Friday, 30 December 2011

DETOX - Virtuosity and Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup

So. Much. Cheese.  I am bored of food.  The usual suspects of meat, deli things and baguettes have been done to death.  Even the more special occasion foodstuffs are failing to appetise.  It seems I really can have too many good things.  

 After the relentless onslaught of saturated fats inflicted by Christmas my body was craving something healthy, fresh and easy to eat.  Something to soothe my jaded digestion and ease me into the health-kick my waistline is crying out for. Scientific studies have proved what so many mamas already know to be true:  chicken soup sorts you out.

Certainly, the thin, semi-clear flavourful broth with its frugal slivers of chicken and vegetables nourishes without irritating.  Gentle and light its perfect for a belly that’s been chugging on booze, cheese, meat and crisps.  However, I’m a bit obsessed with pho, ramen and la mian and all manner of Asian noodle soups.  I love the perfectly balanced flavours of slowly simmered vats of broth with skilfully hand-pulled noodles but I am also addicted to the cheap thrill of Koka or Nissin Cup Noodles.  Tongue-tinglingly full of MSG they satisfy an urge but leave you feeling a bit dirty afterwards. 
 A guilty brunch of mine is to pimp up an instant noodle soup: throw into the usual soup mix a splash of Chinese rice wine, some toasted sesame oil, soy, ginger and garlic.   Handful of coriander, a sliced chilli and a poached egg.  That way you can nearly pretend it’s healthy…

As I was feeling a bit icky in general I didn’t really want to subject my stomach to any dubious chemical enhancers.  I figured the best way to get what I needed was to cook the chicken soup from scratch Jewish style but with Asian aromatics, adding noodles and fresh coriander just before eating.  In no way is my version authentic but it certainly hit the spot.   The broth was intensely flavoured without being overpowering.  It was quaffably addictive and ridiculously healthy, leaving me feeling light and sated rather than stuffed, sleepy and sick.   I have more cooked chicken left over than I’ve broth to match, but as it hasn’t absorbed the soup flavourings, its perfectly suited to use in sandwiches or pastas etc .  Anything you’d use left over roast chicken for really.  

It felt alien boiling a whole bird instead of roasting, but its something I’ll be doing again ….

 Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup – Serves 4 as a noodle soup with plenty more chicken meat.

Chicken Broth

1 chicken (about 1-1.5 kg) jointed (I’m rubbish at this so just took the legs and wings off so it fit comfortably in the pan)

*you could just use chicken leg, thigh and wing pieces if you wanted instead

1 red onion peeled and halved

2 cloves

2 star anise

3 inch peeled chunk of ginger

5 pieces of garlic, unpeeled but smashed with the back of a knife so the skin is broken

2 sticks of lemongrass bashed about

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoons of Chinese rice wine


1)   In a large lidded saucepan or lidded wok add the chicken, the rest of the ingredients then fill with cold water so that it’s just covered.

2)   Cover with the lid and heat slowly on a medium to high heat until its simmering merrily, periodically removing with a spoon the white scum and oil that rises to the surface.

3)   After about 1 hour to 1 ½ hours the meat will have turned opaque white and it will be cooked.  Remove the chicken and drain the liquid through fine sieve discarding the vegetables but keeping the liquid. 

4)   Strip the bird of as much meat as you can, cutting or shredding into bite sized pieces (and get rid of the skin as its gross when boiled).

5)   Taste the broth to see if it needs more salt. If it’s too strong, add a splash of boiled water.  Let it cool for about half an hour or so and remove as much of the fat that has risen to the surface as possible.

Assembling the Broth – 1 bowlful

1 inch ginger -  finely sliced into a very thin matchsticks

1 small handful of coriander roughly chopped

½ red chilli finely sliced

½ finely sliced spring onion

1 small handful of dried noodles – you can use a packet of instant or egg noodles but I used Vietnamese flat rice noodles.

Poached egg or hard-boiled egg (sliced in half)

Handful of cooked and sliced chicken meat

1)   Heat a bowlful of broth in a saucepan till simmering, add the noodles cooking to packet instructions.  Add the chicken just before the noodles are done.

2)   Pour both noodle, chicken and broth into a deep bowl, add the egg, the coriander, the chilli, the ginger and the spring onions. 

3)   Eat and drink up and feel virtuous.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Merry Christmas - Mac & Cheese and Holy Fuck Hot Sauce

Christmas. It would be a bit weird not to write about Christmas food towards the end of December.  Food glorious food is, after all, up there with all the greats.  There are of course the classics we associate with the Yuletide: Christmas pudding, mince pies, sprouts and the turkey to name a few. Most of these aren’t even particularly liked.  There are also the Christmas foods and rituals that become traditions within a family and embedded in our association with holiday.  Not really allowed crisps or sweets at other times of the year, at Christmas our kitchen table had a bursting biscuit tin, bowls of crisps (albeit additive-free Kettle chips) and full condiment range including ….ketchup.  Contraband such as processed ham, coke and ice-cream.  Sausage rolls on Christmas Eve instead of dinner.

