Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cold noodles with prawns and lime

Serves 2 as a main-course salad

The heat here at the weekend was that eyelash singeing kind of weather, so the inspiration was to have something fresh, cold and tangy - albeit with a medium of tempered spice thrown in for good measure! I adore this type of salad, so simple to combine with a basket of fresh ingredients seasoned with some store cupboard staples. Buy ready cooked prawns if you can't get raw, the difference often is not worth the hassle unless you live on a fishing boat, and the herb element can be played around with too for some interesting alternative flavour combinations.

24 large, raw prawns, shells on
250g fresh peas
125g rice noodles
50g any small leaf sprouting lettuce
a handful of pumpkin seeds
a handful of toasted pine nuts
a medium hot red chilli
1 red or orange pepper
half a cucumber
a small bunch of coriander
a few sprigs of mint

For the dressing
3 tblsp lime juice
3 tblsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
1 tsp caster sugar

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, salt it generously, and then drop in the prawns. Remove them as soon as the shells have turned pink. Drain, allow to cool and then peel the prawns. Return the pan, filled with fresh water, to the heat and bring to the boil. Salt it lightly and throw in the peas. Let them cook for barely a minute before draining them under cold running water.

Put the noodles in a heat-proof bowl then pour boiling water over them. Leave them for about two minutes, agitating them once or twice to separate the strands, then drain and let them cool in a colander under cold running water.

Toast the pumpkin seeds and pine nuts in a dry, non-stick frying pan until just turning golden brown.

Put the sprouting lettuce into a mixing bowl with the drained peas and toasted seeds. Thinly slice the chilli and pepper and cut the cucumber into long, thin strips. Mix with the noodles and prawns. Roughly tear the herbs and throw them in. Mix together the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Drain the noodles and add them to the other ingredients. Toss with the dressing at the last minute.

Friday, April 24, 2009

White chocolate flapjacks

Makes about 7 long bars or 14 small bites

A weekend favourite which rarely fails to hit the mark. This is one of those terrific all in one recipes that can be done on autopilot and is versatile enough for you to customise each time. Adding any combination of nuts and dried fruits, changing the chocolate topping and decorating with really whatever you fancy is all a part of keeping this base recipe going week after week

75g rolled porridge oats
100g jumbo oats
25g toasted chopped nuts
75g salted butter, plus extra for greasing
75g soft light brown sugar
2 tblsp golden syrup
Few drops of vanilla extract
50g white chocolate, chopped and melted

Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3 and grease a 2lb loaf tin.

Mix the oats and nuts together in a large bowl. Gently heat the butter, sugar, syrup and vanilla in a pan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Pour over the oats and mix to coat well. With a spatula, press the mixture evenly into the loaf tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Leave to cool completely in the tin, then remove and slice into 7 bars. (Cut across into 14 smaller pieces, if you wish.) Drizzle over the melted chocolate and let it set.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sri Lankan fish curry

Serves 4

This amazingly fragrant, and yet so simple curry, or padha as it is known, was one of the myriad of sensations I picked up while in Sri Lanka late last year. The place for me was more than a holiday destination… more than just food even, but the discovery of a richness of the people and their culture. I was fortunate enough to witness, and particiapate in the cooking of some inspired dishes cooked in such primitive fashion, but all with a uniqueness unseen by me before.
The classic spicy food myth of raw spices needed to be cooked out to develop their flavour was completely thrown out the window as I'd expected a highly spiced version of the varied and complex style of Indian food including lots of raw harsh spices, particularly chilli. In reality it is a lot of simple, humble combinations that really are an attack on the senses.
And this recipe is a perfect example, start to finish in about 30 minutes - and when I did this for the first time, in Deepika's kitchen in the southern coast village of Mihiripanna, it was literally in mud fired pots on open flames in a hole in the wall - and was all the more delicious for it!

150ml groundnut oil
500g dense fish – tuna, mackerel or monkfish work – filleted
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp coarse salt
Juice of 3 limes
½ tsp turmeric
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
A couple of curry leaves
A few green chillies, split in half
250ml thick coconut milk
1 tblsp chilli powder (amount varies according to your taste)
1 tblsp cumin (fresh if possible)
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
Carefully slice the fish fillets into bite size pieces, wash and pat dry, then season with the salt and pepper, lime juice and turmeric. Pan fry in a little of the oil till just crisp on each side, remove and drain on absorbent paper.

Grind together the garlic, onion and cumin, preferably in a pestle and mortar, alternatively just briefly in a food processor trying to retain some texture to the ingredients.

Heat the remaining oil and fry the ground paste until a wonderful fragrant aroma rises, then add the tomatoes and blend together well. Add the curry leaves, chillies and another pinch of salt and fry for few more minutes.

Add the fried fish and the coconut milk and simmer gently for up to another 20 minutes, serve straight away, but it does it no harm to allow to cool and gently re-heat later on.

Goes well with rice or bread to soak up the juices, and traditionally eaten with a spicy accompaniment called sambal – and always eaten with your fingers, no cutlery required for this.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crab, pea and broad bean risotto

Serves 4 as a starter

We got our first new season's peas from France a couple of days ago, and apart from podding them straight into your mouth and eating without delay, I can think of fewer better ways to enjoy them than folding them into this gorgeous risotto just at the last minute. By boiling the rice to begin with speeds up making a risotto. This doesn't make it any less authentic and cuts the stirring time down significantly.

