Tuesday, 30 March 2010

I'm Old Skool Yo!

I'm not sure if it was the same in the States, but if you were around in the UK in the 70's and '80s, Every dinner party ended in the same sweet way, with a bowl of cream-filled profiteroles, dripping in warm chocolate sauce. Given that the preceding courses were probably salmon mousse or prawn cocktail, followed by duck a l'orange and pommes Anna, this was a good way to end things on a slightly lighter note.
One other brilliant thing about profiteroles, is that while they're beautiful and rather impressive, they're super, super easy to make and you can do much of the work ahead of time.

I used Delia's choux pastry recipe, which works really well, so I've copied it below but with a couple of revisions . Delia spoons the mixture onto the baking sheets, which produces a nice enough result, but I like to use a piping bag, as it gives a more uniform product and it's easier to control the size. I pipe little dollops about the size of a 50p/50 cent piece, the shape of Hershey kisses. They round off in the oven and grow a little larger than a golf ball.

Profiteroles With Dark Chocolate Sauce
serves 6, takes appox 1 hour

1. Choux pastry is the lightest, crispiest, airiest pastry, which can be used to make profiteroles, éclairs or savoury gougères. It puffs up in the oven until it is eventually set by the heat. The airiness, in fact, is caused because choux has a high water content, which is turned into steam during baking and this forces the pastry shell outwards and gives it volume. What is really good about choux is that it doesn't call for any particular pastry skills, like lightness of hand or careful rolling.

2. To make about 30 choux buns you will need 2½ oz (60 g) of strong plain flour, which, with its higher gluten content, gives crisper results than ordinary soft, plain flour. As you are going to need to 'shoot' it quickly into the water and melted butter, fold a sheet of silicon paper (baking parchment) to make a crease and then open it up again. Sift the flour straight on to the square of paper and add a teaspoon of caster sugar if you are making sweet choux, otherwise use a seasoning of salt and pepper.

3. Next, put 5 fl oz (150 ml) of cold water in a medium-sized saucepan together with 2 oz (50 g) of butter, cut into small pieces, then place the saucepan over a moderate heat and stir with a wooden spoon. As soon as the butter has melted and the mixture comes up to the boil, turn off the heat immediately, as too much boiling will evaporate some of the water.

4. Then tip the flour in – all in one go – with one hand, while you beat the mixture vigorously with the other. You can do this with a wooden spoon, though an electric hand whisk will save you lots of energy.

5. Beat until you have a smooth ball of paste that has left the sides of the saucepan clean – this will probably take less than a minute.

6. Next beat 2 large eggs well, then beat them into the mixture – a little at a time, mixing each addition in thoroughly before adding the next.

7. Beat until you have a smooth glossy paste. At this stage, lightly grease a baking sheet then hold it under cold running water for a few seconds, and tap it sharply to get rid of excess moisture. This will help create a steamier atmosphere, which, in turn, helps the pastry to rise.

8. To make the choux buns, place teaspoons of the mixture on the baking sheet, leaving 1 inch (2.5 cm) between them, then bake on a high shelf in a pre-heated oven – gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C) – for 10 minutes. After that, increase the heat to gas mark 7, 425°F (220°C), and bake for a further 15-20 minutes until the buns are crisp, light and a rich golden colour.
9. Pierce the bottom of each one to let out the steam, then cool them on their sides on a wire rack. You'll be able to see that the puffs are practically hollow.

The rest of the recipe is mine, all mine.

For the Cream filling, you'll need:
450ml (1 pint) very cold double (heavy whipping) cream
3 tbsp caster sugar

For the chocolate sauce:
200g (7 oz) good quality dark chocolate (I used Green and Black's 85%)
200ml (7 fl. oz) double (heavy whipping) cream
3 tbsp caster sugar

Put your chocolate, cream and sugar together in a bowl or bain marie (double boiler) over a pan of barely simmering water, taking care not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.

Stir from time to time for a few minutes as the chocolate melts, until you have a smooth, shiny sauce with a thick but pourable consistency. If you feel that the sauce is a little thick, stir through a little more cream.

