Author: zoeshelton

Rabbit stew with wheat beer and tarragon

rabbit.jpg

Rabbit stew looks like dog food. No amount of herb garnish or photographic brilliance can make it look good. So instead I offer you a photo of my favourite ‘rabbit’ apron.

I don’t cook rabbit very often but when I do I always use this recipe which started out life as a Nigel Slater one. The ingredients remain roughly the same but I’ve tinkered with the cooking method, preferring a slow cook in the oven to one on the hob.

I only buy wild rabbit from my local farmer’s market but I have to admit I find cooking rabbit a real challenge.  Even decapitated the body is unmistakably a rabbit (visions of Watership Down dance in my head) and I’m too squeamish about this to joint the rabbit myself. If you’re pathetic like me I recommend asking your butcher to do this bit for you. I ask my husband and he does it willingly because this is one of his favourite meals.

This is not a difficult recipe to make but it does take a long time to cook and picking the meat off the bones at the end is a bit fiddly. Nigel, prefers to serve the meat on the bone but I like to concentrate on eating rather than worrying about choking. Some of the rabbit bones are tiny and troublesome.

If you’re not a huge fan of game (like me) then rabbit is a good one to try. It tastes rather like the dark meat from a really good free range turkey. The sauce in this recipe is amazingly rich with the tarragon adding an important note of freshness. We should probably eat more wild rabbit, they are plentiful and farmers see them as pests and shoot them to preserve their crops. Although there is no closed season for rabbit hunting a moral farmer* will not shoot while they are raising their young.

Ben likes his stew served in a giant Yorkshire pudding – unconventional, but delicious (but then again anything served in a Yorkshire pudding is usually good).

I have also used the meat as a ravioli filling with the sauce tossed through the pasta at the end before serving.

*such as Picks Organic Farm who sold me my rabbit back in March – it’s been in the freezer a while

Rabbit stew

Serves 2

  • 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 whole rabbit, jointed into 6 portions
  • A thick slice of butter (about 1 cm thick)
  • The needles of 2 bushy springs of rosemary
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 litre of wheat beer
  • 150ml of double cream (or less if you don’t like things too creamy – I just used a dash)
  • The leaves of 4 sprigs of tarragon, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper

In a heavy based casserole dish melt the butter over a medium heat and cook the onions until translucent. Remove the onions.

Season the rabbit pieces well with salt and pepper and brown in the pan for around 5 minutes on each side until you have a nice deep brown colour. Add the onions back in.

Add the rosemary, thyme and wheat beer to the pan and bring to the boil.

Put a lid on and cook in an 150oC oven for 3 – 4 hours until the rabbit meat is tender and comes away from the bone easily. The amount of time this will take will depend on the age and provenance of your rabbit. Wild rabbits will generally take longer than farmed (but will taste better).

Let the stew cool and then pick the meat from the bones. This is a finicky job. Discard the bones and put the meat to one side.

Then pass the liquid through a fine sieve, mushing up at the end with a spoon to get all the best onion juices, then add to the rabbit meat. Heat through again on the hob and then add the cream, then the tarragon and season with salt and pepper.

You can prepare this in advance but refrigerate before you add the cream and tarragon. Reheat in a 160oC oven for 30 minutes, then finish with cream and tarragon on the hob.

Brandy snaps

brandy snaps 1

Brandy snaps were my mother-in-law’s absolute favourite. So eager to please (in the early stages of my relationship with Ben) I attempted to make her some as a birthday gift. After several angry hours in the kitchen and lots of wasted ingredients I ended up with THREE that were just about presentable.

I then swore that I would never, ever make them again. But that was 10 years ago now.

On another, but relevant note (bear with me here), I am having a year of rereading. This is a brilliant experience which I would definitely recommend. In many cases I am enjoying my favourite books even more the second time around. And as the books are a stable, unchanging thing, this is highlighting to me just how much I’ve changed. I am rereading the books through older, more experienced and perhaps wiser eyes.

My experience with trying to make brandy snaps again after 10 years is similar. The memory of failure has nagged at me for all these years but this time around they came out just fine with a minimum of stress and I wondered what an earth all the fuss had been about. The thing is, it’s not the recipe that’s changed – it’s me. I’m definitely now more patient (which probably goes hand in hand with being a mother). I also now except advice and don’t assume I know it all already.

