Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Stuffed Pork with Lemon Asparagus Couscous

Cooking this and writing it up in mid-March, Summer seemed to actually be on the way. For once my cooking thoughts weren’t 100% set on comfort food, comfort food and more comfort food and I stumbled across this recipe for stuffed pork chops. They seemed perfect for the spring days we’ve been enjoying for the last week or so. With a little tinkering I resolved to have them very soon.

The couscous is, I think a pretty good companion to them: nice and light with an equally light and summery feel.

I’ll almost certainly cook this combination again and perhaps try a few different things next time: not because I think changes are needed per se but I think it will be interesting to see what works. Black olives and / or lightly toasted pine nuts may make a fine addition to the chops: perhaps griddling the asparagus and other veg for the couscous.

Feta & Spinach Stuffed Pork Chops
serves 2

olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
120g frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
30g feta cheese, crumbled
1½ tbsp cream cheese
¼ tsp lemon zest
2 boneless loin pork chops, trimmed
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
¼ tsp dried oregano

Preheat the grill.

Heat a large frying or sauté pan over a medium-high heat and add a small splash of olive oil, swirling around so it covers most of the surface.

Add half of the crushed garlic and fry gently for about a minute. Sprinkle in half of the salt and pepper plus the sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. Continue to sauté until the moisture evaporates.

Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses and lemon zest.

Cut a horizontal slit through thickest portion of each pork chop to form a pocket and stuff each with the spinach mixture.

Sprinkle the remaining salt and pepper over the chops and put them on the rack of a grill pan or a lightly greased roasting pan.

Combine the remaining garlic, lemon juice, mustard, and oregano in a bowl and stir well.

Brush half over the pork and grill for 6 minutes. Turn the chops over, brush over the remaining sauce and grill for a further 5 minutes or until done.

Lemony Asparagus & Tomato Couscous
serves 2

120g couscous
1 tbsp olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
75-100g asparagus
2 tomatoes, seeded & diced
zest & juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp chopped parsley

Prepare the couscous according to the package directions, making sure to fluff and separate the grains when the couscous is done.

Meanwhile cook the asparagus in a shallow pan of lightly salted boiling water for around 3 minutes, until just tender. Plunge into cold water to cool and stop cooking.

Drain and carefully dry the spears and cut into small lengths.

Add the asparagus, tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, parsley and salt and pepper to taste to the couscous. Toss carefully to combine.

Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed and add a little extra oil if the couscous seems dry.

Serve immediately alongside the chops.

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Sunday, 28 September 2014

Mongolian Beef

You will find a lot of recipes online when you do a lot of searching for recipes that are designed to give you copies of favourite chain establishment dishes: copycat or clone recipes for the likes of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, IHOP, Chilis - all places that I have never stepped foot in but know of in the main because of the existence of all these copycat recipes.

And of course there is PF Changs, the largest full service, casual dining Chinese restaurant chain in the US: this place always features heavily. I’ve seen copycat recipes for Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Kung Pao Chicken and probably most of all, and what I wanted to try here: Mongolian Beef.

Now I’ve never eaten at PF Changs, obvs, so I’ve no idea how it should taste so what I’ve done is amalgamate all the recipes I found and spit them out into one cohesive recipe: scientific eh?

Anyway - it is super easy: some thinly sliced, velveted, steak, garlic ginger, soy & brown sugar, that’s about it. By the way, when cooking with cornflour, make sure that the sauce is boiled otherwise it won’t do its job as a thickening agent.

The other thing to mention is that I’ve dramatically reduced the amount of sugar as I thought it would be way too sweet with the original amount (175g!). In my experience American dishes tend to be sweeter than those we are used to in the UK or Europe (sweet potatoes with marshmallows anyone?!?) but do use the original quantity if you think you can handle it. I’d be surprised.

PF Chang’s Mongolian Beef
serves 2

Adapted from many but mainly from here

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ginger paste (or fresh ginger, grated)
1 tablespoon garlic paste (or fresh garlic, finely chopped)
1 tsp Korean red pepper flakes
115ml soy sauce (I used half dark, half light)
115ml water
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
75g dark brown sugar
5 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
350g steak, sliced into bite-sized strips
3 tbsp cornflour
3 spring onions, green parts only, sliced on the diagonal

Toss the strips of steak with the cornflour then place the coated pieces in a sieve and shake off any excess flour. Allow the steak to sit 10 for minutes.

Gently heat 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over a medium-low heat. Before the oil gets too hot add the ginger and garlic cook for 2 minutes until golden and then add the red pepper flakes, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and water before the garlic burns.

