Sunday, 23 February 2014

amok trey (cambodian steamed fish curry)

Amok is widely seen as the national dish of Cambodia. It is a fragrant spiced curry that is steamed in banana leaves or coconut shells. You can get fish (trey), prawn, chicken and vegetarian versions but the fish is the most traditional. The flavour is similar to a mild Thai red-curry and there is a similar dish in Thailand called Hor Mok

To make your own amok at home is actually surprisingly easy. If you really don't have the time to make your own paste from scratch by all means use a ready bought red curry paste but get the best one you can find. Thank you to Mimi Aye and Luke Nguyen for their inspiration putting together this version of Amok trey.
Amok paste ingredients
Ingredients (serves 2-4 depending on serving bowl size)
Amok Paste:
3 long dried chillies, cut finely and soaked for around 30 minutes in tepid water to soften
6 large cloves garlic
2 shallots finely diced
4cm piece/s fresh turmeric root or 1 tsp ground turmeric
4 sticks of lemongrass, trimmed and sliced as finely as possible
thumb sized piece of galangal, peeled and finely diced
thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely diced
6 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
1 tbsp Thai shrimp paste

Everything else:
400ml (1 can) coconut milk
2 eggs
handful of large spinach leaves or similar
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
approx 400g firm fish fillets, cut into bite sized pieces (or the equivalent of chicken, prawns, squid etc.)
1 tbsp vegetable oil

finished paste
  1. Start of by making the paste. You can either do this in a food processor or you can use a pestle and mortar. Either way, make sure everything is cut as finely as possible before you start and it will make the whole process a lot quicker and easier. If you're using the pestle and mortar start off with the 'harder' ingredients then add everything else little by little. I started with the lemongrass then galangal, ginger, turmeric root, soaked chillies, lime leaves, garlic, shallot then finally the shrimp paste. 
  2. Heat the oil in a pan then cook the amok paste until fragrant (1 minute or so) then add the coconut milk and simmer gently for around 5 minutes. Season with the fish sauce and pam sugar then remove from the heat and set aside to cool a little.
  3. Now prepare your steamer. I used a metal trivet in the bottom of a large saucepan. Place the pan over a medium heat and bring the water up to a boil. If you have the time, patience and materials now would be a good time to make your banana leaf cups too. Check out Rachel Cooks Thai for a good tutorial. I was hungry and couldn't find any banana leaves when I went shopping so instead used my oversized tea cups. They worked perfectly.
  4. Once your coconut mixture has cooled enough stir through the beaten eggs and add the fish chunks. Line your bowls/tea cups/banana leaf bowls with the spinach leaves then spoon in the fish pieces. Pour over most of the liquid but leave a little to one side for later.
  5. Now place your filled bowls in the steamer, cover and steam on a high heat for 15 minutes. Add the remaining liquid to the bowls then lower the heat to medium and cook for a further 30 minutes. During the cooking process the amok will souffle up a little so don't be alarmed.
  6. Once the time is up, remove the bowls from the steamer. Drizzle over a little coconut milk and garnish with some sliced kaffir lime leaves and finely sliced chillies too if you like. Serve with steamed rice.

amok paste mixed with coconut milk
bowls lined with spinach leaves
Ready for the first steaming

weekend in siem reap

Those of you that follow me on twitter will know that I recently went on a trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia. I had never been to Cambodia and really didn't know what to expect. The purpose of our visit, as it is for many, was to visit the temple 'ruins' of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and around. We spent our days cycling around on rental bikes stopping to explore the temples that we found along the way. It was wonderful being out of hectic city life and being reminded that there is another life beyond the city.