Plus, the amazing teaching tool that is YouTube didn’t exist all those years ago (if my instructions below are in anyway unclear I recommend watching Mary Berry’s YouTube video).

Mary Berry’s brandy snaps

Makes 8-12

  • 50g of butter
  • 50g of demerara sugar
  • 50g of golden syrup
  • 50g of flour
  • ½ a teaspoon of lemon juice
  • ½ a teaspoon of powdered ginger

Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a small saucepan and heat very, very slowly, stirring regularly until all the ingredients are melted. Take your time here and make sure that all the sugar has dissolved and is not grainy. It will take around 10-15 minutes (put your patient head on). Leave to cool a little (for around 5 minutes).

Measure out the flour and ginger and sieve into the saucepan once the butter/sugar/syrup mix has cooled.

Give everything a good stir and add the lemon juice. The mixture should now be smooth and glossy.

Take a flat baking tray and line with some baking parchment. Dollop a teaspoon of the mix onto the baking tray. Leave plenty of space between each dollop as they will spread out massively. I recommend 4 to each sheet and doing them in batches.

Place in an oven preheated to 160oC fan to bake. They will take around 10 – 15 minutes but start watching after 8. They should spread out and turn lacy and a nice deep golden colour.

Take them out of the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes. You will not be able to shape them straight from the oven as they will still be too runny.

When just firm enough, use a palette knife to carefully lift each brandy snap off the baking sheet. Then curl around a well-greased wooden spoon to shape. You can also make baskets by placing them over the bottom of a glass.

Leave to cool completely and go rock hard and then keep in an air tight container.

I prefer them unfilled but you can fill them with whipped cream if you like (you will need a piping bag and nozzle for this). Or cheat and use squirty cream. But don’t fill them until you are ready to eat or they will go soft.

Yaki udon

udon noodles

This dish is becoming a firm family favourite. It makes an excellent, quick, midweek dinner and can be easily adapted to please the fussy tastes of children. This was the dish that I always used to order at Wagamamas. I don’t bother now that I can make it so easily at home but the reduced portion sizes at Wagamamas have put me off going there in any case.

In this recipe everything revolves around the sauce and noodles. You can then freestyle the rest adding whatever vegetables are in your bottom drawer of your fridge. The original recipe (from Tim Anderson’s ‘Nanban – Japanese Soul Food’) adds beansprouts and mushrooms but I generally use cabbage and carrots because I always have those in and everyone in our household likes them. Tim also adds bacon and you could add chicken or prawns if you like, but I prefer to keep it vegetarian.

With regards to the noodles, I use ready made quick cook udon noodles which I buy from Tesco. Loyal followers of this blog may remember that I did once attempt to make my own but this was very hard work (you have to knead and walk on the dough multiple times and then hand roll the noodles!). I generally don’t mind putting in the effort if the end result is fabulous but in this case the final noodles were a bit rugged and rather stodgy.

My children don’t like onion and so I only put the crispy onion and spring onion on the adult plates. Likewise with the sesame seeds. Everyone likes the omelette topping though and the children squabble over who gets the biggest portion of this.

Yaki-udon

Serves 4

  • 4 x 200g cooked udon noodles
  • ½ a cabbage cut into very thin strips
  • 4 carrots sliced lengthways as thinly as possible and then cut into fine strips
  • 3 cloves of garlic finely sliced
  • A thumb sized piece of ginger finely chopped or grated

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • ½ a teaspoon of ground white pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of mirin
  • 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of dashi powder or MSG (optional – obviously don’t use dashi if you’re a vegetarian)

To garnish

  • Thin omelettes cooled and very finely sliced
  • Sesame seeds
  • Crispy fried onions (you can buy these ready made or make your own buy slicing an onion very, very thinly and then frying on a high heat in a lot of oil for 5-10 minutes until brown and crispy. Drain well on kitchen roll before using)
  • The green tops of spring onion

This makes a large amount. You will need a large wok, otherwise cook in two batches.

Heat a little oil in a large wok until hot. Stir fry the carrots for 1-2 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and cabbage and stir fry for another 3-4 minutes until wilted.

