Steamy silky wontons

Having grown up part of a Thai-Chinese family, wontons have always been the kind of food my mum would make as snacks, usually for our school fairs. Always deep-fried and usually served cold, they weren’t something I really thought much of when I was kid. I secretly wanted my mum to bake a banana loaf or lemon cake or just something … anything ‘Western’ was cool. These days, I find myself going back to my roots and appreciating the food of my childhood so much more. My mum taught my sister and I how to fold wontons from an early age. As far as I can remember, I used to sit in the kitchen and help mum cook a lot (cue me sitting there eating while chatting my face off) and wontons are something I remember well. I remember putting helpings of the meat filling onto the wonton pastry squares and being constantly told that mine were either too small or too big. (In my household, there was always room for improvement!) With all that ‘training’, when it came to wrapping wontons, years on, I had it down pat. Oddly enough, my sister seems to have forgotten!

Recently, I was flicking through my copy of Every Grain of Rice and found my eyes glued to the drool-worthy photo of steamed Sichuanese wontons that appeared before me on page 292. I like the boiled version of wontons, more than the deep-fried ones of my childhood, just because they aren’t as greasy and feel a bit more like comfort food. The recipe here is so simple except two things: learning how to actually fold the wontons and being bothered with the extra effort to make the aromatic soy sauce. The sauce is brilliant, it really brings this dish together and I like that if you put it in a jug, it can then be lovingly poured over the silky wontons as a final touch.

I made a batch of wontons that were egg free as my niece can’t tolerate egg and they worked out just as well as the ones with egg. I doubled this recipe and we had plenty of leftovers the next day for lunch and then some. Wontons or dumplings in general are something fun to make on a rainy afternoon in the weekend with family. Made with care and eaten with gusto.

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Sichuanese wontons in chilli oil sauce

3 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

150 g minced pork

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp Shaoxing wine

½ tsp sesame oil

salt

ground white pepper

½ tsp brown sugar

3 tbsp pork stock

3 tbsp finely sliced spring onions

200 g package of wonton wrappers

flour, to dust

Sweet aromatic soy sauce

100 ml light soy sauce

½ small cinnamon stick

½ tsp fennel seeds

½ star anise

½ tsp Sichuan pepper

2 slices ginger, crushed

3 tbsp brown sugar

To serve

sweet aromatic soy sauce (as above)

3 tsp sesame oil

5 tbsp chilli oil

2 tsp very finely chopped garlic

3 tbsp finely sliced spring onions

First make the aromatic soy sauce. Heat the soy sauce and 200 ml water together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the spices and ginger, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.

Next make the filling. In a large bowl, combine the pork, ginger, egg, wine and sesame oil. Add the sugar and salt and pepper and stir well. Mix in the stock, a tablespoon at a time. Finally, add the spring onions. Test the flavour of the filling at this stage by frying up a very small piece in a small frying pan until cooked. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more or less ginger, and salt and pepper, if needed.

To wrap the wontons, have a bowl of cold water ready. Taking one wonton wrapper at a time, lay it flat in one hand with one corner towards your wrist. Use your finger to wet all the edges of the wrapper, then put a half tablespoonful of the pork mixture off-centre towards the bottom corner of the wrapper. Firmly roll the pastry upwards towards the opposite corner, enclosing the filling, until three-quarters of the way there (so it looks like a triangle). Turn the wonton around 180 degrees and then bring the two ‘wings’ together above the central body of the wonton, dab a little water on the back of the wing edges, then pinch firmly to seal (I would YouTube this method because it’s really hard to explain without photos). Keep the wontons covered with a damp tea towel to prevent them drying out.

Bring a large pan of water to a boil. When the water comes to a rapid boil, drop in the wontons, in batches, then stir gently to make sure they don’t stick together. Once the wontons have been boiling for about 2 minutes, some will appear to float at the top of the water. Use a slotted spoon to remove the wontons that float to the top of the water and drain well. Check one for doneness to be sure. Repeat with the remaining wontons and serve as and when each bowl is ready (this isn’t one of those sit together and eat together meals because if you like your food hot, you’ll need to boil the wontons and drain them as you prepare bowl to bowl).

To serve, pour over some sweet aromatic soy sauce (it’s quite salty so don’t do what I did and pour in way too much), drizzle in the sesame and chilli oils and scatter with spring onions, finely chopped garlic.

