Monday, 28 March 2011

Crispy chilli and salt squid

This is a bit of a Chinese takeaway guilty pleasure of mine, whether it's one of a few dishes being eaten on an evening in, or devoured all on its own when you're feeling ravenous after a night out.

Even though I generally buy it in, it's actually an easy dish to create at home, one that involves two of my favourite ingredients; chillies and salt. Both are very important in our house. You could say I've got a bit of an addiction to them both, so a dish such as this that majors on each is a real winner.

I like the soft squid being encased in the hot, salty, crispy and light coating - and rather than a batter such as tempura, using a dry coating made from cornflour creates a brilliantly crunchy and fine outer.

I find it's partly the tingly heat and naughty amount of salt that makes these so delicious and moreish - so if you'd rather eat something less naughty salt-wise then perhaps make something else.  

A snack or starter for 2: 
2 large fully cleaned squid (I didn't use the tentacles but you can, I just used the pocket. You could also use baby squid if you prefer) cut into strips and scored lightly in a cross hatched fashion on what would have been their inside
4 heaped tablespoons cornflour
1/2 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon five spice powder
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon Japanese sansyo pepper (mixed Japanese pepper that you'll get from Asian supermarkets or online)
1/2 teaspoon dried chillies
A spring onion and half a deseeded red chilli finely sliced for garnish
A few sprigs of coriander
Groundnut oil or vegetable oil for trying

- In a pestle and mortar combine the salt and Szechuan pepper and grind into a powder, then add it and the the five spice and sansyo pepper into a bowl with the cornflour and mix thoroughly
- Bring the oil (at least a couple of inches of it) to temperature for around 7 minutes in a deep saucepan on a medium- high heat
- Place the squid pieces into the cornflour mix until they're all covered, then turn the saucepan of oil onto a medium heat and carefully lower the squid in
- Fry the squid making sure you turn it over if they aren't totally covered, for 1 minute, then carefully remove and drain on kitchen paper
- Pile into a bowl and dress with the coriander, chillies and spring onions, give another scrunch of salt and shake of the sansyo pepper, then eat

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Courgette ribbon carbonara

First post of the year post work. I'm loving the nights drawing out, though the window of opportunity is still small.

I came home earlier in the week and cooked a Thai prawn soup and some sticky jasmine rice, it's a quick dish but by the time it was ready to eat it was dark and I couldn't take a decent picture, so tonight I knew I was on for a bit of a challenge to get this ready in time.

And indeed it paid off. The humble carbonara is one of those dishes that you can rustle up very quickly, perfect for mid week suppers when you're pressed for time. I got it ready in just 30 minutes.

You'll read about and hear of lots of ways of making a carbonara, but when I've  tried some of them in the past I could never be guaranteed a good result - but this recipe does so long as you work fast.

Instead of dicing the courgette for this I chose to ribbon them on a fine setting on the mandolin (mind your fingers). I like how the slender, flat ribbons fold gently amongst the linguine, trapping its light, creamy sauce in between their folds.

Dinner for two:
One large courgette, sliced length ways on a fine setting on a mandolin
5 egg yolks
100g grated Parmesan
150mls single cream
Black pepper and sea salt
6 rashers smoked pancetta or 4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, finely cut
Linguine for two
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Olive oil for cooking
One clove of garlic, finely chopped
A handful of mint
A handful of chives
3 ladles of the boiling pasta water, taken from the pan before the linguine is strained

- In a measuring jug or bowl combine the cream, egg yolks and Parmesan, whisk together with a generous grind of black pepper and scrunch of sea salt
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil with some rock salt, and when its a rolling boil put your linguine on to cook, which usually takes around 10-12 minutes
- Whilst that's cooking heat a large frying pan up on a medium-high heat and add a glug of olive oil, then add the smoked pancetta/bacon and fry for around 5 minutes until its turning crispy, then add the courgette ribbons, continue to cook for around 5 minutes, carefully turning them over in the pan so they cook on all sides but don't break up
- When they've all been covered in the oil and are turning translucent, add the garlic to the pan, whilst that's cooking for a minute (toss it through the courgettes) ladle out 3 ladles of pasta water into the egg and Parmesan mixture
- Now quickly drain the pasta, then add the pasta into the courgette pan, toss it through the courgettes, turn off the heat and pour the cream mixture into the pasta pan with the fresh herbs
- Stir the mixture through the pasta and courgettes, it will thicken slightly with the heat 
- Decant the pasta into bowls, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and eat

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A Viennese whirl

I didn't expect turning 30 would be quite so enjoyable. But being surprised by my lovely husband with a trip to a city I've wanted to visit for a very long time was the perfect way to say goodbye to one decade, and hello to the next.

