Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most varied on the planet.  From the Chinese and Khmer dynasties, Indian empire and Japanese occupation but in particular, the French colonial rulers.  Vietnam is a delicious mix of the food of its colonial visitors and native techniques and flavours.  War, climate and immigration tell the tale of Vietnamese cuisine.  

Vietnamese cuisine is incredibly light and fresh; herby-fresh: lemongrass, mint, coriander and Thai basil frequently mixed through dishes.  Fish sauce is used liberally but is never as pungent as the Thai variety (nam pla) and vegetables such as carrot, cabbage or green papaya are chopped into crunchy batons adding colour and texture to a dish.

People sat curbside on plastic stools enjoying a bowl of pho or congee before dealing with the rest of their day; the smell of food wafting through side streets and intoxicating the senses.   Food is pivotal to Vietnamese lifestyle and can be found on every street corner.  The food served in local cafes and restaurants just as good as the street-food served by women carrying a yoke around the town or balancing baskets on hips.

All dishes are created with the Asian principle of the five elements creating harmony. The principle of yin and yang providing balance that is beneficial to the body: wood (sour), fire (bitter), earth (sweet), metal (spicy), water (salty).

So having just got back from my travels in Vietnam I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen and try and recreate some delicious Vietnamese dishes with these principles in mind.

Here is my version of a Vietnamese Chicken Salad with noodles using the ingredients I had in the fridge at the time.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad (Gŏi Gá).

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Ingredients:
For the dressing:
Limes
Palm sugar
Fish Sauce
Garlic
Hot Water
Chilli (to taste)

For the salad:
Carrot
Cabbage (White or Asian)
Red Pepper
Sugar snap peas
Rice Noodles (vermicelli)
Cooked chicken breast
Mint
Basil (use Thai Basil if you can find some)
Coriander
Roasted peanuts (red skinned)

Method:

1st: Prepare the sauce by adding the juice of a lime, palm sugar, fish sauce, minced garlic, chilli and hot water to a jar and shake well until all the sugar is dissolved or place into a blender and blitz until everything is thoroughly mixed together.

2nd: Cut the carrot and red pepper into batons.  Roll the cabbage leaves and slice into strips.  Tear the cooked chicken breast into mouth sized pieces.   Cut the mint, basil and coriander.

Thai Basil v Italian Basil
Thai basil has an aniseed, almost liquorice, flavour to it whereas, Italian (Mediterranean basil) is sweet.  Both are incredibly fragrant.
If you can’t find Thai basil which is generally difficult to source outside of Asia, just use a combination of Italian basil and mint.

3rd: Pour boiling water over the vermicelli noodles and allow to rehydrate for 2/3mins.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Drain and shake off excess water.

4th: In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together and add a splash of the sauce.  Toss together.  Add more sauce and lime juice to taste and drizzle with sesame oil (optional) and top with roasted peanuts.

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Serve heaped on a large plate in the centre of the table for everyone to serve themselves as part of a main course or make it small enough as a light lunch for one – the ingredients can be doubled up and changed to suit what you’ve got in the fridge.  During the summer I tend to have carrots and cabbage knocking about in the fridge to make coleslaw and I’ve always got red peppers in my deep freeze.  Remember to use veg that you can eat raw as you need it to be fresh and crunchy to work in this dish. I used nuggets of palm sugar brought back from Cambodia but regular granulated sugar works just as well.

The great thing about dishes like this is that you can tailor make them to suit your needs – instead of chicken add duck for a different taste, fried squid to make it a super light summer meal, tofu to keep it meat-free.  I say chilli to taste as depending on how much heat you can take will determine whether you use birds eye chillies or opt for a milder variety.  Always remember you could make this very fresh and mild and provide either birds eye chillies or tabasco sauce for those who can take a bit more heat.

Chúc ngon miêng
Bon apetite!

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Summer holidays are finally over, children back at school and reality sets in that the beach will become a weekend activity for the next few weeks whilst the September sun still entices us with hot, summer days and balmy evenings.

It’s too hot to turn the oven on and no one fancies heavy, comforting, autumnal fare just yet but just because we’ve changed our spades for satchels and sandals for suits doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a bit more sunshine in the kitchen.

The BBQ grill is still our friend and these tangy, spicy jerk chicken and pineapple skewers are the ideal thing to make and just as easy to eat!!

Jerk seasoning, a spicy blend of ingredients such as chillies, thyme, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg originates from Jamaica and you can make it as hot as you can take, from merely hot to incendiary. If you want to make the recipe from scratch you can (jerk mix) or just buy a Jerk Seasoning spice mix from the shops. Whatever suits you.

