11
Apr 11

Time for Thai

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As regular readers will know, Thai food is amongst my favourites from around the world. The fiery, heady mix of spice, the soothing warmth of coconut milk, the crunch of tiny crisp anchovies and punchy fresh lime juice…just thinking about it gets me hungry. 

Thai food has several cornerstones. Some might argue a mire-poix (carrot, celery and onion) for the basis of much of French cookery, but Thai cuisine is more about the balance of hot, salty, sweet and sour accomplished most commonly sugar, lime juice, chillies and fish sauce which turn up in almost every dish.

Indeed, in good Thai restaurants you’ll be offered these to customise a dish to your particular taste. This includes nam prik pow (chillies in vinegar), naamtam (sugar), prik pon (chilli flakes) and nam plaa (fish sauce, often with chillies) – referred to as ‘The Four Flavours’.

It’s Thai New Year from the April 13-15 – known as Songkran or the Water Festival – which is an ideal time to start cooking Thai food at home.

Once you’ve got a few basics in your store cupboard you’ll be knocking out red and green curries, spicy salads and soups in no time.

Click here to read the recipes for

Vegetable pad Thai

Thai fishcakes

Thai beef salad

Salmon with sticky chilli sauce

Thai Green chicken curry


08
Apr 11

Barbe-crazy

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Some people might think I’m a bit bonkers, some would think me a little keen, but what can I say? I’m a big fan of the barbecue. And as a result, we had the first one of the year on Saturday.

Admittedly, we ate inside and we were cooking by torchlight rather than the afterglow of a beautiful summer’s day, but hey – this is England and we’ll do what we can.

We had langoustines with chimichurri -the sweet flesh given a welcome smoky char from the coals. There was also sea trout with barbecued fennel and parmesan aioli, topped off with capers and toasted almonds and baba ganoush given all the more oomph from the flames.

Skewers of marinated vegetables brushed with thyme and rosemary from the balcony also featured with the humble sausage – is any food finer when given the hot coal treatment?

Stuffed in soft rolls, blobbed with ketchup and mustard along with a few slivers of raw onion for some sweet crunch, this is the stuff that dreams are made of – and made a chilly night on the balcony warm through and through.


30
Mar 11

A simple sandwich

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There are few foods as glorious as a bacon sandwich, few things as perfect in their simplicity that deliver on flavour in such huge swathes. I write this, of course, having realised I have no bread, no butter and no bacon in the house and my local butcher is, as most are, shut on a Sunday.

That combination of soft, pillow-like white bread, bacon thick enough that it needs a decent chomp to get through with fat crisped so it snaps, a generous layer of butter (for there are no health corners to be cut with this) spread thickly onto each slice of bread and then a good splurt from the ketchup bottle.

Leave the molecular gastronomy to Heston, to Ferran and to Thomas Keller. Give me a bacon sandwich any day of the week.


17
Mar 11

Vegetables and chocolate

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Funny old cooking time of late. I’ve been surrendering to my sweet tooth. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a sucker for a pudding and for anything chocolate-based, from a Cadbury’s fudge to an Akesson’s single plantation Madagscan chocolate bar.

At the same time though, I’ve been rather virtuous, subsisting on a diet at home that is mainly vegetable based, with the odd Friday night feast of something naughty like Buffalo wings. It’s been dhal, salads (on the sunnier days), curries, soup. I’m not quite sure what’s been going on.

Oh yes, and the brownies. Yes the brownies. I keep them hidden in the freezer, ready cut, and eat them straight from there, slightly chewier and with a delicious, cool, snap.

Perhaps it’s the changing seasons – my body is gearing up for the warmer months. Mind you, I’d eat chocolate on the hottest and coldest days of the year, no problem.

I even woke up in the middle of the night the other day and snapped a few pieces of the bar(s!) I keep stashed away for a rainy day. Still, I ate my salad on the balcony in the sun the next day – getting my Vitamin D fix while I chomp through my other vitamins.


07
Mar 11

Summery ceviche

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As you’re all no doubt aware, I get a little excited when the sun starts to come out a bit more regularly.
My cooking changes. Out go the braises, even if the temperature dictates. They will, of course, be back as soon as I go out for a while and remember quite how cold it is.

But for now – light salads paired with good sourdough, a Thai-style mackerel dish, poached fruit with natural yogurt and one of my new favourites – ceviche.

The technique of ‘cooking’ fish is believed to come from South or Central America. It’s one of those lovely ideas lost in the mists of time. Peru is one spot cited most often. It’s lip-smackingly fresh, sharp from limes, fiery from chillies and ultra-healthy.

There are few dishes you’ll eat and feel so virtuous afterwards. There are plenty of variations you can make at home – changing the fish, the herbs, the citrus – but one golden rule – buy the freshest fish you can from a fishmonger!

Click here for my recipe for sea bass ceviche


22
Feb 11

Cool out with kachumber

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A home-made curry is a squillion times better than a take-out version – healthier, fresher and more delicious – and you can throw in whatever you feel like (or just what’s been lurking at the back of the fridge).