The food is more about the sheer abundance of it than it is about the The Lunch and The Mince Pie.  A feast of plenty that sticks two fingers up to the cold, soggy and sheer dullness of winter.  Christmas is sanctioned hedonism. Eat, drink and be merry. Oh, alright then. 

However, time off work and a bursting fridge of luxury snack food results constant grazing and a not insignificant amount of indulgence related malaise.  Never quite feeling hungry as the moment you feel a bit of room its back to the crisp bowl again…

If you can hold off from the snacking long enough to be properly interested in dinner, this macaroni and cheese is worth it.  Not traditional Christmas food but pretty special and it was a strangely appropriate thing to carry one of Alex’s Christmas presents  - Holy Fuck Hot Sauce ordered online from The Ribman.  Baby Jesus’ Birthday that sauce is good. Blindingly hot, flavourful rather than merely painful, slightly sweet and fruity. The crispy cheese and bread-crumb topping crunches when served to release the oozing cheese sauce only just holding together the nuggets of macaroni pasta.  It is rich and comforting with the hot sauce cutting through the cream and zinging the pasta-bake into another level of good.

The hot-sauce is also great with smoked salmon, cheddar cheese crackers, crisps and pretty much anything you can think of. I even reckon a dab on a mince-pie would be amazing.

I make my macaroni and cheese by judgement rather than measurements but this recipe is the quantities I used on Boxing Day.

To buy your very own Holy Fuck Hot Sauce go here

Macaroni & Cheese - serves 3 

Dried macaroni for three people- about half a pack from the supermarket
pint of milk
250 -300 g mature cheddar grated (or three massive handfuls)
1 clove garlic crushed
3 tablespoons flour
Tablespoon of English mustard
salt and white pepper
olive oil
large nob of butter
4 or 5 small shallots or one white onion  diced very finely 
small handful of breadcrumbs

1) Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius and heat a deep frying pan to medium heat, then add a slug of olive oil and the butter. Put a saucepan of boiling and salted water on another hob and add the macaroni.
2) Add the diced shallots to the pan stir and gently fry until they turn translucent and soft - 5 to 10 minutes. Add the crushed garlic about 2 minutes before the onions are done. 
3) Add a bit more butter to the onions and garlic then the flour.  Using a whisk, mix it thoroughly until the butter and flour are well combined.  Add a small glug of milk, whisk briskly till combined, then a bit more milk, repeat until all the milk is in the  frying pan.
4) The mixture will look pretty runny but don't worry. Turn up the heat and continue to stir until it comes to a gentle simmer and thickens to the consistency of thick double cream.  Add the cheese in handfuls until its melted (leave small handful of cheese for the topping).
5) Season generously with salt and white pepper, mix in the mustard and a couple of gratings of nutmeg.
6) The pasta should be cooked by now - it should be a bit underdone and have a bite to it.  Drain the pasta and add to the cheese mixture then pour into a buttered baking tray. 
7) Mix the remaining grated cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle on top.
8) Put in oven and leave for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and crispy looking. 
9) Serve with watercress and hot sauce.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Fuck Winter - Friday Night, Steak and Salsa

Friday night.  The end of the working week for most of us.  I generally have a huge sense of relief coupled with overwhelming anticipation and excitement. As if every Friday 5.30 pm signals a life of leisure from now on rather than a paltry two days.  Of course, the joy I feel on a Friday is also to do with the fact that up till now I’ve been paid weekly on a Friday – its payday too.

Despite all that I’m usually well tired.  I have to dig into dwindling reserves to go home, get changed and go out again to see friends for drinks or to smarten up and brave the general public and London transport for a restaurant.  So, sometimes I stay in. 

Friday night dinner is different to the Sunday roast or the week night mash-up.  It’s got to be a bit decadent, a bit special cause after all; it’s a celebration meal.  And, alongside all that it should be quick, and relatively simple cause you’ve been working hard all week and don’t want to think too much or toil too long for your grub.  A takeaway is often the right choice.

This Friday I was fed up with the winter weather and didn’t want the usual British winter fare or greasy take out. I wanted sunshine and vitamins.  Fuck local, seasonal produce.  Fuck the biting cold outside. I want steak and salsa.  The luxury of a good hunk of cow, the heat and fresh zing of the tomato salsa with the distinctive flavour of coriander humming through.  Creamy avocado gave a pleasant contrast in texture. Oh, and I slung on a fried egg. Again.

This meal was like consuming a culinary Duracell.  No post carb slump and you get a fair shock of chilli and sharp flavours with a blast of protein of to kick your energy levels up the arse.  Sunshine on a plate and other clich├ęs like that.