While your chocolate sauce is getting going, put the cold whipping cream and sugar together in the bowl. Use your mixer on a slow speed to start with, to begin to thicken the cream and dissolve the sugar. After a minute or two, increase the speed to a medium-high and continue to whisk for several minutes, until you have stiff but not grainy peaks.

Spoon the whipped cream into a piping bag with a 30 or similar tip. It really doesn't matter, since all you're doing is filling the puffs.

Poke the piping tip into the hole of each puff, filling entirely with the whipped cream. To do all 30 should take about 4-5 minutes.

Serve the choux buns, hole-down in a bowl and pour over plenty of the dark chocolate sauce.
They're also fantastic with chopped, toasted hazelnuts or almonds sprinkled over the top.

Profiteroles on FoodistaProfiteroles

Layers of Love

Yesterday was bloody brilliant. My cousin Simon, his wife Sharon brought their baby daughter Poppy and my Aunt Jane for lunch. Basically, I was having a dinner party on a Monday afternoon, so my perception of time and date is completely thrown off now.
I made a lasagne, partly because my stepson requested it and because I'm a big fan of making food that I can prepare ahead and pop in the oven when my guests arrive. I'm not a pleasant person when I'm stressed out, and so stress-free dinner parties are the goal.

Because I am a child of the '70s, I hold a special place in my heart for profiteroles (and prawn cocktails) and since they're so super easy to make, I decided on those for dessert. I also gave sourdough another try and had similarly good results to the other day, so YAY for that.

I call this 5-Hour lasagne, because I simmer my meat sauce for 3 1/2 hours at least and take a little time over my bechamel. I make the bechamel the way my Mum taught me, which was taught to her before I was born by her old friend Peter Bertorelli, veteran Italian restaurateur.

I make my sauce with half lamb and half beef mince, as I had it that way once in a gorgeous little trattoria in San Diego and I loved it. That place was also the only place in the States that I had lasagne made with bechamel instead of ricotta cheese, which also scored big points from me, as I've never understood the appeal of ricotta in lasagne.

I served this with a big garden salad, a loaf of freshly baked crusty bread and some red wine. The food was lovely, but it would have been nothing without the brilliant company. After lunch and several glasses of wine, the guys turned on the Xbox and Simon got his Call of Duty arse handed to him by a 14 year old boy (only because Simon was used to playing Modern Warfare on the PS3 and the controls are different!) Uh huh.

5-Hour Lasagne Alla Bolognese
serves 6, takes 4 1/2 -5 hours

2/3 batch of bolognese sauce, made either to this recipe, or with 1/2 lamb, 1/2 beef.

1 package died lasagne noodles
300g (10.5 oz) fresh ball mozzerella, sliced or torn
handful fresh basil leaves
handful freshly grated parmesan cheese

For the bechamel sauce:
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1 litre (2.2 pints) whole milk
2 bay leaves
1 stalk, celery, thickly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and thickly sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and thickly sliced
salt to taste
4-5 rasps of fresh nutmeg
4 peppercorns
2 tbsp grated parmesan

Get your meat sauce cooking for about an hour and a half before starting the bechamel sauce.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, peppercorns, salt, bay leaves, carrot, celery and onion to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for five minutes before turning off the heat and allowing the flavours of the aromatics to infuse the milk for an hour or so. When cooled, strain the milk.

In a medium, heat the olive oil over a medium-low heat and add the flour, stirring well to form a thick paste. When you can smell the flour starting to cook, stir the infused milk in a little at a time. stir quickly to avoid lumps forming, but don't worry, if you do get lumps, you can use an immersion (stick) blender to smooth it out. Once all the milk has been incorporated, bring to a low simmer and stir in the parmesan and nutmeg. You want the sauce to have a consistency similar to a thick custard, if too thick, add a little more milk. If the sauce is too thin, mix 1 tsp corn flour with a little cold milk and drizzle into the simmering sauce, stirring constantly.

Turn the oven to 200C (400F) and pour yourself a large glass of red wine, sip throughout.

