[Insert Egg Pun Here]

Easter. A time for me to reflect on my love of eggs. For your reference, here is a list of my Top 6 types of eggs:

  1. Steamed eggs with pork
  2. Scrambled eggs
  3. Scotch eggs
  4. Fried eggs
  5. Boiled eggs (so versatile)
  6. Century eggs (in the context of salted pork and century egg congee)

I’m not sure whether it’s because my mum ate A LOT of eggs when she was pregnant with me, or whether because they are super versatile, but I bloody love an egg. One of the 3 reasons I could not become vegan full-time (reason 1 = meats, reason 2 = cheese). As long as you don’t overcook them, you can use them as a source of cheap and easy to prepare protein. I love how they bring together a load of disjointed things on a plate or in a bowl – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to have a ‘fridge clear-out’ dinner before going away, and bringing it all together with… a fried egg on top, and perhaps some hot sauce of sorts.

Eggs feature a lot in my childhood food memories. I remember my first trip to Hong Kong (I was pretty young, maybe 6?) I developed a slight obsession with the fried egg sandwiches there. Bread in HK is extremely white and almost fluffy – with no crusts. Perfectly squared-off loaves are available in every supermarket and bakery. It is the perfect base for a hot fried egg sandwich; part sponge, part egg-blanket. This was also the occasion I discovered fried egg and corned beef sandwiches, but I’ll save that for another day.

Scrambled eggs were the first thing that I ever cooked on a hob (i.e. ‘proper cooking’). I think I had to do it for a Brownies badge so it forced my parents into letting me near an open flame. A 9-year old me did a little air punch. I remember having to cook this at my friend’s house (no idea why, maybe we thought we were being helpful by making a huge mess in the kitchen) and beating the eggs very thoroughly and procrastinating a lot over how much salt to add. Also, black pepper – I was incredibly confused by black pepper as we didn’t use it at all at home. We also pan fried some slices of ham (we hadn’t graduated to raw meats yet) and I was delighted by the result. I think I may have force-fed my mum and dad scrambled eggs every weekend from then on.

Steamed egg and minced pork is possibly one of my favourist things from my parents’ food repertoire. They used to make it in a large dish for dinner and I would always stall my eating to make sure that I got the last dredges of it. It was so delicious, I don’t think I ever chewed a mouthful properly. When it is in the steamer, the egg puffs up and becomes almost souffle-like. But then as soon as it is lifted out, the egg immediately deflates, not that it looks any less appetising though. My parents would always mince their own pork (usually belly – when it was cheap!) using a cleaver – this became my job when I was trusted enough with a knife that was the same size as my face. For my parents, the meal was nutritious and easy to make – something that influenced a lot of our meals as we always ate about an hour before the takeaway opened.

Today, I eat steamed egg a lot less, mainly because there are so many other things to eat. It’s something I go to when I need something that isn’t too heavy but is filling and warm. And no, I can’t make it like how my parents make it. I’m not sure what I do differently but it never tastes the same.

Ingredients:

  • Some pork (er, maybe up to 100g ish?) – I use shoulder but you can use belly and even loin if you want but some fat in it would make it more tasty. You can also totally skip the mincing part and buy pre-minced pork.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • Sesame oil (optional)
  • 1/4 cup Water
  • Soy Sauce

(Serves 2 as part of a meal with other dishes, or 1 if serving standalone)

  1. Mince your pork using a cleaver/mincer. Or use pre-minced pork (I prefer the texture when I mince it myself). Place the meat in a shallow dish (this will make cooking quicker) – n.b. make sure it’s big enough!
  2. Crack 2 eggs into the dish, add salt and a few dashes of sesame oil (optional) – beat with chopsticks.
  3. Add the 1/4 cup of water (pre-boiled) and beat again.
  4. Put a steaming rack into a large saucepan or wok – let it come up to the boil. Place the dish into the pan/wok and turn the heat right down to a gentle simmer – I would recommend using the smallest burner as you want it to steam on a low-med heat. Cook for about 15 mins (you can check whether it’s cooked by poking the centre with a chopstick to see if the egg has set/meat has cooked through).
  5. Drizzle soy sauce on the top and serve with boiled rice!

 

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Ta-da! Steamed egg with pork! I’ve put spring onions on top for fanciness but they really don’t add anything to the dish.

 

I eat my steamed egg with plain boiled rice – I kinda stir it all together and wolf it down because very little chewing is needed!

*DISCLAIMER* Now, I know that the top of this steamed egg is all bumpy and not at all refined. First of all, I didn’t grow up with the refined version because my parents didn’t have time. Secondly, because this contains meat, you need enough heat to cook it through within a reasonable amount of time. Vegetarians/steamed egg lovers – you can make this sans meat, steamed on a super low heat (like, the lowest setting on your smallest burner), and you *may* be able to achieve a smooth top and almost custard-like texture (this really depends on how low your hob can go!).

