where to get them, which was handy because some of the ingredients were a bit obscure.  Like most cooking, it's 50% technique and 50% ingredients, so it really helps if you see how something is done.  The only deficiency from the class was that the recipes did not have all of the quantities listed.  Luckily, I made copious notes!

So here are the recipes, which you can play around with to create a number of very nice Vietnamese meals.

Spring Rolls

1 bag of clear noodles*
8 large carrots
1 or 2 lbs ground pork
1 cup dried black mushroom (fungus)*
5 onions
2 packages of spring roll wrappers**
2 eggs
2 Tbsp salt
4 Tbsp black pepper
4 Tbsp oyster sauce (Panda brand)
4 Tbsp dark (cooking) soya sauce (Rooster brand dark label)
4 cups bean sprouts (optional, but I always use them)

*These are ingredients that you may have to get at a specialty store (or Superstore if you live in a big city).  The clear noodles are sometimes called cellophane noodles or bean noodles - they will be clear when you cook them, unlike rice noodles, which are white.  I have included links so you can see what these things look like.
**I usually use the flour-based square wrappers that come frozen, although you can also use the small dry rice paper wrappers.  The latter can bit a little harder to work with and do not freeze well, but they are very tasty.

1. Boil a pot of water, take off heat and add noodles to soak (as per instructions on pack).
2. Prepare vegetables- Soak black mushroom in boiling water till soft and chop finely.  Grate carrots (food processor is easiest).  Mince onions finely (food processor again is best here).  Chop up noodles with a knife (about 1" long or so).
2. In a medium bowl, mix pork, eggs, salt, pepper, oyster sauce, soya sauce together.
3. In a truly giant bowl, mix vegetable/noodles with meat mixture and bean sprouts.  You will need to use your hands and mix thoroughly.
4. (a) Thaw and separate spring roll wrappers.  Place a bit of of the filling inside and wrap, 'gluing' the end with some beaten egg.  There is a bit of a trick to this.  It's hard to explain how to do it, but there are hundreds of you-tube videos that will show you better than I can explain.
4. (b) If you want to use the clear rice paper wrappers, get a bowl of hot water ready and a clean tea towel.  Dunk the wrapper in to the hot water and place it on the tea towel.  Wait a bit and it will be soft.  Fill with filling and wrap.  These are self sealing so no egg needed, but they are like duct tape, once they are stuck to themselves, they don't come apart.
5. Deep fry on high setting until golden brown.
6. (optional)  This recipe makes a MASSIVE amount, which is handy because these freeze incredibly well.  In fact, they may actually taste better after they have been frozen and re-heated in the oven.  If you are planning on freezing them, just make sure they are cooked a wee bit less.  Think a lighter gold.  Re-heat in a toaster oven or regular oven just as you would store-bought spring rolls.

Next recipe posted will be fish sauce for dipping.

Friday 8 June 2012

Preserving Rhubarb

A few weeks ago we made apple sauce in anticipation of wee Howard moving into solid food at some point.  Since we made 'chunky style' there was a large pile of peels and cores left over.  I searched the internets and found that you can make an apple flavoured pancake syrup or jelly from the peels - so we ended up with two products from one!  I guess this is old news to some, but I thought it was pretty nifty.  Next time we're making apple cider vinegar from the peels.

Last night I took the same approach to another project.

I'm a big fan of rhubarb in all its forms, but have been especially keen to try rhubarb juice for a while now.  I used the following recipe which can be found in numerous places on the web (originally from the 'Ball Blue Book', I've scaled it up based on the fact the original only makes a measly 3ish pints):

Rhubarb Sunshine Juice Concentrate

18 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces
6 cups water
2 lemons
1 large orange
2-1/4 cups sugar

Combine the rhubarb and water with the zest of the lemons and orange in a big pot.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb is mush.  Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a suitably large pot and strain the mush for 2 or 3 hours.  Add the sugar and juice from the lemons and orange to the pot and heat to 190 F but do not boil (I used a candy thermometer to check).  Place in clean pint jars (no need to sterilise) and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  For me it yielded just over 6 pints (there was about a quarter cup left over, which I used as you will see below).  To use, dilute 1:1 with whatever you want - water or ginger ale, etc..