Ingredients – all quantities given for 1 chicken breast per person

1 chicken breast per person

1 small pineapple cut into large chunks or 1/2 tub of fresh pineapple chunks

1/2 tsp of jerk seasoning

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 tsp of olive oil

Method

1st: Cut the chicken breast into chunks. Place in a bowl.

2nd: Mix the jerk seasoning, lime juice & olive oil and pour over the chicken breast chunks. Make sure the chicken is coated in the marinade and leave to marinate for anything from 30mins to overnight.

3rd: Light the BBQ and prepare the chicken skewers. Once the coals are glowing white hot put the skewers on the grill and allow to colour before turning over.

4th: Serve with Creole-style rice and black beans, a sprinkling of coriander leaves and wedges of lime to squeeze over.

The juicy pineapple has a cooling effect on the spicy jerk chicken and the combination of sweet and spicy plays with the taste buds. If you’re preparing this for children or as part of a family dinner, make individual skewers hotter with a few drops of Tabasco sauce or a shower of dried chilli flakes.

Any leftovers can be eaten cold the following day with more Creole-style rice and green leaves.

Frozen Yoghurt

Posted: June 4, 2017 in Dessert, Fruit, Summer

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You’ve got to make this!  It is ridiculously simple and easy to make, tastes delicious and most importantly, is a healthy frozen yoghurt dessert for those mid week suppers.

3 ingredients, 5 mins in a food processor, 30mins in the deep freeze, lasts up to a month

Ingredients:

500g natural yoghurt (use Greek, fat free, bio, you chose!)
500g fruit
Honey to taste
Add any other flavours you wish to stir in: chopped mint, choc chips, nuts, peanut butter…the combinations are up to you!

If you’re making for one day to the next, then it is not necessary that the fruit is frozen beforehand – however, if you’re planning on serving it for dinner that same night, then you’ll need a stash of frozen fruit in your deep freeze as this will help set the frozen yoghurt within 30mins to 1hr of being made.

My preferred flavour combo is summer berry and mint but I recently made a mango and passion fruit version which I quite liked.  The only problem with mangoes is how ripe they are when you use them – you may find that you’ll need to up the sugar content if using less ripened fruit, especially as passion fruit can be quite tart too.

frogurt2.jpgWith the heat on the up and summer nearly here these make a great dessert or afternoon treat.  Whether you make a containerful to scoop onto cones or as individual popsicles made in shop-bought moulds, kids love them and adults do too!

Let me know which flavour combinations you make and which become your favourites.

Gastrorob

Lemon Madeleines

Posted: May 19, 2017 in baking, Breakfast, French

 


Picking sleep out of my eyes, ruffling my bed hair and negotiating my slippers, I shuffled to the kitchen and made myself a cup of coffee.  The morning silence broken only by the sound of the swifts catching their breakfast.

What was I going to ‘catch’ for my Sunday breakfast?

I didn’t fancy toast; anyway I’d forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge last night and even though I had some smoked salmon that would have been lush with scrambled eggs and smashed avocados, I didn’t fancy that either.  And then it hit me… lemon madeleines.  I know, I know, only I can go from toast to baking madeleines as my alternative breakfast at 8am on a Sunday morning!  Anyway, once I had the idea in my head there was no turning back.

Madeleines are ridiculously easy to make, as can be seen in the clip below.  Still in my PJ’s I set about preheating the oven and weighing out the ingredients.

Mix everything together and let the lemony batter rest whilst the oven comes up to temperature.

 

Madeleines are best served warm, so once you’ve got them out of their pan and cooling on a wire rack, make yourself another cup of coffee and your lazy, relaxed, weekend breakfast is served.  This amount of batter makes 12 madeleines – I scoffed 4 without even feeling guilty about it and later had another one with a cup of tea…

…the raspberries make it one of your five a day…don’t they?!

Note: even though madeleines are very easy to make (and even easier to eat!) I wouldn’t necessarily want to make these on a work day where you’re generally following a regular morning routine and you’re up against the clock.  Maybe having the batter in the fridge from the night before and the minute you wake up turning the oven on might be too organised even for me!  The recipe is perfect for morning shuffling, plodding around the house, listening to your favourite radio station; waking the house up, slowly.

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The perfect Bank Holiday breakfast!

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When you see how easy these churros are to make, you’ll keep thinking up reasons to make them.  Admittedly, you need a moderate expertise level to put these together or a foolproof Churro Battle Plan.