Give it a go and see what happens!

Happy cooking!

xxx

 

Dedicated to my egg-cellent friend Sophie.

Bring Me Congee

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My pimped congee with salted pork topped with preserved vegetables and chilli oil

Congee, or ‘粥’, conjures up memories of… being sick as a child. Fevers, colds, stomach bugs, and everything in between. For me, it is food that I still turn to when I’m sick, run down, or just need a hug in a bowl. A basic-bitch congee is made from rice and water which is easy for your body to digest, especially if you’re unwell. A bit like tea and toast, but way better.

It’s also super cheap to make – as a poorish undergrad student (I really had no excuse, I had a part-time job) I once reported to my mum that I’d made some congee because I was a bit skint. She asked me what I’d eaten with it (gods forbid I ate it plain) to which I responded ‘a pork chop’ – sliced and cooked in with the congee. Obviously not *that* poor that I couldn’t afford to buy myself some meat. LOL.

粥 is a staple in many Hong Kong markets, often eaten for breakfast with salted pork and century egg (my personal favourite) with a side of delicious 油炸鬼 (fried dough sticks – literally translated to ‘fried oil ghosts’) or fried egg noodles. I love a bowl of congee whenever I go back to Hong Kong – even in the 30+ degree heat. The ingredients and flavours are so simple which is probably what makes it so comforting.

It was a bit odd when I came to write down the ‘recipe’ as it occurred to me I’d never weighed or measured any of the ingredients – like boiling rice, it’s all about eyeballing. However, I measured my ‘eyeballed’ amounts and it went something like this:

1/2 cup rice (I use Thai Fragrant rice because I’m a snob)
5 cups of water or stock
Pork (1 chop/steak’s worth!) – optional, depending on how skint you’re feeling…

Makes 2 portions. Cooking time: around 20 minutes.

Method:

  1. Wash your rice and soak overnight – you can skip this part, especially if you’re impulse cooking, but I find that this makes the consistency smoother when it comes to cooking the rice.
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Soaked grains of rice

 

2. Drain the water and put your soaked/unsoaked rice in a saucepan. Add 5 cups of water and bring it to the boil. MAKE SURE THE LID IS RESTED ON THE SIDE OF THE PAN OR IT WILL BOIL OVER. Once it comes up to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes (again with the lid rested on the side of the pan to prevent boiling over). You can use stock if you’re feeling fancy but I’m not a huge fan of drinking synthetic stock. Stir occasionally.

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Rice simmering away gently.

 

3. Slice your pork thinly (you can use pretty much any cut – my favourite is shoulder) and add to the congee – cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You can also salt your pork the night before by sprinkling about a tablespoon of salt onto the chop and rinse off before using. This helps create a lovely stock while it cooks.

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I actually only used half of this as I had a really thick steaks

 

4. Your congee should end up looking a bit like the picture below. If it’s too thick for your liking, add some more water but make sure you bring it back up to the boil once more before serving to ensure it’s piping hot throughout. Add salt to taste.

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5. ‘Garnish’ and eat! I added some preserved vegetables and chilli oil to mine, with a dash of soy sauce.

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You can also top it with fried mince pork and cabbage (flavoured with ginger and sesame oil).

 

Storage: you can keep congee overnight in the fridge – just make sure that it’s properly cooled before you pop it in. To re-heat, pop it in a saucepan with some additional water (it will thicken up overnight) and bring it to a boil slowly. Or, and don’t tell my mum I do this, you can microwave it – make sure that it is piping hot before eating.

There are so many variations of what you can cook in or serve with the congee – a delight when you are not sick! Pork or chicken is always a winner as they help create the stock while cooking. I always add soy sauce, and sometimes I plop in some preserved bean curd for some savoury umaaminess. For vegetarians or vegans the addition of some preserved veg or spicy preserved hot turnips, and a side of stir fried green leafy veg is very appetising and nourishing.

Ok, now off you go and make yourself some congee. It’s not just for sick people!

Happy cooking!

xxx

We need to talk about that vegan artichoke and spinach dip.

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Pre-oven

Vegan Feast

Post-oven

Spinach and artichoke dip – it’s the American dream. I have to admit that I’ve never experienced the full-dairy experience and that this vegan version is the closest I have got so far. I’ve seen it in so many forms – often in the middle of the day on the Food Network. Apparently it’s a thing when the Superbowl is on?

I made up this recipe based on non-vegan versions I’d seen and since I had a vegan friend coming over, I thought I’d give it a go. What could go wrong? It has artichokes AND spinach in it! It was really easy to assemble – can be served with pita, tortilla chips or just bread! Make a meal of it if you like!