Mix up the ingredients for the sauce and add to the pan, then stir in the cooked or straight-to-wok udon noodles. Stir fry for another couple of minutes until heated through and then serve.

Garnish with the sesame seeds, egg, spring onion and crisp fried onion (or any combination of these that you like).

Yotam Ottolenghi’s puy lentils

puylentilstahini

I celebrated the end of a vegetarian Lent with scampi and chicken bites at Scarborough’s wonderful Clock Café. This is my favourite cafe in the world, it’s fabulously old school with a menu that probably hasn’t changed in 40 years.

The next day I ate battered fish with chips at Whitby’s Quayside restaurant and was very happy.

The week before all that, when I was still being a vegetarian, I finally managed to make an Ottolenghi recipe work. I’m a big fan of red lentil dhal, which is a staple of mine, but this was the first time I’d attempted to cook with puy lentils which I’ve been told are tricky.

It was very tasty (even though I forgot the tiny sliced onion which I’d painstakingly prepared) but this is not surprising considering the amount of butter and oil involved. The cold hardboiled egg garnish really worked well with the hot lentils.

I have one more vegetarian recipe to tell you about next week. Bet you can’t wait.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s puy lentils

Serves 2

  • 200g of puy lentils
  • 30g of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 3 medium tomatoes, skinned and cut into 1cm squares (I used a third of a tin of tinned tomatoes, chopped)
  • 25g of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of tahini paste
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper
  • ½ a small red onion, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook according to the pack instructions until completely cooked, drain and set aside. Yotam suggested that this would take 15-20 minutes. My packet suggested cooking for 60 minutes but I found they were done after half an hour. If you can squash a lentil easily between your fingers then they are done.

Put the butter and oil in a frying pan and place on a medium-high heat. Once the butter melts, add the garlic and cumin, and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes, 20g of coriander and the cooked lentils and cook for a couple of minutes stirring all the time.

Then add the tahini, lemon juice, 70ml of water, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Turn down the heat to medium and cook for a few minutes more, stirring all the time until hot and thickened. Roughly mash the lentils with a potato masher, so that some are broken up.

If at any time it looks too thick then you can add a little more water.

Serve on a platter with the sliced onion, the rest of the coriander, a drizzle of olive oil and the hard boiled eggs on the side.

Serve with homemade flat bread (or bought naan or pitta if you can’t be bothered).

Nigel Slater’s mushroom and spinach korma

mushroom and spinachh korma.jpg

Believe me this tastes better than it looks.

I’m rather enjoying being a temporary vegetarian and am not really missing meat and fish at all. I did waver slightly when my son was pushing the battered fish from his takeaway around his plate – my ‘just’ chips hadn’t really hit the spot and I was tempted to eat it all up for him. There was also a stab of jealousy over my husband’s sausages, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. I can just about put up with veggie sausages but vegetarian gravy just doesn’t compare with the meat version.

The hardest thing is eating out. Vegetarians get a rough deal here unless they dine at specifically vegetarian restaurants which is tricky to do when you are mainly friends with meat eaters.

All too often restaurants offer very limited options for vegetarians and the lack of originality is astounding. If you don’t like goats cheese (like me) then you’re pretty much stuffed – goat’s cheese tart being an almost permanent fixture on menus. You must like risotto or you’re in serious trouble. Soup is also popular as restaurants try to kill two birds with one stone by making the obligatory soup option also the vegetarian one. My sister (who lives in a family of vegetarians) jokes about the ubiquitous and bland ‘Mushroom Stroganoff’. She will not eat anywhere unless she can order a bowl of chips if the vegetarian option fails her.

I bought some mushrooms for dinner in the week without a plan. A google recipe search placed the before mentioned ‘Mushroom Stroganoff’ in pole position and I nearly made it for a laugh. But then my head was turned by this Nigel Slater korma from his fabulous ‘Real Food’ book.

It doesn’t sound very exciting (probably the fault of the word ‘korma’) and I wasn’t expecting much (except a disappointed, meat deprived husband). But  it was actually very delicious. The addition of roasted hazelnuts and sultanas is genius  (so do not be tempted to leave these out). Ben ate it very, very happily.

