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The Strong Female Lead

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As most people could tell from a quick glance at my Facebook photos, I’m no slave to fashion. In fact I’m probably not even a well looked after and healthily remunerated employee to it, yet there is one thing currently in fashion that I can fully support, and that is The Strong Female Lead. Not just in film and TV, but in real life too. I’m very on board with the Katniss Everdeen’s, Leslie Knope’s, Beatrix Kiddo’s and such of film and TV fame (if they’re not pining for a man throughout the entire story and you know, have actual interests and aspirations aside from having the most amazing wedding of all time, like actual real women then I’m all for it) but strong women who haven’t been dreamed up by writers in Hollywood are far more intriguing and inspiring to me. Let’s get the sob story out of the way quick – I’m not a fan of self-pity and I don’t like to dwell on the past, but without the sob story my fascination with strong women makes no sense. My mum passed away when I was young, so when a couple of years on from this I was bought a Janet Jackson CD it was like a light had been switched on. I had my female relatives there for me who were and are brilliant still, but for everyday female inspiration, I had pop stars to rely on. Janet Jackson sang about feminism! Racism! Inequality! SEX! Of course, 10 year old me wasn’t really aware of any of these issues and couldn’t really get her head around what any of it really meant, but here was a woman totally not afraid about speaking her mind, sounding completely bad ass and starting to teach me valuable life lessons that (and this is very important) I could make up awesome dance routines to in my bedroom. I just wanted to be the girl sassy enough to be able to throw out the line “no my first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet, Miss Jackson if you’re nasty” to any boy foolish enough to mess with me. It’s not happened yet, my name isn’t Janet Jackson, I’m betrothed to be wed and mum to a demanding one year old, so the likelihood of me ever saying it grows slimmer by the day but you never know… The Design of a Decade album was a crash course in being a woman, what to believe in and stand for, and my tiny little mind soaked it all up so that I would be ready for when I would be old enough to get my head around it all.

 

Fast forward twenty years or so and my favourite Real Life Strong Female Lead is of course, Nigella Lawson (and Beyoncé. Always Beyoncé.) If you’re ever feeling like crap and you just can’t face something, google the footage of Nigella arriving in court for the trial of her former assistants. The press were tearing her apart, incredibly private and mortifying details about her home life and marriage were being discussed in court and splashed all over the tabloids, and she was going through a divorce from a man who had publicly humiliated her. Does she look even remotely bothered? No, she looks incredible, confident and her IDGAF face is on point. If that doesn’t inspire you to attend that job interview/go to a terrifying meeting/meet that blind date then there’s no helping you. Team Nigella all the way in my house. Obviously then, I snaffled up her new cookbook Simply Nigella, which I have been cooking recipes from over the past few weeks. It’s a bit of a departure from her usual style in that alongside the heavenly looking baking recipes and savoury comfort food that she’s famous for, she also includes quite a lot of healthy and ‘free from’ recipes. I’ve no beef with that, you can’t constantly eat butter and cream filled foods unless your goal in life is to keel over from a heart attack at 30, and it’s good to have a healthy balance in your kitchen. So far I’ve cooked the chicken shawarma (juicy, spicy chicken that received a rave review from The Boyfriend, so a complete success), Thai cinnamon prawn noodles (warm, savoury and tongue tingling-ly yummy), coconut spiced cod (not bad but not amazing) and split pea soup with ginger, chilli and lime (I wasn’t very enthused about this one, it just didn’t do it for me). A mixed bag so far, although there are loads of recipes I can’t wait to find the time to try, such as Indian spiced shepherd’s pie, chai muffins, sweet potato macaroni cheese, ramen, salted chocolate tart, Asian short ribs and chocolate chip cookie dough pots. There are lots more I’m itching to try but the latter are high up on the ‘to cook’ list. I’m hoping Simply Nigella will be just as trusty a steed as her Express, Kitchen, Bites and Christmas books have ended up being for me.

