Make your own mee and charsiu

I mentioned a couple posts ago that one of the very best ways to enjoy homemade wontons is with noodles and charsiu (roast pork), i.e. as part of a perfect plate of wonton mee. What I should have said also is that to really make that dish special, you should also make the charsiu and the noodles yourself.

Before you start getting freaked out, let me assure you that both are surprisingly easy to make. Just give yourself some time to prepare both items properly. And I promise that if you do make the effort and take the time to make not just your wontons but also your mee and charsiu, you will be super pleased with the results. And your guests — or whomever you decide to serve these to — will be in a state of culinary euphoria.

The recipes that S and I have found most trustworthy for charsiu and mee both come from the same amazing food writer and restaurateur, Barbara Tropp. Her cookbook The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking is still, to us, today unrivalled among Chinese cookbooks for its accuracy, clarity, and ease of use. It still sometimes amazes us that a diminutive Jewish-American woman is the authority we trust most when searching for a great Chinese recipe. Of course, as all home cooks do, we’ve tweaked Ms Tropp’s recipes a little to suit our own tastes as well as our kitchen equipment. You may also find that for your tastes and in your kitchen you might need to make some necessary adjustments. (Keep reading)


One of the most satisfying and simple comfort foods in Chinese cuisine is the wonton. A hot bowl of wonton soup is perfect when exhausted or ill. A serving of wontons sauced with a thick, reduced chicken stock is a delicious snack. A portion, tossed in a spicy homemade chilli-oil sauce, can be a fantastically exciting dish to serve friends. And when served with homemade noodles and charsiu (roast pork), they can become part of a bowl full of heaven.

Making wontons at home is something our mothers all did at some point in our childhoods, which also infuses them with that magical quality of nostalgia. For many, slurping down a bowl full of delicious wontons is nothing short of recapturing some of the best parts of their youth. (Keep reading)

Breaking in the kitchen

Although we’ve cooked for a few friends since moving into our new house, all of these meals have been pretty easy affairs — the kind of things that don’t require more than a few hours of puttering around our new (dream) kitchen. This past weekend, however, my darlin’ wife S and I entertained the architect who designed our house, plus a slew of serious foodie friends. We knew that cooking up a simple stew and tossing together a salad, no matter how delicious, simply wasn’t going to cut it. The menu we put together required a day and a half of prep work — and one dish had to be done in stages over 3 days. As S put it during our frenzied preparations, “We’re finally breaking this puppy in!”

For our first course, we served a duo of scallops (pictured up top). Both scallops were brushed with a soy-butter glaze and grilled under a hot broiler for a minute or so. One was then topped with a Japanese herb dressing (the recipe for this comes from Jane Lawson’s awesome Yoshoku). The other I topped with a miso-beurre blanc and some avruga caviar. (Keep reading…)

How to use up bananas

For the past few weeks, S has been testing banana cake recipes for two reasons. The first was part of our quest, mentioned in my previous post, for the perfect house cake. The second was because she had been recently asked to contribute a recipe that reminded her of home to a new cookbook and she had chosen the banana cake. Now, while I love her banana cake, there are sometimes when too much of a good thing can make you go, well, a little bananas.

In order to have enough ripe fruit (key word here being ripe) for her cakes, S had been stockpiling bananas like a gorrila about to face a harsh winter. And after tasting the sixth or seventh version of her cake, and having determined that, yes, she had indeed improved upon the original recipe, I had to say something. Well, actually, it was more of a cross between a whimper and whine. I asked her, as gently as possible, since she had now perfected her cake recipe, if perhaps there was something else we could do to the bananas because I really couldn’t look at another banana cake, let alone have a slice for breakfast. (Keep reading…)

The house cake

Over the past few years, as S and I have been travelling, visiting and sometimes staying with friends, we’ve noticed a very interesting shift. Not too long ago, we would have been offered a foldaway couch, or some uncomfortable cot in a friend’s living room. Most recently, though, friends have pleasantly surprised us with very well-appointed guest rooms. Not only have they been clean, comfy and functional, there has also been ample closet space and fine linens. Some have even come stocked with a wide range of toiletries to choose from. Obviously, we’ve all been getting older — which is something we usually complain about. But one of the nice by-products of getting older (and hopefully more successful) is we all eventually move into larger and nicer homes.

