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ID your inner chef

ID your inner chef
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First Published: Fri, Dec 12 2008. 11 11 PM IST

Fired up: Kwong says a wok is not a necessity for Chinese cooking.
Fired up: Kwong says a wok is not a necessity for Chinese cooking.
Updated: Fri, Dec 12 2008. 11 11 PM IST
If you were a cooking show queen, who would you rather be—Kylie Kwong or Nigella Lawson? One has all that impressive, star-chef flash, tossing an iron wok like the best of Shanghai’s street food cooks, using nothing less than fresh-from-the-field produce. The other draws you into the kitchen with her flirty, cooking-in-itself-is-an-aphrodisiac way. She unashamedly uses contents out of bottles, jars and cans to make cooking seem non-threatening and a little less like rocket science. But both make it seem so easy.
Both have new shows airing on Discovery Travel and Living—Kylie Kwong: My China is a travelogue of her sojourn in nine Chinese cities, while Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen aims to show you how to enjoy festive cooking. Edited excerpts from email interviews:
Kylie Kwong
“I love the taste of the ocean”
Your earliest food memories?
I cooked fried rice for my grandmother when I was seven. She used to look after me as my parents were working and my brothers went to school. She had her friends over. I had cooked lunch; I had cooked fried rice because that is what I remembered mum doing, so that was my very first dish all by myself without mum being there.
What constitutes comfort food?
Fired up: Kwong says a wok is not a necessity for Chinese cooking.
Well that changes a lot because there’s so many things that I love. But today it would be freshly shucked oysters. I could eat oysters every day. I just love the taste of the ocean. So freshly shucked oysters from Tasmania and a steamed whole mud crab from Darwin, Queensland, because they’ve got really great mud crabs from up there, just steamed and then drizzled with a dressing made from organic honey mixed in a bowl with organic extra-virgin olive oil and organic soy, sort of sour and salty and extra virgin olive oily.
What are the essentials required in a Chinese kitchen?
There is a lot, but let’s say ginger and salt. I must say, in my kitchen I couldn’t live without my Chinese steamer. I love steaming food. And I could eat without my wok because you can stir-fry in anything. You don’t need to have a wok in my opinion, you can do it in a frypan or a tray even.
Are there any basic rules while making Chinese food?
Only use the best quality, freshest cooking ingredients, try and only use local or organic products. I do not buy food in packets, I like making them from the start and cooking it with lots of love and respect.
What’s in your fridge now?
I’d have coriander and chilli. I’d have ginger. I’d have organic butter, and I would have a bottle of beautiful organic Riesling.
Your favourite dessert ever?
I don’t really eat desserts in terms of chocolate cake and all of that. I don’t like sweet flavouring. It’s a bit of Chinese thing. I’d probably have a beautiful platter of fresh organic fruit.
Choose between: 1) cheese and chocolate; 2) red meat or seafood; 3) cinnamon or star anise; 4) chicken or duck; 5) beer or champagne.
Cheese, seafood, cinnamon, chicken, champagne
Where have you eaten the best street food?
The basic food that I came across in my family village while shooting this series My China. One day we were there, and we had bought some fresh produce at the local market, because I was planning to do some cooking at the village. And I bought a big pumpkin because there’s lots of pumpkins in China, which I didn’t know. We were intending to use them as props for the photos for the book. I had no intention of cooking them. I had never grown up cooking pumpkin Chinese style; my mum used to roast pumpkin with nutmeg and butter, you know, Western style.
Anyways, so I’m sitting there at my family village, cooking away and one of the family villagers sort of grabbed the pumpkin off me and sliced it into a million pieces and then stir-fried it with black bean and ginger. And I was like, “That is so delicious.” So I sort of made a mental note of that and I now serve it in my restaurant with organic pumpkin and black bean and ginger.
What do you cook when you’re eating alone at home?
It would be a steamed white chicken with ginger, shallots, chilli and coriander.
Can you share one of your favourite recipes?
• Stir-Fried Potato with Lup Cheong and Green Chilli
Serves 4–6 as part of a shared meal
Ingredients:
2 large potatoes, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled
2 tablespoons peanut oil
5cm (2inch) piece ginger, cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 lup cheong (Chinese dried sausage) or rindless bacon rashers, finely sliced
2 tbsp shao hsing wine
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp brown rice vinegar
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 large green chilli, finely sliced lengthways
1 teaspoon sesame oil
¼ cup water
Method:
Cut potatoes lengthways into 5mm (¼ inch) slices, then into 7 cm (2¾ in) strips. Use a vegetable peeler to shave carrot into ribbons, then cut into fine strips. Heat peanut oil in a hot wok until the surface seems to shimmer slightly. Add potatoes, ginger and salt and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, or until potatoes are lightly browned. Add sausage or bacon and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
Add shao hsing wine and sugar and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the carrot and the remaining ingredients and stir-fry for about 6 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Serve immediately.
