Tuesday, 31 March 2009

32. Fast Roast Fish with Anchovies (Fast Food)

My mum made this a couple of weeks ago and gave it the thumbs up, so I was looking forward to trying it. It's nice and easy to throw together - you toss some red onion, cherry tomatoes, mixed olives and lemon wedges in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then roast for a quarter of an hour before topping with your choice of white fish and a couple of anchovies and cooking for another ten minutes. Finding myself tomato-less (do you see a theme emerging of late?) I stuck the onions and lemon in the oven by themselves, dashed out to buy cherry tomatoes, then frantically grilled them to soften them a bit and added them to the tray when the fish went in. (Extremely minor) disaster averted! The oven did make disturbing banging sounds at regular intervals, but all things considered that's an improvement on its usual habit of springing open at random moments. Once time's up you finish the dish off with a grind of black pepper, a scattering of parsely and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. And, if you're hungry like us, you serve it up alongside a mound of golden cubes of baked polenta.

Tasty indeed! I used cheap anchovies, which were a little bit tough, but other than that everything worked really well together to create a flavoursome dish. And the polenta was, in my intermittently humble opinion, a perfect foil for the fish and vegetables.

Mike says: "Doesn't this one look like a good plate of grub? I remember my favorite part being the polenta which wasn't actually in the recipe, but it did complement the fish really well. The anchovies were the secret to this one, I can't remember what the white fish actually was but then white fish has a tendency to taste of not all that much, so the anchovies added back some taste tingle."

Monday, 30 March 2009

My dissertation's done! The weather's getting tantalisingly spring-like! And if I keep ending sentences with exclamation marks it will camouflage the fact that Mike and I were unable to go on our holiday yesterday because I lost my passport! Ahem.

30. Sweet Chilli Tofu (Tofu x 4) was the last B.D. (Before Deadline) meal I made - I picked it because it looked like it would take all of about ten minutes to make, and I wasn't far off. Really the recipe's just for a sauce, which you make by heating together fish sauce, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, tomato purée, a chopped tomato, garlic, star anise, sugar and water. I didn't have a tomato to hand so I just upped the purée a bit, handily making this a storecupboard meal. Anyway, once that's taken care of you just fry tofu 'steaks' until golden on both sides, and pour over the sauce to serve. I'd cooked some rice, too, because my appetite's not quite as minimalst as Jill's sometimes seems to be.

Full points for speed and ease, and pretty damned good marks for taste, too. I might use a liittle bit less tomato purée less time, but then again I did boost the quantities of that to make up for my lack of fresh tomato; keeping to the specified amount would probably have been better. Oh, and I made a full batch of the sauce even though I only used about 2/3 of the tofu specified - as you can see the amount of sauce still wasn't over generous, so I'd stick with full quantities in the future.

Mike says: "As some of you more regular readers may remember, I actually used to be a bit of tofu. So I have a certain fondness for it. This is definitely a superb way to get a bit of a tofu fix, even if you are a die hard 'I don't eat anything but meat' bastard."

31. Tuscan Bean Soup (Soupy Food) was the first A.D.L. meal (Anno Dissertation Liberatus - In the Year of Dissertation Freedom. Admittedly this is a form of Latin which exists only in my head). You chop, slice or shred a lot (and I really do mean a lot - even using the food processor, chopping stupor began to set in) of vegetables, add some stock, bay leaves and tomato purée, and finally stir through some white beans, some of which you've mashed to a paste. I had a hazy idea that 'white beans' were a specific variety, but - the selection at Sainsbury's having disagreed with me - I decided it must just mean any old beans that were white, and went for cannellini.

Meh. (With such articulateness at my fingertips how can my dissertation possibly fail to impress?) I was hoping for something along the lines of the flavoursome Winter Greens with Chicken and Beans as many of the ingredients were similar, but this was quite nothing-y. At the time I couldn't think what would elevate it, but now I'm leaning towards slithers of bacon or cured meat to add intensity of flavour and a salty savouriness. Also, I misjudged quantities - having become a bit wary of portion sizes in Lighten Up, and thinking "hey, it's only soup after all, how filling can it be?", I stuck with the original four-person amounts, and even after Mike and I had had two generous servings each there was still plenty left.

Still, hopefully tastier things are just around the corner! I think my subconscious must have been feeling culinarily deprived over the last couple of weeks - the other night I dreamt that I was at Nigella Lawson's for tea, and she was serving us Fox's packet biscuits and a cake from the Co-op. My subconscious is apparently much more tolerant than my waking self, because instead of thinking "what a swiz!" I decided she was being amusingly ironic.

