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Chineasy Chicken

The best Chinese chicken I’ve ever had came tucked in a baguette from a sandwich shop just round the corner from the furniture shop I used to work at as a teenager. Every Saturday without fail I’d take all the staffs orders, nip down to the bakery and grab our huge order, and my order would always be Chinese chicken baguette. It was so tasty and the baguettes were always the perfect combination of crunchy crust and soft, doughy interior. Teenage lunch heaven. So you can imagine my grief and heartbreak when they took the Chinese chicken off the menu one sorry, sorry day in the early noughties. Distraught I was! I had to downgrade to a chicken tikka filling which while still being tasty, was not a patch on the Chinese. What does this have to do with today’s blog? Well, nothing really to be honest, except that today’s dinner reminded me of this early experience of grief and betrayal, and I got to use a pun in today’s title from one of my favourite movies ever, Ratatouille (the plot of which can be easily summed up with ‘there’s a rat in me kitchen, what am I gonna do?’. Get it to cook you a Michelin starred meal, that’s what).
Tonight I went with Gordon Ramsays’ newest book Ultimate Cookery Course and made Sichuan chicken. As the title suggests, it’s Chinese and its really easy, all you need to do is marinate the chicken then cook it in the marinade with chilli, garlic and ginger until the chicken is cooked and is covered in the reduced, sticky marinade. The marinade contains one of my favourite ingredients to say, which is Shaoxing rice wine, and really tickles me every time I say it. Don’t ask why because I don’t know, I just like the way it sounds. Try it then maybe you’ll understand. This is definitely a recipe which is better when used with chicken thighs, they don’t dry out in the same way breasts do and have a lot more flavour. Plus, if you’re on a budget they are so much cheaper, although I’d go with them over breasts even if they were more expensive. It can take time to reduce a sauce so you don’t want the meat to dry out and become barely inedible, so if you’ve not done so before, give thighs a go in a curry or casserole to see the difference. I served the chicken with some straight to wok noodles in Singapore flavour (I know what you’re thinking, how mental am I serving Sichaun and Singapore cuisine on the same plate? It’s risk taking like that that’ll get you noticed in culinary circles) which I had to hand and meant less washing up for the other half. The result? The glaze wasn’t as sticky and thick as I’d have liked it, but it had a nice spicy ping to it and coated the chicken really well. It did taste a bit too strongly of sesame oil which Gordon advised me to drizzle over the finished dish so perhaps I was a but heavy handed in the oil department but the flavour of the marinade and chillies fought there way through it. But enough about my opinion, I know you all really want to know what The Boyfriend thought about it, my toughest critic. I think it’s safe to say food critics A.A Gill, Jay Rayner and Kate Spicer can rest easy tonight, as when asked for his review his thoughts on dinner were, word for word, “I liked it, 3 out of 5. A perfectly acceptable midweek meal”. If he were to be paid by the word he’d soon find himself bankrupt, sleeping on the street and offering sexual favours for a sandwich. But I’ll say this, at least he’s concise, no waffly preamble about something completely unrelated to dinner before spending all of 3 sentences on the entire point of the article. Something to comfort him while he’s on the park bench and Gill is in his trendy London home.

So we had a successful dinner tonight, nothing groundbreaking but tasty, filling and involving very little effort and minimal washing up. Plus it was a lot healthier than a takeaway, although nowhere near as satisfying after a long day. You’ll notice that once again my presentation is less than impressive, Monica Galletti would tear me apart were I to present her with such a plate, but I’d rather a hot dinner that looked a little shabby than a good looking dinner that was lukewarm after all the faffing. Saying all that, I do love how she can destroy a chef with just a grimace and a stare on Masterchef, more uncomfortable to watch than a Bush Tucker Trial.