 

As for me, I’m certainly no Janet Jackson, Beyonce or Nigella, but I’d like to consider myself a Strong Female Lead in my own life. Maybe not physically (although carrying around a baby for the last year has certainly done my arms a few favours) but in other ways, definitely. I like to think of myself as a cotton ball with a hidden rod of metal running through it. I’ll cry at the series finale of New Girl, sure, and watching the news is risky business these days for my mascara, plus don’t get me started on how mushy I can get when my baby boy breaks out into laughter, but when push comes to shove I am made of tougher stuff. When my son was much smaller and my significant other wasn’t working away, I didn’t think I would be able to manage at all with looking after a baby once my other half went back to working away for weeks at a time, and yet I’ve managed to do it without losing my mind. Plus I’ve managed to work full time whilst doing so. I know, single parents do it all the time and I have nothing but respect for them, but for me, Miss Anxiety, Miss I Have An Itinerary For Everything And I Don’t Know How To Fit All Of This Into One, it’s a big deal. I managed to live in a house that was practically a building site for two years and didn’t have a stroke – badass. I got made redundant while on maternity leave, and after 10 months of spending my days singing nursery rhymes and turning pears into mush, I somehow managed to get through my first job interview in five years and miraculously got the job. That’s a straight to video film (showing my age there) in then making right there! I’ve already said I’m not good with self-pity, and I’m really not good at bigging myself up so this blog entry has been excruciating for me to write (thank God for self-deprecation) but it’s definitely time for women to embrace their inner Strong Female Lead, so I’m starting with myself. Nigella has taught me how to cook over the years, but recently she’s also inspired me to keep my head up, pull my shoulders back and just get on with it. She’s also bloody good with a Middle Eastern marinated chicken recipe. The girl’s alright with me.

 

 

 

Disappointment In The Kitchen

The trouble with celebrity chefs is that you just can’t help but trust them. Food is their livelihood, they’ve studied it, worked with it for years and put in the hours working their way up from the bottom of the kitchen to become head chef and subsequently, a star. Of course you’d believe them when they tell you japchae isn’t hard to find outside of Chinatown, or that cooking a three course meal really can be the work of a mere half hour. What have they got to gain from deceiving you (besides millions of books sold, great ratings on the telly and a three month wait for a table at their exclusive restaurant)? They tell you this information purely out of the goodness of their own heart, to share the knowledge and make you at home a better cook. As you may know from Jamie Oliver and Quail Egg-gate, I take umbrage to chefs embellishing the truth. Jamie has been forgiven for his many lies but it didn’t take long for a new fibber to come to the forefront: step forward Gordon Ramsay.

Gordon and I have a chequered past as it is, what with him once being my weird crush until he was on TV ALL. THE. TIME and I gradually lost interest. There’s only so much shouting at morons I can take before it becomes tedious. I only became interested again (strictly in the cooking sense) when his back to basics cooking show ‘100 Recipes To Stake Your Life On’ started last year and the tasty looking recipes combined with Gordon’s rather inappropriate feelings towards food had me hooked. The few recipes I’ve cooked from the accompanying book I’ve had mixed feelings about. There is nothing wrong with the finished meals, they are simple, tasty and produce a satisfying dinner. They just aren’t anything special. Maybe I have too high standards, perhaps I want too much from Gordon and have ridiculous expectations to be blown away by every recipe. But then when I cook, say, satay chicken from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals, or massamann curry from Gizzi’s Kitchen Magic, or chicken schnitzel from Nigella Express, I am blown away because they taste so delicious and addictive. I remember them, cook them again and The Boyfriend also likes them. They’re hits and all I’ve done is followed a recipe and put my faith in the authors. So yes, maybe I do have high standards but other chefs meet them. I like recipes that really pack a punch, whether that be spicy, salty, sweet or sour. In middle school I had a teacher who would not tolerate the word ‘nice’. She said it meant nothing and was an insult. I didn’t understand it then but now I completely get it. If you said to me that someone was nice, I’d assume that while perfectly pleasant, that person did not put across anything memorable or interesting about them self which would require a better adjective used to describe them. Nice is forgettable. Nice food does its job but in the end it’s forgotten. Much like how my friends and family are so much more than simply ‘nice’ (they’re kind, funny, witty, sharp, interesting, clever, charming, intelligent, enthusiastic, savvy, sweet, generous.. see how much more complimentary these words are than ‘nice’?) the food I like to cook and eat also needs to be so much more.

