The Magic Porridge Pot, Chilli Crabs and Shrimp.

A quote from A.A. Milne. This reminds me of my friend from Belgium ( now New Zealand) ( and also himself). Whenever we stayed with each other, this is more or less what she would say!

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”

And so that leads me to the Magic Porridge Pot. If you do not know the story, it is very simple, the cooking pot makes porridge until you tell it to stop, BUT if you forget to tell it, porridge will soon swamp the town.

And so it seems that this week, which for whatever reason, seems to have been incredibly busy, we have developed a Magic Egg Fried Rice Wok. What with International Cricket, International Rugby, golf, golf and more golf, cooking plans came and then went. I had defrosted baby crabs and some shell off large shrimp ( all bought from the Chinese supermarket) . So I quickly made the sauce for the Shrimp/crabs and put to one side. Sautéed the shrimp/ crabs and some vegetables, again put to one side, cooked some rice, chopped some vegetables for the rice, quickly made scrambled egg Chinese style and when cool put all into the refrigerator, before charging out to one of the above events.

Therefore it was very easy to assemble all upon our return. The only slight problem was, too much rice. ! I find it very difficult to gauge exactly how much I need , for plain and simple rice, not a problem, but for fried rice, oh so different. I rummage in the refrigerator, oh, there are some peppers, red and green, and look some celery, some spring onions, and what about some green beans chopped up, and the frozen peas, and of course the eggs. Consequently there is always too much, even when himself has persuaded himself that he should have seconds! Hence the extra is cooled and refrigerated. Until the next night, when running short of time, and there is ample Shrimp/crab combo left and don’t forget the rice, But, oops. not enough Rice. Consequently more plain rice is cooked, not too much, but then more vegetables are needed and of course more eggs. And so it continues. So just like the magic porridge pot!

I first had Chilli Crab in Singapore many years ago. It is rated at number 35 in the worlds list of iconic foods. And I could not agree more. There are many many restaurants in Singapore that make this dish, eat it outside and the scene is set. Singapore is a complete mish mash of cultures, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Thai, Indian and don’t forget British, they are all there. Hua Yu Wee Seafood restaurant is in the garden along the east coast. Hawker stands also serve Chilli Crab, don’t turn your nose up at sitting on a plastic stool and eating in the street, it is the best way, and be prepared to get messy ( plastic aprons are usually provided.) For the longest time, one of my families favourite quick dinner was Oyster Omelette, this we first had again in Singapore at one of the hawker stands. Um Yummy. I am beginning to drool just thinking about Singaporean food.

Onto my version, traditionally it is just Chilli Crab or Chilli Shrimp, not the two combined, but as needs must I had not enough of one or the other.

All amounts are approximate.

  1. 500 grms each of Shrimp, de-veined and shelled, and of baby crabs ( both can be bought frozen in a chinese super market)
  2. 6 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
  3. 4 ” fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  4. 3-5 fresh red chillies, de-seeded and chopped
  5. 1/2 cup chilli sauce
  6. small can tomato paste
  7. 1 tablespoon of honey
  8. 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  9. 1 tablespoon cornflour mixed to a smooth paste with some water
  10. 1 cup, stock either chicken, fish or vegetable stock.
  11. oil for frying preferably sesame.
  12. Salt and pepper to taste.

Fry the crabs, in some hot oil until they turn pink all over. repeat with the shrimp. drain both on some paper towel. Put 1/4 cup of fresh oil into the wok add the garlic, ginger and chillies, then add the chilli sauce, the tomato paste, honey, soy sauce. Add the stock and cook for about three minutes. Stir thoroughly and then add the cornflour water mix. Taste, add salt and pepper, AND if not spicy enough for your taste, add some chilli paste. Garnish with some spring onions and serve with rice ( plain or fried).


A word of warning about cooked rice. I first heard about this when my mother was in a nursing home. She told me that they would no longer serve rice. In fact it was a little bit of Health and Safety gone mad. There is nothing to say that Rice can not be served to the sick and elderly. In the USA, when you have an upset stomach the cure is the BRAT diet. Brat = Bananas, Rice, Apples and Toast!

What can be bad is the following

  • The NHS says that leftover rice can be bad for you.
  • Uncooked rice can contain spores that can survive when the rice is cooked.
  • If the rice stands at room temperature for too long, those spores turn into bacteria.
  • That in turn can cause food poisoning.
  • Store your rice as quickly as possible once you’re done eating it. Clet it cool and then refrigerate until ready to reheat. Make sure that it is throughly reheated and not just warmed. Covered in cling film and the Microwave is a good way and then again, use a wok, with very hot oil and cook well.

Dessert Time !

I am not big into Desserts, neither the making of, nor the eating! Himself, is though very much into the eating of desserts, which I have to say he does not get very often!

When the kids were small, they would always ask ” what is for dessert?” and the answer, which would infuriate them , was always the same, it was either a “Was “(  Wait and See) or a “UFO” ( You’ll Find Out), however, dessert more often than not, was a yoghurt. Unless it was a cooking class day, when there might even be a choice, so definitely a “WAS” day!