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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Chicken, Chinese, Cooking, Food

 

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The trouble with eggs

Oh mayonnaise, what are we going to do with you? You taste very nice in your little jars, but so many cookbooks and chefs tell me that homemade mayonnaise is even nicer that in the interests of tasting delicious food I feel it is my duty to make some. Trouble is that these same chefs and cookbooks also tell me how darn difficult it is to make it from scratch, hence our reliance on the good old Hellmans. In the book I’m reading at the moment, Lunch in Paris (not a cookbook but a true story about an American falling in love with a Frenchman and food in Paris, peppered with a few recipes here and there -right up my street) , the author describes meeting her new beaus family and mother who, calmly in the middle of conversation, whips up a bowlful of mayonnaise to go with lunch. She made it sound so easy, the swine, that I just knew right then that I had to try myself. The meal it revolved around was supposed to be pan fried salmon with lime and coriander mayonnaise and crushed potatoes again with lime and coriander from my new book French Brasserie. Unfortunately my attempt at mayonnaise went disastrously – I added the oil too quickly to the egg yolks so instead of a bowl full of pillowy, creamy mayonnaise I ended up with oily egg yolks that had the same consistency as grease. And I had no extra eggs to try again, so I ended up grilling the salmon in foil with lime, ginger, chilli and coriander and accompanied the fish with the potatoes described earlier. While tasty, it lacked the je ne sais quoi that I had anticipated from the homemade mayonnaise, and in my bad temper I’d seriously over cooked the salmon. Bugger. So to say it wasn’t the most successful evening spent in the kitchen would be an understatement. Nigella quotes in one of her books that she grew up making mayonnaise and never knew it was difficult until someone commented on her ability to do it. This is why I love her, so unfazed, so blasé at the tricky side to cooking, and encouraging you, as she would phrase it, to feel the fear and cook it anyway. True for life outside the kitchen too, just do it. One day, homemade mayonnaise, I will return to overcome your tricky ways.

Despite what the rather misleading title of todays blog would have you believe, I’ve also had a successful crack at the eggs this week. This success came from Nigella Bites, which is one of my favourite offerings from The Lawson. When a cookbook has chapters like ‘TV Dinners’ and ‘Trashy’, you know you’re going to be eating well. Favourites from this include the chocolate fudge cake (simply amazing, if you only make one recipe from Bites, this is the one) and the meatballs and pasta. I got Bites from EBay secondhand when I first moved out of the parents home and I really love that there are splashes of food on some of the pages. The Boyfriend thinks its gross, but being the dreamer that I am I just think of the happy meals a family or couple had using this book. Or maybe they weren’t such great meals if they ended up selling it on eBay. Hmmm. Dinner tonight from this gem was masala omelette with coriander chutney and chapatis, which is in the breakfast section but between you and me, this ain’t no breakfast. What it is though is tasty with a big chilli smack in the face which I very much appreciated after a tiring day of work. The omelette is taken up a notch with chopped spring onion, chilli, garlic and some Indian spices, and eaten wrapped up in chapatis with a big dollop of coriander chutney. So easy and ridiculously tasty. The chutney provides most of the spice, which is sharp and nasal clearing but not the sort of spice that turns your mouth into a volcano. It’s manageable. The chutney just involves chucking a few chillies, herbs and coconut cream in a blender with some lime juice so is very simple, and likely to not even be a chutney at all. It contains my two favourite herbs which are mint and coriander. God, I love them. They smell glorious and transport me to tropical shores every time I get a whiff of them. They also taste stunning, alone or together, and I’m rather partial to eating them on their own while waiting for something to cook. What a freak. The time/flavour ratio for this dinner is off the scale, it takes no time at all yet delivers a really flavourful meal that wakes your taste buds up. The perfect recipe then, to get me amped up and excited about the release of Nigella’s new cookbook next week. This is an obsession I’m happy to continue for a little while yet!

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What must people think of me?!