Kylie Kwong: My China airs on Discovery Travel and Living at 10pm on Tuesdays.
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Nigella Lawson
“The only thing I dislike is soy milk”
Your earliest food memories?
Although I didn’t like eating when I was a small child, I got quite interested in cooking as I got older. When I was at the university, I cooked for my friends all the time. If anyone ever needed feeding, I was the person they came to. I rented a house in Oxford and I just cooked a lot.
Then when I was a journalist, I found that I often cook a lot. I was a columnist for eight years, and I used to find cooking was a very good way of letting my thoughts simmer, if you’d like. I would work out an argument. I suppose if you’re a journalist, you know other journalists. I would end up cooking for editors and things like that. They always used to say, “You ought to write about this.” I like cooking, but it never occurred to me it would be a career.
What is the one best thing you cook?
Beauty tip: Lawson feels a low-fat diet is bad for the skin.
My favourite sort of cooking is the sort of unplanned cooking when I just open the fridge and see what I have left over. I tend to do probably quite old-fashion English things, like a roast chicken, because I feel at the end of a working day, when one’s really tired, all I have the energy for is just to put a chicken in the oven.
What constitutes comfort food?
I eat quite a lot of avocado, quite a lot of olive oil and a certain amount of other fats and I feel it’s healthy.
What’s in your fridge now?
Chicken anytime! I would say chicken is probably the family dish, either something like boiled chicken with rice or roast chicken. My family always teases me whenever they speak to me, that all I’m ever doing is roasting a chicken.
Your favourite dessert ever?
I enjoy the ultimate treat of caramel croissant pudding eaten in bed after a night out in town.
Does being called the “queen of food porn” bother you?
When you go on a television programme, you have someone who does your hair, make-up and the lighting is there to make you as nice as possible. I’m not going to complain about that.
But on the other hand, I certainly don’t dress in a provocative way or try to be anything that I’m not. For a long time, most of my career, I was a journalist. What I loved about that is you lived off what came out of your brain, rather than what you looked like.
But now I’m such an old bag, I don’t mind as much. I think had I been 20, I would have minded people making comments on what I look like. But now, I’m old enough to be flattered. But I have to say I’m a rather messy, ill-groomed kind of a person, so I certainly don’t have any film-star elegance about me.
Is there one thing or ingredient you don’t particularly like?
There’s nothing, I would say. The only thing I dislike is soy milk. I’m afraid I’m too greedy and there’s nothing I don’t like.
Would you be happy if you were a size 2 and always on a diet?
I think the difficulty with cooking is that fashions change and people have different views. When I was young, people thought margarine was health food. Now they realize because its trans fat food, it’s not good for you.
I’m a great believer in real food; I’m very happy about butter. I know how it’s made and I’m very happy about olive oil and various cooking mediums, like that in goose fat. So I feel on the whole, if you stick to real food as much as possible, you can’t go far wrong.
People always exaggerate the amount used because maybe they don’t cook a lot. So if they see you put four spoons of cream in something, they don’t take into account that six to eight people are going to eat that dish. So I’m actually quite opposed to a low-fat diet because I think it’s bad for your spirits and I also think it’s very bad for your skin.
Can you share one of your favourite recipes?
• Christmas Cupcakes
Makes 8-10 cupcakes
Ingredients:
150g plain flour
1 pack green icing
125ml boiling water
100g unsalted butter
1 tsp baking powder
160g brown sugar
75g dark chocolate
2 eggs
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
3 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp instant coffee
30 cranberries
1 tsp ground mixed spice
12 muffin tins
250 gms instant royal icing
½ tsp salt
Method:
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, mixed spice and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, and then beat in a third of the flour mixture followed by a tablespoon of the sour cream, repeating till each is used up.
Put the water, chocolate and instant coffee in a pan and heat gently, just until the chocolate has melted. Fold this into the cake batter, but don’t overbeat. The mixture will be very thin. Pour carefully into the muffin cases and put in the oven for about 20 minutes, until each little cake is cooked through but still dense and damp. Let cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then slip out the cakes in their papers and sit on a wire rack until completely cooked.
To ice them, make up the royal icing according to the packet instructions and cover the tops of the cupcakes thickly. Cut out holly leaves and sit two on each cake, and then press on your berries, perhaps putting two on some, three on others
Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen airs on Discovery Travel and Living at 10pm on Fridays.
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First Published: Fri, Dec 12 2008. 11 11 PM IST