Here at home we rarely have dessert, unless we have been entertaining and then there might be a plethora of desserts for himself to indulge in.

Whilst we were on the high seas for 16 days,  he was in his element, pastries at breakfast, afternoon tea, with crepe and cakes and cookies ( we did skip lunch I might add) and of course dessert at dinner!, So after three dessert-less weeks, this has seen Himself indulging once again.  The offerings were, Creamy Rich Chocolate Satin ( a thick mousse type) Japanese White Chocolate Cheese Cake, Eton Mess and Lemon Tart.

The only thing that was new in my repertoire, was the Lemon Tart. Sure, I’ve made a version of Lemon Tart, a zillion times over the years, but this version was new and so I will share with you. It is quiet Tart ( excuse the pun, so extra sugar might be needed)! Bizarrely, I found two round loose bottom tart pans, ( with no bottoms) and two square loose bottom pans, with bottoms, hence, this is a square lemon Tart!IMG_2483

Either make some pastry, using your tried and trusted recipe, or buy some if that is easier for you.

Then you will need

  1. 5 medium eggs beaten. Plus a yolk or white extra.
  2. 150 grms castor sugar
  3. juice of 2-3 large lemons ( plus one lemon preferable with thin skin for decoration)
  4.  the grated zest of one of the lemons ( optional, if you do not have a zester)
  5. 150 ml double cream

Roll out the pastry, on a floured surface, to a little larger than your tin. Cover with cling film and leave for about 15 mins for it shrink just a bit. If you over roll your pastry it will become hard, so be carefull ! Heat the oven to 160 ( fan) 180 ( non Fan)Line your tin with the pastry, and then some greaseproof paper. I would recommend leaving the pastry hanging over the sides of your tin, in the first instance, so that if it does shrink, it is no big  deal and can be trimmed subsequently. Leave to stand for another 15 mins if you have the time. Pour into the tin, ( on top of the greaseproof paper,) something to hold the pastry down. This can be rice, lentils,  flour or if you have them some baking beans ( usually made out of ceramic.) If using rice or lentils, you can use them time and time again, just store them , marked baking, so that no-one will try to really cook with them!

Bake the pastry case “Blind” for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, start making the filling. To the beaten eggs, whisk in the sugar, lemon juice and zest and then the cream. Warm it slightly, keep an eye on it as you do not want it to either scramble or curdle.

Remove the pastry from the oven, remove the greaseproof paper and beans, paint the pastry with either a beaten egg yolk or white, it will stop the bottom becoming “Soggy”, stir the cream mixture and pour carefully into the tin and bake for about 20 mins. until the pastry is more or less cookedand the filling firm. Trim the pastry if needed.

Meanwhile thinly slice the lemons, either into segments or into rounds. Put into a bowl and pour over some boiling water, to soften them ready for decorating the tart.

Blot the lemon slices, remove the tart from the oven, decorate with the lemon slices, bake for another 5-10 mins, for the lemons to take on some colour.

Serve warm, dusted with some icing sugar and with a dollop of cream.

Something for Smoked Haddock Lovers!

Himself Loves smoked Haddock, Kippers, Arbroath Smokies and Mackerel, in fact anything that is a bit smelly on the fish front. Me? I’m maybe not so keen!

My “go to” dinner for Himself  using smoked Haddock, is poached smoked haddock on a bed of steamed spinach with a couple of poached eggs on top. So I will make that for Him, whilst I have something else, maybe Smushed Avocado with a poached egg, or an Avocado Salad.

Anyway this week, saw me being more creative with the smoked Haddock. I usually buy when I am in Costco, as theirs is always of the more lightly smoked variety and then I will cut it into portions and freeze. And so I made a cross between a soup and a fish stew. What can we call it? Well let us start with Haddock and spinach stew, though that doesn’t sound very enticing!

Quantities are very much made up, kind of what you have and what you fancy. However the basis for the stew areIMG_1528

  1.  2-3 onions finely sliced, ( I usually go for red onions as they don’t make you cry so easily !)
  2.  1/2 tsp ground coriander and 1/2 tsp turmeric
  3. 3-4 slices of pancetta (or streaky bacon or even lardons which have been sautéed to crisp the fatty bits)
  4. 300 grams small new potatoes cut into 2’s
  5.  750 mls of either vegetable or fish stock ( bought is OK but watch out for the salt content)
  6. 1Kilo of smoked Haddock, de-boned and skin removed, cut into chunks about 1 inch square.
  7. 150 grams baby spinach washed
  8. a few sliced mushrooms
  9. about 8 small cherry tomatoes
  10. a knob of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil

Fry the onions in the butter and olive oil along with the coriander and turmeric until the onions are soft but not brown.

Slice the pancetta or bacon, add the bacon/pancetta along with the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Add the fish and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and mushrooms. Cook for another couple of mins and then finally add the spinach. Taste and adjust seasoning.IMG_5141

Spoon the stew into bowls, maybe topped with creme fraiche or even a poached egg and served with some crusty bread.


