Monday, 23 June 2014

Bun Thit Nuong - Vietnamese Pork or Aubergine on Noodles

I used to read voraciously, at least 1 novel a week, but since having a child I barely read half that amount, some months only managing a measly 1 book.  I tend to fall asleep the moment my head hits the pillow (knowing I'll be wakened before long by a small person wanting a cuddle), and gone are our long lazy weekend mornings reading in bed with cups of tea.  It's no doubt just a phase in our lives (and there are many compensations for it) and I will get back to more regular reading at some point I know.

I spotted a book in Salisbury Library recently that I thought would be interesting:  Fragrant Heart, a Tale of Love, Life and Food in Asia, by Miranda Emerson.

 

We love Asian food and cook it regularly at home, and I also enjoy reading about it, and as this was a travel book that focused on food it appealed to me immediately.  It turned out to be...  just OK.  Whilst I was interested in the author's time in Beijing as my brother has recently moved there, and I liked reading about her travels in Vietnam and Thailand (places we too had travelled), I was rather less interested in her love-life and her obsession with having children, so found myself skimming through the more introspective sections.  However, every chapter did end with one or more recipes, and I was drawn to this Vietnamese one straight away.  I made it last night and thought I'd blog it before I return the book to the library.

I made the vegetarian version, but I would like to try the pork version next.  It would also be good with beef or chicken.  I made the recipe with a few variations which I have mentioned below.

Serves 2
Preparation and cooking time: 2.5 hours

300g pork, sliced, or 1 large aubergine, quartered then sliced (I also threw in some quartered mushrooms)
2-6 tbsp unsalted peanut (use more in the vegetarian version because this is your protein)
300g rice vermicelli (I only had a 200g packet so used all of that, and it was a perfect amount)
Half a handful of mint leaves (I had a pack of Thai Basil so used that as well as the mint)
5cm piece of cucumber, unpeeled and cut into matchsticks
1 tbsp pickled vegetables (I didn't have these so didn't use them, and I don't think the dish suffered for it)

Marinade
50g minced lemongrass (I used 2 stalks)
50g sugar (I used a heaped dessertspoon)
2 tbsp fish sauce (veggie alternative: 1 tbsp light soy and 1 tbsp dark soy.  I used the fish sauce)
1 tbsp ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 shallots, minced (I didn't use these and didn't substitute anything)
3 tbsp groundnut oil (I used sunflower)

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
6 tbsp of a solution of 1 part sugar to 3 parts water (I put 2 tbsp sugar in a bowl and added 4 tbsp of boiling water to dissolve it)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lime zest (I didn't bother)
2 tbsp fish sauce (or light soy for veggies)
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

Combine all the marinade ingredients and toss the pork or aubergine in it.  Leave to marinade for 2 hours (I only had time to leave it for an hour, it was fine).

Dry-fry the peanuts in a pan until slightly browned.  Remove from heat, crush lightly and set aside.

Prepare the nuoc cham by combining everything and decanting into dipping bowls.

When the marinating time is up, heat up a frying pan until hot (I added a tbsp of oil).  Remove the pork or aubergine from the marinade (er, I chucked it all in!) and fry until well cooked.  Remove from heat.

Boil a large saucepan of water and cook the rice vermicelli according the packet instructions (mine just said to leave in boiling water for 4 minutes).  Eat a strand to check it's cooked through, then drain and refresh in cold water.

Place the noodles in a bowl and top with the pork or aubergine.  Sprinkle over the mint, cucumber, pickled veg (if using) and peanuts.  Serve with the nuoc cham spooned over. 

I forgot to take a photo, but will add one to this post the next time I cook this dish - which I definitely will again.  Like much Vietnamese food it's light and refreshing, yet with really punchy flavours; a perfect Summer dish.

The Best Chips in the World, Ever!