Churro Battle Plan

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Weigh out the ingredients specified below, and prep a large saucepan on your hob.  Prep a piping bag (or large ziplock freezer bag!) with a star shaped nozzle.

Mix the churro ingredients and put into the piping bag.  Clear the decks and tidy up your work area.

Fill up your saucepan with veg oil or alternatively use a deep fat fryer.  Heat the oil on quite a high heat until it shimmer, just before smoking, and squeeze 6inch/15cm strips of dough into the oil.

Fry for around 5 to 8 mins or until they are golden brown.  Take them out of the oil and dredge them through cinnamon sugar.

If you want to dunk your churros into molten dark chocolate as they do on the continent then make the following chocolate ganache.

Ingredients:
For the dough:
475ml water                                                   40g butter
25g sugar                                                        5ml vanilla paste
260g plain flour                                            pinch of sea salt

2 large eggs beaten into the churro mixture once slightly cooled
veg oil for frying

For the cinnamon sugar:
130g sugar
1 & 1/4 tspn cinnamon

For the ganache:
175ml double cream
140g dark chocolate
pinch of sea salt

Unlike the dried fruit Simnel Cake which seems to make an appearance at Easter-time, this rich,  decadent, chocolate cake ticks all my Easter boxes!  IMG_1360

If you gave up chocolate for lent, I know you’re probably clawing at the wrapper on your Easter Egg in the hope that you can scrape a finger of chocolate scent to keep you going for the next few hours.  Alternatively if you want to celebrate your sacrifice with a bite of chocolate decadence I dare you to keep yourself busy over the next hour making this ridiculously easy chocolate cake that is as rich as it is dark and light as it is sinfully delicious.

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Easter Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

225g Plain Flour

350g Caster Sugar

85g Cocoa Powder

1&1/2 tspn Baking Powder

1&1/2 tspn Bicarbonate of Soda

2 Large Eggs

250ml Milk

125ml Vegetable Oil

2 tspn Vanilla Extract/Paste

250ml Boiling Water

For the Chocolate Ganache:

200g good quality plain chocolate

200ml double cream

chocolate shavings

1 bag of chocolate mini-eggs

Method:

1st: Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Grease and line two sandwich tins.

2nd:
 For the cake – prepare all the liquid ingredients, except the boiling water, in a measuring jug and mix.

3rd: Prepare all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl – sieve the cocoa as otherwise it will be lumpy.

4th: Mix the ingredients together and use the boiling water to slacken the mixture.  Mix until smooth and well combined.

5th: Divide the mixture between the 2 sandwich tins and bake for 25-35mins or until the top is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

6th: Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool completely before icing.

7th: Prepare the chocolate ganache by heating double cream in a saucepan and adding small pieces of the chocolate.  Turn off the heat and allow the residual heat in the pan to melt the chocolate.  Stir until smooth and glossy – set aside to use later.

8th: To assemble the cake, release the cakes from their tins and place one of the sponge cakes onto a serving plate.  Spread some of the chocolate icing over this.  Then carefully top with the other cake.

9th: Carefully create a dip in the centre of the top of the cake.  Pour the ganache over and cover all over smoothing round the sides with a palette knife.  Note: if the cake or ganache are still slightly warm it will not adhere to the side of the cake.  Optional extra is adding chocolate shavings over to create a bird’s nest before placing the mini eggs in the centre.

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Happy Easter everyone!

Gastrorob.

Pesto

Posted: April 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

Pesto is one of the great Italian flavour combinations that works on anything from chips to pasta.  It’s delicious drizzled over BBQ fish and meat and makes a very simple supper on those days you need to hit the kitchen running.  Supermarkets sell pesto of varying prices – anything from £1 upwards.  You get what you pay for.

Homemade pesto is ridiculously easy to make but you do need a food processor to get the desired texture – if however, you do this in a pestle and mortar, the flavours will be the same but will appear to be more rustic in texture.

Homemade Pesto

To make this Easy Peasy Pesto add basil, pinenuts, clove of garlic, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and lemon zest and juice to a food processor and blitz.  Slowly drizzle in a good quality olive oil until you get the texture you prefer.

Leftover pesto can be used as a vibrantly fresh pizza base:

Another great way to use pesto is spreading it over chicken breasts.  This can then be used in sandwiches, salads, tossed with pasta or added to quesadillas.

Click on the following link to make PESTO CHICKEN QUESADILLAS which makes a great sunday supper.

Enjoy!