(Recipe adapted from Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop, Bloomsbury)

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Give me a salted chocolate cookie any day

All my life I have been searching for two perfect recipes: shortbread and chocolate chip cookies. I haven’t yet found ‘the one’, but I think this recipe for chocolate chip cookies comes a close second to the real deal. The only reason it’s not dubbed ‘perfect’ (although I’ve made these twice already) was because I needed them to be more soft and squishy in the middle. I like my cookies piping hot out of the oven (I have inherited my mum’s asbestos mouth), with a crunch just around the edge of the cookie, then slowly getting more and more chewy and unctuous in the middle. For me, the best bits are the melting oozy bits of chocolate that, mind you, always leave inevitable stains on the only good white shirt I own (I can’t wear white just because I am a terrible messy drooler!)…

I’m kind of glad I haven’t found the be all and end all of chocolate chip cookies yet. Life is nothing without the endless chase for the next recipe to better the one we have now (the grass is always greener after all), so I look forward to writing more on this topic later.

This recipe is from superstar Claire Ptak, who has just published her debut cookbook The Violet Bakery Cookbook, which is brilliant. I had the pleasure of working with Claire on a couple of books, while I was working in London and editing food books, and she has always had such a way with food not to mention the rare ability to style it so well. The key to this recipe, as Claire says in her book, is in the egg yolk – no egg whites allowed here. The yolk is just so important in terms of creating the rich and gorgeous texture of these cookies. It’s like those tasty treats you find in real French bakeries; I always sit there wondering, how do they get it so right? Well, it’s all about the yolk people! Throw away those whites to the wind. This recipe makes so many cookies so I would actually recommend halving the amount and using one super large egg yolk instead of one and a half. I think this cookie wouldn’t be so bad with the odd macadamia nut thrown in too. Oh god … I might have to go bake some now.

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Egg yolk chocolate chip cookies

Makes about 16 large cookies

250 g soft unsalted butter

200 g light brown sugar or dulce sugar

100 g caster sugar

1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped

3 egg yolks

325 g plain flour

1¼ tsp fine sea salt, plus extra to sprinkle (I am in love with David’s Kosher Salt)

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

250 g milk chocolate (use really good-quality stuff if you can), broken up into chunks

Beat the butter and sugars with an electric hand-held beater until combined but not too creamy. Add the vanilla and egg yolks and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Add this to dry mix to the bowl with the egg mixture along with the chocolate and mix well.

Shape into a cylinder and wrap with clingfilm. Put into the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours. When you’re ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Cut the cookie dough into rounds and place on the lined tray, leaving enough space between each one so they can expand as they bake. Sprinkle with a little more sea salt flakes and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the centre of a cookie is slightly soft but the edges crispy. Remove and cool on the tray for a few minutes or just eat them immediately being careful not to burn your mouth too much.

(Recipe slightly adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak, Square Peg, 2015)

Tamarillos forever

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I hadn’t eaten a tamarillo in something like 15 years but my god I have been missing out. You don’t see them much in Britain though, so I do have an excuse, but now that I am back in New Zealand I can enjoy these stunning burgundy fruit every autumn. They have a unique flavour that I can’t really pinpoint but it’s like a really fragrant, fruity tomato that is also slightly tropical in taste. They are very sharp eaten raw, but are just the business when poached becoming slightly silken and just pure delightfulness. Skye Gyngell is one of my food heroes (I’ve probably gone on and on about her loads already on this blog) and raves about tamarillos. I’ve had Skye’s recipe for Almond Panna Cotta with Poached Tamarillos earmarked by an unusually stained post-it note for years, waiting patiently to be made. Just the other day, I spotted some fine looking tamarillos at the weekly market and finally got around to making one half of the said recipe – the poached tamarillos. The almond panna cotta will have to wait. Sigh. Tamarillos are simmered gently in sugar syrup imparted with the all-important spices: cinnamon, vanilla pod and yes, bay leaves. (I’ve only just discovered, over the past year, how good bay leaves are in sweet things. Rice pudding with bay leaf and manuka honey being one of my all-time favourite ways to eat rice!)

I served these jewel-like beauties warm with ice cream. On the following days I had them on top of granola and then buttermilk pancakes as the syrup just keeps on giving. You can keep any leftover tamarillos and syrup in a jar in the fridge and just add to smoothies or the odd porridge that needs a bit more excitement. One thing is for sure in this life and that is I’m definitely a tamarillo convert and there is no going back.

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Poached tamarillos

6 tamarillos

220 g caster sugar

1 vanilla pod, slit in half

1 cinnamon stick

2 fresh bay leaves

Prepare the tamarillos buy cutting them in half lengthways. Put 500 ml water, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and bay leaves into a saucepan and set over low heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat and bring to a simmer for 5–10 minutes, or until the liquid looks a little syrupy. Add the tamarillos and poach for 5 minutes, or until they begin to soften and pop out of their skins. Take off the heat and leave to cool in the poaching liquid for a few minutes. Serve warm or transfer to a jar and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

(Recipe from A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gyngell, Quadrille)