If I could only use one herb or spice for the rest of my life, seasoning aside, I would have to (pun intended) stick with cinnamon.

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Spice prized for both flavour and medicinal properties; the brown coloured, woody spice is evocatively aromatic with warming sweet and savoury notes at the same time.

Ancient Romans used cinnamon to make their bitter wine palatable and Ancient Greeks used cinnamon to season meat and vegetable dishes.  The Arabic world used it to flavour tea and now include it in most sweet and savoury dishes.  The rest of the world add it to baked goods and continue to sprinkle it over sweet treats and desserts.

Cinnamon is high in antioxidants and contains anti-inflammatory properties; it helps protect cognitive function, the heart and fight diabetes.  Regular cinnamon use, such as sprinkled over your morning porridge, can help lower your glycemic load and even help you to lose weight.

In cooking, the sweet-spicy flavour and warmth of cinnamon enhances the taste of fruits and vegetables, is a perfect partner for chocolate and no apple pie would be worth eating without cinnamon.

When baking with cinnamon, the entire house smells comforting and feels safe, warm and homely.

As the temperature drops and autumn makes itself known to us it’s this feeling of comfort and warmth that I’m trying to evoke through my food but I’m not ready for hot custard over fruit crumbles sprinkled with cinnamon nor hearty stews infused with cinnamon stick; something sweet to accompany a morning coffee sounds just right and there is nothing better than a cinnamon roll in the morning (or at any other time of day!)

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Proper cinnamon rolls can be cumbersome to make as you need to make an enriched dough, allow time to prove etc. as can be seen above but they are seriously good to eat.  However, there are a couple of cheats that make this easy to do for breakfast without even having changed out of your PJ’s.

Cheat Cinnamon Rolls

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Ingredients:
1 Pack of Puff Pastry
Melted butter
Brown Sugar
Cinnamon powder
Icing Sugar and water for the glaze

Method:
1st: Spread the melted butter over the unrolled puff pastry
2nd:  Sprinkle over the brown sugar and cinnamon powder.
3rd: Roll the pastry back up and cut into slices.
Place in a preheated oven at 200˚C for 10-14mins or until puffed and golden.
4th: Allow to cool on a wire rack and once cool prepare your glaze.  Drizzle over your cinnamon rolls.

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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!

Pumpkin

Posted: October 30, 2017 in Autumn, Comfort Food, Family, home cooking, Soups, Uncategorized

Whole Oven Baked Pumpkin

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Ingredients:

1 whole pumpkin

250g Grated cheese (Gruyére,cheddar, emmental, etc)

300ml Double cream

500ml Vegetable stock (or chicken stock should you prefer)

2 Bay leaves 

Rasp of Nutmeg

Salt & pepper

Method:

 

1st: Pre-heat your oven to 190°c. Place the pumpkin on a baking tray and cut the top quarter off the top of the pumpkin. Reserve to one side.

2nd: Scoop out the seeds from the interior and any fibrous bits.

3rd: Fill the pumpkin with the cheese.  Use any cheese you wish, I used a packet of pre-grated cheese which had a mix of Emmental, Gruyére, Cheddar and Red Leicester, but you are more than welcome to stick to one cheese or combinations of cheeses that you prefer.

4th: Pour in the pot of cream.

5th: Add the bay leaves, nutmeg and salt & pepper.  Top up the pumpkin with your choice of stock but make sure not to fill it to the brim.

6th: Put the lid back on the pumpkin and place it in the oven for approx 1hour (this can take any length of time from 45mins to 1hr 15mins), until the flesh comes away from the pumpkin’s skin or a knife can be pushed through (careful not to pierce the skin).

“At this point the pumpkin is in real danger of collapse.  The larger the pumpkin, the greater the danger!  Don’t panic, it will look deflated but will taste delicious.” HFW.

7th: Fish out the bay leaves and serve piping hot.

If there is any leftover, scoop the remaining flesh out and blitz with some extra cream, cheese & stock.

The perfect pumpkin recipe to celebrate this fantastic gourd and welcome in those longer autumnal evenings.

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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