So Gordon already had his work cut out to try and please me with his recipes. I chose to make pork neck curry with mango salsa from his book ‘Cookery Course’ which accompanied the ‘100 Recipes’ TV show because he writes in the book that this is his favourite curry of all time. For a chef to make such a statement about a recipe makes me pay attention. He must have eaten and cooked loads of curries so if this is The Best then I am cooking it. Like I said earlier, the trouble with chefs is that you can’t help but trust them. It’s a Thai recipe, so I made a paste and assembled the curry and the house was filled with a delicious spicy aroma. Normally when I make Thai curries I reduce the sauce down a little so the curry is a little thicker and less watery, but this was quite tricky to do, possibly because of Gordon’s insistence on adding loads of stock. The pork itself was super soft after bubbling away in the curry for an hour and the sauce was spicy with plenty of flavour. However, it just didn’t have that wow factor whilst the sauce was too thin. For a mid week meal it would be perfectly acceptable but what with it being a Friday night dinner, I was a little disappointed. It makes me question Gordons judgement on food that he thinks this is the best curry he’s ever eaten. Whilst I don’t think you can ever really recreate authentic Indian curries at home, Thai curries are a little easier to replicate and taste fantastic made in your own kitchen. If you want an amazing home cooked curry, you’d be better off trying Gizzi Erskine’s lamb massamann or her green curry paste. These pack serious flavour and I find myself cooking them again and again. I’ll continue to use Gordon’s book as the recipes are nice and they beat chicken nuggets for dinner, but when it comes to weekend cooking and packing a punch, Gordon’s not the right chef for me.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2013 in Books, Cooking, Food, Thai

 

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Gizzi, Gizzi, Gizzi, Can’t You See, Sometimes Your Foods Just Hypnotise Me

Many apologies to the late, great, hip hop legend that is the Notorious B.I.G for the title of today’s blog, but on trying to come up with a title this was all that would come into my head. On repeat. All weekend. I knew the only way to get rid of it was to put it in the title, with the hope that it would annoy everyone else as much as it did me. You’re welcome. It would be downright odd if I’d put that title in and then not actually cooked any of Gizzi Erskine’s recipes, so you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve cooked not just one, but two from her latest book, Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts. The book, as the title makes pretty clear, is all about eating sensibly and healthily during the week and then upping the calorie content over the weekend after being good for the majority of the time. It’s absolutely not a diet book, I couldn’t bear one of those in my house, but is about eating sensible, smaller portions and filling yourself up with fruit and veg. I don’t do diets. While I go to the gym regularly, try and eat healthily and don’t want to be overweight, I really abhor the idea of a ‘bikini body’ and of being obsessed with flat stomachs, a certain dress size and calorie content. It’s not for me. I want to be healthy, but I don’t want to spend my life being miserable turning down food for the sake of having a flat stomach. If I happened to get a flat stomach by chance than that would be a happy accident, but I love carbs far too much to worry about what my stomach would look like in a bikini. For starters, the person I tend to go on holiday with is The Boyfriend who knows what my stomach looks like and he’s still with me. It’s not so bad. Strangers on the beach or by the pool are either too busy obsessing about what they look like in a bikini to care about what anyone else looks like, or too immersed in sunbathing/reading/posing to even notice anyone else. I’m not spending 6 months denying myself everything I love to eat so I can still feel self conscious and paranoid on holiday for the 1 day I might decide to spend at the beach. Secondly, when on holiday I eat like a king. At breakfast there is only one correct answer to the question “would you like your egg fried or poached” and that is “both”. I do not hold back. My hypothetical flat stomach would be ruined within minutes of arriving at my destination. Thirdly, we do not tend to take beach holidays. I will be damned if I spend months of my life on what the media love to call a ‘bikini body’ when my stomach is never on show in public. Balls to it. If having a flat stomach is what floats your boat and you’re happy to sacrifice carbs to get it, great, more power to you, you have more willpower than I’ll ever have. But it’s not for me. I’m fairly happy with the size that I am, I’d like to lose a touch more but I’m not going to look sadly at a tray of cupcakes being passed around and say no. Life is just too short. If you need more convincing on the subject, check out Caitlyn Moran’s excellent book How To Be A Woman and her thoughts and musings on women’s bodies and the pressure we are under from the media to look a certain way.

