Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Salad with Scotch Eggs

My confession: this is hardly an original dish, though to some it may appear to be that way. Hosting back-to-back dinners at home posed quite a challenge to me - especially this is already our fourth in August. Have literally pulled all my tricks up my sleeve trying to do something different every time and to make things more complicated, this time I got children to accommodate. Not so much of a concern in terms of ingredients or ways of cooking, but I want to keep the prep time short so our younger guests won't be too bored sitting around the table overhearing parents chit-chatting while waiting for the food. And this is what I came up with for the salad/appetizer course: mixed greens with scotch eggs and beetroot puree, based on something i tasted/learned/watched recently.
A couple of months ago I was introduced to the wonderful world of scotch eggs by my friend Jen, who made a marvellous, "Asian-influenced" version using local minced pork and Vietnamese spices in one of our "foodies" gatherings. Absolutely fascinated by the combination of sausage/pork and boiled eggs deep-fried together, and even more amazed that the British was able to come up with such fine culinary invention. (at least according to Wikipedia)

The rest of the salad ensemble was inspired by a Masterchef Australia episode when they made a "de-constructed" meatlloaf burger with beetroot feta dip. It's prepared to be a main dish instead of salad, and use this fancy jamon wrapped meatloaf as their main attraction but I adopted some of the techniques and styles with minor modifications to suit my taste. That plus the use of Scotch eggs instead. Anyway, here's what I did:

Mixed greens with scotch eggs and beetroot puree (serves 8)

Pork 300g (or 1/2 catty if you are buying from HK wet market)
4 eggs + one additional for egg wash
Cherry Tomatoes 200g (around 2 for each person - I used both yellow and red types purely to make the dish looks nicer)
Extra virgin olive oil
White Wine Vinegar
Salt and Peppers (thought that's a given)
Dried thyme and oregano
Bread Crumbs
Greek Yoghurt 250g
Fresh Beetroot
Handful of flour
Mixed greens - one I used is a mix of arugula, baby romaine and herbs bought from the supermarket.

Minced pork
For pork, I followed Jen's advice to ask for the collar butt (上肉) from the butcher and mince it at home myself - it's just the right amount of fat and lean meat. If you don't have a food processor at home I am sure your butcher's more than happy to mince the meat for you - won't make a difference. After mincing, I put salt, peppers and dried herbs in and mix everything together. Put in 2 teaspoons of bread crumbs as well and mix. I like a little texture in the minced meat.

Soft Boil Eggs
If you leave the eggs in refrigerator, bring it to room temperature first before boiling. Put the eggs into a pan, cover with water and boil. I wasn't too fussy on the temperature this time, and I just left the eggs boil for around 4 minutes after water started bubbling. Put the boiled eggs in ice water bath then peel. They should be slightly undercooked - the way I like it - so be careful when peeling. (but since we are coating the egg later on it's not the end of the world if the peeled eggs don't have a smooth surface) Set aside.

Beetroot Puree
Preheat oven to 190C. Wrap beetroot in alumninum foil and bake for 1.5 hours. Peel the skin, cut it to manageable size and put it in blender. (be careful handling the cooked beetroot as the color easily stain your hand or clothes - use a glove) Add greek yoghurt in and puree until smooth. Season to taste. Spoon mixture into a piping bag and set aside. (can make it a day in advance and keep in the refrigerator, i suppose) When use, make a small cut at the tip of the piping bag - you don't really need a specific piping tip.

Making Scotch eggs
On a flat surface, lay a piece of cling film and drop a spoonful of minced pork on it. Flatten it with your hand to make a circle of around 10cm in diameter. That's your wrap. Roll the egg in flour and then put the egg in the middle of the minced pork wrap. Then slowly use your hands to mold and form a ball. Don't spread the meat too thin or it won't cover the egg after cooked (as the meat will shrink a bit when cooked) Brush the minced pork-egg ball with egg wash and dust with plenty of bread crumbs. Repeat for all 4 eggs.

Heat the oil in a pan and start deep-frying - make sure oil at least cover half the egg. You would need approx. 4 minutes per side and don't burn your eggs. You don't want your meat all browned in the surface yet undercooked inside - that's what I did on my second try. (Ah!) Use a kitchen towel to remove the excess oil on the egg when done. Set aside until ready for assembly.