This is not a difficult dish to make once you have prepped and lined up all the ingredients (there are quite a few and they are all important, I’m learning this about vegetarian cookery – vegetables need a lot more help to make them taste ‘special’).

Unfortunately my permanently(?) vegetarian daughter does not like mushrooms. Eating out with her is going to be a nightmare!

Nigel Slater’s mushroom and spinach korma

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetite and how much rice you serve with it)

  • 50g of butter (I used ghee)
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, cut in half and finely sliced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • A thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 15 cardamom pods, husks removed and seeds crushed
  • ½ a teaspoon of turmeric
  • ½ a teaspoon of chilli powder (I used flakes)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 650g of assorted mushrooms, roughly chopped (I only had 500g which were a mixture of chestnut and some dried Chinese mushrooms which I found in the back of the cupboard and rehydrated in water first)
  • 50g of hazelnuts, toasted and shelled (I toasted mine in a 180oC oven for 10 minutes and then removed the shells by rolling between some kitchen roll)
  • 350g of leaf spinach (I used 6 cubes of frozen spinach as this was all I had)
  • 50g of sultanas (Nigel uses ‘golden’ ones but then he would)
  • 150g of thick natural yoghurt
  • 150g of crème fraiche
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh coriander leaves
  • Salt

Melt the butter (or ghee) in a deep pan (over a medium heat) and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for about 5 minutes until golden (turn the heat down if the butter starts to burn).

Then add the spices and bay leaves and cooked for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant.

Add the mushrooms to the pot and cook for a few minutes until they soften.

Then add 225ml of water and the hazelnuts (I also added my frozen spinach here which I hadn’t bothered to defrost first and used slightly less water – because of the excess in the frozen spinach). Bring the water to a boil turn the heat down low and cook for 15 minutes with a lid on.

If you are using fresh spinach, wash the leaves and cook them (still wet) in a saucepan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes with a lid on (they will cook in their own steam). Drain, squeeze out the water and add to the mushrooms after they have finished simmering for 15 minutes.

Then add the sultanas and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and add in the yoghurt and crème fraiche. Heat gently but don’t boil or the mixture will curdle.

Finally stir in the chopped coriander and season well with salt (I needed two large pinches).

I served the curry with rice but it would be amazing with homemade naan.

 

Bread and ice cream

bread

We’ve had a really tough week. Ben’s dad died. We knew it was coming (he had cancer) but this didn’t make it any easier.

My first instinct is to turn to food for comfort (I think it’s the only way I know). And for our family ‘happy’ foods would be ice cream or perhaps a home baked loaf.

So on Sunday we had a sugar-crazed ice cream ‘mash up’. I made vanilla ice cream and presented it with a selection of sauces, with sweets to garnish, in true ‘Pizza Hut Ice Cream Factory’ style. This was reminiscent of sleepovers when I was 14 where we would eat pizza and ice cream until we felt sick and then watch naff horror films like Nightmare on Elm Street or Child’s Play.

The ice cream ‘mash up’ was fun and temporarily took our mind off things. Only just like my teenage self we got over excited and ate so much that we felt ill and had to lie down and listen to audio books (in lieu of television) for the rest of the day.

In the end it was the next morning’s freshly baked bread that won through. Slathered with real butter this was the stuff of true, wholesome, everyday happiness.

With Ben away watching over his ailing father, it has fallen on me to make the daily bread. I had to ask for his current recipe which has been updated since the one I posted back in September 2013 (the main change being the larger size since our children now eat more than we do).

So please find below four recipes for ice cream sauces and one for a good loaf of bread.

Peace be with you David Shelton (1950-2017).

Ice Cream Mash up

icecreammashup

For my homemade vanilla ice cream recipe click here. Or just buy some ready made.

Each of the sauce recipes below makes a jam jar full. More than you’ll need for one session but they will keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or you could freeze any leftovers.

Milk chocolate peanut sauce

  • 175ml of double cream
  • 100g of milk chocolate
  • 100g of peanut butter (smooth or crunchy it’s up to you)
  • 3 tablespoons of golden syrup

Heat all the ingredients slowly in a saucepan until everything is melted and amalgamated. Best served warm.