Saying all that, Gizzi’s book is filled with flavour packed, interesting recipes that are light on calories but that I would still eat whether trying to lose weight or not. From the two recipes I’ve eaten, you would never know from the taste that they are low on calories because the flavours are pretty full on and you’re allowed to use ingredients that you wouldn’t normally find in a diet book, such as chorizo and coconut milk. If this is what the healthy recipes taste like, I can’t wait to try out the sinful recipes in this book. First up, satay chicken noodle rice bowl. Being a big fan of Asian food, this naturally jumped out at me and I couldn’t resist cooking it first. Somewhere in Ukraine The Boyfriend is rolling his eyes, exasperated at the predictability of me. I don’t care though, it was so good. The recipe asks you to use yellow curry paste which I couldn’t find in the supermarket (although I have seen it there before) so I made do with green curry paste which is always in my fridge. I crisped up the chicken thighs (yes, you’re allowed to keep the skin on them, I love Gizzi), boiled up some brown rice and spooned over a supremely delicious curry sauce which was a combination of Thai curry and Indonesian satay, and if that combination doesn’t make you salivate then you’ve obviously never had either of them. As with any really tasty meal, I finished my plate with a combination of complete satisfaction and sadness that there was none left. You don’t get that with many ‘bikini body’ friendly dinners.

The second meal I cooked was pork and chorizo meatballs with spelt spaghetti. Although yet again the supermarket didn’t have what I was looking for so I stuck with my old faithful, linguine. Pork is leaner than beef, so the inclusion of chorizo doesn’t feel so bad and the sauce is made up of fresh, ripened on the vine tomatoes with mashed up garlic, fennel seeds and chilli so as meatballs and pasta goes, it’s pretty virtuous. The trick is dishing up a much smaller amount of pasta than normal, something I really struggle to do what with my unending love for the stuff. Yet again, Gizzi delivered on her promise. The meatballs had a spicy heat from the chorizo and while there wasn’t a great deal of sauce, the flavours of garlic and fennel shine through and there was enough to keep the pasta from going dry. I don’t like tomatoes when raw and firm, I’m not fond of the taste or texture, but once cooked down into mush like in this sauce I can get along just fine with them.

If you need inspiration for healthy meals and like big, punchy flavours then this is the best non-diet diet book around. Healthy meals that don’t leave you feeling deprived and hungry yet can also aid weight loss don’t come better than this. Remember though,there is no secret to losing weight despite what magazines and the Daily Fail might tell you, its just about eating sensibly, exercising and enjoying yourself. And never forget that being happy in yourself and full of self confidence on a regular basis will do more for you than a flat stomach on show for a few days of the year ever will.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food, Thai

 