Recipe-ish (I eyeball a lot of these things – it’s more about ratios than exact measurements):

1 tub vegan cream cheese (I used a garlic and herb version)
1 small onion (about 2/3 of a cup)
2 garlic cloves (more if you like garlic)
2/3 – 1 cup cooked spinach (all the water is squeezed out then roughly chopped)
1/2 – 3/4 cup artichokes (drained and chopped up into scoopable pieces)
1 cup vegan cheddar-style cheese (grated)
Dash of soya cream
Salt and pepper to taste (paprika too if you fancy!)

  1. Dice onions finely and mince your garlic – pan-fry both in some oil until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese, spinach, artichokes and half of the cheddar-style cheese.
  4. Add the fried onion and enough soya cream to loosen the mixture – it needs to be scoopable so make sure that it’s not too runny or thick. Stir and season to taste.
  5. Pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the remaining cheddar-style cheese and bake! I’d leave it in the oven for at least 25-30 minutes for the ‘cheese’ to melt. Serve – but make sure that you share it with others.

My vegan friend, who took home the leftovers, reported that it is excellent warmed up and spread on toast the day after 😉 If you want to try the full-on dairy version, just replace all the non-dairy products! Oh, and if you’re a carnivore – add bacon.

Happy eating!

xxx

Vegan Food Made Easy

FYI – I haven’t turned vegan. But I admit to being a bit ve-curious, whether vegetarian or full-on vegan. Let me just quickly remind you that the humble chip is in fact vegan (assuming you’ve not ordered them at the Black Country Living Museum). It’s quite hard to go out these days without noticing the growing number of vegetarian or vegan options on the menu. I mean, there are even restaurants and cafes dedicated to plant-based eating! And about time. I love meats but recently I have made a conscious decision to eat less of it for issues of wellness. But I do still love a steak.

I love meals that are ‘accidentally’ vegan. I compare it to the feeling of going to the checkout only to find that your item has been unexpectedly reduced in price for no reason. I mean, you’re going to buy it anyway so it is an added bonus that it’s even cheaper. With accidentally-vegan fare, it’s like you’re contributing to sustainability, without even trying very hard.

I have been doing some recip-experimenting (some on a vegan friend) and have found the following things invaluable for ‘ve-mergencies’:

  • Puff pastry (Lidl’s is vegan)
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Spices (I have a jar of pre-mixed spices as per the Souk Spice Root Vegetables recipe in Sabrina Ghayour’s ‘Sirocco’ – literally delicious on everything)
  • Pulses (usually chickpeas or beans)
  • Those vegan shroomdogs from Sainsbo’s that I have become a bit addicted to

Pastry can be used in many, many ways whether you’re vegan or not. My favourite is to make a pie or a tart – depending on how much time I’ve got. Tart’s are well easy – shove a load of things you like on the top and pop it in the oven (don’t forget to create a barrier by scoring lightly with a knife to create the border – nobody wants SPILLAGE FFS). I particularly love the combo of artichoke, onions, mushrooms and Gary (or vegan cheese). I had a vegan artichoke pizza in a lovely restaurant called Billy and Lucy in Melbourne last year and was baffled by it’s simplicity and nommyness. Artichoke, onions and vegan cheese. In the words of Guy Fieri ‘that’s all she wrote’, and when I came home and started topping everything with artichoke, onions and Gary immediately.

Artichoke and Mushroom Tart

Vegan Artichoke and Mushroom Tart

Tinned tomatoes are a staple in my larder because they are so versatile; soups, curries, sauces etc. you name it, in they go! They’re particularly great for stews and one pot meals. Combine with the holy trinity that is celery, carrot and onion (the only time I will eat celery knowingly) and you have a brilliant base to which you can add spices and pulses for something warm and filling. FYI, this is vegan – unless you fancy adding some meats and cooking it low and slow. See? Easies.

Vegan Feast

Lower right – vegan chorizo and lentil hot pot

Spices are a godsend – again, for any food, not just vegan or vegetarian food. They perk up a bland dish and turns it into something completely different. I always have a jar of pre-mixed ‘souk spices’ (thank you Sabrina Ghayour). The original recipe is as follows:

2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp garlic granules

I usually quadruple the recipe, pop it in a jar and it’s there ready when I need it. Great for any roast vegetable combinations (and also meats). I’d recommend adding some fresh mushed garlic too for added yums.

Cavolo Nero and Souk-Spiced Butternut Squash

Cavolo Nero and Souk-Spiced Butternut Squash

This is a bit of an introduction to how I’ve adapted the ways that I like to cook (as a carnivore) to suit my new-found part-time veggie/accidental vegan ways. I have a few  other ideas up my sleeves (I NEED TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE VEGAN SPINACH AND ARTICHOKE DIP) and will tell you all about them v. soon!