Whisk together olive oil and white wine vinegar to make a vinaigrette for the salad. Add some lemon juice if you want. It's really up to you. And some salt and sugar to taste

Toss the mixed greens in vinaigrette and divide equally on the plates. Cut the egg in half - I was told that using a fishing line to cut would yield the best result - and placed in the middle. Likewise, halve the tomatoes and put around the plates. Pipe a few dollops of beetroot puree freely as well - there's no limitation how you want to dress up your dish. To finish, drizzle olive oil across and grind salt and pepper to taste.
Well, I am no salad lover but I think this is one I can live with. And it certainly looks harder to cook than it really is.

Oh, btw, I guess I should make a disclaimer on the recipe - I tend to make adjustment as I go along and these recipes are not tested (I am only trying to retrace what I did by memory), so follow at your own risk.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Homemade Ice Cream

Nothing beat summer heat like a scoop of ice cream. Anyone who came to our place for dinner in the past year probably has tried one of the home-crafted versions. It's so easy to make, can prepare in advance and the variations are limitless. Couple weeks ago I even tried making a savory ice cream dish (here's the gazpacho with grainy mustard ice cream, and how about the sausage ice cream I have attempted in the cocktail sausage cookout?)

If you have a sweet tooth like me, ice cream machine is one of those irreplaceable kitchen gadgets, and it's surprisingly easy to make. Of course you can follow one of the many recipes you can find online, but after a while, you can easily live without following anyone and just start create your own formula.

To me, one of the keys for a yummy ice cream is to get the cream-milk-sugar proportion right - the rest are just minor details. What I usually do is roughly 1.5 cup of whipping cream, 0.5 cup of milk, and 0.5 cup of sugar. Of course you don't have to follow this by the book - say if you are making honey ice cream, you would probably need to reduce your sugar. For eggs, I usually do 2-3 egg yolks and I tend to use less for lighter flavors (like that of fruit-based ones) and more for stronger ones. Feel free to play around the cream-milk ratio too to alter the taste and texture, but if I were you I wouldn't go less than half cream and half milk.

Some people swore that one "secret" critical success factor for a creamy ice cream is a dash of salt to the custard before churning. If I remember I usually follow that, but to be honest, I saw little difference even if I forgot. I know as a fact that salt does keep the ice cream from getting too frozen - something I have learnt when I made salty caramel ice cream, but I am just not sure how much a pinch of salt would have helped to that effect.

Anyway, to make long story short, here's what I usually do: I will start beating sugar and egg yolks together in a bowl, while heating up the cream and milk in the pan. Just before bubbles starting to form in the cream-milk mixture, I pull the pan off the stove and pour it into the sugar and egg yolks, which should form a thick pale mixture. Do it slowly (in a steady stream) to avoid egg yolks from getting cooked and curdled up. Give the mixture a good whip before putting it back to the pan to steep the custard further over low heat. I usually do it for a good 10 minutes until the custard start coating on the wooden spoon (probably takes longer if you use more milk) Then sieve it through into a bowl and chill for about 2 hours (up to a day).

After that the rest are easy, pull the chilled custard out, stir it with a spoon and then pour into the ice cream machine. Do what your ice cream maker instruction told you and then put the frozen custard in an airtight container, and in about 3 hours, your ice cream's ready to serve.

Okay, I forgot the part when you need to add the flavors. Well if you are doing a fresh vanilla, put the scrapped pod into the warm custard before it's reheated. Discard the pod before you chill. Same with coffee or tea - you want to give the custard time to take in the flavors in heat. If you do vanilla extract - which I admit I would sometimes do - you can put that in any time you want - it wouldn't make a difference. If you do fruit flavors, puree whatever fruit you are doing and mix that in before you chill your custard. Nuts and other tidbits must be put in just before your ice cream maker stopped churning, so is any alcohol you want to add in.

Hope I didn't miss any step. And I am leaving you with the latest one I have made: affogato with espresso ice cream. (the kind of dessert I would want for every lunch so as to get me through the rest of the day) Enjoy!