Welcoming the rooster

The Chinese zodiac year of the Fire Rooster started on January 28, 2017.  Together with a few friends I decided to welcome the year of the rooster, by cooking a Chinese meal.  Our host had selected the dishes for us to cook and done all the shopping!

img_7252

As you can tell, we started proceedings with a glass of bubbly – just one glass though, there was work to be done yet!!  We cooked five dishes in total:

Simple Thai-style Lemongrass Shrimp Soup:

The soup only required two ingredients which might not be in your cupboard:  fish sauce and chili paste with garlic.  You should be able to find both of them at an Asian grocery store or in the speciality section of a larger supermarket.  The remaining ingredients are easy to find.

The finished soup was delicious, wonderful flavours of ginger and lemongrass.  Definitely one I will make again!

img_7265

Duck pancakes with hoisin sauce:

Preparing that dish was fairly straightforward, but different to the classic way of using crispy duck.  In this recipe, skinless duck breast was cut into strips, then stir fried and finished off with hoisin sauce.  We decided to substitute lettuce leaves for the pancakes, which made the dish lighter and gave it a bit of a crunch.

img_7272

King prawn and scallop stir fry:

The king prawn and scallop stir fry required a fair amount of preparation, but it was very quick to cook!  We substituted sherry for the rice wine, and there were some asparagus spears, so they went in as well! :).

It tasted every bit as good as it looked!

img_7270

Chicken and cashew nut stir-fry:

The chicken and cashew nut stir fry is an old favourite, which was easy to make.  It was great in that it required no special ingredients.

Once all the vegetables and ingredients were prepared, the cooking was very quick!  Another delicious dish!

img_7268

Mandarin Oranges with Grand Marnier and Mascarpone:

We finished our celebratory meal with a light and refreshing dessert.  It was a perfect ending to a delicious meal!

img_7273

Advertisements

Discovering new flavours

Our cooking get-togethers are still on the theme of ‘take one cookbook and do as many recipes as you can’.  The last time we met up, the book for the day was Siriana by Sabrina Ghayour.  It’s a book full of delicious sounding recipes, and we prepared three:

The above links are to various sites where you can find the recipes.  You could of course buy your own copy of Siriana.  I’ve not yet added the book to my bookshelf, but I feel that it may not be all that long… 🙂

The scallop dish was pretty easy to prepare.  A mandolin slicer made very short work of shaving the fennel into wafer-thin slices!

IMG_4116 IMG_4117

The shaved fennel was mixed with lemon juice and olive oil, and set aside while we made a dressing with honey, vinegar, saffron, orange juice, olive oil and a little lime juice.

The scallops were looking beautifully plump!

IMG_4122

Once we were ready to sit down for our starter, the scallops were seared on both sides in a very hot frying pan.  When they were just done, we arranged some of the dressed fennel and a few scallops on each plate, and drizzled over the prepared dressing – et voila!!  Delicious and simple to prepare at the same time!

IMG_4127a

The Bandari monkfish tails were prepared for our main course. There was one monkfish tail per person.

IMG_4124

To prepare this dish, the monkfish tails were marinated with a spice paste, which contained turmeric, curry powder, cumin, ground coriander seeds, cinnamon, garlic, fresh ginger, coriander leaves, dill weed, Greek yoghurt, and lime juice.  Quite a list of ingredients!!

IMG_4118 IMG_4119

Sabrina Ghayour recommended that a shirazi salad would be perfect to accompany the fish, so while the monkfish tails were marinating, we prepared that.

IMG_4113

The shirazi salad is a colourful mixture of fresh vegetables: cucumber, tomato and red onion, all cut into small pieces. Here’s the start of it.

IMG_4120

The salad is very simply dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Before serving, it is sprinkled with sumac (a sour tasting seed) and pomegranate seeds.  Here’s  our finished salad:

IMG_4128a

The monkfish tails were simply fried with a little olive oil…

IMG_4131a

…and the finished dish tasted every bit as good as it looked!