One of the things that S wanted to do when we built our new home was create a really nice guest room. Ours is on the ground floor of the house. It’s done up in neutral colors and planned very much the way a hotel room would be set up. In addition to the comfy queen-size bed, there’s a nice wood desk, two vintage chairs, a small flatscreen TV, and loads of closet space. S has also kitted out the bathroom with a full range of… well, whatever someone might need, be it toothbrushes, band-aids, even contact lens solution. Overall, we felt that the room was pretty darned stylish and we’ve been eagerly awaiting our first house guests. (Keep reading…)

Simple fare and a great peach cake

As I mentioned in my previous post, S and I have just moved into a new house. You can’t imagine just how happy we are with our new place. The house itself is a project that was two years in the making — starting with purchasing a small one-story intermediate terrace house; tearing it down; working with a brilliant but fussy architect to design a New York inspired redbrick townhouse in Singapore; months spent negotiating with contractors to work within the tiny budget that we had set aside for the build; and then finally, patiently waiting and watching over the actual build for the last 13 months.

As you might imagine, we allocated a pretty healthy space for our kitchen. I’ll devote a future post to photographing the kitchen and telling you guys and gals all about it but suffice it to say, it’s pretty darned impressive. S was in charge of both space planning and choosing our appliances. She did an amazing job… well, to be accurate, she put us in some serious debt, but it looks amazing. And since moving in last month, we’ve been having a ball entertaining again. (Keep reading…)

Heston Blumenthal’s popping-candy chocolate cake

Ever since returning from Barcelona, I have been slightly obsessed with peta zeta, or as we say in English, pop rocks. It’s Oriol Balaguer‘s fault. When we were in Spain, one of the must-visit places on my wife S’s itinerary was Balaguer’s boutique. She’s been slightly obsessed with this genius chocolatier ever since a pastry chef friend gave her Balaguer’s cookbook as a present some years back. Balaguer’s Barcelona boutique is a very small, chic corner space, located in the middle of a wealthy residential neighborhood. (It is also just around the corner from the showroom of Tresserra, an amazing Spanish furniture brand I am currently in love with but cannot afford — and probably won’t be able to for decades to come.)

As you can imagine, we tried many of Balaguer’s chocolates and even some of his pastries. Everything was delicious, but one thing in particular blew me away — his pop rock filled chocolate truffles. These were simply fabulous, not just because they were made with the very best chocolate but because they were fun. Really fun. I hadn’t eaten pop rocks in years. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that these effervescent candies were still being made. (Keep reading)

The upside down chocolate shot

Ever tried making something from a cookbook that looks really cool and really simple but just doesn’t turn out right? Or, as happened to S and me just a few days ago, right-side up?

A great friend of ours had recently given us a copy of Modern Spanish Cooking by Sam & Eddie Hart. She and her husband had eaten at the Harts’ Fino restaurant in London and loved their meal. Knowing that we didn’t yet have a copy of their book and that the yummy dishes in it would inspire us to get back in the kitchen (a place, sadly, that because of work we’ve been spending less and less time in recently), she kindly carried one back home for us.

It really is an inspiring text. S and I literally drooled over the pages as we flipped through them together. (The fact that we are soon making our very first trip to Spain has also re-ignited an interest in and passion for Spanish cuisine.) David Loftus’ pictures are also quite nice, enhancing the saliva-factor of the book tremendously. Stand-out dishes that we can’t wait to try include jamon croquetas, potato and chrorizo chips, arroz negra, white beans and clams, chicken with red peppers, roast suckling pig, crisp pork belly, ensaladilla russa, pedro ximenez ice cream, and churros and chocolate.

