Saturday, January 31, 2015

Parsnip, Parsley and Leek Soup

When it is cold out, nothing is more appealing than a steaming bowl of soup served alongside a chunk of country bread or some crackers. Of the winter soups, leek and potato is a timeless classic; but why not consider jazzing things up a bit this winter?

Made from seasonal parsnips and leeks, this simple, creamy, yet cream-free soup packs a punch of nutrients and flavor. Parsnips impart a natural sweetness; leeks the aroma of onion and spring onion. The soup is then lifted by a squeeze of lemon and a generous addition of fresh parsley that would not only deliver a nice, herbaceous contrast but also give a vibrant green hue.

Throw in a potato or two to thicken the soup as desired. For some extra sweetness, I used the boiling water left over from cooking the parsnips and swede in Swede and Parsnip Bake with Buttery Crumbs as the stock - because it would be a shame to pour it down the drain! Last but not least, I threw in some turkey bones to enrich the stock for good measure. Comforting served hot on a cold day, this soup is also deliciously refreshing served cold on a steamy summer day!

To prepare...
Out of parsnips? Add a potato or two!
1 1/2 tablespoon butter
3 leeks, cleaned and chopped
2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1-2 medium potatoes, chopped (optional)
Dash of olive oil
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or see above)
2 cups water
1 generous bunch of fresh parsley, chopped (reserve a little for garnish)
A squeeze of lemon juice

1. Heat butter in a large pot. Add chopped leeks and toss to coat with butter. When leeks begin to sizzle, lower the heat and cook until soft but do not let the leeks brown.

2. Add parsnips and potatoes if using, olive oil, and a pinch of salt and toss to coat. Add the stock and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook until the parsnips and potatoes are tender, at least 30 minutes.

3. Tip in the parsley. Purée the soup until smooth, either by using an immersion blender or by working in batches with a blender once the soup is slightly cooled.

4. Stir in lemon juice and season to taste. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprig of parsley and serve. Enjoy and stay warm!

Adapted from Elise's recipe on Simply Recipes
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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Apples and Cranberries

Almost as if making up for the pot roast I never made last year, this pork roast warms every corner of my house with such a jolly holiday scent that you'd think Christmas is here once again.

Pork and apples are a classic pair that are always meant for each other. Featuring in this recipe - second of my winter series highlighting fresh British ingredients - are English Bramley apples, a unique variety ideal for cooking as it retains a stronger, tangier flavor and gives a pleasantly buttery texture.

This recipe uses apple cider as the braising liquid (reminds me of New York's farmers markets in the winter!), imbueing the pork with acidity that tenderizes, and sweetness that balances the savoriness of the meat. Add in tart cranberries and mulling spices along with several idle hours in the oven, and there you have a wonderfully succulent pork roast that not only smells but also tastes like the holidays.

As no prior brining is necessary, this dish is incredibly simple - as well as economical and foolproof. Most affordable cuts like pork shoulder would do as slow braising breaks down the tough fibers in the meat. So if you are looking to do something slightly different from roasting a whole turkey on your next holiday, consider trading the Big Bird in for some juicy, tender Porky Pig... and be sure to serve up some crusty artisan bread to sop up all the essence!

To prepare...
1 kg, or 2 lb. fresh pork shoulder
Olive oil
3 medium onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 cup unfiltered apple cider (I used spiced cider!)
2 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of whole peppercorns

For the sauce:
2 firm Bramley apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup fresh cranberries (thawed if frozen)
3 tablespoons brown sugar (or to taste, optional)
A splash more of apple cider
2-3 strips of orange peel
Fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnishing

1. Preheat oven to 170C/325F. Season pork well with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large, oven-proof* heavy pot over moderately high heat, brown meat on all sides, turning as needed, about 8 minutes. Set pork aside.

2. Add onions to the same pot and sauté until softened and started to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and caramelized, about 8 minutes more. Stir in cider.

*Now, if you are lucky enough to have a large oven, return pork to pot, cover pot with a tight-fitting lid, and place into the pre-heated oven.

3. Otherwise, place pork into a large casserole, pour in the cider and onions, and cover tightly with foil, pressing down firmly along the rim. Place in the oven to braise until very tender, about 2 1/2 - 3 hours. Turn pork over once halfway through the time of cooking, adding in the cinnamon stick, cloves, bay leaf, and peppercorns. 

To make the sauce...
4. When meat is nearly done in the oven, heat butter over medium heat, cook apple slices until soft and lightly golden. Remove from heat until pork is ready.

5. Remove bay leaf and transfer pork to a plate. Skim fat off the juices, then pour into the apples. Add remaining cider, 3/4 cup of the cranberries, thyme, and the orange peel. Bring to a boil until the cranberries pop and the mixture is reduced and thickened. Taste sauce, adding brown sugar if too tart. Season with more spices as you please.

6. Return pork and add the remaining cranberries to the sauce, stirring to cover meat in sauce to briefly reheat. Transfer to a serving dish or casserole and garnish with fresh thyme. Serve with a side of mash and crusty artisan bread! Bon appétit!

