Tag Archives: cooking

Wok and Wolling!

25 Aug

The question of what a person wants for his or her birthday is always a tricky one.

So when the boy asked me what might hit the mark, I threw it back to his court, not wanting to be put in the driver’s seat. My only suggestion: something different that we can both learn from.

And on my birthday day, that’s exactly what I found wrapped up for me. A class for two to learn to make dim sum at the aptly named, School of Wok in Covent Garden – the boy done good!

The school is a new addition to Chandos Place, having been set up in late June by Jeremy Pang. He began cooking after deciding to change his career path in 2009 and retrain as a chef. After studying at Le Cordon Bleu and doing extended visits to Hong Kong (where his family originates), Jeremy set up a mobile cooking school which rented space from places like Ping Pong to teach corporate guests to make dim sum and stir fry.

Jeremy shows us how to get woking…

It’s not necessarily surprising that Jeremy would be drawn to this arena – his father’s family immigrated to England in the ’60s and started up some of the first restaurants in London’s Chinatown, while his mother’s family started up the well known Ho’s bakery in Manchester. Cooking – it seems – is definitely in his blood.

Much of his inspiration comes from what he learned growing up around restaurants and in the kitchen with his family and he has an exuberance that’s hard to miss. He’s also very informal and welcoming, which made us feel relaxed as soon as we entered the school on a hot summer evening.

The cooking menu for the night included glutinous rice in lotus leaves, crisp prawn and tofu rolls, Jiaozi and BBQ spare ribs. I’d barely eaten anything all day in preparation, a fact I was very glad of later.

We were joined by two other couples – a perfect class size really – and Jeremy began by taking us through the staple ingredients that are present in flavouring much Cantonese cuisine: soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil and ketchup.

“The British left two things behind in Hong Kong and one of these was ketchup,” he clarified.

We then got to marinating some mighty and meaty shortribs in a combination of those ingredients plus other

The boy works up the courage to woll some dumplings!

delicious things like garlic, ginger and hoi sin sauce before moving quickly onto learning about lotus leaves.

Standing around the chunky wooden chopping station, dressed in our very cool School of Wok aprons, we learned to separate and work with this delicate, pungent leaf. Glutinous rice had already been soaking for two hours in cold water, and was then mixed with salt, pepper and garlic oil to be steamed for 20 minutes. We then mixed our meats (chicken thighs and chinese sausage) with rehydrated black mushrooms and a rich marinade before it was whisked away to be cooked on the grill. When both the rice and meat were done, it was laid out on small squares of the lotus leaf and wrapped to be steamed for another 20 minutes.

As a reward for completing our first two dishes, Jeremy dished out the wine – as we learned, to up our courage to make homemade jiazi (or as the Japanese term them, gyoza). These dumplings are easy to devour down but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re easy to construct.

Filled with pork, prawns, coriander, garlic and ginger (among other aromatic ingredients) these are some of my favourite dumplings. I soon learned, they do not love me.

The dough is made from two simple ingredients: flour and water. After mixing and folding, it’s kneaded for five minutes until elastic. We learned to do them fully from scratch, which included taking small balls, squashing them into a circular fashion, and using a two-hand technique whereby you turn the circle with your left hand while using a small amount of pressure on a little rolling pin to roll the edges with your right hand. It is mystifyingly difficult – or, at least for me it was. The boy won praises from Jeremy for his perfect-edged dough circles, while I just puzzled him. I think I made one that looked right out of the 30 I tried over an hour long period.

These small circles of dough are then filled with the meat, before being folded over and pinched together into a half-moon shape, fried and steamed. They were delicious, but all the wine in the world couldn’t have made me confident enough to get them right!

Just some of our delicious creations.

We also added beancurd rolls to our list of accomplishments that evening – these are filled with mashed prawn and bamboo shoots before being deep fried. Delicious!

When finally we got to sit, we’d been cooking for a full-on three and a half hours. While the class is only meant to last for three hours, it was clear Jeremy cared more about getting us to learn the full extent of cooking than to rush us out the door.

Over more glasses of wine, the group sat down to a very big, and very well deserved, meal. I’ll never look at dim sum quite the same but I will look forward to trying all of these at home again.

I can’t recommend Jeremy’s classes enough – it was a great way to pass an evening. And if you’re on the hunt for a birthday present to please, this is definitely one to consider.

For more information on the School of Wok, its classes and upcoming events, visit: http://www.schoolofwok.co.uk

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Going Tonkotsu Crazy

25 May

A couple of Christmases ago, I got the boy the gift of sushi lessons for us both. It was one of those gifts that we could enjoy together – which basically means I like presents that I get something out of too. Luckily, it works both ways. This has become somewhat of a tradition between us with him buying me things he knows we’ll both like (comedy tickets) and me dragging him to the symphony (which he has now come to love).

But the sushi lessons are one of those gifts that have really stuck with us. We went a bit sushi-making mad for a while but unlike a gift which is used once in the holidays and then put away for years (foot spa anyone?) this one kept on giving.