In a large baking dish, put a layer of uncooked lasagne noodles, then a thick layer of the meat sauce. Top with the bechamel sauce and then repeat these layers twice more, so that you have three of each.
Top the lasagne with the whole basil leaves, then the mozzerella and finally with an even scattering of grated parmesan. Bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to sit at room temp for ten minutes to make cutting and serving a little easier.

Baked Lasagne on FoodistaBaked Lasagne

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Back Breaking Work.

I was all excited this morning when I got up, eager to go out and do some serious vegetable gardening. I had a bunch of seeds and garlic cloves that need to go into the ground and Jerusalem artichokes and a few varieties of potatoes to plant in potato bags.
So after breakfast, on went the wellies and the dogs and I ventured out to the veggie patch. The plan was this: Fill the grow bags with soil and compost (and tubers!) and then start on pretty little rows of radishes, beets, carrots, peas, beans.....and on and on. I was planning to save the greenhouse projects like tomatoes and chillies for the afternoon, when it was supposed to rain.

As it turns out, I should probably done some stretches before flinging shovels-full of dirt, because half way through carrying the filled grow bags my back went out. It felt rather like a massive rubber band running across my back had snapped and raveled back on itself. It was frightening!

I can only imagine what the neighbours thought if they heard the noises I was making. Perhaps that I had Tiger Woods or John Terry over?

I waddled, doubled over back to the house, feeling embarrassed about my shocking physical condition and worrying that I'd slipped a disc or something.

By the time it was time to make dinner, I'd taken a super-hot bath, some arnica and some (lots) codeine and was feeling considerably better, although in no way up to an hour or more of vigourous cookery. I had made a ball of pasta dough yesterday, as I was planning to make these simple tortellini. As with things like samosas, pasties and some other stuffed pastry dishes, there's a little time taken stuffing/folding etc, but it's a rather zen activity and rather relaxing as long as you're not in a hurry.

This was my first attempt at making pasta, which is weird because I like to make as much as possible from scratch but we usually eat noodles like spaghetti or tagliatelle rather than stuffed pastas like this. I don't yet have a pasta machine, but it's on my Amazon wish list (Are you reading Daddy?) so hopefully I'll have one by my next birthday.

I used Raymond Blanc's pasta dough recipe, which worked well I thought. I think I could have rolled the dough out a little thinner so I will next time but otherwise it was a really lovely dish.

Pork and Arugula Tortellini with a Simple Tomato Sauce
serves 2, takes approx 1 hour- 75 mins

200g (7 oz) tipo 00 flour
2 large free range eggs

100g (3.5 oz) minced pork
100g (3.5 oz) pancetta, chopped quite small.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
large handful rocket (arugula) roughly chopped
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
salt and pepper

3 large, ripe tomatoes
1 more clove garlic, crushed
2 sprigs basil, leaves picked and cut into chiffonade
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt
pinch crushed red chilli

In a food processor, tip the flour and the eggs and pulse for a minute to bring the two together into a dough. Add a few drops of water if the mixture is too dry- you want it to come together in a ball without being sticky. When well mixed, put your ball on a piece of cling film, flatten into a disc about half an inch thick, then wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

While your pasta is chilling, make your filling. In the food processor, add the pork, pancetta, garlic, fennel seeds, parmesan, rocket and a little salt and fresh black pepper. Pulse a few times to bring the mixture together well but be careful not to turn it into a paste, as you want to retain the texture of the meat.

When the dough has rested, roll it out on a well floured worktop to a thickness of about 2mm (1/8") then use a 7cm (2.5-3") circular cutter to cut out round pieces and dust off any excess flour. Put about a teaspoonful of the meat mixture in the centre of the pasta rounds and wet one half of the circle, then fold the edges together into a semi circle, being sure to push any air out as you go. If you have air trapped inside, it could expand and burst the pasta shells when you cook them, making a nasty mess. Now, bring the two corners together, overlapping the two points, sticking together with a little water to make little closed crescent shapes.

Put a large pot of water on to boil with some salt.
Add your pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 10-12 minutes while you make your sauce.

