Friday, 16 March 2007

St. Paddy's Bolognese

St. Pat's Day: Green or Irish I really don't go in for St. Patrick's Day (or St. Guinness' Day as far as most of the World outside Ireland are concerned), even though I do like Guinness. Let's face it, the whole thing has been completely taken over by Irish alcoholic drinks manufacturers, and not being Irish, I think you'd have to drink quite a lot to give the time of day to stories of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. At least the stories about St. David are slightly more believable and less mythical sounding, and yet you don't see half the world spending the day eating Leek based dishes or drinking Brains Bitter until they can't stand anymore. Still, I'm not going to stop anyone having a good time and the only people I'm hoping do stop anyone having a good time are the Welsh Rugby team by living up to the expression "you can lose to anyone you want except the English".

It being a long day of Six Nations Rugby ahead, I definitely needed to ensure that I had a good meal before heading to the local to watch the 3 matches, and this blog event definitely caught my attention. But deciding what to cook which both satisfied the requirements of this event, as well as getting me ready for a day in the pub was a little difficult.

So I decided to go for a bit of a combination. St. Paddy's Bolognese is pretty much the Tag Bog (Spag Bog, Spag Bol, Tag Bol) recipe I made before, only using Guinness as well. I did think of adding potatoes, but that's just going too far. However, it still didn't sound particularly Irish, and so to inject some 'green' into it, I decided to serve it with Tagliatelle Verde.

The problem was that it was going to be a fairly early start with the first game kicking off at 1:30pm, and with staying up late to watch the F1 qualifying the night before, I decided to prepare the Ragu while waiting for the qualifying to start. The main difficulty was not eating it before the morning, especially with the gorgeous smell wafting through my flat once all the ingredients were together.

I must say, this post makes me sound like a bit of a sports nut, but I don't think I'm that bad. I do enjoy some motor sport and, being Welsh, I have to watch Rugby (especially when Wales and England are playing each other). But the fact that the first F1 race of the new season and the last matches of the Six Nations are on the same weekend, means that it is probably the most sport I will watch over a weekend until the Rugby World Cup starts in September.

Recipe for St. Paddy's Bolognese
  • 400g Lean Minced Beef
  • 200g Pancetta, cubed (Smoked bacon, normal or streaky, can also be used as long as it's cut into small pieces)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 ½ large onions, chopped
  • 3 ribs of celery finely diced
  • 3 carrots finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 bottle of Guinness
  • 1 glass of Red Wine
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 can of Chopped Tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Concentrated Tomato Puree
  • 1 teaspoon Fish Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • 1 teaspoon Thyme
  • ½ teaspoon Hot Chili Powder
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • Freshly ground Black Pepper (to taste)
The cooking method was pretty much as before. First frying the Pancetta, then adding the onion, celery and carrot until the onion becomes transparent. Next, the minced beef was added until lightly browned, and then the booze was put in and cooked until reduced by about half (well, there was quite a bit more than last time). Then the rest of the ingredients were added, brought to the boil, then simmered for the next 3 hours.

Pretty much like the last sauce I made except with the addition of Guinness and Fish Sauce instead of Salt. If it's good enough for Heston Blumenthal, it's good enough for me. I was thinking about adding some Star Anise too, but none of my local shops had any, and my local Sainsbury's is truly terrible for buying anything except a few ingredients. They didn't even sell Tagliatelle Verde, so I bought the mixed bag and just pulled out the green stuff for serving (I'll have the normal tagliatelle with the leftovers).

Starting cooking a meal at midnight is definitely a bad move, even if you have a good reason like I did. But the resultant ragu was very good, even though I do say myself. The addition of Guinness, although even less Italian than my last sauce, was definitely a good idea, so it might end up being a permanent fixture in future.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Steamed Dumplings

The photos of the dumplings the other night was so awful, I decided to make some more dough and use up the remaining Chinese dumpling filling from the other night. I'd only made about 40 or so the first time, so had lots of filling leftover and needed to use it. Joel mentioned that a different design was necessary if you were steaming them, so I searched about a bit I found that a lot were something close the above. Anyway, they still tasted great and in daylight I had a much better chance of getting a better shot. All I needed was some kind of little bowl for the dipping sauce. I'm wondering if I should try making them with self-raising flour and see if I get them more like buns.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Chinese Dumplings

A few years ago, I was hired to do some 4D localisation work in Beijing, and over the few trips I had there, some of the best memories are of the food. I never got a chance to do much sightseeing, but I did have to eat, and made sure I ate well. On the last two trips, I was working with Imre, who complained that each time he spent any time in China with me, he put on weight. I know I must have too as we always seemed to eat very well, and with the food so good most of the time, it was necessary to make the most of it as I didn't know when next I'd have food as good.