This food fans is a bit of a lengthy post, but you'll be rewarded with a Viennese inspired recipe after this post which I'll put up later today.

Vienna is a fairy tale city, even though the weather wasn't great, the beautiful architecture and sculpture wowed by day and when lit up by night made me tingle. If buildings could talk then Vienna's I'm sure would have many tales to tell.

The sense of creative history really draws you in and is almost overwhelming. Visiting galleries in the museums quarter where we stayed had me wondering about the lives lived by artists I love who'd inhabited the city, it's a special place that can evoke such feelings.

Though it's not all about history. The creative vibe is alive and kicking and can be seen in impeccably designed and eclectic boutiques, bars and restaurants - the Austrians have a real European sense of design, style and glamour.
It's all this that makes Vienna such an enchanting city. Then comes the food.

We tried lots of local dishes and ate close to the hotel in the museums quarter, and ventured further a field to the first district to sample the delights of Riegi - the fine dining restaurant clearly after (and in my opinion deserving of) its first Michelin mention or star, and Steirereck - Vienna's most famous restaurant boasting 2 Michelin stars.

The veal weiner schnitzel at the cosy and theatrical La Boheme was crispy and light, we ate it with herb buttered potatoes and washed it down with beer - a really great meal, and as our first in Vienna it set the tone for the service we received for the whole of our trip - friendly and very welcoming, the Austrians are lovely people.
Gulash we had a few times - once at the cafe at the Leopold Museum (after seeing an exhibition of a favourite artist of mine, Egon Schiele, and then going on to the Museum of Modern Art or MUMOK) a fine dining take at Steirereck and then again at the airport on the way home. Each was delicious, each was different - but I think I've unpicked what makes it authentic so expect an entry soon.
It was Riegi that we ate at on my birthday. They have two different 8 course tasting menus, Mathew had one and I the other so we could share and compare. It was delicious, beautifully presented and with just the right amount of table theatre and playfulness that for me keeps it about the food but makes it entertainment also - like the vial of vanilla oil that was dropped into a rich and salty duck consomme to help give it balance.  

I especially liked how the ingredients in some of the dishes somehow tasted like hyped up versions of themselves. I've no idea how the kitchen did this but Id like to find out.  

The baked turbot that was heavily scented with coriander root and basil and accompanied by an intense and salty bisque was outstanding, as was a thin sliver of salmon and cauliflower strudel - which reads like it wouldn't be that appetising but it honestly blew me away. This is why I chose to make a version of it as my Vienna tribute dish which I'll list after this post.
Steirereck we went to after a visit to the Hundertwasser museaum Kunst Haus Wien - Hundertwasser is an artist I've liked for a long time. His work has a really organic quality to it but at the same time his palate is more vivid than that of nature. Seeing his works in the flesh made me realise he wasn't just an artist, his later works had a real sense of graphic design too.
As well as creating art he designed buildings all over the world and had a sound philosophy on urban planning that I'm sure we could learn from today. I don't know what the professional view is but it seems to me like he is to Austria what Gaudi is to Spain.

Anyway, after tottering around on the wonky floors of the Kunst Haus we meandered through the foggy day into the Stadt Park on our way to lunch.

Steirereck is in a fantastic modernist building overlooking the river and the park, it's a quirky building that's different from all sides and I couldn't wait to get inside to see the interior. We went in on the ground floor and walked into a large, contemporary white gloss bar area with big glass counters and walls housing vast cheese collections - very trendy.
Then we were taken upstairs to the more formal dining room, a glamorous and paired back interior with starched linen, copies of Relais & Chateaux on every table, antique silverware to eat with, and a sculptural ceiling of real beauty. The service was as silver as I've ever had - and even Mr Toad (the bag I'd bought myself for my birthday) got a stool to sit on rather than be placed at my side on the floor. Oh my.
We chose 5 dishes each from the menu and lunch became a 2.5 hour affair resulting in no dinner being eaten that evening due to this gluttony. 