IMG_4134a

Originally we had planned to have our get together on Shrove Tuesday, also called pancake day in Britain, and so we had chosen crepes suzette for the dessert course.  Unfortunately our get-together had to be postponed,  but we stuck with the crepes suzette for dessert all the same.

IMG_4111

Wwe used Gordon Ramsay’s recipe (you can find it here), but we didn’t quite follow his method!  First we made a stack of crepes (thin pancakes), which were covered in plastic wrap, to stop them from drying out.  The oranges were filleted (the peel cut away, and the segments cut from the membranes), and some squeezed for juice.  The sugar was caramelized in a stainless steel pan (please don’t ever use a non-stick pan for that purpose, the temperature is too high for the non-stick coating), and once it was a nice caramel colour, grand marnier liqueur was added and “flamed”.  Careful, don’t singe your eyebrows!  The orange juice was added next, and the whole left to bubble for a moment.  Next the crepes were dipped into this sauce, one after the other, and each crepe folded into four.  They were then arranged on the plates, and decorated with the orange segments.  The crepes suzette were totally delicious!  I wish there had been more!!

IMG_4136a

Do you have a favourite cookbook or recipe you return to time and time again??  Do let me know!!

 

Plenty more

A couple of weeks back, I published the 200th post on this blog!!  To mark this milestone, I treated myself to a very special dinner at Nopi, whilst stopping over in London on a recent trip.  Nopi is a restaurant which was created by Yotam Ottolenghi, amongst others.  I’ve long been a fan of Mr Ottolenghi’s recipes, so this was very exciting!!  Plenty more is the title of Yotam Ottolenghi’s fourth book.  There’ll also be ‘plenty more’ posts on this blog!

The restaurant was very stylish and there were beautiful touches everywhere!  The food was sublime, and the menu was very much geared towards people sharing a multitude of smaller dishes – perfect for me and my companion!  That way we got to taste far more than just two starters and two main courses.  I felt too self-conscious to take many photographs, and the pictures I did take did not come out well enough to share with you, because of the low light levels.  Phone cameras can only do so much, unfortunately. 😦

But fear not, I have been doing some more cooking with my friends, and together we tried out more of Mr Ottolenghi’s recipes!! 🙂

Here’s what we cooked:

Since it was not long after Christmas and New Years, we all agreed that we wanted to keep it as simple and light as possible. The dishes we had chosen were perfect for that!

You’ll be able to download and print off the recipes from the above links (to find the pear recipe please keep scrolling down the page), so I won’t go into any details as regards preparation or ingredients.  Without further ado, here are the pictures for the grilled red mullet with lemon and celery salad:

The multi-vegetable paella was a glorious combination of rice and all kinds of vegetables:

With the caramelised pears we substituted strained yoghurt for the mascarpone, and left out the fennel seed crackers – it was still a very delicious dessert!!

It was such fun trying out these new dishes, and the results were so very good.  Have you tried out any of the recipes from my blog?  I’d love to hear how you got on!

Let there be plenty

Soon the festive season will be upon us all – a time of getting together with friends and family, sharing good cheer, good food, and presents – a time when most of us will eat too much, and some of us may drink a little too much…  It’s all part of the festive celebrations, a time-honoured tradition – and seriously, who can resist all that delicious food and drink??

Mindful of the excesses which may be heading our way I thought I would share a special meal with you, which I recently prepared and ate with some very dear friends.  The starting point was “Plenty”, a book by Yottam Ottolenghi, a British based cookery writer with Italian, Israeli and British passports.  “Plenty” is Ottolenghi’s second book, a collection of vegetarian recipes, which he developed for his column in the Guardian Weekend Magazine.  It is a book that draws on many different cuisines and influences.

 

My friends and I selected three dishes from the book:

“Plenty” is not strong on recipes for desserts.  I wanted to stay with a recipe by Ottolenghi for dessert, so I did a search on the net and turned up an interesting sounding recipe for strained ricotta balls with banana fritters, on the Guardian website.

