Friday, 25 May 2012

Vietnamese Beef Salad

Despite being a massive fan of Thai food, I also love Vietnamese cuisine which for me is quite underrated. If you ever get a chance to go to VN, do it. It's an amazing country and the food is superb. After a few days of sunshine, I've declared that summer is here, so it's funky salad time. One of the VN classics is a spicy beef salad of which there are several variations. This particular concoction does involve a lot of ingredients and will totally destroy your kitchen and create a mountain of washing up. (Tip : Pre-arrange for the mrs to wash up) Thankfully, the vibrant flavours and colours are worth it and I can still recall eating something similar in a rustic old cafe overlooking Nha Trang Bay.

If you're into this style of cuisine, you should have most of the sauces in your cupboards. It's the usual sweet, sour, salty, spicy combo. The secret is to get the wok mega hot so that the beef takes on that smokey taste which works so well with the lime, coriander and chili.

Ingredients : (for 2 people) 2 sirloin steaks cut into thin strips, stick of lemongrass, 2 garlic cloves, 1tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp fish sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp sunflower oil, 1 tbsp caster sugar

1. Pound the lemongrass and garlic with a pestle and mortar until you get a paste. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Pour over the beef and marinade for an hour or so.

More ingredients : 40g caster sugar, 1tbsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp w/wine vinegar, 1 tbsp lime juice, 1 finely chopped red chilli, 1 garlic clove finely chopped, 2 tbsp water

2. Heat the water in a pan and add the sugar. Stir until dissolved and allow to cool before adding remaining ingredients. This is your dressing.

Even more ingredients : 50g vermicelli noodles, finely sliced onion, handful of shredded cabbage, 1 carrot julienned, 50g cucumber julienned, handful of coriander, 50g bean sprouts, 50g crushed peanuts, handful of deep fried shallots (most Chinese supermarkets), finely sliced red chilli

3. To make the salad, add the cabbage, carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts and coriander to a large bowl.
4. Cook the noodles as per norm, refresh under cold water and set aside.
5. Fry off the onions in a very hot wok until slightly burnt. Drain on some kitchen roll and set aside.
6. Fry off the beef in a similarly hot wok for about 2 minutes.
7. To serve, pile half of the salad on a large plate and then top with half the onions, peanuts and all of the noodles. Then add the beef, followed by the remaining veg and onions. Pour over the dressing and top with the remaining peanuts, shallots and chilli.

I love the way that this dish just fills your mouth with so many different flavours and textures. I've also realised that I still have a lot of the ingredients left over in their various packets and bottles, so I can make it again tomorrow. Not sure the other half will want to do the washing up again though!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Crispy salmon, minted pea puree with lemon and dill sauce

I hate to waste food, whether it be for financial or ethical reasons. Tonight was based on finance. Have you seen how expensive fresh herbs are? There were a couple of bunches of mint and dill hanging around that were just asking to be cooked. I also had some salmon in the freezer and some peas so I guess you can see where this is going.

If you cook salmon correctly, there's no need to mess around with the rest of the dish too much. Some simple veg and a light sauce and you're there. The minted pea puree goes with any fish, although maybe not a tin of pilchards! This was served with a side dish of roasted crushed new potatoes which gives the plate a nice bit of texture. This is the only thing that takes any time. The other elements will only take about 10 minutes.

Ingredients (for 2, approx £3.00 per head) : 2 fillets of salmon with skin on, 2 finely sliced shallots, 25g butter, 2tbsp olive oil, 100ml fish stock, 40ml double cream, handful of chopped dill, 100g frozen peas, handful of chopped mint, juice of half a lemon, seasoning.