Blanch the tomatoes first, by cutting a shallow X in the skin and plunging into boiling water for fifteen seconds. The skins should peel off quite easily now.
Halve the tomatoes and scrape out all the seeds and pulp, reserving them in a small bowl. Dice the tomatoes.

Heat the olive oil in a sautee pan over a low-med heat and gently fry the garlic without letting it brown. Add the tomatoes to the pan with a few good pinches of olive oil and run the reserved tomato seeds and pulp through a sieve into the pan. That soft jellyish bit inside the tomato is rich in umami, and so is important to the sauce. Add your pinch of chilli and allow the sauce to cook for a couple of minutes until the tomatoes have broken down and have lost their raw smell. Stir through the basil and remove from the heat.

Your pasta should be cooked at about the same time as your sauce, so drain it well and add to the sauce. Toss well to coat and serve with plenty of fresh parmesan.

Tortellini on FoodistaTortellini

Friday, 26 March 2010

Flours For Algernon

Today was a HUGE day for me.
*cooking geek alert!*
For years and years, I have been alternately obsessing with and giving up on trying to bake a decent loaf of bread and for just as many years I have been failing pretty miserably.
I followed countless recipes, scoured the web looking for tips and techniques, only to produce anaemic, flavourless loaves of nothingness. To begin with, they looked fine. Just like a loaf in a bakery window with a pretty crust and lovely colour, only the texture was all wrong. Instead of the springy, chewy texture I was striving for, I produced loaf after loaf of bland, crumbly bread that was suitable only for the bin.
What was so cussing annoying was that in principle, bread is such a simple thing! Since time immemorial, man/woman has been mixing flour and water together and baking loaves of delicious bread for their families. Bakeries and market stalls all over Europe proudly display bronzed rounds of perfection without a second thought, and yet the best I could do was blaaahhh.

Baking bread often reminded me of golf. The first time I played golf, I thought it would be a cake walk. I mean, you take a stick and you hit a motionless ball into a hole. You're not swinging at anything coming at you at speed, and your feet are stationary- So how come I ended that first game covered in mud from falling on my ass FIVE TIMES and was something like 837,537,837 over par?
I'm pretty sure I threw a driver into some trees too. Stupid golf. Easy in theory, not so much in practice, just like baking bread. I bet that is the first golf-bread analogy you've read today.

Since flavour was my biggest problem, I decided I wanted to try sourdough. That was about four months ago. I made a starter by mixing equal parts flour and water together and leaving it to sit on the kitchen counter for about a week, checking daily for signs of life. I'd made glue.

My clever cousin Hugo told me about his friend using organic flour and grapes to make a starter, and so I read a little about that on the web and by jove, he was right. By this time I was on starter attempt number 4, which I quickly binned and started over with all organic ingredients. By the next morning, I had a beery, beautifully frothy mixture which smelled like it was well on its way to starter success. I fed it for a few days- equal parts flour and water, stir..... and named it Algernon because I thought that if I gave him a name he might try a little harder for me.

Algernon and I have made a few loaves of bread and several pizza crusts over the past few months, but while the pizza crusts have been brilliant, I've been having an impossible time getting a well-risen loaf of bread. (blunt objects sure, loaves no.)

Last night on BBC4 there was show called In Search of the Perfect Loaf about a baker trying to make a loaf good enough to win an organic foods contest. Watching him kneading loaf after loaf and pulling one after another out of the oven with varied success really got my baking juices flowing. Also, I was encouraged that this man, who was from a long line of bakers and had been baking all his life was having some serious problems of his own.
At the end of his show (he won second place) I went to the kitchen and got to work. I know this will sound a little crazy, but this time it felt different. While I was kneading the dough, I was no longer an average suburban broad in a cookie cutter kitchen in a cookie cutter neighbourhood. I was a farmer's wife, kneading a gorgeous ball of family history at a weathered kitchen table while the French country sunlight filtered through the window, catching on the flour floating about in the air.....sighh.....
I kneaded away, caught up in my little fantasy until I had what I thought felt like the right consistency. Soft like an old woman's bingo wings, (I know, you're loving the comparison) and elastic as heck.
I put my precious ball of dough into a floured bowl, covered it with cling film and left it by the gas boiler in my utility room overnight. For the uninitiated, this might seem like a long time, but bread made from starter takes a lot longer to rise than bread made with instant yeast.

