Monday, 28 February 2011

Lots of Laksa

A bowl of this will improve your well-being
As I raided the fridge on my return from Florida, desperate for something delicious and semi-healthy, all I found was plates of left over pizza that Boyfriend had presumably been saving for me. Very sweet but not what I faniced. Having flown in on the red eye and done a day in the office, I got an email from him saying 'Can you do something quite light for dinner please? I had a big lunch.' What a charmer!

There is a magical little jar of Indonesian laksa paste that sits at the back of my fridge, and when I caught sight of the borderline fresh pak choi in the veg drawer and ice cream tub of chicken stock it had to be laksa. I sent Boyfriend to the shops to get some prawns and made the 20 minute miracle that is a big bowl of beautiful laksa.  I love to make my own curry pastes, but lets face it, I was hungry and jet lagged, and there is nothing at all wrong with a bought paste in this kind of situation! This feeds 2 generously.

To make laksa, bring approx 2ltrs chicken stock to a gentle simmer and stir in as much laska paste as you want, depending on how hot you like it. You can use thai red or green curry paste instead if you like, still lush. Add to the cauldron a few slices of ginger and some sliced garlic and let it infuse for a few minutes. Pour in about half a tin of coconut milk (you can always add more later, just keep tasting). The soup will taste quite hot but bland so add the juice of a lime and a few tbsp fish sauce. The trick is to keep tasting and to acheive the wonderful balance of hot and sour, you can also add a bit of sugar for a hint of sweetness if you like. Once the balance is right, add noodles, any type, it doesn't matter, any combo of veg, I used sliced carrot and pak choi, don't cook the hell out of the veg, keep a nice crunch, and then right at the last minute throw in some raw king prawns. They need literally a minute and when they have gone pink they're done. Chicken and beef (left over cooked or raw) would be great too. Sprinkle with fresh chopped coriander and chopped chillies if you love it hot, and slurp away.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Super-size Me Syndrome

Apologies for lack of posts, I, and an extra half stone of me have just returned from a work related trip to Florida. Oh my god do they sort you out with some portions there. But sadly most of the food I ate had a magical sprinkling of weird synthetic-ness, even in supposedly swanky places. The best things I ate were a cheeseburger, fresh, massive and juicy and cooked to my liking, and all the food that came from the local Mexican joint, which became our lunch place each day. The fact I couldn't finish any dish from there alarmed me, I tried real hard the first time, to eat my fore-arm sized burrito (pictured), and this resulted in needing to sleep all afternoon, and chronic heart burn. Got some weird looks from the boss.

There is a strange obsession with the doggy bag in America. I have no shame in asking to take home any leftovers (rarely necessary) when eating at a Chinese or Indian restaurant, as they are kitted up for it, and its very easy to over-order (plus curry for breakfast is amazing, especially when hungover). However, EVERYONE in America does it in any restaurant. I know someone who deliberately over-orders so he can have dinner for the next night! Cunning.

You really have to watch it in America, it is so easy to get into the swing of things, you return home, looking at the perfectly sized portion on your plate, thinking 'Seriously? Is that it?!'. Two slim friends of mine were having breakfast in Miami and they left half of it as they were too full. The waiter, a big boy, looked at them in disgust and said 'Here in America we like to eat our food. You guys look sick!'. In a very polite English way they muttered their excuses and left, as the rotund waiter shouted after them 'TRY SNACKING EVERY HOUR!!!!'.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Best Roast Chook EVER (thanks Delia)

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' is a phrase I generally live by, but as long as you keep it simple with a good roast chicken, a few variations won't hurt I reckon. On Sunday I fancied a mini re-vamp of our usual, there was nothing wrong with it, but there is another phrase I like: 'A change is a good as a holiday'. Perhaps a bit dramatic when describing a Sunday Roast but variety is the spice of life and all that. I will stop now.
and devour...
This is Queen Delia's recipe, I am yet to fail with one of her creations, she might not go too mental, and she might keep it all rather serene, but I grew up on her recipes and hope to grow old on them. I can always turn to Heston when a nervous breakdown is what I require in the kitchen anyway.