1. On a medium heat, melt half the butter with 1tbs olive oil. Season the fish and place skin side down. Do not be tempted to move or turn the fish until virtually all of the flesh has turned pink. This will ensure that the flesh stays moist, whilst the skin is crispy. This should take about 5-6 minutes. Only then turn over for a minute.
2. In the meatime, gently saute the shallots in the remaining butter and oil. Once softened, add the fish stock and cream and bring to boil. Reduce by a third.  Add the lemon juice and finish off with the dill and season to taste.
3. Bring the peas to the boil and then add to a mini blender with the mint and 1tbsp of the fish stock. Blitz until smooth.If you don't have such a gadget, just use a masher.
4. To serve, arrange the puree on a plate and place the fish on top. Spoon over the sauce.

As you can see, it's very easy and makes for a delightful midweek supper dish.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Chorizo and Red Pepper salad

Tonight was another home episode of Ready Steady Cook. There were a few random ingredients in the fridge and cupboards which collectively I thought would make a tasty supper dish. Chorizo is one of my top 10 ingredients. It goes with everything, or should I say, I'd eat it with anything or just on its own. It reminds me obviously of Spain but with the English weather in glorious form today, I thought I'd try and concoct an Iberian style salad.

Ingredients : (for 2 people) 100g Chorizo cubed, 100g Rocket, 100g Roasted peppers, red onion finely sliced, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp sherry vinegar, tsp dijon mustard, tsp honey, seasoning.

1. Fry off the chorizo in a pan for 4 or 5 minutes and put aside.
2. Roughly slice the peppers and mix together with the onion and rocket.
3. In a bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, honey and seasoning.
4. Add the chorizo to the salad and pour over the dressing.

I served this with some rustic bread, some olives and a cold glass of Vina Sol. It's a really pleasant dish, combining the smokey chorizo with the peppery rocket, sweet peppers and a kind of sweet and sour dressing. As the great Keith Floyd would say, here's Spain on a plate!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Sweet Treats - Lime & Passion Fruit Cheesecake / Marshmallow Petit Fours

When hosting a dinner party, it's important that the host doesn't spend 3 hours in the kitchen and 3 minutes woofing down each course with their guests. Therefore a bit of thought needs to go into what dishes to serve. Prep as much as possible in advance is the key. For tonight's event I presented a fairly simple cheesecake that is a lovely refreshing way to end a meal. What surprises me though about the contents of a passion fruit is how something that in truth looks like it emanated from the nasal area tastes so good!

Ingredients : (for 2 people, approx cost £1.25 a head) 1 large passion fruit, 75g mascarpone cheese, 40g icing sugar, zest and juice of a lime, 75ml double cream, 15g desiccated coconut, 20g butter, 50g digestive biscuits

1. In a dry pan, toast off the coconut until golden.
2. Crush the biscuits into crumbs and add to a pan of melted butter. Mix thoroughly, then remove from heat and blend with the coconut. Divide between either dessert glasses or glass ramekins, press down gently and place in fridge.
3. In a bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks.
4. In another bowl, mix the cheese, icing sugar, lime juice, 3/4 of the zest and 3/4 of the pulp.
5. Fold the cream into the cheese mixture and spoon into the ramekins. Return to fridge.
6. To serve, drizzle over the remaining pulp and scatter with the lime zest.

I like to serve something a little extra with coffee. Home made truffles, macaroons, after eights (just kidding) Following a creamy dessert, tonight I opted for a selection of marshmallows, dipped in white chocolate with a variety of toppings. It's just something fun to bring to the table, they look cool and the list of flavours/textures are endless. Below we have crushed pistachios, coconut, orange/strawberry/raspberry crystals and some strawberry popping candy.

Oh, and for the bithday girl, the monkey presented her with his own unique bunch of flowers.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Gammon & Pineapple Revisited (Maple glazed gammon with chilli pineapple salsa and crunchy potatoes)

I had the misfortune of first discovering food in the glorious 70's. Going out for dinner with my folks in those days often led me to such emporiums as The Berni Inn, The Aberdeen Angus Steak House and various Beefeater restaurants. The menus were exactly the same and the quality equally as bad. Nevertheless, one of my favourite dishes was Gammon Steak. It was always served with saute potatoes, tinned rings of pineapple, a few bland button mushrooms, half a grilled tomato and the ever present sprig of curly parsley.