Our Man in Havana

It has been a while, since I put a pen to paper. We have more or less been out of WiFi area for a while.

We went to Havana for a few days. It has been 3 years since we were last there and we saw a lot of changes.

To start with, our transfer from the airport was in a modern taxi, the last time we chose a classic car, but I don’t remember seeing many modern taxis around, and this one was a “People Mover” type, to boot !

Our hotel, part of the Accor group ( Sofitel, Mercure etc,) was the first luxury hotel built-in Havana, in 1905. However nothing much has changed in it since the revolution, 60 years ago, very much faded glory, dim lights, dodgy plumbing and dubious, not inspiring food ( we only tried the breakfast). AND very dodgy internet, which was only available in the hotel lobby ! But never mind, we were not here for the internet, except we did need it urgently, but that is another story.

Our “Go To” Cafe for a decent coffee, in Plaza Veija, is still there and the coffee is still good, and our “Go To” Bar opposite the cafe is also still there and is still good, one in the shade for the morning and the other shady for the afternoon !

Our favourite restaurant a Paladores ( privately owned) in Calle Mercadores ,  ( Paladar Los Mercadores) is also still there. Three years ago, it was new, as the Castro regime had just given permission for individuals to open up their homes as restaurants or B nB’s. On our previous visit we were impressed by the food and the enterprising nature of the owner, he had converted the best rooms in his house into the dining area and had commissioned farmers and friends to grow produce for him, and he himself went fishing daily. However, on this occasion he was not around. The food was just as good, but the service was decidedly pushy. Our waiter tried very hard to sell us a $70 bottle of wine, but Himself is not someone to be pushed, but, it turned out that 90% of the wine on the menu was not to be had! Supply problems? Or was it the thought of selling us a $70 bottle of wine that was the problem, we will never know.

Our starters were not particularly memorable, not bad, just not outstanding. But the mains ! Wow!

Himself took a bouillabaisse type of fish stew, which was a speciality of Santiago de Cuba, and I chose the Catch of the Day, which was Tuna. The fish stew was excellent full of local fish and spicy. My Tuna was a huge slab of excellent Tuna, not as pink as I would have liked but nonetheless, wonderful. We had decided that we would swap halfway through and I’m glad we did, because it would have been a shame not to have been able to taste and enjoy the alternative fish dish.

Given the fact that Cubans on the whole do not eat fish, it is amazing that someone, somewhere remembers how to cook it! Since the Revolution and more recently since the withdrawal of Russian support from the island, when the average Cuban lost 1/3 of their body weight, fish became a major export and 90% of fish that is caught is exported.

The next evening we ventured out and would take “Pot  Luck”. we walked down the whole length of Emperado, this is Old Havana at it’s best, people hanging out of windows, kids playing in the streets , music everywhere and nowadays people proffering menus, for us to look at! “Come and try Mama’s cooking” they would say!

We wound up in an area where we had eaten on our previous visit, next door to the artists, colony,  in Callejon del Chorro another of Mama’s Home cooking areas. We were sure that Mama was in the back cooking as instantaneous it was not, but it was good and fresh and for people who have supply problems, they deal with the situation extremely well, and then Mama came to see if we had enjoyed her cooking, the answer was a resounding YES!

We were glad that we avoided the hotel restaurant, it was heavily advertised as having the best view in Havana. That aside it was a cavernous room, soulless and empty. They were serving either beef or ostrich ( neither of which are readily available in Cuba !

On our last morning we once again and walked into Old Havana where cars are mostly prohibited. We had seen a possibility for breakfast, and after a few missed junctions we finally found it and were not disappointed. Good coffee, good bread,  pastries and fruit. In fact the whole of this tiny street was filled with equally tiny cafes, and the man on the corner selling onions and  a smart boutique, selling Cuban Designer clothes!

For a quick overview of Havana, apart from taking one of the classic cars to spin you around, there is now a tour bus, of the “hop on hop off” variety. Having ” done ” the classic car thing on our last visit, we took the bus.. We stopped off at the cemetry or to be exact Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, which was founded in 1876 and is one of the most important historical cemeteries in the world. It covers 140 Acres with over 800,000 tombs, almost all in white marble. It really is a fascinating place, with many famous people being buried there as well as the ordinary person. We found the family tomb of Ibrahim Ferrer, he died in 2005, and was a member of the Buena Vista Social club, their latin music has been played around the world.

We noticed many changes in Havana, The music was still there, with whole families now participating, going from hotel to hotel,  now there were signs everywhere, ‘Rooms to rent”, and the small cafes, a lot of building works and renovations and much more to be done. The shops are still basically empty of goods and there were people standing in line to buy basic commodities such as soap and shampoo and washing powder. The architecture is beautiful, but seriously needs help and in time it will come. We left via the docks ( more on that later )which certainly had seen better days, but time will tell.