Hot chocolate fudge sauce

  • 80ml of double cream
  • 60ml of golden syrup
  • 40g of dark brown sugar
  • 30g of cocoa powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 85g of good quality dark chocolate
  • 15g of butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Heat all the ingredients slowly in a saucepan until everything is melted and amalgamated.

This creates a thick sauce. Add a little more full milk or double cream if you want it thinner.

Salted caramel sauce

  • 175g light soft brown sugar
  • 300ml double cream
  • 50g butter
  • ½ tsp salt (I prefer a bit more but start with ½ tsp and see what you think)

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan set over a low heat, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat up and bubble the sauce for 2-3 mins until golden and syrupy. Leave to cool for 10 mins before serving. Can be made up to 3 days in advance and chilled – gently reheat to serve.

The other option is to open a tin of caramel condensed milk and add a good pinch of Maldon sea salt.

Raspberry sauce

  • 350g bag of frozen raspberries
  • 50g of icing sugar

Heat the raspberries (straight from frozen) with the icing sugar over a low heat in a saucepan on the hob. Let it simmer for a few minutes (3-5). I like a smooth texture with no pips so I sieve the mixture before serving but this is a total pain and does take ages (plus nightmare washing up to get the pips out of the sieve). If you don’t mind pips then just skip this step.

Or, alternatively, whizz up a tin of raspberries in syrup and sieve (or not).

Best served chilled.

sauce

Sumptuous sauces (clockwise from top left, raspberry, milk chocolate peanut, salted caramel and dark chocolate).

sweets

Sprinkles

 

Ben’s bread (current version)

  • 900g of strong bread flour (mainly white with 200-300g of spelt or wholemeal if you like)
  • 12g of salt
  • 6g of easy bake yeast
  • 550ml of water
  • (Optional) A small handful of seeds of your choice e.g. sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy

Add all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Bring together with your hands and knead for at least 10 minutes.

Leave in the bowl covered with cling film until it has at least doubled in size – usually 2 hours but this may take a bit longer if it’s a cold day.

Knock back the dough with your hands and knead gently for another minute. Grease a large bread tin (mine is 28.5cm long, 13.5cm wide and 7cm deep) and  press the dough into the tin. Leave to rise in the tin for another 30-60 minutes. The dough needs to reach just above the top of the tin and this for me usually takes around 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220oC or 230oC if, like me, you like a really golden crust and put a tin of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create some steam (this also helps with the crust formation).

Bake for 18 minutes at 220oC/230oC.

Then remove from the tin and bake for 17 minutes at 180oC.

Leave to cool before slicing.

Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

oliveoilchocoatecake

These are the things I haven’t given up for Lent.

Cake, coffee and a good book.

How can I not be happy with those marvellous things still in my life?

For me Nigella is the queen of cakes – even better than Mary or Delia – and this dairy free chocolate one is delicious and very simple to make.

There are a few members of my family who don’t eat dairy so this is a useful recipe to have in my ever expanding collection of chocolate cakes (this is the fifth one on this blog and that doesn’t even include chocolate brownies, muffins and fondants!).

oliveoilchocoatecake1

Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

Makes a big cake which cuts into 12 large slices

  • 150ml of regular olive oil, plus a little to grease the tin
  • 50g of cocoa powder
  • 125ml of boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 125g of plain flour (or, if you want a gluten free cake, use 150g of ground almonds instead, although this will result in a heavier cake best served warm with cream)
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 200g of caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Line a 23cm diametre spring form tin with baking parchment and grease lightly with olive oil.

Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl or jug and stir in the boiling water until well combined and without lumps. Add the vanilla extract and leave to cool a little.

In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and stir to combine.

In a large bowl add the eggs, olive oil and sugar and whisk with an electric hand whisk on a high speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Nigella uses a free standing mixer with a paddle attachment but I don’t have one of these.

Add the cocoa mixture and mix briefly on a low speed until just incorporated.

Then add the flour and mix on low again until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake is just set. Mine was perfect after 40.

Let the cake cool in the tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then turn out and leave to cool. Or, eat warm with cream or ice cream.

This cake keeps well but if my family is anything to go by it won’t last more than a day or so.

Cauliflower with saffron, raisins and pinenuts

cauliflowerpinenutssaffron

As a family we have given up TV for Lent. This is very hard but has resulted in us being slightly more productive in the evenings and doing wholesome family things like playing board games.