There are still numerous (too many in fact) places where I could take a trip down memory lane and get a greasy plate of gammon. Instead, I would like to share a modern day version courtesy of Jo Pratt's excellent book.  It's very simple and satisfies the taste buds on all counts; salty, sweet, spicy and sour. For 2, the cost equates to approx £3.50 per head.

Ingredients : 500g new potatoes, 3 tbsp olive oil, 2 gammon steaks (sweet cure), knob of butter, seasoning, 1/2 red chili deseeded and finely chopped, 4 finely chopped spring onions, 1/2 small pineapple cut into small cubes, tsp rice vinegar, handful of chopped coriander, 1 tbsp maple syrup

1. Pre heat oven to 200c / gm 6
2. Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes in salty water. Drain and pour into a roasting dish. Using a masher, gently crush each potato, some more than others. This will produce a combo of different textures of crispyness. Drizzle with 2tbsp of the oil, season and toss. Roast in over for approx 45 mins.
3. Ten minutes before potatoes are ready, heat a frying pan with 1/2 tbsp of oil. Season the gammon with pepper and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side.
4. In the meantime, in another pan heat the remaining oil with the butter. Add the chilli and spring onions and cook for a minute. Add the pineapple and rice vinegar and cook for a further couple of minutes. Finally, mix in the coriander.
5. Just before the gammon is cooked, pour in the maple syrup and turn the steaks over a few times until they are coated with a sticky glaze.
6. Serve the gammon with the sauce poured over the top. Plate up with the salsa and potatoes.

As for an accompanying wine, anything except Liebfraumilch !!!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Rioja braised Lamb Shanks with Chorizo

It's May and as usual the good old English weather is doing it's finest. Spring lasted about 2 days, Summer has been ignored altogether and it feels like Autumn is upon us. So to compliment the climate, I decided upon a hearty lamb dish, packed full of robust flavours that I'd normally serve on a bleak November night. One of my favourite cuts of meat is the lamb shank. It's very flexible, can take on a lot of different flavours and more or less cooks itself. This recipe is courtesy of domestic goddess Lorraine Pascale What you get is a succulent dish which will impress your dinner guests, that is in fact is very simple to make. I served this with creamy mashed potatoes and some green beans. The key though is reducing the sauce at the end until its glossy and intense with flavour. For 4 people, the cost equates to around £6 a head. I cook the whole dish in my Le Creuset casserole dish, but you can just use a frying pan for the browning and a normal casserole dish for the braising.

Ingredients : 4 lamb shanks, 100ml balsamic vinegar, 300ml beef stock, 300ml rioja, bulb of garlic cut in half horizontally, 2 bay leaves, 2 tsp paprika, 10 black peppercorns, 4 sprigs of rosemary, 125g chorizo cut into 1cm slices, large red onion cut into wedges, 2 chopped carrots, 1tbsp honey, seasoning, 2 tbsp olive oil

1. Heat oven to 150c / GM3. Add the oil to a pan and heat. Brown the meat all over and set aside.
2. Pour the wine and balsamic vinegar into same pan and boil for five mins. Add the lamb, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, half the rosemary, paprika and stock. Bring back to the boil, cover with a lid and place in over for 2 hours.
3. Add the chorizo, onion, carrots and honey. Mix well and cook for another hour.
4. You will know when the meat is cooked as it will be falling off of the bone. Carefully remove to a serving plate with a slotted spoon. Discard the bay leaves and any stalky pieces of rosemary.
5. Return the pan to the hob and reduce for 5-10 mins until you have a shiny sauce. Check the seasoning and then pour over the meat.

The lamb is melt in the mouth tender, whilst the chorizo retains a nice bite. The sweetness of the onions and the garlic marry up well, but the sauce is just nectar and you would be forgiven for mopping it all up with a nice chunk of bread.