Steak and Salsa – serves 2

Steak Marinade

2 good quality rib-eye steaks (lots of marbled fat and a dark colour)

2 cloves garlic crushed

Extra virgin olive oil

Heaped teaspoon chilli powder

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper

¼ teaspoon sugar


2 ripe tomatoes diced (skinned if you can be arsed)

Big bunch of coriander roughly chopped

Half a red onion finely diced

1 spring onion finely sliced

Juice of 1 lime

1 red chilli finely chopped

The Rest

Massive nob of butter

1 avocado

2 eggs

4 bean salad (ready made supermarket version)

Can of refried beans

1)   First the marinade. Pat dry your steaks with kitchen towel.  Put all the marinade ingredients into a bowel and mix – you’ll want a good 3 or four glugs of olive oil and a hefty pinch of salt and pepper.

2)   Spoon over the steaks and massage in.  Leave to marinade at room temperature while you get on with the salsa.

3)   Get chopping and put all the ingredients together in a big bowl.  Mix well and taste. It needs to have a nice shine from the olive oil so add about 3 glugs and more if you think it needs it. Taste and judge – too spicy and tart a little bit more sugar.  To bland, more salt and a touch more chilli.  Totally to preference.

4)   Heat up a heavy based frying pan till smoking hot, add a splash of oil then a big nob of butter.  Scrape the majority of the garlic and marinade off the steaks and add to the pan when the butter is foaming.

5)   Alex does the manly thing and takes over the cooking of the steaks in our flat.  Its about 2 minutes a side for medium rare and 5 for well done.  For  his thoughts on steak go here.  

6)   Heat up another frying pan with a splash of oil and a nob of butter (surprise surprise).  When that’s about to foam crack the two eggs in.  Cook to your preference – I like mine flipped so the white is set but the yolk is runny.

7)   While the steaks are resting blast the refried beans for about a minute in the same pan as the steaks till cooked through. 

8)   Serve with the eggs on top of the steaks. And Tabasco on the eggs – cause as you now know, its great.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Hangover Cure - Rice, Eggs and Chili

I can suffer from crippling hangovers.  Crying, vomiting, doom and gloom hangovers where even lying in bed next to a bucket is more than I can cope with.
‘I suffer’, as if its an affliction I have no control over…. I just drink too much.

These tsunamis of hangovers are an entirely different kettle of fish to the more common feeling a bit rough, eating a shed load of junk and functioning on a considerably lower IQ than usual.  Unless you’re at work, these ones are alright. Controversially, I might even say that I slightly enjoy them. Having a fair amount of nervous energy, I often feel obliged to achieve stuff;  clean the flat, go on outings with friends, rearrange furniture or cook some fantastically elaborate new recipe.  All fine and dandy, but sometimes you just want to slow down and do nothing without feeling guilty you’re wasting the weekend.  
That’s where the milder hangover comes in.  You’re a bit sedated but not incapacitated.  Saturday morning (and Sunday come to think of it) I woke up feeling toxic with an insatiable appetite something strong, spicy and salty.  Even when fighting fit I don’t subscribe to bland breakfasts of muesli, dry toast or heaven forbid, nothing.  
The breakfast I made was dead quick compared to assembling a fry-up and didn’t require me shuffling to the shops for ingredients while avoiding eye-contact and taking 10 minutes to make 50p out of two 20ps and a 10p.

I always have chillies and garlic and usually have eggs. In the fridge was half a can of leaf spinach and left over basmati rice.  Fried eggs and rice are quite common for breakfast in China and Japan, and there are a fair few Mexican variants as well.  Shakshuka is middle-eastern dish where eggs are poached in spicy tomato and pepper sauce.  A hearty brunch indeed.  
My bastard mash-up of a breakfast only took a few minutes.  The rice was comforting but still had a smack-you-in-the-face kick of chilli.  Nearly healthy were it not for all the oil.   The runny yolk gave a beautiful richness and anyone who has never put Tabasco on their eggs, just do it.  Resolve downed in one and taste-buds well woken up. As if tequila never existed. 

Rice and Eggs – serves 1 greedy person

2 cloves garlic crushed
½-1 fresh green chili chopped finely
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 red onion sliced thinly in half moons
half a can chopped spinach with liquid squeezed out
cup full of cooked basmati rice
olive oil
1 egg
Tasbasco to taste
Salt and pepper

1)     Put a generous glug of olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) in a heavy based frying pan on a high heat and add the sliced onions.  Keep moving them around with a spoon until they are translucent and slightly caramalised on the edges. Should take around 5 minutes

2)     Add the crushed garlic and chillies stir for about 30 seconds and add the chopped spinach and cumin.

3)     Stir in the cooked rice and again keep stirring.  It will stick to the pan put if it starts to burn add a splash more oil and turn the heat down a little bit.  Check salt and pepper.