Dissolve the brown sugar in the sauce, then increase the heat to medium and boil the sauce for 2-3 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.

Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat the 5 tbsp of oil for frying in a wok and when it is hot but not smoking add the steak strips in batches (you don’t want to overcrowd the wok) and fry until brown - just a couple of minutes. Stir around occasionally so that it cooks evenly and the meat pieces separate.

Use a large slotted spoon to scoop out the strips and set aside on paper towels to drain off any excess oil and pour off any oil that remains in the wok.

Put the wok back over a medium heat and pour in the sauce which should come to a boil pretty quickly. Add the steak and cook, at a boil, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.

Finally, stir in the sliced spring onion greens and remove from the heat.

Stir around a few times and serve over plain rice with a green vegetable alongside to cut through the richness (I stirred some steamed broccoli into the rice).

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Friday, 26 September 2014

Pad Thai

The bf & I both love pad thai but in all honesty I’m really not sure that I love cooking it. Rice sticks (and rice noodles generally) are a beast to work with. No matter how hard I try I always seem to get an unwieldy tangled lump that doesn’t want to incorporate the other ingredients. Which of course results in a beast to photograph too. As you can see.

Luckily it tasted pretty good so we at least have that.

I went with prawns and tofu here but you can have a chicken version too - or a combination of whatever you fancy. Or the mother of all pad thais with everything chucked in. Or really pare it back and go veggie.

What you are looking for is a little bit spicy, a little sweet and a little sour so do adjust your flavourings carefully to get a perfect (for you) balance.

Pad Thai
serves 2

120g 2-3mm wide flat rice sticks
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
100g extra-firm tofu, chopped into small cubes
8-10 large prawns
1 large egg, cracked into a small bowl
25g preserved salted radish, chopped
1 tbsp small dried shrimp
100g beansprouts
½ small bunch chives, chopped
50g roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
For the sauce
2 tbsp pad thai paste
1.5 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp tamarind paste or concentrate
1.5 tsp palm sugar
1-2 tsp Sriracha or pinch of chilli powder, to taste
⅓ cup water
For garnish
Lime wedges, chilli flakes, chopped peanuts, chopped coriander, fish sauce

Soak the rice sticks in warm water for 15-30 minutes until softened but al dente. Drain and set aside.

Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and set aside.

Put a wok on a high heat and add half the oil before adding the garlic, stir fry for a few seconds then add prawns into the wok and stir until half cooked. Take them out and set aside.

Add the noodles and a splash of water. Stir fry until they're drying out, then add the sauce. Fry until they are almost soft enough to eat (they should be slightly chewy).

Push the noodles to the side of the wok and add the rest of the oil. Add the tofu and prawns back into the pan and stir continuously.

Push to the side and add the egg. Pierce the yolk and when it starts to set, quickly scramble.

Stir through the noodles, and add the radish, dried shrimp, beansprouts, chives and peanuts.

Stir fry until well combined, then serve with the garnishes on the table so that they can be added according to taste.


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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Tarragon Chicken

I’ve made various versions of tarragon chicken over the years and in some sort of poulet a l’estragon mental block have always failed to blog it afterwards. That was nearly the case on this occasion too but on serving I managed to remember to snap a couple of shots and then hastily scribbled down the recipe when we were done.

Poaching the chicken in the stock after you have browned the skin makes it lovely and tender. Speaking of which, feel free to use chicken breasts if you prefer and you could bash them with a rolling pin to make them thinner and further reduce the cooking time if you wish.

Tarragon Chicken
serves 2

150g mushrooms, sliced
4 spring onions, finely sliced
½ tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp butter
4 chicken thighs
125ml chicken stock
150ml double cream
½ tsp dried tarragon
2 tsp chopped tarragon
½ tsp sea salt flakes
ground white pepper

Over a medium heat put the olive oil, spring onions, garlic and dried tarragon into a frying or sauté pan with a teaspoon of butter.

Season the chicken thighs, add them to the pan and sauté until the skin is crisp and nicely coloured and then turn them over so they are skin-side up.

Add a good splash of vermouth to the pan and let it sizzle down before adding the stock.

Let it simmer for around 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the thighs and leave to rest on a warm plate.

Reserve any liquid from the pan and then add the the mushrooms to the pan and sauté in a teaspoon of butter.

Add the cream, simmer until it reduces by half, then add the chicken, most of the chopped fresh tarragon, a good pinch of white pepper and the cooking liquid you may have set aside before when you took the chicken out.