Since then, I’ve continued learning about Japanese cuisine and have found myself cooking dishes from this country at home more frequently. So, when I was recently asked to come down to the Japan Centre – a fantastic Japanese food store on the south end of Regent Street in London where I have gone for years to get my Japanese ingredients – to learn how to make Tonkotsu noodle soup, I jumped at the chance to add a new recipe to my repertoire.

Tonkotsu is a type of Ramen made with a rich pork bone broth rather than a more typical miso or chicken stock base. It is popular in the southern-most part of Japan: Kyushu.

Nariaki Kanazawa – the advertising and product PR manager – told me the dish has only become popular in more northern spots like Tokyo in recent years. It wasn’t until he went to university near Kyushu that he even discovered it.

“I was shocked. I didn’t know what they had given me. It wasn’t soya [miso] Ramen!” he said, laughing.

The dish is eaten any time of the day but is very popular with businessmen and late night drinkers who procure it from street stalls.

“It’s more commonly eaten by men because of the rich flavour and fatty meats,” he told me.

Rich flavour? Fatty meat? That sounded right up my street! Once Nariaki told me this, I was ready to get stuck in and headed straight behind the counter to see how it is assembled.

The spicy beef Tonkotsu soup I tried is made from a notebook page full of ingredients, which include: yuzu paste (a spicy, fermented sauce made from the Japanese yuzu orange), chilli sauce, sesame lemon sauce, white miso paste, egg noodles, a chicken and pork stock (to which the Tonkotsu – or creamy pork bone broth – is added at a rate of 10 parts stock to 1 part broth), wakame (edible seaweed), spring onions, bean sprouts, red ginger, fungus and BBQ pork. Now, if that’s not a cure for too much drinking, I don’t know what is!

The dish was steaming when it got to my table. But I couldn’t help but plow into it – noodle soup (in all its forms) is one of my long-time favourite foods.

And what a treat it was. The soup was delectably rich – and far preferable to a standard miso broth. It was creamy, slightly fatty and had a sweet edge from the miso paste that was diluted by the chilli bite. The saltiness of the seaweed and sharp tang of the ginger were welcome additions. So many parts of my palate were bursting at once that it would have looked like one of those light-up dance move games people play in arcades if anyone could have seen it under a telescope. The team at the Japan Centre had looked a bit dubious when I said I would have a large portion. I think I did myself proud.

It’s not only me that likes it, apparently. Nariaki told me they’ve increased soup sales from about 20 portions a lunch hour to 50 since the Tonkotsu appeared on the menu six months ago. Whether that was PR speak, I won’t know but I can imagine why someone would love it. I’m just glad to add something so pleasurable to my growing Japanese food recipe book!

Rockin’ Risotto & Super Scallops

7 Sep

Having taken nearly four months off to travel I’ve returned to London without my normal structure in place (read: a full-time job). As such, I am rather reveling in the fact I have a spare bit of time (between laborious job hunting, of course!) to drool over my numerous, and normally ignored, cookbooks. Although I love to cook, and consider myself a fair hand at creating some pretty delicious dishes, I tend to work on a random scale, better known as the “throwing whatever is in my cupboard and fridge together and hoping it works out” cooking style.

Now, I find myself milling through the cookbooks I have collected on my travels – everything from a community collaboration from Arles, in Provence, to more common staples like Jamie’s Dinners and Rick Stein’s French Odyssey.

One of my other goals of late – for various reasons – is to eat only free range or sustainably sourced meat, or go it vegetarian if that’s not possible. This can be tricky, due to said aforementioned lack of job, but the great thing about having free afternoons is I can often snag organic meat (due to expire that day) before the hoards of post-work crowds descend on the discount aisle of my local Sainsbury’s. Everytime I come across something “about to spoil” I bring it home and pop it into my freezer for future cooking adventures.

This week this new dinner strategy has resulted in a couple of very tasty creations. In the first I popped my risotto making cherry, and took the full plunge on making this Italian dish. I loaded it with a pack of plump chestnut mushrooms (reduced to 69p!), white wine, perfect garden peas and a large portion of Parmesan (hey, a girl’s got to treat herself some way!). The result: a delicious, gooey risotto that cost no more than £2 a head. From the boy’s expression, I had done well in this first adventure…

Rich risotto steams away

The next day, I tackled that frozen packet of scallops I had snagged the week prior. Combining recipes from three books, I threw together a meal of lentils – stewed in thyme and onions; kale – with chili and garlic; and, perfectly seared scallops with a homemade tomato and olive oil sauce. All organic, all delicious.

What’s on the menu tonight? That is yet to be decided but hopefully Jamie, Rick or Yotam will inspire. And if any of you want to contribute to Gwiltypleasures’ more laid-back lifestyle and suggest some delicious recipes for me to try, simply comment, below. I’d be ever so pleased…

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