Of course no visit anywhere is complete with out some foodie treats. So in the evenings we headed into the town in search of food and drink. Siem Reap is a relatively small city but there are lots of great food options there to be found. As we were only in the country for a few days and it was my first visit, I wanted to get an understanding of Cambodian food and flavours. On our first night we enjoyed a great dinner at the Cambodian BBQ. There are similar versions of this dining experience around the region but here they bring a bucket of hot coals to your table, put a kind of hot pot / griddle over the heat and then bring you dishes of meat, vegetables, noodles and rice. The idea is to grill the meat over the central part of the griddle allowing the cooking juices to fall down into the moat of stock below. In the mean time you would be cooking fresh rice oodles and pieces of pumpkin or other vegetables in the developing broth, occasionally ladling some out to eat. The waiting staff will keep topping up your noodle, vegetable and broth supplies until you can take no more! It's a great fun and sociable way to eat and I'll definitely be seeking out other Cambodian style BBQ places when I get chance.

The next night we wanted to try some classic Khmer cooking and headed to The Sugar Palm. This is considered to be one of the best restaurants in Siem Reap and Gordon Ramsey has even visited to learn how to cook traditional amok.

Anyway, we had cycled the best part of 30 miles and felt we had earned a feast for dinner so ordered plenty. We enjoyed the Beef Skewers marinated with lemongrass, pomelo salad with pork, shrimp, mint and coconut, chargrilled aubergine/eggplant with pork and finally Amok Trey. Every dish we had at The Sugar Palm was delicious and next time we're in Siem Reap I will definitely be coming back. 

Check out my version of amok trey here. 

Amok Trey

Spring Rolls

Sunday, 9 February 2014

scones & clotted cream

I recently had my first attempt at making clotted cream. It was much easier and way more successful than I ever thought it would be. There are several methods other people have written about online including slow cooking in the oven and using a slow cooker. A great place to read about all these ideas is over at The Culinary Life. I opted to heat the cream in a large bowl over a barely simmering pan of water for around an hour similar to this method from James Cooper.

Anyway, if you're going to have clotted cream in the house you HAVE to have scones to go with it. I've tried out many different recipes over time and this one has given me the lightest results so far. Serve them warm from the oven with a good raspberry or strawberry jam and a generous dollop of clotted cream. (By the way, if you want to be true to the Cornish origins of clotted cream it should be ON TOP of the jam. Apparently Devon folk put it under the cream because they're ashamed of it - that's what my Cornish husband says anyway!)

Ingredients Makes 8-10
350g plain/all purpose flour
5 tsp baking powder
50g butter
50g lard
25g caster sugar
1 egg
100ml milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking tray with parchment paper. 
  2. Sift together the flour and baking powder, then rub in the lard and butter using your finger tips. Be as light handed as you can. 
  3. Beat the egg and mix with 50ml of milk. Add it to the flour and fat mixture and bring everything together so that you have a soft, sticky dough. Wetter is better for scones so don't be tempted to add extra flour. Your floured work surface should be enough to stop everything getting too sticky.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently pat down to about 2 cm thickness. Cut out your scones using either a 5cm cutter or form a rectangular shape and cut your scones into smaller squares.
  5. Transfer to the baking sheet, brush with any left over egg and milk mixture then bake in the oven for 10 - 15 minutes or until they are well risen and golden brown on top.
  6. Allow to cool a little before serving and enjoy with clotted cream, jam and a proper cup of tea.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

a classic toad in the hole

Sleepy weekends mean comfort food and this weekend it had to be toad in the hole. I recently discovered Sloane's sausages when I enjoyed a fantastic brunch at Chu here in Bangkok. A couple of weeks later I  happened to discover them for sale in the fancy supermarket near my apartment. If you are in Bangkok and you have the opportunity you really must go to Chu and also seek out Sloane's sausages. They are something special and rival the best 'artisanal' sausages you can get anywhere.

When you've got awesome sausages like these you need to make something to celebrate them and you don't get much more celebratory than toad in the hole. This is my version and it's super easy and very very tasty. We ate it with steamed broccoli and some of Sloane's glorious onion gravy. Yum!