Well it turns out I have a reputation when it comes to food. And apparently it’s not good. Yes, someone at work dared to write down their opinions on fellow workmates and it wasn’t all flattering! I’ll mention no names but they know who they are. Luckily for her, we are a very good humoured bunch and found it hilarious. My reputation apparently is that I don’t share food, and don’t you dare criticise my cupcakes! Now, this could possibly have to do with the fact that on my 2nd week in the job many years ago (two), I may have gone out for a few drinks with my new workmates and while eating a kebab at the end of the night, shouted out in true Joey Tribiani style “Hayley doesn’t share food”. (That’s me in case you hadn’t twigged). And they have never forgotten it. Despite the fact I regularly bring in cupcakes for all to tuck into. I must confess, I have at times been a little overprotective with my food, even The Boyfriend couldn’t get a look in, but I’ve changed, I’m a new woman! But yeah, she’s spot on with one thing: don’t criticise my cupcakes biatch.

Let’s move on from questionable reputations and discuss dinner. Tonight I delved into my Delicious magazine from May 2010 which is an Italian special and full of pretty gorgeous looking recipes. I really love Italian food, but haven’t experimented much with the country’s cuisine, sticking to fairly safe and reliable dishes. And I’m sorry to say that I’ve done that again today. I needed a quick, easy dish after work and the gym, and this fitted the bill. It’s tagliatelle with prawns, chilli and courgette (catchy title), and takes 15 minutes from start to finish. While the dish was nice and easy, (and courgette free due to a lack of them in Sainsbury’s- I replaced them with a carrot) it was nothing special. Sauce was creamy and smooth, with a hint of garlic and a kick of chilli, while the actual tagliatelle may have been the best thing. I really love eating pasta, I don’t know what it is about it but I find the stuff so comforting even when it’s straight out of salted water, completely plain. Could be the many Saturdays in with the parents as a child watching Gladiators and eating homemade spaghetti bolognese. Food associated with comfort and happiness will always be our go to favourites after all. But I should definitely branch out and try more obscure or unusual pasta dishes, and not stick to the easy, comforting meals.

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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Italian

 

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These are a few of my favourite (foodie) things

  • Vanilla. Some people (foolish ones) use the term vanilla as a reference to something dull, bland or unexciting, which I must say I find abhorrent! Lets put the record straight, vanilla is amazing. Cheap ice cream has done much damage to the reputation of vanilla, but real vanilla ice cream with vanilla seeds in is truly one of the nicest things anyone can eat. Chocolate ice cream just doesn’t compare. Plus when you have in your hands a vanilla pod, you will be welcomed with the sexiest smell on Earth. Seriously, vanilla smells hot. Don’t be fooled by cheap body sprays, no vanilla scent is as good as the humble, sexy pod. Plus, fresh custard without vanilla would just be bland and tasteless eggy cream, which isnt appealling to anyone. Treat the vanilla pod with some respect peeps!
  • Cheese. Regular readers may be aware that my love for melted cheese knows no bounds. Sit the UN and all the worlds evil dictators around a table together, serve them melted cheese toasties and I think we could have world peace on our hands! Just a thought Ban Ki Moon. Whether its cheese on toast, parmesan on pasta or mozzarella on pizza, I love its stringy oozeyness, strong taste and the fact that its like a hug on a plate. Lets not forget mascarpone either. Next time you have a fresh punnet of strawberries on you, forgo the usual cream (forgive me Britain) and replace with mascarpone that’s had a tablespoon of icing sugar whipped into it. Also good with peaches. Some might call it a bit decadent, but don’t feel constrained by norms and traditions, break out and try something a bit different.
  • Chilli. This could well be my favourite ingredient ever. If I suddenly developed a chilli intolerance I would probably have a nervous breakdown. There goes all that spicy Thai/Chinese/Indian/Mexican/Morrocan/Mediterannean food that I love. Look how many cultures food thrives with the help of the chilli, and I’ve barely scratched the surface there. Without chilli my taste buds would go into mourning and all food would taste bland and unexciting (except for vanilla of course). It’s not that I want everything to be so hot that I come out in a sweat, but a good level of spiciness makes a good dish taste amazing and makes your mouth tingle. I never used to like spicy foods, but over time I’ve gradually built up my heat tolerance to a fairly high level. So if you’re a chilli beginner, don’t dive in head first with a super hot Thai jungle curry, break yourself in gently. Plus, the health benefits of chillies are too numerous to mention here, but check out this website for more information: http://www.chilli-willy.com/chilli-health-benefits/
  • Chocolate. I’m fairly certain you all know where I’m coming from. I love chocolate in almost all forms, whether thats a Galaxy from the vending machine, an expensive bar from a specialist shop, a mug of hot chocolate or as chunks in a tub of Ben and Jerrys. My favourite ways to enjoy chocolate are either by eating huge amounts of Lindtor truffles (truly heaven) or as melt in the middle chocolate fondants with a dollop of clotted cream on the side. Beautiful.