I have also become a vegetarian for Lent. This is not really a trial for me but it may be hard for my husband. I do the lion’s share of the cooking and so he is now forced to eat less meat too. I’ve suggested that he cooks up a load of sausages on a Monday and eats all my vegetarian creations with ‘a sausage on the side’.

My 8 year old daughter, who is already a vegetarian, and who wanted to take things one step further, has renounced her bed for Lent and is currently sleeping on the floor!

I’m not sure what all this says about a family who are not even religious. Perhaps it shows that we like a challenge. Or maybe it’s a sign of guilt and a cathartic need for self punishment!

Anyway, the upshot is that I’ve been experimenting more with vegetables. I had been hoping to bring you an exciting Ottolenghi recipe from his vegetarian bible ‘Plenty’, but the one I tried this week irritatingly didn’t work even though I followed the steps with precision.

So instead here’s a very nice recipe from a comical (and not very good) book – Gregg Wallace’s ‘veg – the greengrocer’s cookbook’. It remains on my book shelf only because it’s signed by the man himself who wishes me ‘Good Kitchen Times’.

veg

This isn’t even his own recipe but one nicked from the ‘Moro cookbook’.

‘Cauli from the Sam Clarks’

Serves 2 as a main course (with leftovers for lunch)

  • 1 small cauliflower broken into tiny florets
  • 50 strands of saffron (life is too short to count saffron strands so I estimate that this is a good pinch)
  • 75g of raisins
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 5 tablespoons of pinenuts, lightly toasted (this is a lot so use less if you wish – pinenuts are very expensive)
  • Salt and white pepper to season

Pour 4 tablespoons of boiling water over the saffron in a bowl.

In another bowl soak the raisins in warm water (with the water just covering the raisins).

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the cauliflower florets for 1 minute. Drain and rinse the florets in cold water, then drain again.

Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onions for 15 minutes until soft and golden. Remove them from the pan leaving a little oil behind.

Turn the heat in the frying pan up to hot and add the cauliflower. Fry until there is some colour on the florets (about 3 minutes). Then add the onion, saffron water, pine nuts.

Drain the raisins and add those too. Stir fry for 3 minutes until the water has evaporated and season well with white pepper and salt.

Best served warm (rather than piping hot) which seems to enhance the flavours).

Any leftovers taste fantastic mixed with a little cous cous and eaten cold for lunch.

Sweet and sour chicken

sweetandsourchicken

I hardly ever eat takeaway but occasionally I have a craving for sweet and sour chicken. Luckily our local Chinese is closed on a Sunday which is when I most hanker after one (as a salve for a hangover along with a polystyrene cup of chicken and sweetcorn soup and a greasy spring roll).

But occasionally we (should probably read Ben) will make one at home from scratch. This is much nicer anyway and although it does take a little more effort it tastes fresher and doesn’t fill you with regret and self-hatred the moment you’ve finished it.

In other news:

Keeping on the Chinese food theme I have been experimenting with homemade baked spring rolls which are a lot less oily than deep fat frying. They have been quite successful but the filling needs some work before I am happy with the recipe.

My eight year old daughter has declared herself a vegetarian. At first I vowed not to cook special vegetarian meals just for her but I am now being more supportive and have decided to give up meat for Lent in solidarity . So look out for more veggie dishes on this blog. I’ve been stalking the vegetarian aisle in Tesco and have already made a pretty tasty Quorn Bolognese but I would like to get a bit more adventurous (Ottolenghi here I come!).

I recently make some impromptu veggie sausage rolls by wrapping a frozen Linda McCartney sausage in a spring roll wrapper and baking in the oven for 30 minutes. Elizabeth loved them.

I’ve been drinking Ayurvedic detox tea, for no other reason than it tastes delicious (and makes a good caffeine free drink to have in the evening). To make it put ¼ of a teaspoon each of fennel, coriander and cumin seeds into a small tea pot. Pour over ½ a pint of boiling water and allow to infuse for 5 minutes. You can pour in extra hot water afterwards but the tea will obviously be milder.