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Perfect Snowed In Food

Snow can be a pain for some, but for me, being able to hunker down at home in snuggly clothes with the heating turned up, a cookbook in hand and nowhere to go is sheer perfection. Admittedly, it’s not entirely perfect what with The Boyfriend not being back for a few days, but I’m adaptable and having free rein over the TV all night is the silver lining I’m clinging to. I’m very thankful too that I have a ridiculously well stocked store cupboard, meaning a quick walk round the corner to the local shop to get fresh food was all I needed to cook up the perfect snow day meal. I did nearly fall over approximately 20 times in front of the much more agile children sledding down the slopes while on my travels, but no matter as I had chocolate in my shopping bag! Green and Blacks chocolate to be precise, the good stuff, the ‘you know it’s payday’ stuff. But more on the chocolate later, we’ve got the savoury stuff to deal with first, which just so happened to be divinely delicious. I’ll be honest, today I didn’t really want to do a lot of experimenting as snowy days call for comfort and warmth, so I turned to one of my all time favourite cookbooks that I know I can rely on time after time. If you assumed Nigella then you would be wrong, for it was Gizzi Erskines’ beautiful book Kitchen Magic that provided me with the recipe for a bowlful of satay chicken noodle soup. I’d not made it before, but this book has given me plenty of tasty Asian meals before and I knew Gizzi wouldn’t let me down. It was perfect. Crispy chicken thighs, spicy Thai tasting broth and slippery rice noodles, what could be better on a day like today? It also took barely any time whatsoever to cook, which is no bad thing when everything smells so good whilst cooking that you just want to scarf it all down in one go. The chicken thighs are coated in spices and despite the fact that I de-skinned them (I know, I know, but I couldn’t justify chicken skin and chocolate now could I? I’m trying to lose weight!) they still ended up being crispy on top and moist within as thighs are fairly hard to overcook unlike the breast. The soup itself contained yellow curry paste, peanut butter, coconut milk and chilli oil amongst other Asian ingredients (store cupboard being put to its full potential) and was exactly what I needed to fight off the winter chill – warming, spicy and full of the complex Thai flavours that make me want to book a flight to Bangkok. If we didn’t have to pay for plasterers, paint and roof tiles I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I’d be doing right now. Damn you house! Topped with my absolute favourites, mint, coriander and red chilli, it was a blinder of a soup. I’d been very tempted to get a chow mein after walking past the Chinese on the way back from the shop but I am so pleased I resisted and went for this instead, it really is very very good and much better for me than an MSG laden takeaway.

Following on from the soup I made chocolate, cherry and walnut brownies from In The Mood For Food by Jo Pratt. This is definitely my most used cookbook, although it had its heyday if you will when I first got into cooking and cookbooks several years ago, and hasn’t been used as much recently. This is a shame as just like Nigella and Gizzi, you can rely on Jo to give you quality food that tastes gorgeous with minimal effort. I think it’s a woman thing, male chefs like Jamie and Gordon want to wow you and cook food under pressure or impossible time limits, whereas women just want to feed you without all the palaver. It’s not about showing off, it’s about delivering tasty food that doesn’t stress you out when cooking it. Yet again my trusty store cupboard came into play, providing me with glacé cherries, walnuts and the usual baking ingredients. All I needed from the shop was chocolate and butter (just hearing those two words together makes me salivate). The best part about baking brownies though is easily the licking of the bowl afterwards once the brownie mixture that actually made it to the oven is cooking away. I have just two rules regarding licking the bowl and they are as follows: 1) always use a teaspoon, never a tablespoon. A teaspoon means it takes longer to clear the bowl out and tricks your mind into thinking you’ve had more as you have to keep going back for more. 2 licks of a tablespoon compared to 4 in a teaspoon, it’s a no brainer, and 2) if someone is in the house with you, only tell them that its bowl licking time (and no, that really isn’t a euphemism) once you yourself have had a few teaspoons of it yourself. You cooked that bad boy brownie, you reap the rewards and don’t let anyone tell you different. If The Boyfriend tries to get in there with his teaspoon before I’ve had my fill, it’s like a scene from a wildlife programme where the lions are fighting over a zebra carcass. Love means never having to share your brownie mix.

Now I’ve never had a bad brownie, they are pretty hard to mess up as all the ingredients are very tasty on their own, let alone combined, and this brownie was no exception. Crunchy walnuts, sweet and sticky cherries combined with dark chocolate, perfect. The brownies are squidgy in the middle with a crisp top and the tiny amount of sea salt added cuts through the intense sweetness of the gooey brownie. I did try to be inventive and added a capful of Baileys to use up the leftover dregs from Christmas, but there was not even the slightest trace of this in the taste and to be honest when the chocolate tastes as good as it does in this brownie who even cares? Keeping on theme, I dusted them with a blizzard of icing sugar for extra presentational effect. I’ve got to trek over to the house tomorrow in these snowy conditions and I’ll be bringing a tin of these brownies with me, chiefly as fuel for our mate doing the electrics, but also as emergency rations if my car gets stuck for hours on the road. I may not have a shovel, torch or spare jumpers in my boot, but at least I’ll have sugary, chocolatey goodness and really, isn’t that what everyone should have to hand in an emergency situation?