The next morning, I came down and he was huge! I was very excited that Algernon had been so hard at work all night, eating all the sugary flour, farting out gas bubbles, but I was still only cautiously optimistic. We'd been here before, with a beautiful big ball of risen dough, which only turned to the consistency of warm, chewed chewing gum once punched down and shaped into a loaf.

But that was the only thing for it. I tipped the loaf out onto the counter and gave it another little knead, incorporating a little more flour because it was still a little loose.

For future reference, I used:
700g organic bread flour
200ml Algernon
2 tsp salt
400ml warm water- brought it together in my Kitchenaid with a dough hook and then finished kneading by hand, adding in a little flour on the work top.

I shaped it into a boule and placed it on a floured baking sheet, dusted with a little more flour, scored the top in a square pattern and put it iback near the boiler to proof one more time before baking.
After about an hour, the ball had almost doubled in size and was expanding outward more than upward, as all my previous experiments had done in the past, only better this time.
I decided that proofing time was over and I turned on the oven. When it was good and hot, I slipped my loaf in and set the timer, deciding not to even look at how it was doing until the beep went off.

40 Minutes later, I turned off the timer and opened my oven to find this:

I know, it's certainly not going to win any beauty contests. In fact it looks a little like John Merrick, but this was a massive triumph for me. This was the first time I had made a properly risen loaf using starter.
I left it to cool down while we went to the garden centre to buy some veggie seeds and when we returned I eagerly sliced into it.

The crust had a lovely, solid crunch, and the inside looked like it had the requisite array of holes you want in a decent sourdough. I spread the slices with some good butter, proudly presented them to the guys and tucked in.
*choruses of Hallelujah* It was brilliant! Just the right chewy texture and complex flavour I have been striving for all these months. It's certainly not the sourest sourdough I've ever eaten, but the twang is certainly present, giving a wonderful rounded flavour and feel.
Drew asked for seconds immediately, which is a huge accomplishment for me, because he is so maddeningly dispassionate about food. Christian even left his teenage boy den of stench to come down and tell me how much he liked it. Result!

So for dinner, instead of having the tortellini I was going to make, we had massive slabs of this bread with some fresh buffalo mozzerella, slices of ripe tomato, basil leaves and sea salt. Bloody perfect.

I am having some lovely family over for lunch on Monday, so I'm going to see if I can do it again, but prettier this time.

Sourdough Bread on FoodistaSourdough Bread

Better Than Any Takeaway

When I was little, one of my favourite ever dining out treats was an outing to our local Chinese place in Sunbury On Thames.
I remember big plates of fried rice, neon orange piles of syrupy sweet and sour pork balls, prawn crackers and my first ever spring roll.
My favourite part was at the end of the meal, when my brother and I would each have our own plate of crispy battered fried bananas with vanilla ice cream. It all felt so exotic, so foreign and sophisticated and I absolutely loved it. Of course it only really bore a passing resemblance to authentic Chinese food, but those early experiences planted the seeds of what has grown into a real love of Chinese food- The good, the bad and the WTF??

The Yum Yum Tree is still there, thirty-odd years later in the same grotty spot in dodgy Sunbury Cross, but I'm sure I'll never go back. I just know that all those special little taste memories will be squashed flat, as if by one of Wyle Coyote's 20 ton anvils, the same way many childhood treat memories are when revisited as a grown-up.

I don't tend to get takeaways very often (ever) because our town just doesn't have a single good one, so we generally wait until we're in Chinatown to indulge. There's also a brilliant place in Camden we went to a couple of New Years ago, which was the first place I ever ate chicken feet. I can't remember what it was called but I really hope to find it again, as they had brilliant dim sum.