Mike says: "This one could have done with some more colour in it, perhaps cherries? Na, that would be disgusting. Thought it was a bit bland actually, but it had Tuscan beans in which sound cool."

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Tales from a neglected kitchen

I’m still alive! I even cook things occasionally, not that you can tell from this blog at the moment.

25. Raw Slaw (Raw Food)

I made this for a pot luck meal in aid of Comic Relief (well, I say “in aid of” but we didn’t actually raise any money for them. My conscience is blushing now). My cunning line of thought was that making a beetroot-heavy recipe as part of a spread for a group of people would dilute its impact, rather than Mike and I having to plough through the whole thing ourselves. Soooo, the recipe’s a mix of beetroot and red cabbage, which you toss with a spicy dressing which includes, among other things, copious amounts of mustard. On a side note, raw beetroot is possibly the ugliest vegetable I’ve ever seen.

I thought this was…OK. Just. Other people were more positive, but tellingly the plate (well, bowl) didn’t get cleared, and the leftovers sat around in the fridge for almost a week before I accepted that even Mike wasn’t going to eat them.

Mike says: “I like beetroot therefore I liked this. I was surprised to see that raw beetroot is exactly the same colour as pickled beetroot, surprised in a nice way. Refreshing I thought; more people should eat beetroot.”

26. Carrot and Cashew Nut Rice (Steamy Food)

In the introduction to this recipe Jill says that “electric rice cookers are brilliant, but I still think the best way of cooking rice is simply steaming it in a lidded saucepan – mainly because you can throw in all sorts of things and turn it into a complete meal”. Now, I have two niggles with that – firstly, you can throw all sorts of things into an electric rice cooker, too (maybe Jill’s more obedient of instruction manuals than I am, but trust me, you can cook just about anything in those suckers), and secondly I really don’t think this dish constitutes a complete meal. Let us consider: you stir finely diced onion, grated carrot and spices through rice, cook, and top with cashews and parsley. Now, I have nothing against vegetarian food, but when you’re tucking into a big bowl of what is essentially rice flecked with carrot you can’t help but feel that it’s more of a side dish. I kept thinking that if I just kept going I was bound to find a juicy hunk of chicken or suchlike burried in there. The flavours were fine, though possibly a bit over-turmeric-y, but the dish overall just wasn’t exciting enough to be a meal in its own right.

Mike says: “I felt that this was missing a nice curry sauce spooned on top. It was a nice way to do some rice but it was only half a meal. Mmm curry.”

27. Salmon with Rocket and Tagliatelle (Special Food)

I notice that my annotation for this recipe simply reads “not special”, which is a bit of a downer for something from the ‘Special Food’ chapter. I expect it to have an existential crisis any moment now. Nothing fancy or complicated – while the pasta’s cooking away you lightly cook some salmon, lemon zest, capers and seasoning, then add tomatoes, rocket and lemon juice before tossing with the tagliatelle. It was perfectly nice, and lent a healthy glow of virtue, but a bit on the bland side.

Mike says: “I felt good eating this, I think it will extend my lifespan by a couple of years. But a little bland.”

28. Spice-Crusted Venison with Glazed Beetroot (Special Food)

You might remember my abortive attempt to make this last month – getting hold of venison steaks proved trickier than I thought, but I eventually managed to reserve a couple of sirloin steaks from a stall at the farmers’ market. Once you’ve tracked them down, all you have to do is brush them with oil and press one side into a spice rub (made up of black peppercorns, juniper berries, caraway seeds and salt), then sear spice-side down for two minutes before turning and cooking the other side briefly. Instead of scattering all over the frying pan, as per my pessimistic prediction, the spice crust gets pressed firmly into the meat. While the venison’s resting you add some diced cooked beetroot, redcurrant jelly and red wine to the pan, and cook until syrupy. Slice the venison, serve up the beetroot, strew everything artistically with watercress and – tadaaa! – you’re done.

We’ve already established that I don’t much like beetroot, so all I’ll say about it is that the flavourings were pleasant and I imagine this would be a nice way of eating the stuff, if you’re that way inclined. The venison was another matter though – deeeeelicious! And ridiculously quick and easy to boot.

Mike says: “This was amazing, one of my favourites. The spice crust on the venison was immense and I thought the beetroot set it off really nicely. Deer are so damned tasty.”