5 or 6 cumberland sausages
125g plain (all purpose) flour
2 eggs
2 tbsp lard or dripping
150ml milk
150ml beer
salt & pepper
  1. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Beat together the eggs and milk and pour into the flour little by little mixing thoroughly as you go making sure to get rid of any lumps. I did this with a hand whisk but by all means use an electric one if you've got one. 
  2. Once the flour, milk and eggs are combined add the beer, salt and pepper. Mix everything together thoroughly, cover then leave to the side for about 30 minutes while you prep everything else or have a cup of tea.
  3. Preheat your oven and roasting tin to 220C. While you're doing this thoroughly brown your sausages in a frying pan on your hob. Some people like to roast them in the oven but I prefer this way. 
  4. Once you're ready to go, bring out your roasting pan from the oven add the lard or dripping. Put it back in the oven or heat on the hob (this will depend on your roasting pan/hob) until the fat is smoking hot.
  5. Now, carefully add the fat from cooking the sausages, followed by the batter and then place the sausages. When you pour in the batter there should be an audible sizzling as it hits the fat. 
  6. Put the pan back into the oven and roast for 35-45minutes or until the batter is risen, golden brown and cooked through. Don't be tempted to open the oven door while it's cooking though, it might stop the batter rising.
  7. Serve with a good onion gravy, mashed potato and peas or broccoli. 

perfect soda bread?

Regular readers will know that I'm a fan of Felicity Cloake's series in the Guardian 'The Perfect...'. This soda bread recipe is taken from her recent soda bread explorations and I have to say it has worked out really well. The oven in my apartment is a bit rubbish so food doesn't always brown properly on top but loaf turned out pretty well anyway and it was ridiculously easy to make. I put everything together when I woke up this morning, put it in the oven and sat down to enjoy a cup of coffee and in almost no time at all I had a freshly baked loaf of delicious soda bread ready for brunch. I think scrambled eggs and maybe some bacon is called for here. If there's any bread left over from brunch soda bread is a great accompaniment to homemade soup.

450g wholemeal flour
50g rolled oats
1 tsp salt
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp treacle
1 tbsp honey
450ml milk soured with a tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp melted butter
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
  2. Put the flour, oats, salt, and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and mix together well.
  3. In another bowl or jug mix together the soured milk, treacle and honey then pour into the dry ingredients. Mix everything together quickly and trying not to work the dough too much as this will make the resulting bread tough. You will end up with a soft and sticky dough. (Mine was a little too wet and gloopy so I needed to add a little extra flour.)
  4. Transfer the dough to your prepared baking sheet, form into a round and then cut a deep cross into it. I covered my loaf with an upturned cake tin to help maintain the shape while it was baking but feel free to leave it uncovered if you prefer a more free-formed shape. 
  5. Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes or until it is golden brown and cooked through. 
  6. Once you've removed the bread from the oven brush the top with melted butter and then leave to cool before eating. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

lime and ginger cake

Simple, delicious and very moist - this cake is a lovely treat to put together whenever you've got a little spare time and a sweet craving. It's inspired by the classic 'one-pot yogurt cake' and ciambella recipesand utilises the flavours I had in my kitchen.  There are endless variations for this recipe, it would make a great base cake for a citrus drizzle, or you could top it with a coconut frosting, a simple lemon and cream cheese topping or do as I did and add a layer of homemade lime curd.

1 cup milk soured with the juice of two limes
finely grated zest of two limes
1 cup vegetable oil (any other flavourless oil would work here too)
2 cups caster sugar
3 cups self-raising flour
3 cups plain/all-purpose flour and 3 1/2 tsps baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup finely chopped, crystalised ginger
3 eggs
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C and grease and line your cake tin.
  2. Put all of the ingredients apart from the ginger into a large bowl and beat together with an electric or hand whisk until everything is smooth and thoroughly combined. 
  3. Stir through the crystalised ginger then pour the whole mixture into your prepared cake tin.
  4. Place in the oven and bake for around 1 hour or until it is golden brown on top and a skwere comes out clean when inserted. This may take up to 90 mins depending on your oven and tin size.
  5. Leave to cool before topping or eat it just as it is.  

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