It's always a good idea to take the chicken out of the fridge an hour before cooking so it can warm up a bit. Not in a potential food poisoning kind of way, just to bring it to room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees. Take a big casserole dish (careful when taking out the le Creuset, don't nearly do your back in or drop it on your toes) and on a medium heat, melt a slab of butter and add to this a splash of olive oil. Brown the chicken all over, it will take about 10 minutes, the bottom and top is easy, you can just leave it while you peek at Come Dine With Me on the telly, but for the sides, just use tongs to hold it in place while it goes all golden. Take the chicken out of the pan and put aside. Throw in approx 30 (yes, 30) un-peeled (phew) cloves of garlic and a couple of rosemary sprigs and stir around. Replace chicken in the pan and pour a large glass of white wine around the chicken. Bring to a simmer, meanwhile season the chicken really well and sprinkle with a big tbsp of chopped rosemary. Cover the lid with a double thickness piece of foil and then put the lid on over that, ensuring a tight seal. Put in the oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes (this all depends on the size of the chicken, this one was quite big). Go wild with the smell that comes out after about 10. Remove the lid and return to the oven for another 15 mins to re-crisp the skin. Take out and rest for 10 minutes before carving. Serve with the heavenly garlicky gravy at the bottom of the pan, not forgetting the now very soft cloves, squeeze the sweet juicy pulp them all over your roasties. Thanks be to Delia.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Trendy Pavlova

Puddings scare me a bit, often you can't just bung things in a bowl willy nilly, instructions have to be adhered to, measurements obeyed, temperatures checked and tempers tested. Plus I am more of a starter and main kind of girl, usually preferring cheese to something sweet. However, in the last year or so, I have been a bit braver, and less lazy, (I normally run out of enthusiasm by the time I get to deciding on a pud, reaching for the desert section in the supermarket) and tackled a few recipes, with surprisingly pleasing results. I think my chest was more puffed up after this one, than the meringue. 

I had a load of egg whites left over in the fridge from the semi disaster Seville Orange tart (pastry case I had spent ages making snapped in half), and couldn't face binning them, and also couldn't face egg white omlettes, and couldn't think what else to make apart from meringue. Then I watched the lovely Baking Made Easy lady on BBC2 and was inpired to make her spiced blackberry, apple and pear pavlova. I am 28 and I had never made meringue previous to this and it was about time. Full recipe can be found here (its not my recipe, and I followed it devotedly so you might as well see the proper recipe):
Everyone says meringue is easy, but I tried to make it with a nearly-dying hand held single electric whisk that got so hot I did have concerns about it blowing up. Forget yolks, bits of kitchen machinery in my egg whites would have ruined it for sure. I think I was whisking for about 25 minutes, no joke, (I am about to buy proper electric beaters so I can reduce that time by about, oh, 20 minutes) but I was determined to make it work. Boyfriend is a bit of an expert on meringe, it's the one pudding he likes, and he made a meringue skeleton to carry round in his home made coffin for Halloween. Obviously. When the whites seemed 'nearly there' he kept offering little helpful hints, such as 'Yeah that's what they looked like when I did it, but they wouldn't go any firmer than that' and 'You may as well give up.' Well I didn't, I had to wrap the handle of the whisk in a tea towel to prevent serious burns, but I did it. Tenacity is my family motto and very fitting it is too. 

After the meringue trauma it was all very easy, once meringue was in the oven, it was all poaching fruit in wine, cinnamon, orange  peel and juice, and star anise, whisking up some whipping cream (noooooooo) with vanilla seeds, and then artfully blobbing it all on top. Not sure it was worth the risk of 3rd degree burns, but next time I'll have proper beaters. Tasted great, and more importantly it was real pretty.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Lush Lamb in ONLY 5 Hours!