So, what to do with the leftover rhubarb mush?  Well, I found this recipe from the Show Food Chef blog.  It appealed to me straight away as I was looking for a conserve rather than a jam as we eat a lot of home made yoghurt.  The difference is simply that you don't add pectin or boil it hard enough to make a firm spread.  The original recipe looks fantastic and no doubt is, but I needed to ad lib a bit here so apologies to Ms Shambley.  What I had to work with was a mush that had most of the colour and some of the flavour leached out of it.  I had two things going for me here though... first the mush did contain citrus zest and secondly the recipe does call of the addition of extra fruit.  I ended up with a delicious conserve with an earthy green colour, not as pretty as the original, but the flavour is fantastic!  The colour and texture are similar to chow, so I decided to call my version Breakfast Chow.  The recipe is also scaled to work with what I had left over from the Sunshine.

Breakfast Chow
(aka  Rhubarb-Pineapple-Coconut Conserve)

2 lb rhubarb mush (you'll probably have a few ounces more actually)
1-1/2 lb sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 cans crushed pineapple (300-something mL ones or 15 oz)
1 cup shredded or flaked coconut

Put everything in a pot and bring to a boil, add the leftover sunshine and a bit of water to make it the right consistency.  I used the candy thermometer to see that it got up to 190 F.  If you want a firmer spread bring it to 225 and do the jam test thingy with the cold plate or however you do it.  Place in pint jars and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  This yielded 5 and a bit pints.

So, all said, there were 6 pints of Sunhine and 5ish pints of conserve... all from one grocery bag of rhubarb! Pretty nifty.

Friday 9 March 2012

eating out

Well, here's a tricky one...

The UK in general has a bit of a bad reputation in the food department and despite my generally large appetite and forgiving palate, I must say that reputation is probably deserved.  Sadly, Scotland, as a nation, may have an even worse reputation.

Quips about deep fried mars bars and 'the best chippy in Scotland' debate aside, I've decided to dedicate this post to just a few places I'll actually miss eating at and/or would tell visitors to check out.  So, in no particular order...

Kebab King
119 Victoria Road, Torry, Aberdeen AB11 9LX
Make no mistake, this guy is actually Kebab royalty.  His take away shop is located in a (ahem) colourful neighbourhood near the prison in Aberdeen.  I believe the proprietor is originally from Turkey and does his country proud.  His chicken kebabs are made from marinated chicken cooked to order on a smoky grill.  Likewise his sauces are fantastic and portions are substantial.  Everyone I've taken here has been initially a bit sceptical of 'going out of the way' to get a kebab, but has been surprised once they've seen what is on offer.

57 West Regent Street, Glasgow G2 2AE
This is my favourite Indian place in Scotland.  The food is full of great texture and flavour, far beyond what you normally get in an 'average' Indian restaurant.  The naan bread is massive and the peshwari naan is the best I've ever had.  Typically I find peshwari naan to be sweet and gaudy, but Assam's version is beautifully executed.  Lastly, the spiced haddock starter may be the best Indian dish I have ever tasted.  Cooked and served in a simple foil wrap it never fails to amaze.

The But n' Ben
Auchmithie, Arbroath DD11 5SQ
Scotland has a terrible habit of not serving its own food.  There are few places where you can go to eat the kind of food a Scottish granny would make and the ones that do specialise in this type of food generally do it poorly and very self-consciously.  The But 'n Ben do this sort of thing perfectly and in a breathtaking location on top of the cliffs a few minutes drive from Arbroath.  You can get mince and tatties, cullen skink, clootie dumpling as well as some more modern twists on the local speciality - smoked haddock.

Monday 2 January 2012


The outside world (including most of England, I'm led to believe) imagines Scotland as a mystical wilderness full of beautiful serene glens and quietly grazing sheep.  Perhaps there's a highlander afar off playing the bagpipes?

To be fair, Scotland plc, is happy to promote this image and why not?  It sells a lot of shortbread.  However, for most people living in Scotland, this is not reality.  Twenty-first century Scots (as well as twentieth and nineteenth century ones) are mostly city dwellers.  The glens are lovely, but if you do venture out, you'll be more likely to see a German tourist or a middle-aged English hill walkers than an 'average' Scot.

So, what of these cities?