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A Load Of Rhubarb

Todays cooking endeavours started out so miserably that I was almost tempted to give up by 10am. My attempt to make a rhubarb compote without a recipe to hand didn’t end up as I expected – with me pulling it off perfectly and then feeling like a domestic goddess with no need for cookbooks ever again – but with a burnt tray of rhubarb and black sugar that, needless to say did not make it to my breakfast of banana and Greek yoghurt. Safe to say it was a very boring breakfast without that sweet – sour tang of rhubarb, and the cookbooks are staying. That’s what happens when you ignore the smell of burning wafting in from the kitchen! Luckily for my tummy (and for the blog) I picked myself back up and carried on undeterred with my planned cooking, as once The Boyfriend is back my weekends will be spent DIY-ing, moving and doing a whole lot of cleaning, so lets cook while we can!
While I’m not on a diet (because I hate them, don’t believe they are sustainable and don’t want to spend January starving) I am eating a lot more healthily and downsizing my portions in a slow burn attempt to drop a dress size by the end of April. I’ll never be able to stick to any eating plan that denies me chocolate and cake, so lets just be healthier. Bearing this in mind, for my lunch I blended up a soup from Nigella Christmas, sweet potato and butternut squash. It may not be Christmas anymore but there are plenty of winter friendly recipes and this one happens to be full of goodness, plus the golden orange colour peps up an icy day. The Boyfriend is not a fan of either sweet potato or squash which I find pure madness as I love them and they are exceptionally good for you to boot. It’s a really simple soup to make and tastes ridiculously good. There is a warming edge to it from the nutmeg and cinnamon, and the unusual addition of Marsala wine cranks the flavour up a notch. It’s sweet like you’d expect from a sweet potato soup but while the Marsala adds sweetness, the taste of alcohol stops it from being too much. If you cook a lot then a bottle of Marsala is an essential, you can use it in desserts like tiramisu and trifles, stews, soups, chicken dishes…. It’s indispensable and because its a fortified wine it lasts ages in the store cupboard. Get some now! In the cookbook, Nigella also recommends making a blue cheese sauce to swirl over the soup but this would turn lunch from healthy to indulgent. It helps my weight loss that its the week before payday too, otherwise that blue cheese may well have just accidentally found its way into my trolley.

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As I’m sure you all remember, Sunday used to be my baking day but with The Boyfriend being back for three months that got shelved. Well, its back for one day only! Thankfully I hadn’t burnt all of my rhubarb this morning and still had plenty of stalks left to bake a cake. Trawling through my Delicious magazines I found the recipe for rhubarb, vanilla and sour cream crumb cake in the March 2011 edition and knew I just had to make it. Rhubarb deserves more than crumbles, delicious though they are. It may come as a surprise to those of you who I haven’t been out drinking with, but I’m a big fan of hip hop and my preferred choice of music to bake to is always rap. I’m terrible at rapping myself although give me a few mojitos and I soon forget that, but what can I say, in the privacy of my own kitchen (and car, shower, bedroom….) I pretend I’m Azealia Banks or Lil Kim. This is how I found myself chanting “I guess that cake getting eaten” while spooning the cake and rhubarb mix into the tin (for those of you with a sensitive disposition, sticking with my cake lyrics to 212 is probably for the best). The cake itself is supremely yummy, but how could a cake with a vanilla sponge, tangy yet sweet rhubarb and a crunchy topping made of sugar and butter ever not be? I kept my portion to a small slice and resisted having any custard with it, but that would be a heavenly combination. The rest will hopefully be dished up tomorrow when friends are over for dinner, although I am now wondering if they are all as fond of rhubarb as I am? It’s so beautiful and pink though, how could anyone dislike it? Anyway, the cake is moist, sweet, sour with a tasty crunch from the topping, and in my eyes is the perfect cake to chow down on on a cold Sunday afternoon. In the words of Azealia (well, sort of) “Imma ruin you, cake”.