Apart from when given the chance to gnaw on juicy pink lamb chops up a mountain in the French Pyranees, too hungry to bother to loosen my ski boots, I truly believe that slow cooked lamb is the way forward. Absolutely minimal effort, maximum output, in the form of melty soft threads of baby sheep, no worrying about timing and will it be pink enough anxiety. mind you I think the same about most pork but that's already been covered, and will no doubt be again.

Lamb shoulder pre-oven

It really excites me when I have people who love food round for some tucker, it encourages me to really make an effort as I know it will be appreciated. This isn't effort in the form of spun sugar nests and fennel cappucinos (whatEVER!) but in food that tastes so good you keep delving in for more, going to loosen the top button  on your jeans only to find you already did it twenty minutes ago. Whoops.

Saturday lunch is a happy casual affair, nothing poncey, just good food and wine and lots of it (sent Boyfriend out to get some wine, in a slightly sleepy haze he came back with one bottle. GET BACK TO THE BOTTLE SHOP NOW, BOY!) Also, I didn't want to be running round (you can't actually run around my kitchen, more sidestep up and down rapidly) the kitchen all day, but relaxing with the lovely people in my house. We were lucky enough to be at another mates' house for dinner on friday night so no opportunity for preparation really, hence my genius plan of setting my alarm for 8am on Saturday morning, sorting the lamb out and putting it in the oven, then scrambling back into bed. Aaaaaaah.

Lamb post-oven with the cous cous
This recipe for Morroccan inspired lamb (sort of) tagine feeds four very generously. Pre-heat oven to 230. In a mini wizzer, combine the skin (definately not flesh) of a large preserved lemon, or a few small ones, 3 inches roughly chopped ginger, 8 garlic cloves, small bunch of coriander, 1 large roughly chopped onion, 1tbsp freshly toasted (in a dry frying pan) and ground cumin seeds, a tsp salt and big glub of olive oil, and wizz until you have a nice paste. Doesn't have to be perfectly smooth. Give the paste a good sniff, it's heaven. Place a shoulder of lamb (mine was from Dorset, his name was Steve and he weighed about 1.7kg I think) in a big casserole dish and pour over the paste. Top with a big chunk of butter. Cut out a circle of baking parchment the same size as the dish and pop on top of the lamb, take a piece of foil and place over the top of the dish and put the lid on tightly, over the foil. Put the dish in the oven, immediately turning the head down to 140 and cook for about 5 hours. And that is it. Literally. Do check it every now and again to see it's not burning, I left mine about half an hour too long and it did go a little burny, but still tasted ace. When it's ready, shred it up with two forks, just like you do with Peking duck. Serve with roasted veg tossed in cous cous with some harissa, more ground cumin seeds, chopped coriander and lemon.

Serve with plentiful red wine and ideally sit around the table picking away until no-one can move. Whether that's due to over-eating or too much wine, or both, is entirely up to you.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Camembert Fun

Funny cheese man

You know it's not the most original thing to serve when you have your mates round, especially when one of them exclaims 'Oh I love this starter!' but I had never personally 'cooked' baked Camembert and thought it was about time. Especially when I spied a Somerset variety on offer in the supermarket. Yesss.

I googled various methods that were pretty much all the same, one would recommend stabbing the cheese with rosemary, the other with thyme, I had plenty of rosemary so stabbed a few sprigs in, using one cheese between two, it gets a bit intimate so choose your guests wisely.

I was a bit worried when all the recipes said 'take out of the wrapping and place back in wooden case'. Bugger, apparently in Somerset wooden cases aren't necesary. Then I had a genius moment and I popped them in the little terracotta dishes that pretty much everyone either buys on holiday in Portugal or gets free with tapas dishes from Waitrose. Bingo. Baked for 20 minutes,  suddenly wondered what the weird smell was, discovered it was just the cheese rind heating up, took them out, popped the top off and we all tucked in with garlic rubbed toasted ciabatta. So simple and so good. And then you get to play with the funny cheese man afterwards.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Year of the Rabbit/Dumpling/Pork Belly

This blog is not here to review restaurants but I see nowt wrong with sharing good restaurant love every now and again. On Tuesday I met my amazing friend Nat for a new little tradition we've begun; wine in a funny little tapas bar then full on Chinese Feast in Dumplings Legend in Gerrard Street in China Town. We like the contrast. Or maybe Nat just fancies the Albanian waiter in the Spanish joint haha.