The one dish that we thought looked super-yummy and strikingly simple to make was the Harts’ shots of white and dark chocolate. From the picture, which I have scanned and placed to the right, these shots are compositions of chilled white chocolate soup over which warm whipped dark chocolate cream is spooned. Using a straw, you then slurp the whole thing up in one lusciously rich and chocolately mouthful.

The recipe looked easy enough (we’re reprinting it below). We made the white chocolate soup first and let it chill in our fridge for several hours. Then S made the dark chocolate cream. Following the instructions in the book, we poured the white chocolate soup into a couple of shot glasses. Then we carefully scooped up some of the dark chocolate cream and ever so gently placed some on top of one of the shot glasses. Only to watch it disappear into the white chocolate soup and plop onto the bottom of the glass.

We tried it again with the same results. Each time, the dark chocolate plonked to the bottom of the glass. The chocolate cream was simply denser and heavier than the white chocolate soup. Unless we added some gelatin or other thickener to the soup — or conversely, thinned out the dark chocolate cream — there was no way we were ever going to create the shots pictured in the book.

The components, though, tasted fantastic. So, instead of wasting them, S decided to just do the logical thing and invert the shots. She spooned some of the dark chocolate on the bottom of each shot glass, over which we poured the white chocolate soup. We then happily devoured these.

We’re thinking of making these shots again soon. There are basically two scenarios. Either the recipe doesn’t work quite right or somehow while making these, S and I screwed up. Either way, we want to know what happened. Of course, if some of you want to give this recipe a try, please do. And please tell us if it works for you.

Update 26/3/2008: W, over at Whine & Dine has managed to pull off these shots properly. To see how they should look, click over here.

Shots of white and dark chocolate
from Modern Spanish Cooking by Sam & Eddie Hart

Serves 4

for the white chocolate soup
100g best quality white chocolate
150ml single cream
100ml whole milk

for the dark chocolate
100g best quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
10g cocoa powder
150ml double cream
4 tbsp whole milk

For the white chocolate soup, break up the chocolate and melt in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of hot water on a very low heat. Take the bowl off the pan. Pour the cream and milk into a bowl. Slowly add the warm melted chocolate, stirring well until smooth, and set aside to cool. Refrigerate the white chocolate soup for 3 hours and then skim off the impurities from the surface.

For the dark chocolate layer, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Add the cocoa powder and mix well until smooth. Pour the double cream into a large bowl and whisk until it just starts to thicken, then slowly pour in the melted chocolate, stirring well. Finally, stir in the milk to achieve a lighter consistency.

To assemble, pour the chilled white chocolate soup into 4 shot glasses, to 2-3cm from the top. Carefully spoon the dark chocolate on top of the white soup and serve, with straws.

Sauce from scratch

There are some foods that we self-professed gourmands try as often as possible to prepare from scratch. We shake our head and pooh-pooh store-bought pasta sauces. Canned soups are verboten from our pantries. We cry foul whenever friends try to serve us pizza baked on premade bases. Pasta must be made by hand. So too must our bread be, kneaded or not. Our fries have to be hand-cut, never frozen. And we take great pride in pointing out that the confit de canard we’re serving is home-made and most definitely not from any can.

But then, there are some other foods that we simply accept for what they are. Despite our new-found (and occasionally pretentious) predelictions against store-bought products, we never even think about making these things from scratch.

Like ketchup for example. I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve been pretty happy eating Heinz for most of my life. It’s one of our kitchen staples. There’s always an open bottle in the fridge and often a sealed one in the pantry (running out midway through a burger is simply a no-no). Unfortunately, most other ketchups just don’t measure up to the “thick, rich one”. Most are either too watery and simply unsavory. One of the rare exceptions is a Swiss German ketchup that S found in a gourmet store. It was nice, with a sharp and almost curry-like taste.