29. Breakfast Burritos (Morning Food)

I made this for our second supper (hey, don’t judge) on Sunday – it’s reasonably quick to throw together, with a manageable amount of chopping. (I hate chopping. I’ve been known to go without proper meals for weeks on end rather than go to the bother of dicing a vegetable. You’re still not judging, right?) Basically you top warm tortillas with smoked salmon, rocket, tomato and avocado chunks, red onion, lime juice, coriander leaves and Tabasco. I expected the finished product to be nice and refreshing but a little dull, but these were actually pretty damned good, and would make an excellent weekend brunch.

Mike says: “The flavours of this worked really well. It tasted almost like a packet of bacon crisps (in a good way). Would make a really good brunch. I’d like two whole tortillas to myself, though, for a good portion.”

Normal programming will resume once the dreaded dissertation's out of the way...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Third time lucky

Errk, is it really Tuesday already? Sorry about the paucity and brevity of updates recently; things'll improve once my dissertation's out of the way. (Incidentally, if either of my parents is reading this, my dissertation is going amazingly well. I rise at six every morning to start work on it, pausing only to escort elderly ladies across the road and help golden haired children in distress.)

Anyway, as Mike alluded to in one of his recent comments, we hacked a chicken into its constituent parts at the weekend (it was about as dignified as that makes it sound; my knife skills could charitably be described as "improving"), so expect to see various bits of its anatomy cropping up over the next couple of weeks. One of its breasts went towards:

22. Chicken Tortilla Soup with Avocado (Soupy Food)

A quick, light, tomato-y soup with finely sliced chicken, topped with avocado slices, red onion rings, tortilla chips and all the coriander I could salvage from my rapidly dying plant (I have a theory that they put something in the soil to ensure that potted herbs give up the ghost within two hours of leaving the supermarket. Even my horticultural instincts can't be that bad).

This was nice in an ordinary sort of way. I should probably elaborate on that if only to pad things out a bit, but I made this on Sunday which is sufficiently long ago that my ageing brain cells can't dredge up much more - it was pleasant but not all that memorable. (Clearly.)

23. Kheema with Peas (Easy Food)

Fittingly for something from the 'Easy Food' chapter, this is a very straightforward sort of recipe - you just fry onion, ginger, garlic and spices, brown some mince (the recipe calls for lean lamb or beef; I went for beef as I couldn't find lean lamb), add stock and tomato puree, and simmer for a bit. Simple! Except it turned out I didn't actually have any fresh ginger, so I ended up rinsing off a globe of preserved ginger and using that instead. (Ingenious, no? It's all that Brownie training at a formitive age.) Towards the end of the cooking time you stir in a handful of frozen peas and some garam masala - you're also supposed to scatter with coriander leaves to serve, but having dealt a mortal blow to my plant the day before I made do without.

Again, I thought this was just OK - nice enough but not really special. Mike seemed to like it though, and guzzled his down at impressive speed even for him. Ohh, and the portions were pretty good, even though I commited the Mike-Crime of halving the recipe.

Things really started looking up today though:

24. Smoked Trout Choucroute (Fast Food)

This had been on my 'to make' list for a couple of weeks (indeed it's been bouncing around for long enough to earn its own politically incorrect nickname in our flat: "Kraut trout"), but I had trouble getting hold of smoked trout fillets. Farmers' market to the rescue! Turns out there's a stall which more or less only sells smoked trout; I wonder what business is like.

But anyway! According to Jeffrey Steingarten, whoever he may be, all traditional choucroute recipes include black peppercorns, cloves, garlic, juniper berries, onions and potatoes, which would make the Lighten Up version cheerfully non-traditional as it only ticks three out of six boxes. Here the onion and sauerkraut mixture is flavoured with juniper berries (tick!), cumin and caraway, with some Riesling in there for good measure. Once this has been simmering away for fifteen minutes you add thickly sliced cooked potatoes and season, then lay the trout fillets on top of everything and cook for long enough to heat the fish through. Jill suggests mustard on the side (I'm beginning to suspect that she may be inordinately fond of mustard; it pops up a surprising amount).

Lecker! Don't let the name fool you; choucroute is staunchly Alsatian, i.e. essentially Germanic. But then the sauerkraut might have tipped you off to that. I know the thought of German food doesn't fill most people with glee, but just trust me, this recipe is lovely. And if getting your hands on smoked trout looks to be a problem you could always go down the more conventional route of sausages instead. Even plain old bacon would be delicious - just think of Bratkartoffeln with Sauerkraut and you'll get the idea. (Admittedly one of the commenters on that photo says the combination's an acquired taste, but shhh, ignore her!)

