26 November 2010

Good Girls Chicken Laksa

This is one of my favourite recipes when I want to be healthy but need a little excitement. You can substitute all the good things for bad things if you want. I even use low fat cooking spray but I know some of you will just draw the line at that. It is also great if you are having a girlfriend round who is dieting or a bit of an annoying eater - it looks great but is very non-dangerous on the calorie and fuss front and for this reason I've found it very useful every time wedding season approaches.

Chicken Laksa
Serves 2

Low fat cooking spray (if I were being naughty I'd use stir-fry oil)
2 chicken breasts without the skin
1/2 Onion sliced finely
1/2 red pepper
1tbsp tom yum paste
200ml light coconut milk
225ml chicken stock
60g sugar snap peas
150g rice noodles, I use the straight-to-wok kind because I'm lazy
110g bamboo shoots
Handful of coriander to sprinkle on top
Lime wedges, to go on the side


Now this is a really adaptable recipe as you can use any vegetables you like but I think the red pepper and green beans look great in this.

Red pepper, green beans and onion

1. I brown the chicken pieces first just for five mins in the wok with a spray or two of the low fat cooking oil and then put them to one side.

2. Then I re-spray the wok and add the onions and peppers and cook for 3ish minutes until they are softened.

3. Add the tom yum paste and cook for 2 minutes - I stir a lot at this point to make sure the onions and peppers get a good coating. 

4. Return the chicken pieces add the stock and coconut milk, bring to the boil then put a lid on turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 15-20 mins.


Pre-simmer

5. Add the bamboo shoots, sugar snap peas and noodles and cook for another 4 or so minutes stirring every now and again to break the noodles up (straight to wok noodles break up pretty much by themselves after a couple of minutes of cooking - don't plonk them in and then try to force them apart as you'll break them).

Dish up, sprinkle with coriander and serve. Ta da!

19 November 2010

The Spoils of Work

Occasionally the designers at work will set up a photo shoot for a cover and have to order lots of lovely things for it. Well yesterday there was one that needed very specific roses and I then got to take them home... they are LOVELY and make up for me having been ill for 8 days (8 DAYS!!!). I thought they deserved to be seen by more than just me and the builder who's come to fix the leaky roof.

18 November 2010

Jam Tarts

I love cooking but I think if I could only choose one meal to cook for it would be tea (does that count as a meal? I think so). I really don't have a sweet tooth and I think my favourite meal of the day is breakfast (when I can eat or drink anything bizarrely) but there is something decadent about tea that I just can't help getting excited about. So when my parents decided to come and visit us to pick up some logs (long story involving chainsaws and my garden being massacred) and have tea I thought I'd use it as an excuse to get a bit Enid Blighton and cover my table in goodies. I was going to make crumpets but I ran out of time but I did manage to make jam tarts and ginger biscuits.

The jam tarts were something I've wanted to do for ages because I love the ones you get in a packet but there are never enough apricot and those are me and my dad's favourite. As he's not been well and needs feeding up I went on a bit of an apricot bonanza and then managed to eat at least half of them myself. In that first batch I followed a recipe that used icing sugar but I think caster sugar gives your pastry better consistency. I also found that a lot of recipes tell you to use unsalted butter and then add a pinch of salt but I'm lazy and a devotee of salted butter (I won't have unsalted in the house) so I just ignore that bit. So here's my current favourite jam tart recipe which I think is just perfect for rainy Sunday afternoons and also seem to be a bit of a hit in the office.

JAM TARTS - makes about 16-20

180g plain flour
60g caster sugar
120g butter
2 egg yolks, or 1 eggs yolk and 2 tbsps water

Any kind of jam you want - my favourites are apricot and sweet tip raspberry.

You will need 2 bun trays, a rolling pin and a circular pastry cutter. Pre-heat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5/375F.

1. Sift the flour and sugar together and then rub in the butter. The pastry is better if the butter is cold so chop it up into small squares before adding it to the sugar and flour - this makes it easier to rub in.

2. Add some of the egg liquid and bring the dough together - I do this all with my hands, it's messy but it saves on washing up and you're going to have to use your hands in the end anyway. Use as little of the liquid as possible but remember that you don't want the pastry to be do dry - I find that if I'm using 2 egg yolks (which I prefer) then I use all of it, when I'm using egg yolk and water I don't quite need it all.

3. Make the dough into a flat hamburger shape (making it easier to roll when it's cold), put into a sandwich bag or clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least an hour. All recipes I've read differ on this but I find that after an hour its much nicer to roll and re-roll because the butter is properly chilled. If you are a complete domestic goddess you could whip this up in the morning and have it ready to go whenever you want to make the jam tarts for tea!


 


4. When you are ready take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out on a floured surface, cut out circles with your pastry cutter and put them in the bun tins.

5. Put the tins in the fridge for 20-30 minutes and then add the jam. Now you only need a heaped teaspoon or so of jam - it's very tempting to overfill them but they'll just bubble over if you do and that means hellish washing up.

