Archive for the ‘home cooking’ Category

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!

Pimped-up fettuccine alfredo! Easy.

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Ingredients:

  • Chicken breast (aim for 1 per person)
  • Spanish onion
  • Garlic
  • Cream
  • Thyme
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Lemon juice
  • Parsley
  • Seasoning

https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=6ZEeFW1PG8s

Method:

1st: Chop the chicken breast into slices, or equal size pieces and fry in oil/butter.

2nd: Dice a small Spanish onion and 2 cloves of garlic.  Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the frying pan and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent.

3rd: Slice a few chestnut mushrooms and add to the pan.

4th: Return the chicken to the frying pan, and sprinkle in parsley and thyme and pour in the cream.  Squeeze the juice of a lemon into the sauce.  Season well and allow to simmer for a few minutes.

5th: Boil any pasta you are using – I made some fresh fettuccine pasta – and once cooked mix into the creamy, chicken sauce.

6th:  Grate parmesan cheese to taste and mix well.  Serve and grate more parmesan cheese over, drizzle with truffle oil.

This dish makes a great Valentine meal if you’ve decided to wait until the weekend; it’s luxurious, creamy and delicious.  Send me your Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo photos!

 

Cottage Pie: Comfort food, easy to make using roast beef leftovers.  Easy Cottage Pie.


At this time of year there is nothing more welcoming and homely than bowl food/soul food.  As the temperature drops outside and evenings close in, a bowl of something warm and full of flavour is just what you need.

Cradling the bowl in one hand (close to your chest for added warmth) and spooning soothing soups and stews into your mouth; hugs you and keeps the chills at bay.

This great one pot wonder of lentils, pumpkin and chorizo is a great winter warmer guaranteed to put a smile on your face with every spoonful.  If you’re worried that it would take ages to prepare and cook, think again!  Chop everything into roughly the same size and put into a pot with the lentils and water.  I put it together straight after work and had dinner ready within the hour.

Lentils, pumpkin & chorizo 


serves 2

Ingredients:

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1/8th of a pumpkin

1 cup of lentils

2 cooking chorizo sausages 

2 tomatoes

Chopped parsley 

Water from a recently boiled kettle

Method: 

1st: Peel and chop the onion and pumpkin and add to the pot with the crushed garlic and chopped tomatoes.

2nd: Stir in the uncooked lentils of your choice and top with water.  I used 1 cup lentils to 2 & 1/2 parts water.

3rd: Slice the chorizo and add to the pot.  Simmer gently for 40mins to 1hr. Season before serving.

This is the ultimate in food porn.  Scoop it straight out of the jar with your finger, spread it on toast, bread, crackers, cold cuts, cheese, a generous tablespoon stirred through spaghetti…

Ingredients:

500g Cooking Chorizo

1 large white onion finely sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

85g light muscovado sugar

3 tbsp Sherry vinegar

2 tbsp maple syrup

100mls strong black coffee

 

 

Start by making a mushroom risotto but make sure to ALWAYS make a little bit extra just so that you can make these easy to create, amazing arancini!

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Ingredients:

  • Leftover mushroom risotto
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • plain flour
  • breadcrumbs
  • oil for frying

Method:

 

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1st: Take the fridge cold mushroom risotto and make teaspoon sized balls.  Roll the mixture in the palm of your hands, taking care to squish back in any pieces of mushroom that stick out.

2nd: Place all the mushroom rice balls onto a baking sheet and place back in the fridge for a few moments to firm up.  Use this time to bring out the flour, beat the egg and pour breadcrumbs onto a plate that you’ll need for the next stage.

3rd: Take the rice balls out of the fridge and dredge each one through flour – shake off the excess – then pass through the beaten egg, and roll in the breadcrumbs.

4th: Chill for 10mins before deep frying them until golden.

These can be eaten as they are.  I prepared a quick aioli and chilli mayo to snack on but some favour a béchamel style sauce to dip these luscious balls into.  Either way, it’s a win-win situation: delicious mushroom risotto, amazing arancini!

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I walked up to my front door to find that there was a bright red present tied with white and blue ribbon waiting at its feet.  It felt as if I had just received my first valentine card…the excitement, the joy, the intrigue.  Ripping through the wrapping, I found myself faced with a metal madeleine tray with 12 scallop-shell shaped moulds staring up at me.  Now if like me, you’re a food obsessive, you’d know what to do with it – otherwise you’d be taking it down the beach to decorate your sandcastles with.

the excitement, the joy, the intrigue

But I still hadn’t figured out who left it there!

The card that accompanied the tray made everything clearer; it was a gift from my friend, Pie.  On the card were suggestions as to which madeleine recipe to follow and who to youtube should I need direction, so that I too could enjoy the delights of a fresh, warm madeleine with a cup of coffee as a weekend breakfast.

I must place this in a context for you; my friend Pie, bakes delicious madeleines (or so she tells me as she’s never managed to invite me round for Sunday breakfast!)

So what is a madeleine?


A madeleine is a French patisserie favourite.  A small, buttery sponge cake to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.  Classically they will either be lemon or almond flavoured, however, they now come in a variety of different flavours; dunked in chocolate or filled with jam/fruit/curd.  But what sets a Madeleine apart from a standard sliced tea-time sponge cake, is the scallop-shell impressed pan they are baked in.

Having taken Pie’s recommendations and done some research myself – Michel Roux Jnr’s recipe is a good one to start with:

Madeleines

Ingredients:
2 eggs

100g caster sugar

100g plain flour + extra for dusting

1 lemon

¾ tsp baking powder

100g melted butter

Method:

1st: Preheat the oven to 200˚C.  Brush the Madeleine tray with melted butter, shake in a little flour to coat the shells and tap out the excess.

2nd: Prepare your dry ingredients in a bowl and the lemon zest.  Pour the lemon juice into the melted butter and set aside.

3rd: Whisk together the eggs and the sugar in a bowl until frothy.

4th: Pour in the melted butter and lemon mixture and lightly whisk in the flour.  Leave to stand for 20mins before carefully pouring the batter into your prepared madeleine tray.

5th: Bake for 8-10mins until risen in the middle and fully cooked through.  The madeleine should be golden brown around the edges.  Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack and leave for a few minutes to cool slightly.

Madeleines are best eaten within the hour – barely warm and sprinkled with icing sugar.

I recommend you set your timer for 8mins and then watch the madeleines like a hawk as they’ll go from pale and white to dark brown within the 2mins left!
Renowned food writers, such as David Lebovitz, who is known to “pop a few for breakfast” drizzles honey into the mix and gives his batter a generous wait time.  Rachel Khoo, from Little Paris Kitchen, drizzles in some honey and prods a raspberry into the centre of the batter mixture before baking, then piping lemon curd into the centre of the baked madeleine.  Julia Child’s recipe calls for salt, vanilla extract, 2 drops of lemon juice and 2 drops of bergamot extract as well as boiling the butter first to turn it brown – why would any home cook want to have to go through all that?!

I followed Michel Roux Jnr’s recipe adding more lemon juice than expressed.  Next time I’d like the madeleine to have a stronger lemon taste therefore adding more juice or perhaps adding some lemon curd to the batter mixture.  I prepared the batter before I went out the night before and placed in the fridge.

Make sure not to fill the moulds too much as they will spill over and engulf the madeleine next to it if you’re not too careful.


I suppose, like the old Chinese proverb: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.  Pie has provided me with the tools and wisdom, so that I too can eat madeleines as often as I want.

Cue accordion music