Mike on the soup: "I think tortillas should be left to finger food and dipping and not really put in soup, they were a bit awkward to eat with a spoon. The soup was, as far I remember, just tomato."

Mike on the kheema: "Mmmm comfort food, although not the most attractive of things, it was good and warming and a nice twist on mince and peas."

(Mike's opinion on the smoked trout will have to remain shrouded in mystery, as he hasn't chosen to share it with us.)

Saturday, 7 March 2009

'Lo again! This is a whirlwind update on today and last night to bring things up to date:

21. Fish Saltimbocca (Easy Food)

The literal translation of saltimbocca is, according to good old Wikipedia*, "jumps in the mouth", but to you and me it means "wrapped in prosciutto". And there you have the recipe, really - halve white fish fillets (I used cod), wrap each half in prosciutto, top with a sage leaf and fry. I assumed the sage would fall off during the cooking, but actually it fused to the prosciutto in a gratifyingly artistic way. Once the fish is cooked and the prosciutto's crispy you're meant to arrange them on a bed of boiled peas and asparagus, though I actually chose to roast the asparagus and, as there was quite a lot of it, forgo the peas altogether.

Ahh, if only it weren't for that errant flake of fish!

This was a really satisfying meal - the crisp saltiness of the prosciutto was a perfect contrast to the mild and tender fish, and the asparagus rounded everything off nicely. Better yet, the whole thing took less than fifteen minutes from start to finish, and it would be quicker still if you boiled the asparagus as per instructions rather than roasting it. Even without any carbs I was actually pretty full after this, too.

Mike says: "Flaky fishy loveliness, and the ham makes it."


22. Winter Greens with Chicken and Beans (Slow Food)

Doesn't that rhyme nicely? Despite this recipe's inclusion in the 'Slow Food' chapter it's really not that time consuming to put together - you just brown some chicken pieces, soften some onion and garlic, then add borlotti beans, stock, thyme and seasoning and let the whole thing simmer away for half an hour while you doodle moustaches on your kneecaps, or whatever takes your fancy. When time's up you stir in some green leafy vegetables - I went for kale, but plenty of other things would work, too - heat through and plate up.

I have to confess that I was expecting this to be worthy rather than particularly tasty, but I was pleasantly surprised - the chicken was juicy, the beans were tender and flavoursome, and everything had absorbed the hearty savouryness of the stock and thyme. As a bonus it's impossible to eat that much kale without feeling a glow of virtue.

Mike says: "One of my favourites - the seaweed-y stuff soaked up the sauce nicely and the chicken was lovely and moist, hand-chopped by me. And I've heard beans are good for you also. But not jelly beans, apart from the green ones."

* Wikipedia has risen in my estimation since I stumbled across its article on the oboe earlier in the week which stated that the instrument, "has a clear and penetrating voice which if listened to very closely will sound like a rabid sloth". (It's been changed now, but I wonder how many schoolchildren copied it down dutifully while it was up?)

East meets West

How about that - Jill Dupleix commented on my last post! (Well, I suppose it might just be someone pretending to be Jill, Blogger lacking sophisticated retina-scanning technology, but I'm a trusting soul.) The ultimate gratification for a cookbook geek! I felt a bit guilty that she happened to visit just after one of my more negative posts, though - in fact, I'll come clean: I was mortified. At least two very enthusiastic write-ups are coming your way though, starting with a quick rewind to Thursday evening:

19. Fresh Salmon Burgers (Easy Food)
20. Togarashi Oven Chips
(Spicy Food)

I don't suppose you need me to tell you how to make a salmon burger - for these ones you mulch together (what's not to like about a recipe containing the instruction 'mulch'?) some salmon, shallot, capers, lemon zest, parsley, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, seasoning and an egg white (or in my case half an egg white, because - contain your disbelief as best you can - I halved a recipe for the second time in a row). The thing I found hardest was actually finely chopping the salmon; maybe a better knife would help? Once I'd formed the burgers into patties they seemed very gloopy and I was worried they'd fall apart in the pan (the fate that befalls most of my home-made burgers), but after firming up in the fridge for a bit they were absolutely fine.