The food we ate in China and the cookery class we took in Yangshuo taught me a lot about cooking Chinese food and how important fresh ingredients are. Not once did we see glow-in-the-dark sweet and sour sauce or reject globs of pork fat surrounded in soggy fried dough like those you find in the average High Street place.

The animal welfare standards were non-existent, which was really hard for me to watch, especially when I thought about the number of people eating them. So much so, that if I lived there I'd probably be vegetarian if I couldn't raise my own livestock.

What was brilliant was that for better or for worse they do seem to use every bit of the animals that they eat. (see right)
We tried pig intestines on a stick (see left), as well as duck tongues (they have bones in them! Who knew?!) more chicken feet and some brilliant things done with pork skin. We did draw the line at dog though, I just couldn't go there.

So yeah, we all like Chinese food in our house, so I make some kind of stir-fry or noodle dish fairly often. I definitely think that if your kids are picky veg eaters that giving them (the veg, not the kids) a good toss in a wok with some garlic, ginger and a couple of sauces is a brilliant way to soften the blow for them.

This, like most Chinese food a super quick dish to cook, so it's important to have all your prep done before you put flame to wok.

Chilli Fried Egg Noodles With Szechuan Beef and Pak Choi
serves 4, takes 25 minutes

300g (10.5oz) rump steak, fat sliced from outer edge, then sliced very thinly across the grain.
4 small pak choi, leaves pulled and washed (leave small hearts intact)
1 medium onion, sliced
2cm ginger, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large, red chillies, sliced
250g (8oz) package dried egg noodles
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp dried red chilli
2 tsp szechuan peppercorns, crushed.
2 tbsp shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp corn starch
4 tbsp ground nut oil

Mix the soy sauce, cornstarch and Shaoxing rice wine together in a bowl and add the sliced beef, mixing well to coat. Set aside while you do the rest of the prep and cook the noodles (follow the package instructions).

Heat your wok over a high heat and once smoking, add 2 tbsp of the oil, swishing it well around the wok with a cooking spatula. Add the beef, leaving the marinade in the bowl and stir fry well for 3-4 minutes, until browned, then remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the onions, and half each of the garlic and ginger to the pan and stir-fry for a couple of minutes before adding the Szechuan pepper, any left over beef marinade and fresh chilli with a few tbsp of water. Stir in the oyster sauce, followed immediately by the pak choi. Stir-fry for another 1-2 minutes, then add the beef back to the mix, stir well to combine.
Remove to a bowl and cover with a lid while you fry the noodles.

Heat the remaining oil in the wok and toss in the remaining garlic, ginger and the dried chilli. fry for 30 seconds before adding the cooked noodles to the pan.
Stir fry quickly for a minute or so, sprinkling with a little soy sauce before serving.

Serve the noodles in a lovely big heap, topped with the beef and pak choi on top.
Szechwan Beef on FoodistaSzechwan Beef

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Left Overs, Revisited

I'm so cussing excited! We have reservations for dinner at Raymond Blanc's two Michelin star restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxford in a two weeks! What's even better is that ten days later, I get to spend a day in his cookery school learning some brilliant recipes and fawning over the incredible organic gardens on the estate.
I've been watching Raymond's BBC2 series Kitchen Secrets with increasing enthusiasm, as he really does show the viewer how to make some incredibly lovely dishes, following simple techniques and explaining the reasons behind each part of the recipe.

I know that this has nothing to do with today's dish, but I'm just so excited I though I'd share. I'll take as many pictures as I can throughout the day and will write a blow-by-blow account of my experience for those of you who are interested.

Ok, so back to the matter at hand. Yesterday I was talking about using left over meats in non-left-over-tasting ways. I was wondering how best to use some left over roast chicken and I remembered having a roast duck curry at a lovely Thai place we used to go to in Scottsdale. They also made brilliant martinis and some of the best Tom Kha Gai I've ever had and so we miss them badly since the move.