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Last but by no means least, for my dinner I made Malaysian satay chicken from Gizzi Erskines Kitchen Magic, which is one of my favourite cookbooks. I marinated the chicken in some Asian ingredients, left it all day then cooked and served with rice. The chicken was really tasty, with sharp, almost Thai tastes and kept me going back for more even when the rice was starting to fill me up. It was probably a mistake to serve with rice as although the marinade seemed plentiful when I started cooking, by the time the chicken was cooked through it had evaporated massively with just enough clinging to the chicken but not enough to stop the rice being dry. In spite of this though it was delicious and will be a tasty cold lunch tomorrow too. Another success from Kitchen Magic, which I can’t recommend enough as everything I’ve ever cooked from it has been a total success. You really should buy it.

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Getting to know Gordon

When you think of famous chef extraordinaire Gordon Ramsay, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Shouting at idiotic chefs? Refusing to cook for vegetarians? Well it turns out you’re wrong, wrong, wrong because despite his fearsome reputation as a shouty, foul mouthed chef he’s actually a bit of a romantic. I once thought the same as you but after watching 100 Recipes To Stake Your Life On a few weeks ago I saw a totally different side to him. When its just him and food on screen he becomes Mr Lover Lover, romancer of romanesco and seducer of sirloins. How I wish I was exaggerating, but watching him manhandle food and talk in husky tones to a bread and butter pudding made me think that all that was missing was a 70’s soundtrack and a broken washing machine needing ‘fixing’. I’m just going to come out and say it, Gordon Ramsay wants to make love to food, and that is a scientific fact! Watch as he makes chocolate doughnuts and says ‘doughnuts get me really excited’, hear how he calls them ‘beautiful’ and put your fingers in your ears as he oooohs and aaaahs about how satisfying they are to eat. Food porn at its filthiest. Don’t let this put you off what was otherwise a great cookery show though, as the food really did look gorgeous and absolutely everything looked delightfully edible. Just know that after watching him knead and massage a focaccia dough, you’ll never look at bread the same way again.

After taking the mick out of Ramsay pretty much everyday in the office, I was thrilled to be given the accompanying cookbook as a birthday present from my work Birthday Buddy last week. It’s a great looking cookbook (called Ultimate Cookery Course) filled with some really yummy looking food, and has a great variety of really interesting looking recipes that you wouldn’t necessarily find in other celeb chefs books. Today I went for the very first recipe that I saw him cook on the show, and that was chilli beef lettuce wraps. As you may know, I had a storming success with meat in lettuce a couple of weeks ago (Cambodian beef) and hoped that Gordon’s Thai alternative would be just as successful. Gordon encourages us to ‘take mince beef further than you’ve ever taken it before’, which while sounding exciting just means crumble it in to a very hot frying pan and get it really crispy so that it adds some crunch to your dinner. I know, talk about misleading! Add some zingy Thai flavours, whip up a sour dressing and spoon into baby gem lettuce leaves for a tasty and speedy post work dinner. In my opinion it was easy to make, tasty but not particularly mind blowing. But don’t just take my word for it, The Boyfriend is back now and his verdict was pretty similar. Although he is one tough customer to please in the kitchen. I’d make it again as it was tasty enough and simple to make, and easily beats a microwave ready meal on pretty much all counts. Not a bad start from the new book, but there are a lot of recipes I’m itching to try from this tome, so do expect to be seeing a lot more from food romancer Ramsay on these pages.
I forgot to take a photo, so desperate was I to eat it, but it definitely looked exactly like the images from the book. Yep, it would be really tricky to tell my version apart from Gordon’s. Ahem.

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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Thai

 

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Been around the world and I, I, I….

