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.