Once our orders had been taken little cards detailing the ingredients arrived at the table ahead of the dish and were placed in front of us, I rather liked reading the ingredients and seeing if I could pick them out on my tongue. Here's how one read:

Lamb with Jerusalem Artichoke:
- Lamb loin roasted on the bone with cooked and raw Jerusalem artichoke
- Rosa Bianca aubergine steamed in pandan leaf
- Sauteed and raw marinated horse mushrooms with mushroom herb
- Dried elderberry compote
- Aubergine and mushroom broth infused with dill
- Pandan oil

As you might expect I pocketed the cards for my memento box.

The dishes were exquisite and their presentation like pieces of art (which makes me smile when I see them, but sad to have to eat them). Even the butter got the starred treatment - noodles of it with pea shoots and petals, it's the little touches.
My shredded veal dish with chive dumpling was delicious and the most refined of comfort foods to ever pass my lips. A pike dish with nashi pear, black pudding and wasabi was elegant and complex, and another pike dish, this one confited in cardamom stock and served with braised beetroot sheets was as delicate and tasty on the tongue as it was on the eye.

The cheese selection was quite overwhelming, here's when knowledgeable and trained waiting staff come into their own - our chap advised us which to go for based on what we each liked, and we weren't disappointed. 
The meal ended with some schnapps (well, when in Rome...) and a little silver platter of handmade chocolate discs that were then added to in front of us from a striking trolly housing hundreds of slivers of different dried citrus fruits. They were an installation in themselves and tasted delicious. And being introduced for the first time to the 'buddahs hand lemon' was a nice touch (so to speak) even though he is an ugly bugger.
In four days we didn't get to see half the things we'd have liked to, and have already started planning our return visit. Vienna also now becomes one of the cities to make it onto our

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Beef in Guinness pie with black pudding

Here's the thinking:  Mathew loves pies. It's national pie week. Mathew loves Guinness. This week is Saint Patricks day. I love Mathew. A dinner decision easily made. 

Bit of a classic pie is this, but I couldn't resist trying something different with it and the addition of black pudding brings an extra layer of richness to the dish.

I'm especially pleased with my 'artistic' shamrocks (though if I didn't say they were shamrocks you might not have guessed) but as cute as they may be, it's the taste that counts, and this pie is packed with it.

When cooking with Guinness I always find I need a little sugar to help counter its deep, dark bitterness. That's also why I chose to serve it with crispy roasted sweet potatoes - they're soft, chewy and sweet and complement the pies liquor perfectly.

Pie for 4:
700g feather steak or any other cut that's good for braising
80g diced black pudding, fried until crispy
2 cans of Guinness
4 carrots, peeled and cut into rings
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 golden onions, peeled and quartered
A couple of teaspoons of cornflour, mixed up with water
One packed of ready made shortcrust pastry
A couple of tablespoons plain flour
2 bay leaves
Sea salt
A few generous pinches of ground black pepper
Sea salt
One egg, beaten just before using
Extra virgin olive oil
4 medium sweet potatoes, boiled until tender, then quartered and left to cool
Peas to serve

- In a slow cooker (or you could do this in the oven in a pot with a lid) combine the beef, carrots, onion, celery, bay leaves, a couple of pinches of black pepper and Guinness, and cook on a low setting  for around 6 hours until the meat is tender and coming apart.
- Strain the slow cooker contents through a fine sieve, catching the liquor in a pan. Pick out the carrots and meat and set aside, discard the onions and celery.
- Bring the liquor to the simmer and cook until its reduced in volume by around half, and add the cornflour to thicken the sauce - cook it for another 10 minutes to cook the flavour of the cornflour out. Once this is done remove it from the heat and add the carrots and beef back into the sauce along with the black pudding and leave to cool
- Once cooled, place the pie contents into a pie dish, and brush the edge of the dish with beaten egg
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees
- Now roll out the shortcrust pastry on a lightly floured work surface, and drape it over the dish. Crimp the edges of the pie around the dish and cut off the excess, brush the pie with the beaten egg and if you have done shamrocks (not essential!) place them on the egg washed pastry and then brush their tops too
- Put the sweet potatoes into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper and put into the oven along with the pie (the pie on the shelf above the potatoes) give the potatoes a shake a few times to make sure all their edges get crisp
- Cook them both for around 30-35 minutes, until the pie is bubbling at the sides and nice and golden, and the potatoes are crisp
- Serve with peas