I recently posted a photo onto Facebook of the steak & chips supper that I'd cooked for Rob's birthday.  Fillet steak, medium rare, peas and home-made chips, pretty much always the meal of choice for both our birthdays, and a fabulous treat.  Despite the fact that it was a fairly poor phone-snap, the chips received a lot of online admiration, so I thought I'd blog my method for making them.  I think it's very simple; no deep-fat frying, no critical timing, but a world away from oven-chips in quality and taste.  They're basically just roast potatoes in chip form, but not your pallid smooth roasties, these are roughened, crunchy and crispy, but concealing a soft and fluffy interior.  Here's how I do it:

Peel your potatoes and cut them into chunky chips.  It is CRUCIAL that you use 'good' roasting potatoes, for example King Edward or Maris Piper.  A regular 'white' potato simply won't give you the same result.

Par-boil the chips for about 5 minutes until they are just beginning to soften (check with the point of a knife), but watch carefully, these floury potatoes can turn into mash if you're forgetful and leave them a little too long.  Basically you want to be able to 'roughen them up' slightly when you shake them in the pan once drained, so bear that in mind when checking.

Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 F) and place a large roasting tin inside the oven, with a large slug of vegetable oil in it.  If you were being super-indulgent, a splodge of beef dripping or goose fat would be an excellent addition to the oil.  You need the oil to be covering the base of the roasting tin, but only to a depth of about 1mm.  Even if I'm only cooking chips for 2 I will use a large roasting tray as the chips cook better when they're not crowded together.  If I were cooking for 4 I'd use 2 trays rather than try and squeeze them all into 1.

When the chips have par-boiled, drain them and let the steam evaporate for a minute (you don't want any water left in the pan) and then put the lid on and gently agitate the saucepan.  The chips should now be slightly rough around the edges.  This will ensure a crispy outer.

Carefully remove the tin of oil from the oven and tip the chips into it.  The oil should be nice and hot so the chips will sizzle when they hit it.  Use a spoon to baste the chips (cover them with oil) and return the roasting tray to the oven.

Leave them for at least half an hour before you're even tempted to fiddle with them.  If you try and turn them over too soon they may stick to the base of the tray and you'll break them up trying to move them.  However, after about half an hour shake the tin and use a spatula to flip the chips over to ensure that both sides are equally crunchy.  Cook for a little longer.

My timings are slightly vague becuase much will depend on the size of your chips and the temperature of your particular oven, but it also depends how well done you like them.  I like them pretty well-browned, but others may tend towards having them a bit paler, it's up to you.

Whenever you think they're ready, remove them from the oven and tip the chips onto a warmed plate lined with kitchen roll to absorb any excess fat.  Sprinkle with a generous amount of flaky salt and serve with the meal of your choice.


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Birthday Cakes

I realise with not much shock that I never got round to blogging about Ted's first birthday...  and he was TWO last weekend!  So here's a quick first-and-second-birthday-cake round-up!

First Birthday

Ted's favourite book was one of the Ladybird 'Baby Touch' series of books, which feature a cheerful tiger called Tickly Tiger.  I rashly decided that I would attempt a Tickly Tiger birthday cake.  Not only would I be making my first attempt at using fondant icing, but I would be creating a stripy sponge cake beneath too.  AND I had invited 22 children (plus their mums of course) to a birthday party.  What could possibly go wrong?! 

In the event, thank heavens, nothing went wrong.  The cake 'worked', and was actually pretty tasty, the sun shone, and we all had a lovely afternoon.


The finished cake, complete with the book that inspired it.  

I ordered the orange and black fondant from a seller on eBay and actually found it remarkably simple to use.  It's just like playdough!  I also had a couple of cake-decorating-experts on hand (via FB messaging) to help me out with the technicalities such as putting a 'crumb coating' of buttercream around the cake before icing to stop any crumbs getting into the fondant (thanks Kirsten and Kath!). 


The stripy interior.

I had spotted a recipe for a stripy 'Zebra Cake' in a Lorraine Pascale baking book I'd had out of the library, so looked it up online.  I found it on this blog post, for which I offer my thanks to the author.  It was perhaps the messiest cake I've ever made, as I filled piping bags with the different batters and dolloped blobs of each on top of each other...  and blobs all over the kitchen table too!  However, as you can see, it was brilliantly effective.  I flavoured the paler cake mix with orange oil and the brown one with cocoa powder to make a chocolate orange cake.  The buttercream around the edges was also chocolate flavour.