Happy eating.
xxx

 

GOOD EATS – #ConnieCooks MAY BANK HOLIDAY EDITION

Bank holidays mean two things for me: excessive sleeping and a chance to get creative in the kitchen. I was a lucky bunny this weekend as I was fed by others, three evenings in a row. Yes, THREE EVENINGS. For one of the evenings, I thought maybe I should show willing and bake a little sweet treat for desert.

I used to bake A LOT. When I first moved up to Birmingham I went into some sort of baking frenzy. To the point where I set up Connie’s Cake Emporium (yeah, the website is still live but I no longer bake to order so please don’t call me to order anything). It all came to a natural end when I got a proper full time job. Turns out juggling full time work (with a commute to a whole other city) and baking to-order meant that I got very little sleep. Unfortunately, the baking had to give.

Having moved last year and not having a functioning kitchen for about 6 months, I didn’t get to bake at all. In fact, I think I lost my baking mojo a little bit. So it was a bit of a relief this weekend when I got a bit of time to get back into the swing of baking. However, all was not well.

Now, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with pastry. It turns out great if I wing it (e.g. don’t weigh the ingredients) but as soon as I follow a recipe… may the wrath be upon me. I am a big fan of Rachel Allen so I figured, why not try her Passionfruit and Lemon Tart? I should have known it was going to be a fail when I couldn’t find any passionfruit, a super lemony tart it was going to have to be. The recipe itself was really easy to follow and assemble, until the actual baking part.

I followed the recipe and all was well until the part where I had to take it out of the oven… it still looked really wobbly. According to Rachel, the tart should only wobble ‘a little bit’. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? To me, the tart was still very wobbly so I put it back in the oven. BIG MISTAKE. Because this happened:

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The saddest lemon tart, ever. Or ‘lemon quiche’ as my sister so kindly put it.

Yes. somehow I managed to make a lemon quiche instead of a tart. This simply will not do. In hindsight, I should have just taken it out when it was, to me, still ‘quite wobbly’. Lesson learnt so let’s move on.

As the Lemon Quiche was not beautiful enough to take to a dinner party, I decided to bung together a flourless chocolate cake instead. Dead simple recipe, can’t get it wrong. Phew, those were not my famous last words. Turns out that Delicious magazine haven’t published the recipe online so here it is (slightly adjusted because I used all dark chocolate instead of half dark and half milk), typed by my own fingers, just for you all:

Ingredients

  • 300g dark chocolate
  • 250g butter (A WHOLE BLOCK!), plus some extra to grease
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated (free range, obvs)
  • 1tsp vanilla essence/vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar

You will also need a 23cm springform cake tin with the base lined and sides greased. An oven will help too.

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THIS RECIPE WILL SUCCEED.

1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC/160º fan/gas mark 4. Put the chocolate and butter in a heavy-based saucepan and melt on a low heat. Once melted, add 100g of the sugar and stir. Put the pan aside to cool slightly before transferring mixture into a large mixing bowl. Proceed to add the vanilla and egg yolks – mix well but do not beat.

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Is that enough chocolate?


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Don’t think I added enough butter.

2. Now, I have the luxury of a Kitchen Aid with a balloon whisk attachment – if you don’t have one, a hand-held electric beater will be as good. Shove the egg whites in a super clean bowl (the tiniest bit of fat will be problematic for the meringue mix) and whisk the hell out of it. When it becomes foamy, add your cream of tartar. Continue whisking until you get stiff peaks – when you lift your whisk out of the mix, the egg whites should stand stiff and upright. Whisk in the remaining 100g of sugar, one tablespoon at a time until you get a delightfully thick, white, glossy meringue.

 

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Fluffy fluffy.

3. Mix a spoonful of your meringue mix into your chocolate mixture to ‘loosen’ it. Continue to fold in the remaining meringue in 4-5 additions. Use a large metal spoon and a figure-of-eight motion, scrape the sides of the bowl, then fold the mix over the top of itself, giving the bowl a quarter turn each time. Don’t forget to scrape the bottom of your bowl to make sure you’ve incorporated all that chocolately goodness.

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*dies*

4. Spoon the batter into your cake tin and bake for 40 minutes or until the mixture has risen and starts to crack on the top. Don’t worry about too many cracks – they will become crevices for holding cream/ice cream. Cool the cake in the tin – serve warm or at room temperature with dairy goodness of your choice!

Word of advice: the cake will deflate A LOT but fret not, it will taste real good.

Oh my days this cake is like a really intense brownie. But better. Slightly crumbly, rich but incredibly light considering that each mouthful contains about a tablespoon of butter. We ate this with a cup of tea but it would benefit from pouring cream, ice cream, or even custard if you dare. A real easy, faff-free recipe!

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YAAAASSS


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OMNOMNOM