Italy, Thailand, America, it’s like a round the world plane ticket in miniature, all in my kitchen. But not to worry that I (I, I, I) can’t find ‘my baby’ as he’s back next Saturday, nice and early first thing in the morning on my birthday. What more could I want as a present? I would just like to assure you all that I would never really call The Boyfriend ‘my baby’, I do have some standards when it comes to nick names, but when a song title fits, it fits! So to make the most of what free time I had this weekend, I got my ass in the kitchen and made the most of my last solo weekend for a while. Believe me, I can’t wait for him to be back and am desperate to not wake up alone every morning, but I do enjoy the ability to potter about in the kitchen all day and cook what ever my heart desires on a Sunday. It’s making the best out of a bad situation. So to celebrate my last lonely Sunday morning for a while I took some inspiration from Jamie’s America to knock up breakfast. I’ve said it before about the Americans and how they have the knack for breakfast and I would say it again but I don’t like repeating myself. So I went with the New York section as surely New Yorkers are the Kings Of Breakfast (I’m not sure why I’ve come to this conclusion but it just seems right to me), and made myself Omelette Gordon Bennett, which is a twist on the classic Arnold Bennett omelette which was apparently created by a very fussy customer in a top NY hotel. The twist being that Jamie replaces smoked haddock with smoked mackerel. As twists go, it’s not exactly up there with the polar bear in Lost but its Sunday morning, i’ll let it go. It’s a very simple dish to make and easy enough to halve (recipe gives enough for two, but 5 eggs even for me is a bit much), the only tricky bit is making sure the bottom doesn’t burn while you make sure the egg on top of the omelette is fully cooked. Because of the chunks of fish it’s not advisable to flip the omelette as the weight would collapse it, so you need to keep a close eye on the omelette and adjust the heat accordingly. Incredibly I managed to cook it perfectly and it tasted pretty wonderful. I love smoked mackerel and being advised to top the whole thing off with grated Parmesan at 9 in the morning makes this a winner for a filling breakfast. You probably won’t even need lunch. If you’re a fan of American food then Jamie’s book is great, he covers several different states and a huge variety of food, including Native American recipes. The best sections though are definitely Louisiana and Georgia, with some good old fashioned Southern recipes. Delicious.

On to Italy, and before you ask, no this recipe did not come out of Nigellas new book. Or any book at all actually. I made some focaccia using a recipe given to me by a chef at a cookery course I attended. The course happened to be about French food, but this did not stop us making Italian bread and for that I am very glad. This focaccia recipe is bread perfection and totally and utterly foolproof. As long as you’re prepared to do ten minutes of kneading then this is really easy and after all that kneading all you need is patience while the dough proves. If the kneading sounds like too much work for you, wait until someone has really pissed you off to make it, and then 10 minutes of pretending the dough is that persons face won’t seem long enough. Violence against flour is fine, less so against people. My favourite part of making bread (after eating it of course) is poking the bread once its ready to go in the oven as the feel of it is bouncy, pillowy and lighter than air. Do this once and you’ll completely understand my wish to one day sleep on a bed made entirely of dough. Heaven. When the bread is ready to go in the oven, poke some dimples in the bread and push some ingredients in said dimples. I went for chillies today, but feel free to go with rosemary, olives, sun dried tomatoes…. Whatever takes your fancy really. When this comes out of the oven it will be all but impossible to dive right in as the smell is amazing and it looks so inviting. It says something about the quality of this bread that I can eat it solely on its own without even a smudge of butter on it. (Bread and butter is one of my favourite things to eat. Good bread though). The crust is crunchy with sprinkles of sea salt and the middle is soft, bouncy and utterly divine. It does go stale really quickly, which shows just how many chemicals must be pumped into supermarket bread to keep it fresh as long as it does, but slice it up and pop in the freezer if you won’t use it all up straight away. I’ll post the recipe for this later as any budding bakers should give it a go, and its not a copyrighted recipe so I’m free to share the goods!

I’ve also been cooking some Thai food after the success earlier in the week with Rick Steins book Far Eastern Odyssey, so tried yellow stir fry curry with prawns from the same book. This version is a bit different from the other Thai curries I’ve had as it contains no coconut milk and uses stock instead. It is ferociously hot and this was without the dried Kashmiri chilli that I could not find in the shops, so I was actually quite relieved I only included some regular red chillies in the paste. I’m not entirely sure I would make it again as while spicy which I like, it didn’t have anything else much going for it. I’m not one of those people who eats spicy food purely for the sake of it, spicy food has to have more flavours to it than just pure hot chilli heat. Not that it isn’t funny watching someone sweat when they order the hottest curry on the menu in front of their mates, because it really is. Still, despite being blindingly hot, I managed to finish it without an audience so I suppose I’m no better than the show offs, sweating without the congratulatory pats on the back from the men on the table.

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