4)     Heat another frying pan with another big glug of oil on a medium to high heat and crack the egg into it.  As its starts to turn opaque white use a spoon to ladle some of the hot oil from around the egg onto it so as to ‘seal’ and cook the top.  Using a spatula gently lift the edges of the egg until the whole thing slides around the pan easily and then lift it using the spatula and turn it over. 

5)     After about 10-15 seconds serve the egg over the rice, breaking the yolk so it runs. Sprinkle a few drops of Tabasco.  

6)     If you’re me and a bit weird, decide you want Caesar dressing as well cause Caesar dressing tastes good on everything.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Lady & The Tramp - Meatballs and Spaghetti

The most random of influences can trigger a craving.  As a child, The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe made me obsess over Turkish Delight.  Sounded gorgeous but when I finally managed to try it I was bitterly disappointed  - sweet perfumed soap. Urgh. Not the heavenly food of the gods I was led to believe.

In the Lady & The Tramp it was the famous meatballs and spaghetti scene that got me. The animation of the dish with its clearly defined swirls of spaghetti noodles is somehow way more appetising than the real-life red lumps on yellow lumps, even when said lumps taste fantastic.

I was at a loss for inspiration for dinner the other night and aimlessly wandered round Sainsburys until I thought of the Italian-American classic.  I pimped it up with few herbs I had left over, a teensy firecracker of a chilli from my mum’s bountiful crop and the ubiquitous splash of cream.

The result was pretty damn good. The sauce had a deep flavour and tang coming from the tomatoes, with the merest hint of richness from the cream and a subtle warmth from the dried chilli flakes.  A tablespoon of brown sugar and finely diced carrots gave it a sweetness that balanced the tomato sharpness. 

Although overall I was happy with the recipe, there are things I would change next time.  My purse was light on the coinage, so I used basics beef mince. Mistake. It was pretty coarse with the few the odd lumps of gristle.  I’m a hardnut and could cope with it but Alex couldn’t after a few dodgy mouthfuls.  Stay away from budget mince.

Further, the couple of sprigs of rosemary chopped finely in the meatballs were a bit overpowering.   In future I’ll either reduce the amount, or leave out entirely.  Don’t be alarmed at the length of the ingredient list; you’re likely to have most of it hanging around in your cupboard.

Ingredients. Serves 4 (or 2 very greedy people, with leftovers)

Enough spaghetti for 4 people
400g beef mince
1 egg yolk
Sprig of rosemary
1 white onion finely diced
1 medium carrot finely diced
Half a stick of celery finely diced
4ish cloves garlic crushed
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Finely chopped red chilli
About 6 tomatoes skinned (if your bothered) roughly diced
½ Handful of breadcrumbs (blend a piece of old bread)
300 ml passata
Heaped tablespoon of tomato puree
1 beef oxo cube
tablespoon brown sugar
handful of flat leaf parsley finely chopped (including stalks)
olive oil
beef dripping/butter
salt pepper

1)     Put the mince, breadcrumbs in a large mixing bowl.   In another bowl mix the 1 crushed garlic clove, the diced chilli and chopped parsley stalks and teaspoon of olive oil.  Mush with a spoon or hand blender than add to the mince and breadcrumbs.  Add a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Add the egg yolk and mix well using your hands.

2)     Wash your hands well (it gets under your nails). Take around a heaped teaspoon of mince mix and roll lightly into a ball between your palms.  It should be around the size of a ping-pong ball.  Repeat with the rest of the mixture and it makes about 30 meatballs.  Put the meatballs onto a plate in the fridge to firm up a bit while you get on with the sauce.  Oh and wash your hands again.

3)     Put a deep frying pan or saucepan on the hob on a medium heat with a generous glug of olive oil (about 3 tablespoons).  Fry the diced onions, carrot and celery for 20 minutes till the carrots are soft and the onions soft and translucent. 

4)     Add the 3 remaining cloves of crushed garlic, dried chilli flakes, oregano and big pinch of salt and pepper.  Heat another pan till smoking and add the dripping or butter(if using splash olive oil first to stop it burning).

5)     After a minute add the tomato puree, then the chopped tomatoes.  Increase the heat and fry stirring well for about 3 minutes. Add the passata, the brown sugar, crumble in the oxo stock cube then the splash of cream (roughly 1 ½ tablespoon) Mix well the bring to the boil then reduce the heat to slow simmer.

6)     Heat another pan till smoking and add the dripping or butter (if using butter splash olive oil first to stop it burning).  Get the meatballs out of the fridge and fry in batches till their golden brown and crispy on all sides then add to the tomato sauce.

7)     Give it a stir and simmer for about an hour.  About 12 minutes before the end cook the pasta according the packet instructions and drain.

8)     Serve the meatballs and sauce on top of the spaghetti with some grated cheese and the chopped parsley.