They’re a doddle to do – but following recipes can often be useful as spicing is a complex business – for yonks my curries always ended up tasting the same until a few useful lessons from a half-Bengali friend.

Last night’s effort was a vegetarian variety, light on the chilli front and made with mushrooms and potato. A bowl of yogurt makes a perfect addition with fragrant green chillies scattered over the top and some home-made chappatis to scoop it all up with.

The icing on the cake was what is known as a kachumber, a typical Indian salad made with tomatoes, cucumber and onion served as a cooling accompaniment. My version has a little tropical twist though…

Click here for my recipe for kachumber with coconut, black sesame and poppy seeds


08
Feb 11

Purple craze

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You’ve probably realised by now that I’m something of a pickling and preserving nut. Indeed, any condiment is a goer in my book. I brought back a bottle of banana ketchup on a recent food mission to St Lucia – great with fried chicken…but I’m not sure what else.

Using the standard 4:2:1 ratio of water:vinegar:sugar leaves you free to go as mad or as plain with the spices as you like – you can add anything from star anise and fennel seeds to slices of ginger or lemongrass depending on what you’re pickling.

Give it a go – sliced chillies are just incredible – sweet with a hint of sour, with their fire calmed by the pickling: these are a huge favourite in Thailand, although they use a sourer brine.

We made kebabs at home recently; I say kebabs but we used the delicious pomegranate molasses coated lamb recipe in our archive, forked the meat into flatbreads with mint, yogurt, a spot of salad and a load of the incredible, vivid pickled cabbage I’d made earlier – and here’s the recipe: quick pickled cabbage


20
Jan 11

A fishy food story

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One of my favourite food blogs and one I’ve brought you recipes from before belongs to Helen Graves – or ‘Proud of Peckham’ as her personal ad might read.

Not that she’d need one of course – she is forever whipping up luscious feasts for her particularly lucky chap and I read about them, hungrily, on her blog Food Stories.

Now, while we’re all trying to avoid eating naughty things post-xmas (and in my case, failing dismally), Helen opted to give up meat for January. And failed, I am glad to mention, dismally.

Still – post-failure she was back on track and turned her hand to the art of sousing – essentially ‘cooking’ fish in a spiced vinegar. A quick pickle, if you like – and a delicious, healthy and zingy, fresh way of serving fish – think really posh roll mops.

Anyway – in light of recent, er, failures I thought I’d bring you her gorgeous recipe for soused rainbow trout with pink peppercorns and lemon zest – a perfect way to restart a healthy January.

Chef’s note – you will need to use farmed trout for this. Large wild ones can carry parasites (as can many fresh water fish) and must be cooked before being eaten. You could try this recipe with a sea fish such as
mackerel.

Click here for Helen
Graves’ soused rainbow trout
recipe


14
Jan 11

Cooking for comfort

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When the weatherman says it’s raining, you won’t hear me complaining goes the song. Not strictly true as motorbikes and rain aren’t the best of friends!

It does, though, give me an excuse to stay in and cook something slow on the hob or in the oven – something that requires plenty of preparation – chopping onions, celery, carrots or ginger, garlic and chillies.

Most days I’ll chop, flip and fry at the pace I’m used to from professional kitchens. But when the rain pitter-patters outside everything slows right down and I become a little more absorbed in what I’m doing. Lost in the steady grinding of spices or juicing oranges, the picking and chopping of herbs or the peeling of potatoes.

Filling the house with the warm aromas of a slow-cooked meal, waiting patiently listening to the radio – perhaps a drop of red as the meal nears readiness…it might be raining outside but that won’t dampen the mood.

This recipe comes from Becky whose blog is packed with delicious recipes and great pictures. She recommends serving it with a beetroot and yogurt salad, the recipe for which you can find here

Click here for Becky’s pomegranate molasses braised shoulder of lamb


06
Jan 11

Spicing it up

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After all the Christmas excesses, the cooked breakfasts and the roast dinners, the leftover sarnies and the cheese boards, I end up wanting something completely different.

Curry flicks all my switches at this time of year – sorry for those of you who have a gallon of turkey curry still in the freezer but I didn’t see a single one over the Christmas period!

That is, of course, until I returned to London and was taken to the rather nice Ravi Shankar for a spot of chaat (the delicious cold Indian dishes often featuring yogurt, tamarind sauce, chickpeas or potatoes and all based around fried dough).

Fresh, tangy, zingy flavours with a good dose of fiery chilli and a crunch from raw onion add up to make these an incredibly more-ish snack – hence their popularity all over India.

Taken a tentative bit of inspiration from these dishes, I whipped up a quick dip that is the perfect counterpoint to roast sweet potato wedges – a lovely marriage of spicy chillies, cooling yogurt, crunchy spring onions and a hint of sharp lime. A brilliant snack to tuck into in front of a good movie with an ice cold beer.

Click here for my recipe for sweet potato wedges with garam masala, yogurt and chillies

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