Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Looking for Trouble?

In many ways, cooking is an art form, so anyone who is the slightest bit creative should have no problem playing around with ingredients, and in this way we can explore the cuisine of the whole world if we wish.

When it comes to the vegetable stir-fry, there are so many veggies that can be used. The main aim is to make the dish as colourful as possible. A trad. Chinese stir-fry could contain sliced courgettes, strips of red and yellow peppers, sliced mushrooms, grated root ginger and sliced garlic, but you could make your own mix and match version by using these (or none of them) with any of the following: matchstick carrots, small string beans, mange-tout peas, baby sweetcorn, spring onions, sliced celery, broccoli florets and/or their stems cut into strips, similarly cauliflower, also bean sprouts. With such a wide variety of choice it should be easy to make a stir-fry from veggies we already have.
Chunks of pineapple can be added, also cashew nuts or peanuts, and 'ordinary' peas and sweetcorn could be used instead of the above mentioned, so lots of little bits and bobs of all sorts can go together to make a complete and very tasty dish. If you wish to include bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, these can be purchased in small cans, use just a few, and freeze away any surplus.

Incidentally, yesterday, using 'fresh' root ginger purchased several weeks ago then frozen, thought it worth measuring the size of the root - it was 8" in length with two 'arms' either side, facing upwards and looking a lot like a baby cactus, As it cost only 40p well worth buying a root as a little goes a long way. Fresh ginger, peeled, will also keep well bottled in sherry in the fridge, but freezing it is much the cheapest way to do it.
Anyone interested in growing plants should look for ginger root that has one or more small buds just starting to grow. These can be cut from the ginger, as long as there is a good piece of the original root attached to the bud, and when planted should grow. More a decorative plant than for growing more roots, but presumably, given a large pot to grow in and warm conditions, they may well produce more roots which we could use. Worth looking growing details on the Internet.

Ginger syrup is used a lot in Oriental cooking and I make this (to some extent) myself by buying a small pot of preserved stem ginger, draining off the syrup which is then shared between several other small jars, slicing the ginger and also dividing this betweent the jars, then topping up with stock sugar syrup (1 measure sugar to the same measure water, heating until dissolved then boiling for 3 minutes. Cool and store). Presumably, grated fresh ginger could also be boiled in the sugar syrup, left to cool and soak overnight, then drain, use the ginger in gingerbread or something, and bottle the syrup up for later use.

When making a stir-fry it is much easier to prepare the veggies earlier in the day, pop them into bags and keep them in the fridge until an hour before using, giving them time to come back to room temperature. The sauce also could be prepared in advance with the cornflour added when ready to use. Although stir-frying is often believed to be 'something tossed in hot oil and then served', this is not correct. The ingredients are added to a very little hot oil in the wok, those needing the most cooking time put in first, these are stirred around for a few minutes, other veggies added and then the cooking liquid. The pan is covered and the veggies get steamed for a short time, just enough to keep them al dente.
Sweet and Sour Sauce for Vegetable Stir-fry:
7 fl.oz (250ml) chicken stock
3 tlsp dry sherry
2 tlsp soy sauce
1 tblsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp five spice powder*
Just mix the lot together and pour over the stir-fried vegetables, cover to allow the vegetables to steam.

*Five spice powder can be bought ready-made from the spice rack or Chinese shelves of your supermarket. It can also be made at home by mixing together equal amounts of finely ground star anise, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves and Szechwan pepper.

One unrelated recipe to finish off today's posting:

As with most scone dough, this needs to be very soft before rolling. Often we keep it too firm. This recipe, contains no sugar. If you prefer - add a couple, no more, teaspoons of sugar. Sugar added to anything tends to make it turn golden brown, so if including sugar, you may need to cover the top of the scones after 10 minutes with foil (shiny side up to reflect away the heat),
Very Light Scones:
1 lb flour
2 heaped tsp baking powder
3 oz butter or margarine
half tsp bicarbonate of soda
fresh or sour milk (or diluted yogurt)
Dissolve the soda in a little milk. Sieve the flour with the baking powder and rub in the fat. Then add enough of the liquid to make the wettest dough that can be handled. Place on a floured board, dusting the top of the dough with flour and roll out lightly to half to one inch depth (best to experiment with the depth so see how high they rise). Cut into chosen shapes and bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 15 minutes or so until well risen and golden.