Second Birthday

Ted and his little local friends are real country lads and lasses, and are all completely tractor-obsessed.  Their DVDs of choice feature Little Red Tractor (follow link for youtube episodes, it's actually really funny!) and the beloved Tractor Ted, full of real-life farm footage; I've learnt a lot myself from them!  So what else could I make, but a tractor cake?  I went for a pretty simple option:  a very easy chocolate cake (an Ed Kimber recipe from BBC Good Food) made with oil instead of butter which made it moist and a good keeper, sandwiched together with half a tin of dulce de leche.  The other half of the tin went into the chocolate buttercream with which I covered the entire cake.  Two Cadburys Flake bars were then crumbled on the top in an approximation of a ploughed field (a very abstract approximation!) and a fondant-modelled Tractor Ted was placed on the top.


This Tractor Ted took me HOURS and I still wasn't quite satisfied with it...


But the birthday boy seemed happy!  His face lit up when I brought the cake out.

 
I finished off the chocolate dulce de leche buttercream by putting it onto some very simple vanilla cupcakes and topping them with edible gold stars and rice-paper tractors (purchased again from an eBay seller) to add to the general tractor theme.

So half of this blog post is very belated, but I'm quite impressed with myself for managing to blog the second birthday only a week after it happened...

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Peanut Cornflake Cakes - Jo Wheatley

I've pretty much stopped buying recipe books - well, unless it's one I really want or 'need'!  I just don't have the space to store them, and it seems profligate to have too many.  Of course I make delighted exceptions to this rule for gifts, and also for irresistable bargains...  So when I found Great British Bake Off winner Jo Wheatley's 'A Passion for Baking' in a local charity shop for only a pound, I figured I had nothing to lose in buying it.  It's full of appealing recipes, mainly sweet, and has a nice section on Baking with Children.  Ted is just beginning to show an interest in helping in the kitchen; although 'helping' in the loosest sense of the word, as only a toddler can!  However, I love to include him when he wants to help out.  Here he is starting off our chilli con carne earlier this week (eating the raw onion pieces!):


I decided to make my first Jo Wheatley recipe a seasonal one, and make her Peanut Cornflake Cakes, but substitute Mini Eggs for the Peanut M&Ms she suggests.  There's something that appeals to everyone, adults and children alike, about those mini nest-like cakes at this time of year...  And I have to say that this is the best recipe for them that I have ever found!  The addition of peanut butter to the mix makes them really special and completely more-ish.  Initially I loved the fact that the recipe only made a small amount, I didn't want to end up making 24 of them if they didn't turn out to be that tasty, but now I'm wishing I had more as this little batch disappeared within 24 hours!

A visiting friend asked for the recipe having tasted them (er, eaten two!), but I couldn't find it anywhere online.  So I thought it was a perfect recipe to blog.

Peanut Cornflake Cakes - from A Passion for Baking by Jo Wheatley

40g unsalted butter
2 tsp golden syrup
100g milk chocolate, chopped
2 tsp peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
80g cornflakes (although I used bran flakes which worked brilliantly)
1 small bag of peanut M&Ms (or Mini Eggs, which I used)

You will also need 6 paper muffin cases or 10 fairy cake cases.

Combine the butter, golden syrup and chocolate in a saucepan over a low heat; stir until melted.  Add the peanut butter and stir until smooth.

Tip the cornflakes into a large mixing bowl, pour over the chocolate mixture and stir until all of the cornflakes are coated.

Spoon the sticky mixture into the paper cases and top with an M&M or Mini Egg.

Chill in the fridge until set.


If these are anything to go by, that was a pound well-spent, and I'm looking forward to trying more recipes from this book.

Happy Easter!


Monday, 11 November 2013

More Apple Jellies

Back to the long-neglected blog! 