I buy a very big chicken each week so that I can get two whole meals out of each one, then the bones make stock. I usually use the breast meat for one dish and the dark meat for the other, as they each benefit (or don't) from different styles of cooking.
I roasted the bird this week and served the breasts with sweet potato mash and creamed brussels sprouts. I had decided to follow Malee's ducky example and make a simple curry with the rest of the roast, except I wasn't going to use the skin, which I find unpleasantly soggy and flaccid (a brilliant word! Totally sounds like what it means!)

I have used cucumber in this curry, which may sound weird and soggy, but when you remove the seedy core (and eat it standing there at the cutting board) it is a really lovely addition with a great texture.

Thai Roast Chicken Curry With Pineapple and Cucumber
Serves 4, takes 30 minutes

Thighs, drumsticks and wings from a roast chicken- meat pulled and chopped into large bitesized chunks.
1 cucumber (English/hothouse)
1/2 cup red curry paste recipe here
small handful raw, unsalted peanuts
small can pineapple chunks in juice (not syrup!)
1 can coconut milk
2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 2 limes
handful fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
Steamed sticky jasmine rice to serve

Cut the cucumber into quarters lengthwise and use the tip of your knife to cut out the wet, seedy core. Either munch it down right where you stand, or chop it up and shake it with some ice, Grey Goose vodka and a little mint, then sip while you cook. Slice the long quarters of cucumber at a 45 degree angle, producing pretty, sharp little spikes. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle liberally with sea salt and put off to the side while you prepare the curry. Rinse the cucumber pieces well to remove the salt, drain well before using.

Start your rice cooking.

Heat your wok over a good hot heat and add a little oil. When the oil is wobbly-hot and starting to smoke, add your paste and peanuts and fry for a couple of minutes until very fragrant and bubbling away nicely. Stir in the coconut milk and the fish sauce and then simmer this lot for about ten minutes, until thickened and reduced by about a third.

Add the chicken and the juice from the pineapple can, then simmer for a further few minutes and add in the pineapple pieces and the lime juice. Simmer for a further minute or two until you have a nice, thick consistency in the sauce, then turn off the heat and stir in the slices of cucumber.

Serve over a heap of jasmine rice and scatter with some fresh coriander (cilantro)

The texture that the roast chicken brings is a little firmer than fresh, and it's really pleasing. I would definitely stick with dark meat though instead of white, as breast meat doesn't seem to re-heat well in this way.

Luscious Thai Chicken Pineapple Curry on FoodistaLuscious Thai Chicken Pineapple Curry

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Art of Left Overs

One of the things I sometimes struggle with is finding a use for left over cooked meat without it tasting like left over cooked meat. It's not that I don't like stews, casseroles, curries and so on, but especially as we head into Spring I'm in a bit of a hurry to leave Winter warming dishes behind for a while.
I made roast beef on Sunday with a plan to do something with the left overs later in the week. Last week my friend lovely friend Sarah, who is also a foodie blogger posted her recipe for Philly cheese steak sandwiches, which gave me an "A-HA!" moment. Sarah's idea to use a cheese sauce, instead of just grated or sliced cheese was an inspired one, which I was quick to try.

I didn't take any pictures of our sandwiches, because I wasn't expecting them to be much to write home (or blog) about. As it turns out, this twenty minute supper was fantastic and required very little washing up afterward.

Philly- Style Roast Beef Sandwiches
Serves 4, takes 15-20 minutes

400g (8oz)left over pink roast beef
200g (4oz) mature cheddar (or other robust flavoured, semi-hard cheese) grated
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1 onion
1 each red and green bell peppers
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch salt
300ml (6 floz) milk
chilli powder
4 crusty white French rolls or hoagie rolls

Slice the peppers and onions into thin strips and fry gently in a little oil and a pinch of salt for approx 10 minutes, until going brown and softening a little.

In a small saucepan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over a medium heat and stir in the flour. Coo this mixture together for a few minutes until it starts to smell nutty, then pour the milk in slowly, stirring well as you go. Stir in the grated cheese and the spices and stir well to melt the cheese and form a smooth, unctuous sauce.

Turn your grill on high and split the rolls almost all the way through, opening each one up like a book. Lay them on the grill pan, insides facing up and grill for a 30-60 seconds to lightly toast the bread. When lightly browned, turn the rolls over and repeat on the outsides.