Recommended side: Swede and Parsnip Bake with Buttery Crumbs

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Swede and Parsnip Bake with Buttery Crumbs

January this year marks a critical game changer in my career. This week, I finally had to face the day I've anticipated for years, but one that I have also feared vehemently. And now, with my month-long preparation and nerve-wrecking assessments finally behind me, I have but only to wait patiently for my verdict and wholeheartedly get my blog back on full swing.

Earlier this month saw me briefly laying over in Manchester, England, where I indulged in classic pub fare, British real ales and hours upon hours of scouring through grocery stores dotting the downtown. Bleak as it was in Manchester during this time of the year, I was thrilled to get my hands on a variety of in-season, locally farmed produce otherwise inaccessible or entirely unaffordable back home. Winter frosts have brought about sweet, earthy, cream-colored parsnips that I adore, along with other winter roots like the bulbous, purple-green-skinned swede (known as rubatagas in America), both of which are making their debut at my penthouse kitchen.

In celebrating winter and the new year this month, I am excited to bring you a special Winter Series featuring ingredients I handpicked in England. Up first is a hearty, inexpensive baked winter root mash topped with savory, buttery crumbs - a dreamy, flavorsome side for a Sunday Roast or the ultimate Turkey Dinner. Reserve the naturally sweet cooking liquid and use as a stock for Parsnip, Parsley and Leek Soup.

Sweet, earthy, and versatile: winter produce at its peak
I find hot English mustard (apparently committed to the English theme here) a marvellous remedy to round out the earthy, sweet, but otherwise monotonous flavors of the roots. All the better if you have got horseradish. The good news? This dish can be made a day ahead or frozen up to a month and finished in the oven just before serving - way to lighten up your load in the kitchen!

To prepare...
Swede roughly diced into 1-inch cubes
1 swede, peeled and diced
2 large or 5 small parsnips, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon English mustard, or horseradish
1/2 cup coarsely grated cheddar (optional)

For the buttery crumb topping:
A knob of butter
1 small onion, finely minced
1 cup breadcrumbs
A handful of thyme leaves, plus extra for scattering
1/3 cup coarsely grated parmesan

1. Cook the swede and parsnip chunks in boiling salted water, covered, until tender. Drain well, reserving the cooking liquid as stock for future use.
2. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Mash swede and parsnip with butter, milk, and mustard, leaving chunks for texture if desired. Stir in cheddar if using. Spoon into a greased ovenproof baking dish.
3. Make the topping. Melt butter in a skillet and cook the onion until golden, 3-5 minutes. Tip in breadcrumbs and stir to crisp a little, removing from heat as soon as breadcrumbs begin to brown. Season with salt and pepper and add the thyme. Spoon the mixture casually over the mash and sprinkle in the parmesan.  

Note: Can be made ahead to this point and kept covered in the fridge for up to a day or frozen for up to a month.

4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and crispy on top. Serve scattered with thyme.

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A perfect winter side for any holiday meal and roasts

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Happy 2015! | Taipei

Dear home cooks,
Kicking off my cross-year trip to Taipei with the sights and sounds and scents of Raohe Night Market (饒河觀光夜市)

New Years Eve Countdown at Taipei 101
Alvin's Penthouse Kitchen wishes you a fruitful, delicious, Happy 2015!! As 2014 drew to a close, the Penthouse Kitchen took a little break and headed for Taipei for the New Years. As with all visits to Taiwan's bustling capital, the first and foremost stop on the itinerary is none but the city's many famed night markets. There, one navigates through narrow channels lined with food hawkers, each showcasing a specialty of some sort that ranges from ubiquitous local classics to the original and the creative.

As one grapples with the sights and sounds of a true steet food paradise, you are bound to fall first for the tantalizing aromas of sticky, grilled wild boar sausages(山豬肉香腸)infusing the atmosphere. And just as you find yourself overwhelmed by choice, the faintly puckering, pungent waft of deep-fried stinky tofu(臭豆腐)- served accompanied by pickled cabbage and a garlicky chili sauce - will surely assault your nostrils and have you drooling for more. Love it or hate it, there's just no ignoring it.

A stinky, tasty national obsession: stinky tofu served three ways. Love it or hate it, there's just no igrnoring it.
(From left) Stuffed pepper pork buns; soya sauce innards galore; aiyu jelly and lemon
"QQ"- as the Taiwanese affectionally describes all things chewy: freshly made and cut taro balls(芋圓)at Jiufen

Meaty, crusty, sesame-dusted stuffed pepper pork buns(胡椒餅)made fresh daily and baked in hot canisters; spicy, crunchy, tender pounded deep-fried chicken steaks(炸雞排)larger than your face; flaky, crispy, multi-layered scallion pancakes(蔥抓餅)made to order are all but only a few of my favorites that are not to be missed at Taipei's lively night markets. Whether you are there for a late night snack or a street feast, you are in for a real visual and taste treat. Not to mention the plethora of traditional desserts and beverages... that's if you still have room for that. But if you are like me, all things sweet belong to that other stomach, right?

As I write, I am back to work from welcoming the New Year in Taiwan (still detoxing and cleansing from excessive alcohol and grease) and currently busy preparing for a significant career milestone - so please stay tuned in the next couple of weeks as I shortly resume making a mess at the Penthouse Kitchen... bringing you more exciting, easy, tasty homecooking recipes this fresh, new year!

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