I did cook a recipe today from my June 2011 Delicious magazine but it was so unremarkable that it barely warrants a mention. But it was herb roasted chicken with baby new potatoes and while it was fairly tasty, it was also forgettable. Healthy though. Not even close to any of the above foods, which aren’t included at all in this recipe. Coincidence? I don’t think so!

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Slacking…

I have to admit that I’ve been a bit lazy this week with the cooking and trying new recipes. The Boyfriend is only back for three weeks and then he’s off again so it’s been all about cooking him his favourite meals or going out. He was a bit miffed that once he goes away he’ll miss out on the British summer but a week of solid rain has made him think maybe it won’t be so bad to be in the sunnier climes of South Africa! So no experimenting with new recipes or dusting off old cookbooks I’m afraid, although I have been getting him to try some of the more successful recipes tried over the last couple of months. Today the broccoli cheese soup is simmering away on the hob as we speak and it smells deeeeeelicious. He isn’t yet convinced that this will be nice even though it’s main ingredient is melted cheese (which could make anything taste amazing) and doesn’t really taste of broccoli either, but there is an emergency chicken soup in the fridge in case. Prepared for all outcomes, that’s me, Bree van de Kamp needs to watch her back!

Anyway, aside from the soup, I’ve not cooked much except my chilli con carne and roast pork. The Boyfriend claims that he could happily eat my chilli 3 times a week so while he’s here I may as well spoil him with it. He never used to like chilli but mine won him round and beat him into submission. I say ‘my chilli’ but it’s something my dad cooked regularly when we were kids and then he taught me to cook it when I was about 18. I just ramped it up a bit by putting in a lot more spices and sweet chilli sauce than normal so it’s not subtle at all but that’s how I like it. I’ve had some really good feedback from others about my chilli so I guess it must be good, unless they were just being polite! But we love it so that’s really all that matters. The good thing about The Boyfriend is he’ll always be completely honest with me about my food so there’s no voice in my head going “he’s just being polite, he hated it really”. It’s like being on Masterchef and presenting the plate to John Torode.

We’ve also eaten out a few times as we’re making the most of our time off together and getting out and about. On a shopping trip to the Bullring yesterday we wangled a free lunch at Wagamama which only made the meal more delicious. Sadly the free meal was not down to any of our charm, beauty or charisma, but for waiting 45 minutes for a bill and then being told to just leave. Fine by me, if I’d known I’d have ordered more! I had mint and lemongrass soba noodles (so tasty and refreshing), he had chilli chicken ramen (always delicious) and we shared some duck gyoza dumplings which came with a hoi sin cherry sauce which are also delicious. And all for free, we definitely had the shopping gods on our side yesterday. I’m not normally a fan of chains but I do love Wagamama, the food is always fresh and tasty and is packed with flavour. If you like Thai or Vietnamese food then Wagamama should be right up your street.

I will be back soon with some more attempts at new recipes before he heads off again, this has probably been quite a boring post so I do apologise if it feels like a diary entry rather than a blog! I shall return!

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food

 

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