Garlic rubbed bruscettas with smashed broad beans and cripsy chorizo

We're going away next week for my 30th birthday. As yet I still don't know where to but good food is apparently involved.

I'm very impressed that Mathew's managed to organise it and keep it secret from me, though as the chief organiser in our house it feels slightly odd to have the tables turned on me - still, I'm loving the surprise and can't wait to get there, I am a lucky lady.

I usually plan what we'll be eating for the week ahead on Saturday morning and buy what I need for those dishes in one go (I am Hannah the planner after all) but as we're not here I wanted to make good use of some ingredients I've already got hanging around.

Broad beans are a staple freezer ingredient in our house (they're so versatile even if they are a pain in the backside to shell) as are the plump and delicious chorizos I used in this dish - our butcher gets them straight from Spain and they really are excellent. In fact, the only thing I didn't have in was the baguette - so good brownie points today for being extra thrifty.

These would make a great dinner party starter or canape, and the broadbean topping would go well with all sorts of other dressings; quails egg, crisp pancetta and pecorino cheese are just a few that spring to mind.

For two:
8-10 rounds of thinly sliced baguette
300g shelled broad beans - I find them easiest to shell if they've been blanched in boiling water for a couple of minutes after coming out of the freezer (plus you don't get chilblains)
1 spring onion, finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
One garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
2 cooking chorizo sausages (each about 3" in length) the chorizos for cooking with are very soft and young, don't cook with the much firmer variety, they're not designed for cooking and won't blacken up deliciously
Juice of half a lemon. They must be peeled and cut into smallish dice
Sea salt
Red pepper tapenade is optional but tasty. Make it with 1 fresh red pepper and 1 red pepper from a jar - instructions below

- For the tapenade (should you fancy making it) roast the peeled fresh pepper in the oven for around 1 hour at 160degrees, until the pepper begins charring at the edges but still looks plump, blitz it with the red pepper from a jar and a glug of extra virgin until you have a thick paste. Set aside
- In a food processor combine the broad beans, a generous glug of extra virgin and the lemon juice, pulse until you have a coarse mix, remove and set aside
- Heat a frying pan on a high heat, turn on your extractor fan or open a window (the chorizos create a lot of smoke!) after a couple of minutes place the diced chorizo into the pan, then cook for around 10 minutes whilst tossing frequently. You're looking for them to really colour up and become very dark around the edges - divine.
- When the chorizos are done remove them from the pan and set aside, then add a glug of olive oil to the pan and the red chorizo oil, and place in your baguette rounds. Fry on a medium heat for a few minutes then turn over. Remove after a few minutes and set aside. 
- Taking the cut side of the half garlic clove, rub it over the surface of one side of the baguette, do this with all the pieces
- Now to assemble. A tablespoon of the broad bean mix, followed by the red pepper tapenade if you're using that too, then some chorizos, and the spring onions. 
- Eat - goes especially nice with a little fizz. 

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Seafood laksa with rice noodles

A few years ago I worked in Leeds, and in moving into my Yorkshire home-from-home I was delighted to discover that Amie (the Cornish girl I was sharing with) was as hooked on noodles and oriental food as I am.

Trips to little Japanese restaurants for ramen noodles in miso broth, and Thai restaurants for rice noodles in tom yum soup became an almost weekly occurrence. We'd sit and gorge ourselves on noodles so much that we physically couldn't move, and getting out of the restaurants sometimes proved a bit of a trauma (greedy girls).