As Autumn turns cold and soggy, I only have to look at my now-full preserves shelf to feel cheered. 


This has been an incredible year for all kinds of fruit.  Our Bramley tree which last year produced a grand total of 3 apples, has this year excelled itself and we have had more than we know what to do with.  Of course we've made great efforts to use what we can in cakes, puddings and chutneys, and I've enjoyed experimenting with a couple of new jams and jellies, as well as the 'usuals' (apple chilli, apple rosemary, and apple mint, instructions for which can be found earlier in this blog).


First off, Spiced Apple Butter.  Apple Butter is a very North American treat, although I don't think I ever actually ate it when I lived in Canada.  Slightly confusingly, it contains no actual butter, but is a long-cooked apple puree, often with spices such as cinnamon added.  I decided to try a recipe that used my rather neglected slow-cooker, and the results were delicious, making the entire house smell like Christmas! 


 I've put it all into sterilised jars ready to use in some festive baking.  I have of course sampled some already and it's great on toast.

The recipe can be found here, on the Frugal Foodie Mama website.

Next was Apple Quince Jelly.  I adore quinces, with their heady, almost floral scent, but they seem very difficult to come by in the shops.  This year I was lucky and managed to pick up a few windfalls locally. 


The flavour is intense so you actually don't need many to produce a beautiful preserve, bulked up of course with some apples!  Just look at this gorgeous colour, and it tastes wonderful too.  It's currently my breakfast toast-topping of choice.


I found the recipe here, on this nice foodie blog.

Finally, Apple Sloe Jelly.  The hedgerows are laden with sloes this year.  I have never used them for anything, save for drinking my father's homemade Sloe Gin!  On the tree they are mean fruit, small, hard and lip-puckeringly sour, but I felt sure that there must be potential for using them in something other than liqueur. 


A quick google brought me to this recipe, on The Cottage Smallholder (which incidentally is a fabulous blog, bursting with useful recipes).  Like the Quince jelly, this is a luscious colour, dark ruby red and gloriously clear (never squeeze the jelly bag when you're straining the fruit, otherwise your jelly will be cloudy).  I had slightly too much of this to fit in the available jars, so I'm currently working my way through a bowl of it on my toast.  (I eat a lot of toast!).  It's also  popular with the youngest member of the household.  


 I turn my back for a second...

The recipe indicates that this is a good jelly to eat with meats, but personally I think it's a little too sweet for that.  There's a lot of sugar in there (and I used a little less than the 1.5lb per pint stipulated as I ran out of sugar), so the sourness of the sloes has disappeared in my batch.  This makes it perfect as a jam, but probably not so suitable for eating with your sausages.  If I were to make it again (and I will) I think I would use 1lb of sugar per pint of juice, as you do usually when making jellies.


So all in all a successful year of preserving.  Just in case I forget to blog it properly, I also experimented with a new chutney, one that includes tomatoes.  The recipe is here, on the BBC Good Food website.  I used red pepper instead of green, but otherwise the recipe was unchanged by me.  It's still maturing in jars so I have yet to taste it, but I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Banana Breakfast Cakes

... or 'Wakey Wakey Cakey' as they're cutely named on the website where I discovered this recipe!

Whilst my 12 month old baby-led-weaner enjoys his food and remains a relatively adventurous eater, breakfast is a bit of a non-event for him.  Our co-sleeping breastfeeding relationship means that he spends much of the night snacking at 'the best restaurant in town' so when we get up at about 8am he is rarely hungry.  He might nibble on the odd piece of cereal, but is generally happy not to bother.  However by mid-morning he is definitely ready for some food, a potentially inconvenient time as we are usually out and about by then.

He is a huge fan of the 'Goodies' baby oaty bars made by Organix (and I am too, they're delicious!), but while I appreciate the convenience of these pre-packaged baby/toddler foods, I am always more inclined to try and make my own versions.  I did experiment with my own oaty bar recipe, but so far have only managed to make bars that are crumbly rather than chewy (I will continue to experiment though, so watch this space!), but I wanted a portable snack that wouldn't make quite so much mess.

