Gambas al Ajillo

Or prawns in garlic as it’s also known as it’s a traditional Spanish tapas dish and it’s one of my favourite tapas dishes. It’s also very easy to make and you can go more or less complicated depending on what your taste is and what you got at home. I suggest using pre-fired dry garlic (in Taiwan you can get in large plastic containers from RT-Mart), as it makes the dish a lot nicer than when you use fresh garlic. Another reason for this is that you get a nice crunchy garlic that doesn’t give you the bad garlic breath. It’s also worth noting that it’s very easy to burn garlic and it gets very bitter if you do this. There are a few different ways of cooking this, but here’s my take on it, which I by no means claim is authentic. The best place I’ve eaten this in this part of the world is a Tapas restaurant in the green belt in Manila, the Philippines.

So what do you need?

To serve four people as a tapas or two as a main course you need the following:

  • 500g of raw peeled, de-veined prawns, with or without tails
  • Good quality olive oil (as you’ll be dipping bread in it)
  • Chili to taste, preferably a Spanish kind, but most chili’s seem to work as long as they’re not too spicy
  • Garlic to taste (loads!), but as I said above, the pre-fried dry garlic makes for a much nicer dish
  • Fresh bread, either something like a baugette or pita bread

You got to options of cooking this, either in an oven safe container, preferably earthenware, or in a skillet/frying pan. Slice up the chili’s. Heat up the oil with the chili’s in it in your container of choice, either on top of your cooker or in the oven (about 200 degrees C is a good temperature), until it sizzles. Add the prawns and garlic, cook for about 4-5 minutes, or until the prawns are cooked through. Make sure you stir them them once or twice while they’re cooking and if you’re using the dry garlic, I’d add some more just before it’s done, as it stays nice and crispy that way. You can put some freshly chopped parsley on top when you serve and enjoy while it’s still hot.

Is it already March?

Wow, time really flies and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The last couple of weeks made it seem like summer came early this year, but now it’s a bit colder and wetter again. There was talks about a draught here, as it hadn’t rained very much so far this spring which is unusual in Taiwan, but it looks like the next week is going to be wet, wet, wet, with a few thunderstorms to boot, which again isn’t common here. At least it’s been a long time since there’s been any large earth quakes which I guess isn’t a bad thing in itself, as long as it doesn’t mean it’s building up for a big one…

Right now things are just plodding along, nothing much new to report, just trying to get on with stuff and keep my fingers crossed that everything will work out in the long run. For those of you that live in Taiwan or are visiting, you might want to head to the Tavern this Thursday night, as the Taipei Tech Club is meeting up, if you’re interested in meeting up with some of the people that works in the tech industry here. We try to meet up once a month, although we’re not so well organised, so it happens a bit at a whim.

Well, I keep saying this, but I’m going to try to get better at updating this thing now when I have a proper host that makes it a bit easier. Until next time…

And it’s 2009….

Wow, it’s already five days into the new year and I don’t know where the past few days have gone…

Loads of things going on, but nothing seems to happen fast enough to make any real difference, talk about frustration.
Even so, things are at least progressing forward, which is a nice thing. Hopefully something good will come out of it all in the end.
It’s less than two weeks until we go on holiday now and I’m so looking forward to spending 10 days in Boracay, although we have to spend one night in Manila as well, but at least it gives us a chance to do some cheap shopping.

Yesterday Brenda caught up with me in age, although it won’t be long until I’m older again…
We didn’t do anything special, went out for a meal and chilled out. It’s fairly cold here in Taiwan now, a warm day is 20 degrees in the day, the not so warm ones are about five degrees cooler and at night it’s dropped down to 11 degrees already at times. I guess it doesn’t help living close to the mountains as it makes it even chillier. The big downside here is that heating isn’t standard, despite the fairly cool winters, although our new AC units have built in heating, but it’s not exactly fantastic, but it’s better than the little portable radiator we had to make do with last winter.

I’m going to try to get some more restaurants added to the list, I just haven’t focused a lot on the blog recently, but I really ought to, right?

Lugar home bread bar

Bread, it’s so easy to get good bread in Europe (not counting the UK), but once you go elsewhere in the world, you quickly find that good bread is one of those things that is actually not very easy to find. I’d seen the Lugar home bread bar in the food court in the 101 building just outside of Jasons before, but I hadn’t really paid attention to it, as most bakeries here are not all that special. Sure, there’s Mr Mark which is ok, better than most stuff I ate in the UK, but still quite far off the stuff you can get back home.