Recently, S and I have been helping some friends develop ideas for a new restaurant here in Singapore. One of the things that came up in conversation while we were brainstorming food concepts was the idea of serving homemade ketchup. S remembered that Heston Blumenthal, one of our food heroes, had included a recipe in his fantastic book Family Food.

The more I thought about it, the idea of making (and eating) ketchup without any artificial ingredients and preservatives was really appealing.

Heston’s recipe calls for 5kg of ripe tomatoes, which yields approximately 500ml of ketchup. Truth be told, I looked at these numbers for quite a while before finally deciding to actually try making it. 5 kilos of tomatoes is one heck of a lot of tomatoes. And to only get 500ml of ketchup seemed like a whole lot for a whole little, both in terms of quantity and in terms of costs of ingredients. But, I rationalized, if it tasted great, better in fact than any other ketchup that I’d ever had, it would be worth it.

Making the ketchup was easy. But it did take several hours, so be sure to set aside enough time. I suggest using the recipe (reprinted below) as a general guideline. I honestly eyeballed almost all of the ingredients (save the quantity of tomatoes that is), slightly increasing and decreasing some to suit my taste.

The resulting ketchup was delicious. Nothing at all like Heinz, but still gorgeously sweet and savory. The combination of ingredients — especially the mustard, cloves, five-spice, ginger and cayenne — gave the ketchup a spicy complexity. One friend who tasted it said it was more like a thick, slightly sweet salsa than a ketchup. Another said it tasted like ketchup, but one that had a real distinct richness. S liked that it really tasted of tomatoes and not artificial thickeners. It worked beautifully with some fries (home-made of course) and a nice bottle of bubbly (hey, a boy’s gotta celebrate these little culinary achievements). I simply can’t wait to spread some on a burger later this weekend.

(Picture note: The fries and ketchup are displayed in a “Nuevo Doble Bowl”, a beautiful disposable plastic bowl from Tast. S and I first saw Tast products at a World Gourmet Festival event in Bangkok a few years ago and fell in love with them. Until recently though, we had no idea where to get these gorgeous Spanish disposable catering tools. We’ve just discovered that you can now get Tast products in Singapore through Ruiter Far East. We think they look great and our friends have been totally wowed by these cute and sexy little plastic bowls.)

Tomato ketchup
From Family Food by Heston Blumenthal
Makes approximately 500ml

5kg very ripe best-quality tomatoes
200g onions, chopped
4 cloves of confit garlic or 2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
8 cloves
2 coffeespoons salt
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice
A good pinch of ground ginger
A pinch of cayenne pepper
6½ soupspoons icing sugar

Core and halve the tomatoes, then roughly chop them and put them into a casserole. Cover with a cartouche (a circle of parchment paper that covers the top of the braising liquid in the pan) and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.

Pass the tomatoes through a fine-meshed sieve into another casserole, and add all the other ingredients except the icing sugar. Simmer until the mixture is reduced by approximately half and begins to thicken.

Push the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve again, return it to the casserole, and add the icing sugar. Put the casserole back on the heat. Whisking regularly so that the ketchup does not catch and burn, bring to a simmer and cook until the desired thickness and flavour achieved.

Pour the mixture into a sterilised preserving jar, seal, and stand the jar in simmering water for 40 minutes. The ketchup will then keep for several months.

Holiday Gift Guide 2007

Well, it’s that time of the year again. Time for giving and receiving joy, hope, charity, good tidings and, of course, gifts. This year, S and I have picked 12 (well, actually 16, but 4 are in the same category) wonderful gifts ranging from the very affordable to the uber-splurge that we love (own) and highly recommend. And–as we did two years ago, when we first started posting our holiday gift guide–we’ve picked 12 things to signify the 12 days of Christmas. So, happy holidays and happy shopping. (Note that most titles below also a hyperlink to the product or brand.)