Slice the roast beef, using a very sharp knife to get the slices waffer thin and lay them out equally between all of the rolls, covering as much of the cut side of the bread as possible.

Lay a generous amount of the peppers and onions over the roast beef and then spoon plenty of the gorgeous cheese sauce. Pop under the grill again for a minute, to make the cheese begin to bubble.

This whole process takes less than 20 minutes if you cook the sauce and peppers at the same time and really is one of the best sarnies I've had in yeeeaaars. A bit like having a takeaway without the price and with a much better control over the quality of ingredients.

Tomorrow I'm going to make a Thai curry with left over roast chicken. I'll let you know how that goes...

Philly Steak Sandwiches on FoodistaPhilly Steak Sandwiches

Monday, 22 March 2010

Love and Hate on a Plate

Ok, I have to get something off my chest. It has nothing to do with this recipe and will probably be considered rather mean-spirited (I have come back and edited out the worst bits.) but here it is.
I would like to feed those 4 Ingredients women into a wood chipper. Slowly. Feet First.
(I'd be wearing earplugs)
If you've ever seen their show, you'll know why.
I can't say much more without sounding like a totally stuck up bitch (which I kinda am) so I'll just say this- Peanut butter and jam sandwiches or chicken tenders rolled in crushed cornflakes, then baked to dry obscurity do not a cookbook or TV show make. Get off my TV.

Ok, enough of that, back to why I'm here- The food.
Tonight we had a simple roast chicken with what I can only describe as creamed Brussels sprouts.
The guys were converted from sprouts haters to sprout fans with this way of cooking them, although it could be argued that if you cook just about anything with cream and garlic it will be well-received.

Roast Chicken With Creamed Brussels Sprouts
Serves 6, 20 minutes work, 90 minutes total

1 1.8kg (2lb) free range chicken
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1 lemon
(Ooh! Four ingredients! (Salt and pepper don't count toward the total apparently)

500g (1 lb) Brussels sprouts
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp pommery grain mustard
200ml double cream (heavy whipping cream)
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves picked and chopped

Turn your oven to 190C (375F) and put your chicken breast-side up in a roasting tin and rub all over liberally with olive oil. Halve a lemon and squeeze the juice all over the chicken, using the spent halves to rub the juice into the skin, then toss them into the cavity with the garlic cloves.
truss the legs and sprinkle all over liberally with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Pop in the oven on a low shelf and roast for 65-80 minutes, depending on the exact size of your chicken. To check for doneness, pierce the thickest part of the leg with a sharp knife. If the juices run clear, it's cooked.
When the chicken is done, remove from the oven and cover with a piece of foil, leaving the chicken to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

For the Brussels sprouts:

Remove the dodgy looking, spotty outer leaves and trim the stalks from the sprouts and cut them in half.
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil, then blanch the sprouts for three minutes.
Drain immediately and plunge them into a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking.

In a sautee pan, melt the butter and add the shallots and garlic. Cook over a medium heat, taking care to not let the onion or garlic brown, you want them soft and translucent. Stir in the mustards well and cook for a further minute or so before pouring in the cream.
Simmer this lot for a minute before adding the sprouts to the mix. Cook for a further minute before adding the tarragon, then finish cooking for 2-3 more minutes to finish. The sprouts should still be a lively green and resist the tip of a knife ever so slightly when inserted all the way through.

I served the chicken on a bed of sweet potato puree* this time with the sprouts on the side. The extra creamy sauce gets spooned over the chicken.

I had to unbutton my jeans.

* For the sweet potato puree:
Peel some sweet potatoes and cut into large chunks. Immediately after peeling/cutting, put them into a pan of water with lemon juice in to prevent black spots.
Boil until tender, then drain and put into a bowl. Add a knob of butter, a few rasps of a nutmeg, some sea salt and white pepper. Use a stick blender to puree the potatoes to a velvety smooth puree.
Roast Spring Chicken on FoodistaRoast Spring Chicken

Brussels Sprouts on FoodistaBrussels Sprouts