The chips, with their Asian spicing, might not seem the most natural partners for the Northern-European favoured burgers, but the serving suggestions did include "pan-fried fish" and "home-made burgers", so I thought home-made pan-fried fish burgers should be a shoo-in. Togarashi pepper, from which the recipe takes its name, crops up a few times in Lighten Up and I'd spent a while brooding on how I was going to get hold of this obscure-sounding ingredient, only to google it and find that it's the same as shichimi, which I'd had in the cupboard all along. D'oh! Anyway, you make the chips by cutting some potatoes into, um, chips (with me so far?), tossing them with a little oil and baking till golden and tender. Once they're done you toss them in the spice mix, which is a combination of togarashi, black pepper, sugar and salt.

The burgers were good - the suggested accompaniment is gherkins, which went extremely well with them (and made Mike deliriously happy; he considers pickles to be one of the major food groups). But the chips - oh the chips! - were bloody fantastic. The black pepper, togarashi and sugar worked brilliantly together, and gave the potatoes a rich, warming, complex spiciness. Actually I sort of cheated and knew in advance that these were going to be amazing - the spice mix makes more than you need, you see, so I'd made it up earlier in the day and had the rest on roasted butternut squash for lunch. I think it'd work well with a huge number of things though; I can see myself sprinkling it on anything that comes within arm's reach of me for a while yet.

Mike says: "The chips were immense, I could have eaten a bucket of them. The salmon burgers were like salmon cakes, but nice and refreshing."

Thursday, 5 March 2009

"You're as pretty as a flower - a cauliflower!"

(Title courtesy of a Rainbow Christmas pantomime circa 1988. Children's TV was like one long stand-up comedy routine in those days, I tell you.)

I seem to have fallen behind a bit on my blogging duties, so today's is a double bill:

17. Barley Risotto with Cauliflower (Slow Food)

Having virtuously put it on my 'to do' list (fuelled by the fear that if I cherry pick all the tempting-sounding meals now I'll be left with a whole batch of dubuious-sounding ones to plough through at the end) I spent most of last week cunningly avoiding actually making this recipe, but on Monday it finally caught up with me. A cauliflower and barley risotto might sound innocuous enough to you, but for someone who doesn't like cauliflower and is unconvinced by the merits of pearl barley it's a bit of a stretch to approach it with much enthusiasm. I nonetheless made full quantities, not because I'm a masochist or because my greed extends even to things I don't much like, but simply because I didn't want to be stuck with half a cauliflower, carrot and onion.

The recipe's a bit time consuming but not too much bother - all you do is fry diced onion, carrot and cauliflower stalks in some olive oil, add the pearl barley, pour in some white wine and reduce and then add the cauliflower florets along with stock and simmer for about 35 minutes. Right at the end you stir through some butter (and parmesan, if you're that way inclined), season, then top with parsley and toasted walnuts to serve.

Did I mention that I don't really like cauliflower? I have a feeling that liking it might be sort of a pre-requisite for enjoying this recipe. The pearl barley had a nutty bite which was pleasant enough, and anything which only costs 35 pence for half a kilo at least wins my grudging admiration, but I'm not convinced by its credentials as a base for risotti - Jill enthuses that it's perfect for the job as it doesn't need soaking, but, erm, neither does rice. And the barley gave none of the yielding creaminess you get from risotto rice. In fairness I should probably mention that Mike, who isn't a big fan of normal risotti, thought this was a decent alternative. I soldiered on for a while but eventually admitted defeat and passed my bowl over to him, and once he'd polished off both our servings he proceeded to finish the leftovers from the pan, too. Eating quantities intended for three-and-a-half people may not have agreed with him:

However, he bounced back in time for Tuesday's dinner:

18. Roast Chicken, Walnut and Tarragon Salad (Salad Food)

While I'm not sure I'd agree with Jill's claim that this is "fast", it's certainly easy - you just chop up some pumpkin or butternut squash and throw it in a roasting tray with a couple of chicken quarters, drizzle with oive oil and roast the whole thing for about forty minutes. Note that I said "a couple" of chicken quarters, because - wonders will never cease - I actually halved this recipe! That must be the first time since, oohh...mid-February? Anyway, once that's ready you tear the chicken off the bone and toss it and the squash with some curly endive, toasted walnuts, tarragon leaves and dressing. Except I foolishly forgot to buy any tarragon so used thyme instead (that being the only herb I had that wasn't dead). The dressing - which, in a Blue Peter moment, you should have made earlier - comprises olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, white wine and seasoning. I actually dreamt about Dijon mustard the night after making this; read into that what you will.