One of the things which Imre introduced me to was dumplings. We often went to one particular dumpling restaurant for lunch, as it was on the same road as the National Library of China, where we were working, and their dumplings were great, except one batch when Imre forgot that I couldn't eat mushrooms. Yeah, right, I'm sure he was seeing if I'd eat them if I didn't know they were in there.

Since then, the only time I've eaten similar Dumplings was when my Mongolian friend, Bata and his wife cooked them for me. Although, Mongolian dumplings tend to be a bit scarce on the vegetables, although still very tasty and very filling. Although I observed some of the cooking process for Bata's dumplings, I never got the recipe from him before he left to go back to Mongolia.

So, when Joel emailed me with a link to a recent video he made of him Making Dumplings, I sat through a lot of the 25 minutes (flicking forward a bit every now and then) to figure out the technique, and this weekend, I finally took the plunge and tried out his recipe. The only thing I haven't tried yet is frying them after boiling them, but I wanted to remember what they were like in Beijing, and according to Joel, frying them after boiling is a Shanghai thing, so I stuck to how I remembered them and just boiled them

Recipe for the Dumpling Dough (makes 80-90 dumplings)

  • 6 cups of Plain Flour
  • 2 cups of Water

Mix the flour and water together and knead to make a smooth dough. Then cover and leave for about an hour (i.e. the time it takes to get the filling ready if you're me).

Recipe for the Dumpling Filling (makes 80-90 dumplings)

  • 400g Lean Minced Beef
  • 400g Lean Minced Pork
  • 4 Large Carrots, finely chopped
  • 8-10 Spring Onions, finely chopped
  • 1.5 bulbs of Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch of Fresh Coriander, finely chopped
Mix the ingredients for the filling together so that they're completely mixed together. The vegetables should be finely chopped, but not done in a food processor. And if you're like Joel, you might mix them together using chopsticks, but in my case, I just used a fork to mix everything together (saving the chopsticks for the eating).

Now that the filling has been prepared, and the dough has been sitting, covered, for an hour at least, you can take it back out again and knead it a little more to knock it back and make it a smooth dough again. Then start trying to turn it into a cylinder of dough about an inch across. This will make a very long piece of dough, so, make one piece about 30cm x 2.5cm and cover the rest so that it doesn't dry out while you're preparing the first batch.

You then want to cut off a piece to give you a sphere of dough which is about 2.5cm diameter, then using the handle of a wooden spoon, roll this out on a well floured board to make it about 10cm in diameter, leaving the middle of the piece slightly thicker. See the video to see how Joel does it. Then, once the correct size, add a teaspoon of the filling onto the piece of dough, then fold in half and seal by folding over the edges to make a typical looking Chinese Dumpling. The store these dumplings on a well-floured board, plate or tray.

Once you have 20-30 dumplings made, bring a large sauce pan of water to the boil, allowing enough space to add another few cups of water to it. When the water is fully bubbling, add 20 or so dumplings to the water, stirring very gently to ensure non stick to the bottom. Just let them move about, rather than actually stirring them.

When the water comes to a proper boil again, add a cut of water to cool it down. By not letting it boil aggressively throughout the cooking, it helps stop the dumplings from breaking up. You need to repeat this process another 2 times (3 cups of cold water in total) during cooking, then the dumplings should be ready. They should all be floating also, but taste one just to make sure.

Recipe for the Dipping Sauce

  • 0.5 cup Malt Vinegar
  • 0.5 cup Soy Sauce
  • 0.5 cup Sweet Chilli Sauce
  • 8-10 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
  • 10 dried Red Chillies, finely chopped

Actually, this probably wasn't as authentic as it should be. Really, I should have got some proper dumpling dipping vinegar and Chinese hot sauce, but I didn't have these, and so I improvised. The amounts here are definitely not accurate to the sauce I made as the chilli sauce went in a little quicker than I'd expected, so ended up watering it down with some balsamic vinegar when I had them for the lunch the next day. But when Ejaz had them the following evening, he had it non-watered down as he had man-flu, and needed the additional spice.

Ejaz gave the dumplings and dipping sauce 8 out of 10. He'd never had anything like them before, so didn't have anything to score them against, but still really enjoyed them, and it's the higest mark he's ever given any of my food. Previous scores haven't been higher than a seven. I haven't tried any fried yet, but steamed they're pretty good too, but Joel said that steaming them was southern thing, and really required a slightly different design of dumpling. The thing is, the night I made them, I was starving by the time I'd made a few, so I put on milk pan with some water, stuck on a small bamboo steamer I had, and put them in so that I could taste a couple before preparing the rest.

Joel says that you can freeze them before boiling them so that you can finish them at a later stage. But they also seem to keep in the fridge overnight, covered, and preferably separated so that they don't stick together.

The photography is awful, I know. With a better camera at my disposal, I might have got a better shot. I think it might be replacing this photo with a daytime one off the next batch of dumplings, taken during daylight.
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