650ml light chicken or vegetable stock
200g risotto rice
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
3 tblsp olive oil
50ml dry white wine
1 tblsp crème fraîche or mascarpone
1 tblsp freshly grated Parmesan
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tblsp brown crab meat
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful of basil leaves, shredded
150g mix of peas and broad beans
100g white crab meat
Extra virgin olive oil, to serve
Aged balsamic vinegar, to serve

Pour about a third of the stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Tip in the rice and blanch for 4 minutes. Drain well, then tip onto a tray. Spread to an even layer and leave to cool. Transfer to the fridge and chill until ready to use. Reserve the remaining stock.

In a medium saucepan, sweat the onion gently in 3 tblsp of oil for 5 minutes or until softened without browning. Pour in the wine to deglaze and cook until the alcohol has evaporated and the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency.

Meanwhile, bring the reserved stock to a simmer. Stir the blanched rice into the onion and cook for 1 minute. Gradually add the stock to the rice, a ladleful at a time, stirring well between each addition.

Once the rice grains are almost cooked through but still retain a bite, beat in the crème fraîche or mascarpone, Parmesan, lemon zest and brown crab meat. Remove from the heat, check for seasoning and leave to rest for at least 5 minutes with the lid on.

When you are ready to serve, stir in the basil, peas and broad beans and check for seasoning. Divide among warmed plates, sprinkle the white crab meat on top, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, followed by a few drops of balsamic vinegar and freshly ground black pepper.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Apple and toffee muffins

Makes 12

So so easy to fumble together, great to do with the kids. Don't put too much toffee in each muffin or it will boil over during baking. For a different flavour, use nutmeg instead of cinnamon, and got to be eaten the same day you bake them - saving them tomorrow is a waste of good oven heat...

2 eggs, beaten
80g caster sugar
240ml milk
100g butter, melted
300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp saltgood pinch of cinnamon
2 eating apples, such as Cox's or Granny Smiths, peeled, cored and finely chopped
50g toffee, broken into small pieces

Pre-heat oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Line a 12-hole bun or muffin tin with paper cases.

Mix the eggs, sugar, milk and melted butter in a large bowl. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the chopped apple and mix roughly.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling them a quarter full, then top with a few pieces of toffee, and cover the rest of the muffin mixture until the paper cases are half full. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until well risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Poached rhubarb and yoghurt mousse

Serves 6

This recipe takes some time to prepare, but the result is really worth it – taking care not to allow the fruit to overcook. Following the timing, and your judgement carefully, the rhubarb stems stay whole yet are wonderfully tender to the bite, providing the perfect foil for a light, yoghurt style mousse.

For the yoghurt mousse
500g fromage frais
1 tblsp orange flower water
50g icing sugar
200g yoghurt

For the rhubarb and poaching liquid
200g sugar
500ml water
100ml grenadine
400g rhubarb, peeled and cut into 10cm pieces

Place the fromage frais in a muslin-lined sieve and strain over a bowl in the fridge overnight to remove excess moisture. To prepare the poaching liquid, pour the sugar, water and grenadine into a saucepan and bring up to boiling point. Cool, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, submerge the rhubarb in the chilled syrup, place in a noncorrosive saucepan and heat to 65C (use the sugar thermometer to check this - or your guess work will just have to be worked on!). Turn off the heat, cover with a close-fitting lid and leave for 15 minutes. Then transfer to a bowl and allow the rhubarb to cool naturally in the syrup for at least 6 hours.

Meanwhile, gently fold the fromage frais together with the remaining mousse ingredients and chill for 3 hours to set.

To serve, strain the syrup from the rhubarb into a saucepan and reduce until it clings to the back of a spoon. Allow to cool. Place two rounded spoonfuls of the yoghurt mousse in chilled bowls or glasses, spoon the pieces of rhubarb over the top and drizzle with the rhubarb syrup.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cheat's Summer pudding

Serves 4

Proper summer pudding should be weighted and left overnight for the juices from the raspberries, red and blackcurrants to soak through the bread. But the different flavours of the berries have already been married in the cooking pot and anyone can soak bread in purple-black juice. So here is a quick version that has much the same flavour, and the same soggy, fruity bread. The only count it fails on is that it just won't stand up.

175g blackcurrants
175g redcurrants
175g raspberries
75g caster sugar
4 slices of white bread

Remove the stalks from the currants. Put the fruit and sugar in a stainless steel saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil, and then cook gently till the currants burst their skins and form rich, purple-red syrup. This usually takes 5-7 minutes.

Cut the crusts from the bread and cut it into small triangles, about four from each slice.

Place a few of them in the bottom of a 23cm shallow china dish and cover with some of the warm fruit. Make another layer of bread and another of fruit.

Continue till all the bread and fruit are used up, finishing with a layer of bread if you can. Spoon the warm juice over the bread, pressing gently down with the back of a spoon until the bread is completely soaked.

Set aside for as much time as you have - 15 minutes should do it. Don't attempt to turn it out of the dish. Spoon into bowls and eat with cream.