As you can see the ratio of curly endive to everything else is quite high, but maybe that's so that you fill up on the healthiest bits. All in all it was unspectacular but definitely tasty, and a good way to get yourself eating salad-y things in the Winter months. I somewhat surprised myself by feeling full afterwards, too.

Mike says: "What do you get when you combine roast chicken with a salad? Answer: Roast Chicken Salad. This was nice in the same way a roast chicken is nice. There was nothing surprising about it although the chicken was lovely and moist. I did feel a little unsatisfied afterwards, maybe someone should invent a roast potato salad to go alongside it."

Next time: I discover the macro button on my camera, to no discernable effect.

Monday, 2 March 2009

To bean or not to bean

Guess what - my mum bought herself a copy of Lighten Up! I've inspired someone to get the book! Admittedly that person is a) my own mother, and b) the person who gave me my copy in the first place, but still.

Our kitchen didn't see much action over the weekend - we grabbed a snacky Saturday lunch at the farmers' market, then had dinner at Alana's (who, in a feat of co-ordination which leaves me feeling vaguely inadequate, made six separate dishes. Six! Some days I don't even remember to cook vegetables). Sunday evening Mike was away so I reached for my usual eating-alone fall-back dinner: porridge. (Just for the record this is also my fall-back lunch, elevenses and afternoon tea. On occasion I've even be known to eat it for breakfast.) All of which just left Sunday lunch, which, for reasons of complicated timetabling, we ended up eating at 3.30 in the afternoon.

16. Chilli Bean Tofu ('Veggo Food')

I hadn't actually planned on making this on Sunday (do other people make detailed lists plotting out what they're going to cook each day, or is this symptomatic of an unhealthily obsessive relationship with food?), but it was just about the only recipe on the week's "to do" list which didn't rely on crucial components that were frozen solid. I had everything to hand except the chilli bean sauce, and I didn't think getting hold of it at short notice would be a problem because we live round the corner from the aptly named 'World's Finest Foods'. Seriously, this place sells everything - if you have a chickpea flour emergency or a sudden craving for truffle salt, World's Finest Foods will come to your rescue. Unfortunately, though, of the twenty-five different types of chilli sauce they sell (yup, I counted; and that doesn't include stir-fry sauces), not one of them is chilli bean sauce. Foiled! It being a Sunday the local Chinese supermarkets were closed, too, so I ended up just getting minced chillies. Is it still chilli bean tofu if it doesn't actually contain beans?

Ingredients-sourcing sob-story behind me I got on with the recipe, which, in true stir-frying tradition, mostly involves chopping things up. By 'things' I mean one aubergine (which you've previously roasted whole for 40 minutes so it's delectably squishy), a block of tofu, some ginger, garlic and spring onions. I decided to three-quarters the (four person) recipe for the highly scientific reason that my tofu happened to come in a 350g pack rather than a 500g one, and (not to spoil the ending or anything) it was a good-ish amount for the two of us.

The cooking itself is just a question of stir-frying the ginger and garlic, adding the aubergine, chilli bean sauce (or minced chilli, in my case), some sugar, rice wine, soy sauce and a bit of water, then simmering for ten minutes before adding the cubed tofu and simmering for another five - I ended up giving mine a little less as the sauce thickened up pretty quickly. Sprinkle in some Sichuan pepper if you like an extra zing, scatter over the spring onion, then serve ladled over rice and curse tofu for being so woefully unphotogenic:

Oh well, it tasted good! I was quite impressed, actually - I've tried heaps of versions of mapu dofu (including a very tasty one as part of Alana's smorgasbord the night before), and this one had a good kick to it as well as being a great partnering of textures. Pre-roasting the aubergine was a stroke of genius - you get the same gorgeous squidginess which deep-frying gives you (seriously, if you've never had deep-fried aubergine, get thyself to a deep fat fryer! Your arteries will forgive you just this once) but without the fat. The only change I might make next time would be to keep things a bit saucier so that there was more liquid for the rice to absorb. Oh, and I imagine the dish'd be even better made with chilli bean sauce (duh!) to give it extra depth.

Mike says: "I have not told many people this, but I was in fact born a piece of tofu, so when asked to eat some avec chili bean sauce I felt bad. This soon passed and I was overcome with nice flavours. It made me happy about my decision to become human. Yum."