1. Eva Solo Fridge Carafe
I personally adore these fridge carafes. The neoprene cases come in 5 brilliant colors (black, red, yellow, blue and green). They’re perfect for keeping your water, juice, milk or other liquids cool. And they look sexy and feel luxurious. They’re also designed perfectly. They sit upright in most fridge door shelves and the rubber stopper keeps your liquids fresh. The bottle has a flip-top lid that helps prevent spillage if you’ve added ice cubes into the carafe for some super cooling.

2. Baccarat Glasses
S is currently obsessed with collecting (thankfully, collecting slowly) Baccarat glasses. Last year, we spent a week in December in Osaka, Japan. While there, we had drinks a few times at B Bar, a stunning Baccarat-owned cocktail bar (it also has branches in Tokyo). All drinks, as you can imagine, are served in gorgeous Baccarat glasses. Since then, S has been determined to have her own collection of cool Baccarat crystal to serve cocktails in. Buy your Baccarat both old and new. While the one on the left is brand new, we bought the one on the right (a vintage Rohan tumbler) on eBay ridiculously cheaply.

3. Black Solstice plastic cocktail shakers from Habitat Bangkok
To help you make those drinks that you are going to serve in those chic Baccarat galsses, you’ll need a couple of cocktail shakers. While it’s great to have one stunning silver one, I find that it’s also very useful to have several cheaper ones lying around. That way, you can make several drinks at one time. These black plastic shakers from Habitat in Bangkok are less then US$5 a piece (on sale that is, they are normally priced at US$10), which makes them perfect for either hoarding at home or giving to friends.

4. Cusipro silicone baking spatula with stainless steel handle
S believes these are the very best spatulas she’s ever used. First, of course, is the silicone, which is heat-resistant, non-stick and a breeze to clean. It also makes this spatula super efficient at scraping every last bit of cake batter from your mixing bowl. Then there’s the great design, the sexy metal handle and all the colors you can choose from (ours is from a couple of seasons back). This is not just a great gift but a kitchen-essential. In Singapore, get your Cuisipro products direct from the distributor, Razorsharp.

5. KitchenAid Stand Mixer
Sure, it’s expensive. But doesn’t your loved one deserve only the very best? The KitchenAid Stand Mixer is THE mixer, the standard by which all other mixers are measured (and the only one your loved one really wants anyway). The fact that it looks amazing and comes in a variety of colors only makes this incredible kitchen-tool that much sexier.

6. Microplane Rotary 39000 Series grater
S and I have tested a lot of graters over the years. And the one we’ve come to love the most is this rotary grater (we’re onto our second one, and this is truly a new and improved version). The easy to use handle makes grating mountains of the fluffiest shavings of cheese the simplest task in the world. Where we used to argue about who would get stuck grating the cheese for pasta dishes and other foods, now we both volunteer for the duty. The 39000 Series grater comes with two blades for grating different kinds of foods. S also loves it because it can be adapted for left-handed use. In Singapore, you can purchase Microplane products from Ruiter Far East. Email

7. Teastick by Gamila
Some of the coolest things come in very small packages. S and I love Gamila’s teastick for its size, design and usefulness. The tiny stainless steel tea-steeping tool is slim and sexy. To make a cup of tea, slide open the tea stick, pack your tea in, slide it shut and slip your teastick into a cup of very hot water. When done, remove. The water flows through perforated holes in your teastick, but the leaves stay trapped inside. It’s also easy to wash and dry. And at US$18, you can easily afford to have several, a couple for home, one for travel and one for the office.

8. Some very special books
It’s no secret that S and I love books. Here are 4 that we think make great stocking stuffers this year.