Anyway, it seems fitting that I cook this laksa and dedicate it to Amie and happy memories of our northern noodly pursuits, my lovely I hope you enjoy it.

For two:
1 can coconut milk
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric
1 heaped teaspoon whole coriander seed
2 lemongrass stalks, ends removed and any hard outer leaves discarded
One large red onion
A small handful of macadamia / peanuts / cashews
One large chunk ginger, peeled
1 large red chilli
One large chunk galangal, peeled
1 fat garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 large teaspoon shrimp paste
A handful each fresh mint and coriander
Two tablespoons palm sugar
1 salmon fillet, diced
A handful cooked mussels
10-15 raw king prawns, deveined
Rice noodles cooked as per instructions and left to one side
Groundnut oil for frying
400mls water / light chicken or pork stock
Shards of cucumber to serve

- In a food processor blitz together the onions, turmeric, tamarind, shrimp paste, coriander seed, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, chilli, nuts and a little groundnut oil to form a coarse paste
- Fry the paste in a saucepan in a little oil, for around 10 minutes - don't let it catch in the pan
- Add the coconut milk, water, palm sugar and stir, them put a lid on and turn the heat to low, leaving for 15 minutes
- Boil the kettle to reheat the noodles
- After 15 minutes strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve into another saucepan (on a low-med heat) so the sauce is nice and smooth - discard all the bits caught in the sieve
- Test the sauce to see what it needs now, typically you might want more tamarind or palm sugar, or both - so season with these two things to get it how you like, it should be rich and creamy with a hint of salt and sweetness
- Place your salmon, prawns and mussels into the sauce and put the lid on, cook for around 3-4 minutes, once the prawns have turned pink all the fish will be ready. When there are two minutes to go, pour the boiling water over the rice noodles to reheat them
- Take the pan off the heat and stir the herbs through. Place noodles into bowls then ladle the laksa on top and finish with some shards of cold cucumber
- Eat

Asian minced chicken in lettuce boats

This dish is a bit of a hybrid, a cross between two of my favourite Asian bites; Chinese chicken shung and Thai larb gai.

Before we get to the recipe here's a brief overview of each...

Chinese chicken shung is minced chicken wok fried with carrot, water chestnut, bamboo shoot and spring onion in oyster sauce, then eaten inside iceberg lettuce leaves all rolled up like a pancake roll.

Larb gai is a hot and sour minced chicken dish that's simmered in a mixture of soy sauce, lime juice and fish sauce, then finished with lots of fresh mint, basil, coriander and toasted ground rice.

Both are delicious and simple to make, and today when I couldn't decide between the two a bit of a mishmash occurred with very tasty results (of course I would say that, but it really was very good indeed).

If you can't get hold of toasted ground rice and don't fancy making your own, don't worry. It does add extra texture but it's just as good without, or alternatively try using crushed peanuts which you could toast in a dry frying pan. 

Lunch for two:
3 chicken breasts, skin off and blitzed briefly in a food processor until minced
2 carrots, peeled and finely grated
2 shots of Shaoxing rice wine
2 shots light soy sauce
1 shot Thai fish sauce
1 shot mirin
1/2 - 1 red chili, finely chopped
Juice of 2 limes
50mls pork or chicken stock
A handful each of fresh coriander, basil and mint, finely shredded just before serving
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated/minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
A few tablespoons toasted ground rice powder (you can make this yourself by dry toasting in a pan some sticky white rice until it's lightly golden, then grinding in a pestle and mortar)
1-2 little gem lettuces - the leaves separated

- Into a saucepan add the Shaoxing rice wine, soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, chili, garlic, ginger, lime juice, stock and carrots and bring to a simmer on a low heat
- Add the minced chicken and stir through, simmering on a lowish heat for around 10 minutes until cooked through
- Now taste it to check the seasoning. You may want more of either the chili, lime, fish sauce or soy - it's that wonderful mixture of sour, sweet, umami and aromatic that you're looking for - let your taste buds guide you with adding extra seasoning
- Turn off the heat
- Chop the herbs and add them with the spring onions to the pan and mix through, then decant into a bowl and sprinkle with the toasted ground rice
- Serve at the table with little gem leaves