I get so excited walking through China Town, it smells so good that even if I've just eaten I could definately go again. I love the supermarkets there, all these crazy exotic ingredients hiding the bits and pieces you're trying to find for a fancy pants thai curry, the temptation to just buy this to see what it is...

The anticipation was almost as good as the food

Sadly all too often in China Town the delicious smells and cheap set menus are a dissapointment, and I think it's fair to say that in the UK generally, amazing Chinese food is hard to find. I've eaten Chinese food in China, and apart from being very scary and a bit of a gamble, its a totally different ball game in the UK. But...go to Dumplings Legend in Gerrard Street, its quite big, you won't miss it, have the Siu Loung Bao which are Shanghainese dumplings, (you have to nibble, suck out the soup then gobble up the dumpling) crispy chilli salt squid and braised pork belly in bamboo and you won't be dissapointed. 

Nat and I ate and talked so much that by the time we'd finished the food there was still 3/4 of the wine left, testiment to the food I reckon.  

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A Risotto Mama wouldn't be proud of

I don't like people who moan about the weather, this is England, this is winter. It is going to be cold and dark, and sporadically wet, usually all at the same time. However, it is even starting to get to me, I consider myself very pro-England, I like the change of seasons and our beautiful countryside, and I genuinely believe if we had amazing weather all the time then we wouldn't appreciate Mr Sun putting his hat on, however briefly over the summer months. Not wanting to get out of bed in the morning for fear of freezing to death when I run down the death stairs (v. steep and shallow even with my size 4.5 feet) into the shower is getting tedious. I will ignore the fact that I am equally reluctant in the warmer months...

One advantage of all this cold weather is that I can take food out of the freezer and leave on the side to defrost, without the niggling worry of the possibility of it getting a bit warm and harbouring some nasty bugs, which I do think about in summer months. I can never remember to swap freezer for fridge before bed, so always take the gamble. But in winter, I don't know why we bother with a fridge its so cold. I returned from work to find the little bit of smoked haddock on the side, and on discovering a slightly manky leek at the back of the fridge (leeks are cool, you can keep peeling until no longer manky) it had to be smoked haddock and leek risotto. I even had chicken stock from Sunday's roast ready. Euurgh how prepared? The following recipe serves 2.

Half and slice one leek (washing to remove any soil etc) and cook gently in butter and olive oil until softened. At the same time place a piece of smoked haddock (approx 200g, you don't need much) in a dish, cover with boiling water and cover with cling film for 10 minutes. When fish is cooked, removed from the water, remove skin, flake, and put aside. When leeks are really soft add risotto rice (approx 75g per person, I don't normally measure things but with this I have to as its not great cold) and stir to cover in the oil and butter. Add a glass of white wine and stir until absorbed. Then add hot chicken stock, a ladle at a time, until each measure is absorbed. After doing this for about 20 mins it should be done, with a bit of bite, i.e. not mushy but definately not crunchy. I like it a bit juicy too. Season and stir in the haddock with the juice of half a lemon. I added half a sliced cabbage, already blanched, and it worked really well, and had it quite soupy for extra lush factor but it's supposed to have just chopped chives on top which is also delicious. I don't think Mama would approve of this not particularly Italian dish but its not half a good way to deal with a manky leek.

Due to it still being January when I cooked this, I was having a booze free night. Eurgh. The cooking of any risotto is hugely improved by an accompaniment of lashings of wine for the person chained to the hob, resigned to stirring for half an hour, one ladle of stock for the risotto, one glass of wine for chef. The risotto is cooked when chef can't stand up any more.