Some food-forum advice, plus some internet searching brought me to this recipe on the Baby Led Weaning website, and I have now made 2 batches with slight variations, both well received.

The basic idea is this:

Mash up one Weetabix, one ripe banana, 100ml of milk and 20g of cornflakes.  Add a second Weetabix and stir until you have a 'cement-like' mixture (which sounds so appealing!).  Then divide into 6 greased fairy-cake trays and bake at 190 degrees for approximately 30 minutes until firm and beginning to brown.

I have taken this very much as a template and played with it somewhat.  We didn't have cornflakes in the house so I used oats instead (I like to use oats for their slow-release energy).  I also didn't have full-cream milk so used a semi-skimmed plus a large dash of double cream (to make sure he gets enough fat).  For the first batch I added some very ripe strawberries mashed in with the bananas, and in the second batch I used extra banana as I had 2 that were turning black, and also threw in a handful of raisins.  With both batches I just added some extra oats to get what I thought was the right consistency.  I also used a very shallow jam-tart tray so ended up with 12 'discs' of cake rather than 6, and therefore they only needed about 20 minutes' cooking.

They turn out as a slightly chewy, cakey creation...  I'm not entirely sure that I'd recommend anyone without small children to make them for adult consumption, but they're not bad to eat, (although obviously I'd rather have some real cake!).  I like the fact that they're basically what you might have for breakfast; cereal, milk and fruit.  Weetabix does contain some sugar, but you are not adding any extra, so I think they're generally a 'good' option for a toddler snack.  They hold more-or-less together without crumbling messily into thousands of pieces, but are still soft enough for gumming.


And despite the serious face, this one-year-old thinks they're good too!


Monday, 1 July 2013

Epic Roast Chicken Salad

I belong to a couple of 'foodie' groups on Facebook, and I love to look at other people's food photos and hear what they've been cooking.  I often find that this inspires me to make something similar, and this is exactly what happened last week.  A friend posted that she had made and loved Jamie Oliver's Epic Roast Chicken Salad, and as the weather was set fair (gloriously sunny actually!) an epic salad sounded just the thing!  The recipe was from a Jamie book that I don't have, and I couldn't seem to find the exact recipe online.  However, I did find a lovely blog by a lady called Elspeth who had also created a fabulous chicken salad, based on the Jamie recipe.  I ended up using this as a basis (thanks Elspeth!) but made a few changes myself.


I actually made this using chicken leftovers as we had roasted a large chicken the night before.  I had both the breasts left, so began the layering of the salad by tearing these up, cold, and putting them on a large plate. 

I topped the chicken with the roasted tomato layer.  I had roasted these simply in a slug of olive oil with a handful of garlic cloves, and laid slices of streaky bacon over the top so that the bacon fat would flavour the tomatoes.  I also laid the leftover chicken skin on top of the tomatoes to re-crisp.  For the last 10 minutes of the tomato roasting time, I tore up a small ciabatta loaf and tossed it into the tomato pan, letting it soak up all the tomatoey and bacony juices before going back into the oven to crisp up.  This glorious pan-full was tipped over the chicken, breaking up the now-crispy bacon and chicken skin as I did so.

Some simply steamed green beans were added, hot, to the top of the heap, before the whole lot was dressed with the mix of wholegrain mustard, fresh mint, lemon juice (I subbed this for cider vinegar) and olive oil described in Elspeth's recipe.  

To finish I scattered over the toasted salted pumpkin seeds that I had prepared earlier.

This was a fabulous supper, and was also enough for me to have leftovers for lunch the following day.  I think it's important to eat the ciabatta croutons while they are still warm and crispy, so I made myself some fresh ones to go with the leftovers. 

I don't know how far away this is from the 'original' Jamie Oliver recipe, but to be honest I think it's a formula that can be successfully adapted according to the ingredients you have to hand.  Some chopped spring onions would be a nice addition for example, and perhaps fresh basil in place of the mint?  But definitely a recipe that I will try again.