Sweet and sour chicken

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetite)

For the chicken

  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 large chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons of cornflour
  • Oil for deep frying

For the sauce

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 2 slices of chopped pineapple (tinned is fine)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato puree (or for a sweeter taste use ketchup)
  • 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons of cornflour mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
  • If you want that authentic take-away taste then add a good pinch of MSG too

Season the chicken well with salt then dip each piece into the egg and roll in cornflour. Place on a plate in a single layer.

Fill a wok half full with oil and heat over a medium heat until nearly smoking. Drop in a third of the chicken pieces and cook for about 3 minutes until cooked through and a light golden colour. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towels. Repeat with the remaining chicken in two more batches.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok, reheat and stir fry all the vegetables (except the pineapple) for about 2 minutes. You can vary the vegetables depending on what you like. I like to keep the vegetables nice and crisp but cook for longer if you prefer.

Combine the vinegar, soy sauce, tomato puree, sugar and orange juice (and MSG if you like) in a small bowl. Stir in the cornflour mixture and mix well. Pour the sauce into the wok with the vegetables and add the pineapple.  Stir until the sauce boils and thickens slightly. Add the chicken to the pan and stir until well coated with the sauce. Check the seasoning and add a little more salt if necessary.

Serve with rice.

detoxtea

Detox tea for after the mock takeaway.

Cauliflower ‘rice’

cauliflowerx

I get rather annoyed when beautiful, skinny women (Hemsleys, Gwyneth, Ella D) eulogise low carb diets and spiralizing as the only way to be perfect and healthy (just like them). So I was secretly pleased when the courgette shortage was declared. Nobody should be eating courgettes in February anyway – they’re a summer vegetable.

In my view a good diet is a balanced one which involves all the food groups (unless you have a genuine allergy), and periods of eating sensibly interspersed with the occasional indulgence. But I say all this as someone of average weight who wants to remain so.

I acknowledge that it’s rather different if you need to lose a significant amount of weight and if this is the case then it seems that there is evidence that low carb diets do work (but admittedly  this view is based on watching one episode of ‘How to diet well’ and knowing one person who has recently lost weight on the Ketogenic diet!).

I’ve always been a outwardly sniffy but secretly intrigued by the idea of cauliflower ‘rice’ as an alternative to real (carbohydrate loaded) rice. So in an experimental frame of mind I bought a cauliflower and decided to attempt the ‘rice’ idea following a guide on the BBC Good Food website.

I was sure I would hate it but it was actually perfectly fine (Ben even ate and quite liked it).  The term ‘rice’ though is rather misleading. The size of the grains you get is more like couscous and the texture has a real bite to it – not at all like the soft texture of rice.

The other thing to note is that the resulting ‘rice’ does taste (unsurprisingly) very cauliflowery. It does not have the bland and neutral flavour that goes with anything like real rice. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean that you do need to be quite careful about what you pair it with. My idea to serve it with a Thai pork, cashew and lime stir fry did not work. However, a dhal or Indian style chicken or lamb curry would go brilliantly.

The other thing would be to add spices and herbs to the cooked cauliflower (as you might flavour couscous) and then serve with a simply cooked piece of meat or fish. And I’m wondering about a cheat’s risotto whereby you stir through some grated cheese and butter after roasting (not good on a low fat diet but fine on a Ketogenic one). I will continue experimenting.

Think what you like about ‘faux carbs’ it’s nice to have something to do with a cauliflower other than ‘cauliflower cheese’. And unlike courgettes, cauliflowers grow in this country all the year around so there should never be a shortage.

Cauliflower ‘rice’

Serves 2 – 4

Take one small cauliflower, remove the leaves and hard core and cut into quarters. Then cut each quarter into four again and blitz in a food processor/mini chopper until it resembles couscous (I had to do this in several, small batches but it didn’t take too long). You can store it in the fridge now until you are ready to use it (it will save for up to 2-3 days). If you don’t have a food processor then you can battle with a regular grater but you will get bigger chunks.

I then followed the Good Food website advice and roasted it in the oven for 12 minutes at 200oC. I spread the cauliflower in a thin layer on a baking tray with a little coconut oil and mixed it in the tin half way through the cooking time.

Apparently you should always season after cooking or the salt turn the cauliflower to mush.

Alternatively, you can stir fry it quickly in a wok, or cook it in the microwave, covered, on full power for 3 minutes.