Garnish with the remaining tarragon and serve with peas or broad beans and roasted new potatoes.

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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Chorizo & Chickpea Stew

I’m pretty sure that I bought a bag of chickpeas specifically to make this which of course does lengthen the cooking time somewhat making it more of a weekend than weeknight meal (unless of course you cook in advance). In all honesty I don’t think much would be lost by using a decent tin of chickpeas and a lot of time would be saved.

I made this with chorizo and sherry to give it a Spanish edge but you could also try merguez sausages and red wine or even a good quality English sausage with white wine or cider. Some nice buttered chunky or crusty bread alongside is a perfect accompaniment.

Chorizo & Chickpea Stew
serves 3

150g dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight
olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled & finely diced
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp tomato purée
small tin chopped tomatoes
100ml sherry
250ml chicken stock
200g cooking chorizo, cut into chunks
½ tbsp dried chilli flakes
small handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas and set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan and add the onion, half the garlic, the celery and carrots. Cook over a fairly low heat until the veg are softened then add the tomato purée, thyme and tinned tomatoes and cook for a minute more.

Pour in the sherry and let bubble for a couple of minutes to reduce then add the chickpeas and stock. Top up with a further 500ml of water so that the chickpeas are covered and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat down and then simmer on a low heat for 1½-2 hours or until the chickpeas are soft. Keep checking the water and add more if it looks like the chickpeas are drying out.

In a frying pan heat a little more oil and add the sausage, browning all over. Tip the sausages in with the chickpeas, cover and cook for 20 minutes or so. Take off the lid and simmer so that the sauce has thickened and then carefully check the seasoning and stir through the chopped parsley.

Meanwhile add extra olive oil to the now red oil in the saucepan in which you browned the chorizo, to make up 2-3 tbsp. Scatter in the chilli flakes and remaining garlic and warm over a very low heat until the garlic has softened and turned golden (but be very careful not to let it burn!).

Serve the stew in shallow bowls with the garlic chilli oil drizzled over.

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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Gorgonzola Gnocchi with Parsley Salad

A brace of Olive mag recipes, as often seems to be the case when I cook from it. Here we have a very simple gnocchi dish served with just as simple salad.

You could use any sort of cheese with the gnocchi but as we’re talking shop bought gnocchi here it is best to use something quite robustly flavoured, the gorgonzola works well but other blue cheeses would be equally good or maybe a herbed goat’s cheese.

The parsley salad really lifts this dish and adds a little zing. If raw red onion is a bit too pungent for you you can take the bite out of them a little by submerging the slices in a bowl of cold water. Let them sit for at least ten minutes, stirring now and then before draining and tossing with the rest of the salad.

Gorgonzola Gnocchi with Parsley Salad
serves 2

1 pack of gnocchi (400-500g depending on where you buy them)
100g gorgonzola
100g half fat crème fraîche
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp capers
½ small bunch parsley, leaves only
½ small red onion, thinly sliced

Cook the gnocchi (they are done when they rise to the top of the salted boiling water, a matter of minutes), then drain and toss with the crème fraîche and cheese and tip into an ovenproof dish.

Meanwhile whisk the olive oil and vinegar together, season and then toss with the parsley, capers and onion in a small bowl. Set aside.

Grill the gnocchi until golden and bubbling.

Divide the gnocchi between two plates and scatter the salad over each before serving.

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Friday, 19 September 2014

Lemon Buttermilk Chicken with Piccata Sauce

This was a recipe in one of my Olive mags earlier this year and one which was completely delicious and well worth the little bit of effort you need to put in (and it still isn’t that much really). Buttermilk is reasonably easy to get hold of these days: certainly in the larger Tescburys and also in Waitrose you shouldn’t have a problem.

I’d bought some Kewpie mayonnaise back from Japan which I LOVE and it goes really with this due to its umami piquancy (alas I think this is due to an overload of MSG but I’ll overlook that as it tastes sooo good). It is possible to get it here too, can be a bit spenny so maybe try chinatown or an oriental food shop where it may be a bit more reasonably priced. Obviously you can just use any shop bought mayo of choice or even make your own if you are so inclined. Pretty sure that once you try Kewpie though you won’t go back.