Ashley by Heng San San
Singaporean Heng San San lost her daughter Ashley two years ago. This beautiful child was just seven years old; she was five when she was diagnosed with malignant tumors in her brain. This moving children’s book, illustrated gorgeously by Ximena of Lobster Squad, talks about Ashley and her love for food, how she got sick and then how she came to terms with both her illness and her religious beliefs. This is a very beautiful book. San San self-published it and is selling copies at just S$25. Further, all proceeds are going to a children’s charity in the Philippines. To buy a copy, contact San San at

Happy Now! by Karen Yeo
The story behind this book is also pretty moving. A little while ago, a lovely old woman named Lee Kim Wah was conned of her entire life savings. She had worked for most of her life as a nanny and housekeeper. Karen Yeo was one of the persons who Ms Lee helped raise. When she learned about what happened, she tried to help her get her money back and the conmen arrested, eventually to no avail. Trying to find a way to help Ms Lee get back on her feet, Ms Yeo and some friends decided to produce a cookbook of Ms Lee’s recipes. Friends had always said that her homecooked Singaporean and Malaysian food was some of the best they’d ever eaten. All the proceeds from sales of this book are being given to Ms Lee. To purchase, please go here.

Wine Dinners: Pairing Asian Flavours with Bordeaux Wines by NK and Melina Yong
Dr NK Yong is one of Asia’s most famous wine collectors. His wife Melina is a legendary cook. Over the past two to three decades, these two have been instrumental in introducing fine wine to Asia and in introducing Asia to winemakers from around the world. This is their first book, a small volume that presents 12 wine dinners, each focused on the wines of a very special Chateau in Bordeaux. This book is also special to me as S was the book’s co-author. Wine Dinners is currently only available at bookstores in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and through Swindon’s in Hong Kong. Melina is also auctioning off a private cooking class at the Miele Active Kitchen in Singapore to raise funds for the Children Cancer Foundation. The reserve price for the entire session for 10 people (including a four-course meal with wines) is $3,888. Interested donors are invited to submit their bids (along with their full names and contact details) to Cheryl Yuen at

In the Land of Cocktails by Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan
This lovely little tome is written by cocktail divas, Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan, proprietors of the legendary New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace. It is naughty and nice, and filled with great cocktail history and recipes that will inspire you to re-introduce the cocktail hour (as it was first practised) into your social calendar.

9. Indonique teas
Indonique Tea & Chai operated a cafe and wholesale busines on Magazine Street in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. During this horrific storm, the whole business was literally destroyed. Since then, owners Daya and George Constance have moved to Connecticut and re-opened their business. As you can imagine, it’s been tough. Please support this couple as they try to get their feet on the ground again. Their Indian teas are excellent and by buying from them, you’re helping a very worthy enterprise.

10. 1995 Les Echansons from Mailly Grand Cru Champagne
What’s the holiday season without Champagne? This season, I’m drinking a classic Champagne from a classic house. The 1995 Les Echansons from Mailly Grand Cru is simply beautiful. And, for all Singaporean readers, I have arranged a special deal in case you want some for yourself or to send to a friend. This Champagne is normally priced at S$195. I have arranged with the distributor, Estima, to make 14 parcels of 3 bottles available at S$420 nett (including free delivery). That is a savings of S$165. Again, only 14 parcels are available, so act fast. Email to place your order.

11. Louis Vuitton European City Guide 2008
I am addicted to these city guides and buy every edition every year religiously. They’re beautifully designed, surprisingly well-researched and just plain cool to have, look at and touch. Every global nomad will love this amazing box set.

12. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2
I’ve written before how much I love this little but powerful point and shoot. With easy to use programmes, optional manual controls and a Leica lens, this is the best, small travel camera I’ve found to date. Give it to your favourite shutterbug and make his or her year.

Appreciating meat loaf

Despite being both Singaporean, S and I had very different up-bringings. My family moved to New York City when I was two years old. When I was twelve, we moved to Washington DC. When I graduated high school, I returned to Singapore for two years after which I moved back to NYC to go to college. My childhood summers were usually spent in North America or Europe; Singapore was a tad far and my father’s employers only covered the costs of one home visit every three years. S, on the other hand, grew up almost entirely in Singapore. Her family spent a couple years in the UK when she was a toddler but the majority of her formative years were spent in the Lion City. After finishing junior college, she went to university in Australia.