So today I was wasting some time in the 101 waiting for my girlfriend to get something in the office so we could grab a bite to eat in the food court and spotted a few things in Jasons I wanted to buy that was on sale. Once she turned up we had some food and then got the stuff I wanted, but when we left we took a different route than normally and walked past Lugar home bread bar. Their shop in the 101 looks more like a cafe than a bakery and maybe this is why I gave it a miss before and the poor English on the menu didn’t help either.

However, today they had little bits of their bread cut up for people to taste and I picked up a piece of something that looked like rye bread. To my surprise this tasted very close to something I could’ve bought from a German or maybe Austrian or Swiss bakery. It was slightly chewy and the more you chew it, the more flavour was released. A really tasty bread of a kind I’ve never had in Taiwan before and a real surprise. We also tasted some other kind of rye bread with raisins and we bought a loaf of each, the plain rye was a mere NT$90 while the one with raisins was NT$120. They also have focaccia, rye and chocolate (go figure), some kind of cumin bread and a whole bunch of other stuff.

The main shop is on Anhe road and it looks like they have more stuff on sale there, although I haven’t been there so I can’t really say. They also sells all sorts of cakes and other sweet baked goods, soup, sandwiches and various types of condiments. This is easily a place I’ll get more bread from and it’s the best bakery I’ve found in Taiwan so far and hopefully things will go well for them and they’ll open up more branches. You can find their website here, although it doesn’t seem to be working that well. The exact address of the main shop is No 3, Lane 49, Section 1, Anhe Rd, Da-an district, Taipei and you can call them on 02-2771-7577.

Update: Ok, so we’ve been back a couple of times already. We tried a sort of southern European style bread and it had a really nice and crispy crust it was soft and tasty inside. It was quite expensive, but it was a bigger loaf than the two we tried the previous time. I also had breakfast there and bought something that had a baguette shape, but shorter, but was made with whole grain flour and was very soft and tasty. It was called a smoked beef sandwich, but turned out to be pastrami with salad and pickles as well as a dijon dressing, very tasty and not too pricey at NT$100 with a large cup of tea. Sure, it’s not every day breakfast, but it’s nice as a treat. They serve breakfast from 8.00-10.00 at their shop in the 101.

Update 2: Lugar is still around, although not in the locations above and according to their website they should have a shop in Sogo, but we checked and it’s not there. So make sure you check their website for their locations, both which appears to be not too far from the 101.

Home made Marzipan

One of the things I’ve found that I sometimes need for baking and that is really expensive to buy in Taiwan is Marzipan. However, it’s quite easy to make by yourself. One great thing here is that it’s dead easy to get hold of powdered almond, as it’s used as an ingredient for some kind of drink. You should be able to find it in most supermarkets, although I know for sure you can get the pure powder in Carrefour. Sometimes the almond powder is mixed with sugar and thickener etc. at least if you’re going for the pre-mix that some shops sells. This can still be used, but isn’t as good, although there’s no need to add any sugar if you get this stuff. Costco also sells whole almonds that you you can blanch, peel and grate (work ok in a blender if you do small amounts at a time), but this is a bit of a hassle, although in my opinion these almonds are a bit nicer than the local kind.

So what you need is almond powder, powder sugar and an egg white. You need equal amounts of almond powder and powder sugar which is placed in a mixing bowl along with an egg white. One egg white is good for about 100-150g of each of almond and powder sugar, but you might have to add more of the dry stuff if it’s too soft. You’ve now made a batch of almond paste, which can be used for baking and making various sweets, as it’s not overly sweet in itself, but it’s not really suitable for covering cakes with, as it’s very soft and doesn’t stick together well enough to be molded in the same way as Marzipan.

To make this into Marzipan you need to add a little bit more powder sugar, in total it should be about 1/3 to 1/4 of almond powder and the rest sugar. This makes the almond paste much more moldable. This isn’t “real” Marzipan, but it’s as close as you’ll get making it at home. The real deal is made with almond oil instead of the egg white and usually apricot seeds, but I doubt that is easily available in shops here. Sorry I’m not being to specific with regards to the measurements, but it’s a little bit of a trial and error process. To get more almond flavour you can buy almond extract which is available in some supermarkets here. You’ll want to add it little by little so that the flavour doesn’t get too powerful. You can also colour this with food colouring if you intend to use it for other things.