Saturday, 2 July 2011

An ode to Chef John

Being Chinese, some may think I'd have a raft of traditional Cantonese recipes up my sleeve, passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, growing up my mum was never that keen on letting me mess up her kitchen, plus Cantonese cooking is more about technique than recipes anyway.

I actually only started properly cooking about three years ago when I got a kitchen of my own to mess up. By then, most of my inspiration came from TV chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, but it wasn't always easy to follow their recipes or source their ingredients. That's when I discovered Chef John and his video recipes - and I haven't looked back since.

This post is a summary of my favourite Chef John videos, which have become staples of my cooking repertoire (as per the photos below).

No-knead ciabatta - if you've never baked bread before, but always wanted to try it, this is the way to go. Very easy, and you can only go wrong if you use old yeast, so make sure you have some fresh stuff on hand.

Garlic bread - something about using freshly-crushed garlic aioli makes this extra-delicious, much better than your run-of-the-mill stuff. I usually use a baguette from the Pyrenees deli for this one.

Sausage-stuffed cherry pepper poppers - possibly the most popular pre-dinner snacks I've ever made, it may seem a lot of effort but actually it's quite fun to stuff these. I usually find two sausages from the meat counter perfect for one jar of Peppadew peppers, which you can find quite easily even at regular supermarkets.

Roasted prosciutto-wrapped asparagus - a must-try during asparagus season, I can't think of a better combination. Once I made a whole lot of these, topped it off with a poached egg and scoffed it all myself as dinner. Yum.

No-knead pizza dough - people sometimes seem a bit shocked when I talk about making pizza from scratch, but when you have this dough recipe it really is no challenge. After making this, I could never face those hard, dimpled, pre-made bases from the supermarket again.

The 'ultimate' roast chicken - I never roast chicken any other way now. I once tried this 'chicken in milk' Jamie Oliver recipe and found it vastly inferior to this butter-under-the-skin method. You can vary the flavours a lot depending on what you put in the butter, but either way you can't really go wrong here! Best served with some crispy roast veges.

Cooking turkey for chickens - it was only because of this post that I was brave enough to volunteer to cook a turkey for the family Christmas lunch. And guess what? By all accounts it turned out brilliantly! Apparently I have booked myself turkey-duty for the next few years too, which I have no problem with, as long as these videos stay online...

Lamb moussaka burger - given that I love both lamb and eggplant, it was no surprise I loved this burger recipe. What was a surprise was the fact James loved it too, even though he's usually ambivalent towards lamb and hates eggplant. I really need to make this more often...

Angel-hair pasta with broccoli & garlic - if you've ever looked in the fridge and found a broccoli you bought ages ago when it was on special but kept forgetting to use, this is a delicious and slightly different way of dispensing with it. And feels healthy too, even though you're eating pasta.

Cauliflower spaghetti aglio olio - same applies for cauliflower, a delicious way to use one up that's anything but bland. Perfect for a quick dinner.

Truffled potato gratin - possibly my favourite Chef John-inspired recipe of all time, this always goes down a treat every time I make it, but then again how can anything with that much cream plus truffled cheese taste bad? Now, I have to admit that I've actually tweaked the recipe myself by using truffled mascarpone instead of sottocenere (you can usually get truffled mascarpone from Nosh), and also omitting the mushrooms altogether. Amazing. The other great thing about this recipe is it justifies my ownership of a mandolin slicer.

Jinx-proof braised lamb shanks - these turned out so well that I'm very reluctant to cook lamb shanks any other way. There's just something about all the flavours and the long slow cooking time that makes the dish meltingly delicious. If you have some lamb shanks, you can't go wrong with this recipe - it's in the name!

Chili chocolate mousse - a great prepare-ahead dessert, I've only messed this up once due to not letting the chocolate cool completely before folding in the cream, but that's pretty much the only way you can ruin this. And even then, it tasted delicious, just had the wrong texture. Usually it's very light and rich. I also like how you don't have to have gelatin on hand for this one, unlike most other chocolate mousse recipes.

There are so many more I haven't even tried yet, but it's hard not to keep going back to the same ones when I know they'll turn out so well. To anyone who's ever been iffy about cooking, I urge you to watch these videos and give it a shot, because it really makes it simple. Many thanks to Chef John for doing such an amazing job - keep up the awesome work!

1 comment:

  1. hey Clara...I know it is years after the baking...but, today as I was checking comments after watching Chef John's no knead Ciabatta bread video...I saw yours and he mentioned how great your bread looked...and so ...I had to come to find it. It is indeed great looking bread... I'm just putting some together today and will bake it tomorrow..... hope it looks as good as yours did.