Despite being raised in very different places, when we first started dating, we discovered that we shared many beliefs and cultural norms. That, we expect, is due less to where we lived as children and more to do with our respective parents. But because we did grow up in different countries, we grew up eating some very different foods. Some of the foods that I grew up loving most, S had either never tasted or had only ever eaten poor versions of. It was only natural then that when I waxed lyrically about the dishes that fell into the latter category, S could only shake her head, unable to comprehend my hunger or love for them.

One such dish is meat loaf. I love meat loaf. S, on the other hand, had only eaten a couple of versions and all of them awful. When I asked her about them, what she described sounded vile — overcooked, grey hunks of tasteless minced beef. That, any one who has ever tucked into the real thing, will tell you is crap. A properly made meat loaf should be full of flavour. While you should be able to slice it, it mustn’t be too dry. It has to retain some of the juices from the various meats that went into making it. It should have a yummy crust, dark and slightly sticky from being glazed generously.

A healthy slice from a great meat loaf, served with mashed potatoes and slathered with gravy, makes for an amazing meal. When I was in university, I used to frequently dine at a little restaurant called Camille’s, on the corner of 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Camille’s served a range of classic Italian and American dishes. Their turkey meat loaf was outstanding. Whenever it was available — it was always a lunch special — I would have it. I simply couldn’t get enough of it.

Because I really wanted S to appreciate my love of this simple American classic (and since we’d yet to find a good one in town), I decided that my only recourse was to make one for her. I had recently been given the The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by a friend as a birthday present. The book is a treasure-trove of American, and specifically Southern, classics. The Lee brothers’ meat loaf recipe, which they admit was given to them by their sister (when they were all living together in Harlem, hence the name of the recipe), sounded delicious. I liked that they used Italian sausage stuffing and chopped pickles. The latter especially would give the meat loaf an interesting and exciting flavour accent. I also liked the glaze — a simple mixture of ketchup, Tabasco and Worcestershire that I knew would work well together. The recipe also sounded easy enough to make in a relatively short amount of time. Perfect for throwing together late one night in order to eat the next day — the Lees suggest storing the meat loaf in the fridge overnight in order to bind and accentuate its flavours.

As promised, the meat loaf was a breeze to make. I fed it to S and one of her cousins. Thankfully, they both loved it. I have to admit I was rather worried that S would take one bite, spit it out and go, “blech!” But she not only polished off the slice I served her, but also went back into the kitchen for seconds.

Harlem Meat Loaf
Feeds 4 hungry people
Adapted from a recipe in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

450g ground beef, chuck or sirloin
225g meat from Italian sausages
3/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
4 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup chopped sour dill pickles
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.

Place the minced beef and the sausage meat into a large, wide bowl. The Lee brothers recommended using sweet Italian sausages. I couldn’t find any at my local butcher and instead used spicy Italian sausages, which worked splendidly for me. Break the meat up into golf-ball sized hunks in the bowl. In a second bowl, whisk 1/2 cup ketchup with 1 tablespoon Worcestershire and 2 teaspoons Tabasco. Pour this over your meat.

Using the same bowl, mix your pickles, onion, garlic and parsley. Then scatter this over the meat mixture. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over it. Then add the egg and salt. Using your hands, mix the ingredients well, until evenly blended.

Transfer the mixture to a 9inch x 13inch roasting pan and pat it into a compact loaf. Bake this for 35 minutes on the middle rack of your oven.

Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup ketchup, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire and 1 teaspoon Tabasco together in a small bowl. Brush the glaze generously over the top of the meat loaf. Try and use up all of the glaze. Pop the meat loaf back in the oven for another 15 minutes. The glaze should darken and stiffen. Let the meat loaf rest for 10 minutes before slicing or, more preferably, place it in the fridge for 24 hours before eating. If you do the latter, tent the pan with aluminum foil. To reheat, pop it in an oven heated to 140 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes or so.