Lemon Buttermilk Chicken with a Piccata Sauce
serves 2

2 skinless chicken breast fillets, flattened to approx 1cm thick
1 lemon, zest & juice
1 sprig rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
150ml buttermilk
3 cloves garlic, 2 peeled & brusied, 1 finely chopped
80g panko breadcrumbs
sunflower oil
1 banana shallot, finely sliced
200ml chicken stock
small handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 heaped tbsp capers
20g salted butter, cubed
baby gem lettuce, to serve
mayonnaise, to serve

Put the chicken in a ziplock bag along with the rosemary, buttermilk, 2 tbsp lemon juice and the bruised garlic. Season well and toss the chicken around to ensure it is well coated in buttermilk. Put in the fridge to marinate overnight (or for at least 2 hours).

Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off any excess and coat with the panko.

Heat ½cm oil in a frying or sauté pan over a medium heat and fry the chicken for 6-8 minutes, turning once, until cooked through and golden. Set aside on some kitchen roll to keep warm and sprinkle with a little salt. Wipe out the pan and add another tbsp oil.

Add the shallot and chopped garlic to the pan and fry gently until soft and golden. Add the stock and simmer until reduced by half then add the remaining lemon juice along with the zest, the parsley and capers.

Give it a good stir then add the butter and swirl around to melt. Season carefully and then serve over the chicken along side some lettuce leaves and a good dollop of mayonnaise.

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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Red Lentil Dal & Coconut Rice

A very good standby veggie staple here (standby staple? Hhm.) and one where you could probably use any sort of pulse really. I use red lentils though, apart from the fact that I like them, because they cook quickly and don’t need any soaking etc.

For the rice I cooked some basmati with a couple of cardamon pods and a tin of coconut milk (about twice the volume of rice I think) - the creamy and fragrant rice goes beautifully with the dal.

There's something very restorative about this dal (or daal, dhal, or dahl): it feels like it is very good for you but in a soothing, comfort food type way.

The next time you have a cold or a bit of a hangover give it a go. In fact, give it a go anyway.

Red Lentil Dal
serves 2

small knob of butter
200g red lentils
small onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp turmeric
pinch cayenne
2 small tomatoes, finely chopped
1 tsp rapeseed oil
2in piece cassia bark (or small cinnamon stick)
2-3 small dried red chillies
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
8 curry leaves
small handful coriander, finely chopped (optional)
½ lime, to serve

In a frying or sauté pan, melt the butter and gently fry the onion in it over a low-medium heat until softening and starting to brown at edges. Add the ginger & garlic and let sizzle until aromatic.

Add turmeric, cayenne, tomatoes and lentils and stir around.

Add enough water to cover by about 2cm. Turn the heat right down and let simmer until the lentils are tender and starting to disintegrate. This will take about 15 minutes. Add more water if necessary.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and when hot add the cassia (or cinnamon), chillies, mustard and cumin seeds and curry leaves. Heat until the seeds are popping.

Pour into the lentil pan, off the heat. Cover and leave for 5 minutes then stir through.

Serve immediately over rice with the coriander, if using, sprinkled over and lime wedges alongside.

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Beef & Broccoli Noodles

Unfortunately the beef I bought for this came pre-prepared in a soy & ginger marinade - it was all I could get, weirdly, unless I wanted to spend a fortune on fillet or get a massive sirloin steak - which I didn’t. However if yours comes unadulterated (as I’m sure it will, I think I just shopped on a bad beef day), mix the strips with some soy as well as the rice wine to marinate for 30 minutes or so.

I also bought a bag of ready-to-cook broccoli florets in a moment of laziness, hence the rather specific 240g.

Adding to our list of go-to quick, easy and tasty weeknight stirfries, this is pretty good.

Beef & Broccoli Noodles
serves 2

1½ blocks egg noodles
240g broccoli, cut into small florets
2 tsp sesame oil
300g pack soy marinated beef stir-fry strips
2 tsp rice wine
1 birds eye chilli, finely sliced
3 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal
For the sauce

2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 medium or 1 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 thumb-sized knob ginger, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp sesame oil
½ tsp potato flour mixed with 1 tbsp water

Mix the beef strip with the rice wine and set aside in a bowl while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Mix all the ingredients, bar the potato flour mix together in a small bowl and set aside.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the noodles & broccoli. Cook according to pack instructions for the noodles then drain well. Separate the broccoli from the noodles, add a tsp of sesame oil to the noodles, mix well and set both aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok until very hot, then stir-fry the beef for a minute or so until browned.

Add the chilli and stirfry for a minute or two more.

Tip in the sauce and mix it all together well. Let simmer for a couple of minutes then add the potato flour mixture before stirring in half the spring onions and the drained noodles and broccoli.

Cook for a minute so the noodles are warmed through then serve straight away, scattered with the remaining spring onions.

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