Well, as a Canadian, there are certain qualities possessed by all Scottish cities have that I find desirable.  Firstly, they are typically pedestrian/public transport friendly.  Despite having a very strong car culture, you are still able to get in and out of every city in Scotland quickest by train.  No worries about getting lost or stuck in traffic, once you get off the train you can relax and start enjoying the place.

Also, unlike Canada, Scotland has held on to its low-rise city scape.  There are tall buildings, but the distinctive nature of a city's architecture here is best appreciated up close rather than far away. 

So, these things being equal, I nominate Glasgow as my favourite city!

Aside from being the largest metropolitan area in the country by far, Glasgow is easily the friendliest and most vibrant of Scottish cities.  Yes, Edinburgh is charming, but beyond the looks it lacks something that Glasgow has.  As a post-industrial city, one can see how the great engineering works drew people to Glasgow from across Scotland and the world.  Coming out of a period of decline in the late 20th century, the city has kept apace through it's own merits and people.  If you were looking for a good restaurant in Scotland, it would be in Glasgow.  Music gig - Glasgow; specialist shop - Glasgow; rare car part - Glasgow; subway system - Glasgow; intraurban rail network - Glasgow; great airport - Glasgow... the list goes on.

I should end this post by saying that this could easily turn into an ugly game of Edinburgh-trashing.  It is also a fine city and a certain destination for tourists (for good reason).  I have worked in Edinburgh and seeing the view as I walk out of the Waverley train station does brighten my day and make me think - THIS is town planning at its finest.  But, if I were to choose a city to live in, it would be Glasgow.

Thursday 22 December 2011

the best of scotland

I've been thinking that it might be fun to do a little series of blog entries over the holidays and perhaps beyond (while I still have free time) about my experience living here in Scotland.

One of the challenges of blogging is trying to keep your posts (relatively) interesting.  Since starting this blog, I've taken a fairly relaxed approach since I understand I have a relatively limited audience.  An audience who, more than likely, knows me personally and will tolerate a less engaging read.  However, that's no reason to be dull.

With that sentiment in mind, I've decided to do a few 'best of Scotland' entries that will expose my own tastes and reflect a few of my (mostly positive) opinions on my life here.  

Monday 17 October 2011

Irish Oatmeal

To continue the breakfast theme around here... I've had a request for the slow cooker steel cut oats that are a feature in our breakfast rotation. As it's getting colder around here, it's perfect timing. The recipe comes from one of my favourite cookbooks of late Slow Cooker Revolution, from my heroes at ATK/Cook's Illustrated.

As a very oaty household, we typically have a few types of oats about - jumbo rolled oat (our standard porridge oat), quick rolled oats (for mixing in raw to yoghurt) and pinhead, also called steel cut (for a different type of porridge).

I need to preface this with the fact that in my mind, oatmeal porridge ought to be a mostly savoury dish. I don't normally like anything sweet in mine, bar dried fruit. Although I do like cold evaporated milk. So this recipe is a bit off the norm for me.

Steel cut oats are delicious and have a great texture, but are a bit of a pain to prepare, compared to rolled oats. This slow-cooker method makes it a snap and the leftovers are easily reheated. Since we have a very basic slow cooker (sans timer) I just plug ours into one of those timer socket thingies to get the right cooking time for it to be ready at breakfast. If you leave it cook too long, it's all ballooned out.

Irish Oatmeal

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I've used salted and just back on the salt)
2 cups steel-cut oats
8 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat, add the oats in and toast. You need to make sure to stir this well as they can get dark quickly. You want them to be a golden colour and smell quite nice. Transfer over to the slow cooker and add the water and salt, cook on LOW setting for 4-6 hours. Our slow cooker tends to run hot, so they're done in 4, easily. Stir the porridge well and let it sit for about 10 min before serving, it just evens out a bit and is less hot.

The book provides a few options to this recipe - Cinnamon & Raisins, Bananas & Walnuts and Apples & Raisins. We've tried the first option, in which you simply add 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 tsp of cinnamon and 1 cup of raisins. I love it! I'm hoping to try the banana one soon... For it you reduce the water to 7.5 cups and add 4 mashed bananas, 1 cup of toasted walnuts, 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon.

The real efficiency from this recipe is the leftover factor. It makes quite a lot and reheats as new. Just need to add a bit of water to get the right texture, although I prefer it solid.