The odds were heavily against me but I think I've made it. Admittedly the 14 days free of trial weren't particularly exciting for anyone that surfed here but if this is the sign of things to come I may actually get this blog up and running.
With the theme being the cooking of recipes from the cookbook collection the first job was to choose a book. Being the first post too I wanted it to be something special and so initial thoughts were my first ever cookbook. I'm 30 now but at age 12, at a time when all my friends' idea of reading material was the lingerie section of whatever catalogue their mum had (OK, so I was pretty partial to that too), I was stood in the souvenir shop in Orlando asking my dad to buy me Mickey Cooks Disneyworld. This fine tome contained various recipes from the said theme park's restaurants and although I don't actually remember choosing it it obviously appealed at the time. I removed it from the shelf and started flicking through but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't find something I wanted to cook with it being full of heavy roux based sauces, strange meat and fruit concoctions from one of the many countries featured in the Epcot Centre and generally dated and unappealing recipes. My mind was finally made up when my just-back-from-Peru eyes caught site of a ceviche recipe that suggested leaving the fish flesh in the citrus marinade for 24 hours. I'm no ceviche expert but I have a couple of Peruvian cookbooks and you're looking at 20 minutes for some of the recipes in there, I can't imagine what 24 hours must do to the delicate white flesh. This was the final straw and although the book will always be my first I'm not in a hurry to cook anything from it just yet.
Once any attempts at finding a book with a story attached were scrapped there was only one choice and that was my current favourite cookbook - Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop. Ever since buying this book a month or two back I've been singing the praises of it to anyone who will listen. I'd never eaten proper Sichuan food before (the Kung Po chicken in most British Chinese restaurants doesn't count) so only bought this after reading a review of a new Sichuan restaurant in London. Liking the sound of the dishes mentioned a quick search on Amazon for 'Sichuan' showed this book had received a lot of praise so I cracked on and have probably read it cover to cover twice now. I think, for a Westerner, my knowledge of oriental food is OK but this book was full of recipes I'd never seen anything like with some of the best names ever - Pock Marked Mother Chen's Beancurd, Fire Exploding Kidney Flowers, Fish Fragrant Pork Slivers and so on. Although not limited to this the dishes I've tried have combined salty and spicy flavours, using chilli bean paste, black beans, Sichuan peppercorns and dried chilli, to create dishes with huge depth of flavour and interesting texture.
For the my first recipe on here I chose one that I think shows off the flavours well and also has a quality name, the aforementioned Pockmarked Mother Chen's Beancurd. This dish is supposedly named after the smallpox-scarred wife of a restaurateur who served this dish to the poor labourers of the town.
On to the recipe, this dishes uses a couple of Chinese supermarket only ingredients but they last indefinitely once purchased and I think are well worth getting. Outside of this dish they open up the possibility of quite a few more recipes from the book (which you're obviously going to buy after reading this).
Due to what ingredients I had in the fridge this recipe differs from the book slightly although it is very similar. That's probably pretty convenient for copyright reasons too.
Mapo Doufu - Pock Marked Mother Chen's Beancurd, for 2 people.
1 350gr block firm tofu
125gr minced beef
3 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
50 ml of oil (a lot but it's a purposefully oily dish)
200ml chicken stock
1 1/2 TB chilli bean paste
1 TB black beans
3/4 ts sugar
1 ts dark soy sauce
2 TB cornflour mixed with 3 TB of cold water
1/4 ts roasted then ground Sichuan peppercorns
1. When stir frying anything I like to be prepared, things cook quickly in a hot wok and the last thing you want to be doing is struggling to undo a jar and measure out a couple of tablespoons of something. I tend to measure everything out onto a plate ready to scrape in at the correct time. For this dish I also mix the cornflour and water, along with the soy and sugar, into the stock.
2. Cut the tofu into 2cm cubes and put in simmering water.
3. Get the oil hot and add the beef aiming to crisp it up and get a bit of texture. This can take a few minutes depending on beef and wok temperature.
4. Once browning add the chilli bean paste and black beans and allow them to mix into the oily beef.
5. After a minute gently empty in the drained tofu and pour in the stock mixture.
6. Turn the heat down, allowing the mixture to come to a simmer and thicken. Carefully shake, rather than stir, to distribute as the tofu can be pretty lightweight stuff.
7. Throw in the spring onions, shake again then serve, sprinkling with the ground Sichuan pepper.
And here's the result.
It's a bit heavy on beef compared to my first attempt - mainly as there's about 50% more than the recipe stated - as there happened to be a 125gr bag of minced beef in my freezer. Outside of that I think it's a pretty good representation. This dish has a bit of everything - it's oily, hot and aromatic in flavour and the soft texture of the tofu contrasts well with the firmer bite of the beef. I challenge anyone to try it and not be converted.
Now I need to start thinking about the next installment, current thoughts are something from The Exotic Kitchens of Peru as it will allow me to show off a few of my recent Peru photos while staying on the theme of my cookbooks.