6. Put the tarts in the oven for about 10 minutes but keep an eye on them. I think my oven runs a bit hot so it could be that yours take longer - you want the tarts to be looking golden around the edges and the jam to be bubbling.

7. Take the tarts out of the oven and leave to cool on a rack in their tins. After about 10-15 mins you can get them out of the tin and straight onto the rack. I have a trusty metal spatula I use for this but a round tipped knife would do just as well - they should come out quite easily so you can be gentle. Then they are all ready to be eaten - if you want to be fancy you can dust them with icing sugar but I'm not. I think they are quite sweet enough but as I said earlier, I don't really have a sweet tooth.

Apple and Cranberry Crumble

I had some cranberries left over from some chutney I was making, a jar of crumble that my mum had made and some old apples that needed using up so I decided to make my husband a crumble. That sounds like good wife behaviour but I don't like fruit and never really eat pudding so in fact I'm like some kind of feeder - I just make puddings and force Joe to eat them. Crumble is a great pud because it's quick, easy to make and you can add pretty much anything that needs using up but here's my Apple and Cranberry crumble recipe just in case you want a bit of direction - I usually use whatever fruit I have and then choose a dish that's the right size.

APPLE AND CRANBERRY CRUMBLE - serves 3

4 apples (I like bramley's or cox's)
200g cranberries
Demerera or other soft brown sugar
Cinnamon

For the Crumble:
170g plain flour
75g butter
75g demerara

For this amount I used my 24cm le creuset oval dish but any ovenproof dish will do, I also cheat and use my magimix to make the crumble. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4/350F.

1. I make the crumble first and then have it in the mixer ready to go. If you are using a magimix or blender then put on the crumble ingredients in and blitz until... well until it looks like crumble. If you are doing it by hand then rub the butter into the flour, don't over-rub or your crumble won't be crunchy, then stir in the sugar.

2. Peel, core and chop the apples and put in your dish of choice. Sprinkle over the cranberries and then the sugar and cinnamon. I do this by eye - quite a good lot of the sugar usually about 3-4 tbps and about 1tsp of the cinnamon. Then mix this all together gently - I use two spoons for this like tossing a salad.

3. Then cover with a good layer of crumble and put in the oven for about 30-40 minutes. Joe likes it with vanilla ice cream but I think cream looks good too.

16 November 2010

Accidental Date - Tod's Bistro

Due to my husband quitting his job last November and entering the dangerous world of freelance we haven't been on a date since I don't know when. In fact I do know - we went to the The Anglesea Arms for our anniversary and my parents paid for that so I'm not sure it counts. So on Saturday night we were off to a house party in Kings Cross via drinks in Highbury and somewhere around Holland Park I realised we hadn't eaten. Booze on an empty stomach usually means one of us behaves incredibly badly so we thought we'd get a sandwich from somewhere on the way to Public House where the first drinks were held. I drew the line at a Budgens sandwich however and no other places immediately offered themselves so we decided to go into Tods Grill and Bistro... just to see what the menu was like obviously. And then we accidentally had a date.

Now my husband says it's not a date if I pay but we drank booze, shared food and there was a candle present, we even had my parents babysitting the puppy. Sounds like a date to me. It wasn't the cheap evening I had planned (one of the reason I love retro house parties is because you can turn up with your own booze and then drink it all and not spend any more money than that) but the food was gorgeous, the service impeccable and the surprisingness of it all, rather lovely. The restaurant had a great atmosphere - there were old show and movie posters all over the walls which I loved and it was packed which I find can make your experience all the more private. I thought I just wanted something light and the starters looked so good we decided to share some... by some of course I mean 5. Baked goats cheese with apple salad, chorizo bruscetta, calamari, homemade chicken liver pate and homemade gravad lax with toast.

When I met my husband he was a restaurant reviewer who only drew the line at tripe and I was one of the fussiest eaters known to man. This made us pretty incompatible when it came to sharing food. He remained a restaurant reviewer long enough for me to become 2 stone heavier and develop the ability to eat a lot of food long after I'm full - we are perfect restaurant companions. Now there are only four things I'm really fussy about - aubergine, courgette, fruit and offal and the latter has meant that even though it is something that I should love (based on my love of pickles, smoked things and cheese) I can't stand pate.

I have to say I've clung to this as my final attempt to revert to fussy eating and the waist I had when I was 20 but on Saturday night I think my favourite dish was the home made chicken liver pate. It was smooth and tasty without being too livery and we had just the right amount that left you wanting more. I was so particularly surprised by this new love affair as we'd also ordered calamari which I would quite leave my husband for if it wasn't a bit weird to run off with a food stuff. But I think the pate won the evening.

Our accidental date meant we were late for drinks and even later for our house party (at which I'd promised early arrival for moral support) but were beaming on both arrivals and not responsible for the vomit on the 390 to Notting Hill at 3 o'clock that morning so I think I will be advocating more accidental dating in the future.

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