I started the dessert recipe days ahead of our meal, as the ricotta balls need to drain in the fridge for several days.

For the Soba noodles and wakame, I searched the internet for an on-line retailer, and found a Japanese store in Paris which did mail order!!  Great!!  The package arrived on time – five out of five to http://www.kioko.fr !

I had never eaten or worked with wakame before, so it was interesting to try it.  Wakame is an edible seaweed, most often used in soups and salads.   It was very easy to re-hydrate the required quantity:

P1000989

Other ingredients for the salad were soba noodles, which are made with buckwheat flour; shredded cucumber (skin on), which is salted and left to drain for some time; as well as toasted sesame seeds, coriander and mint leaves, and radish sprouts.

The dressing was made with rice vinegar, lime juice, grated lime zest, chillies, fresh ginger, sugar, salt, sesame oil, garlic and sweet chilli sauce.

P1010034

It was quite a challenge to mix all these ingredients, but the result was worth all the effort – a wonderful combination of flavours and textures!

P1010040

The roasted butternut squash called for ingredients which were easy enough to find!  Butternut squashes are plentiful at this time of year, and I think they are the best of all winter squashes for flavour.  The squash was cut into slices, put on a lined baking sheet and liberally anointed with a mixture and oil, ground allspice and coarsely ground cardamom.  A little sprinkle of salt, and 15 minutes in the oven.

The dressing called for Greek yoghurt, lime juice, tahini, a little water and salt.  The sauce was poured over the cooled squash slices, and the whole decorated with lime segments, finely sliced green chilli and chopped fresh coriander.  Another winner!!

P1010041

The recipe for the caramelised garlic tart called for an incredible amount of garlic – three whole heads!

P1000988

The peeled garlic cloves were blanched in boiling water, drained, fried and then simmered with balsamic vinegar, rosemary and thyme until tender and caramelised.

The tart case was made with ready rolled puff pastry, which was blind-baked (pre-baked).P1010018

For the filling, two types of goat’s cheese (soft and hard) were crumbled and scattered over the base of the pastry case.  The garlic cloves were added, and the whole covered with a custard made of creme fraiche, double cream and eggs.

P1010030

The aromas which came from the oven while the tart was baking were heavenly, and the finished tart absolutely delicious!!

P1010043

When the time came, the dessert was very simple to prepare.  Having made the ricotta balls ahead, all that was left to do was to slice the bananas, prepare a tempura batter and deep fry the banana pieces.  I love fritters, and these were very delicious!!

P1010046

I would definitely make all these recipes again!  They were all straightforward to prepare and oh-so-delicious!!  Vegetarian food does not have to be boring, and “Plenty” is a testament to that!

If you want to try any of the recipes, the links at the beginning of this post will allow you to print them off.  Happy cooking and eating!

 

 

Paella with friends

You might have guessed from the title – I’ve been enjoying the annual visit of friends who have a house in Saint-Chinian.  We had some wonderful meals and days out, and together we have cooked and eaten a lot of delicious food!! 🙂 I don’t know how, but I did manage not to gain a huge amount of weight in the process – perhaps it was the hot weather!?

My friends enjoy food as much as I do, and one day we decided to try and cook paella.  There is a stall in Saint-Chinian market which sells perfectly good paella, but we had a sneaking suspicion that a home-cooked paella could be at least as good if not better

On my cookery book shelf I have a book called Catalan Cuisine (Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret) by Colman Andrews.  The author gives a number of recipes for Valencian paella, which is not strictly speaking a Catalan dish, but one which has been enthusiastically adopted by the people of Catalunya.  We decided to try the straightforward Valencian Paella, for which rabbit and chicken are used – no seafood here!  You can read an article by Colman Andrews about paella here – he also gives a recipe for a vegetable paella as part of the article.

Our ingredients were 250g rabbit, cut into pieces by the butcher, and 750g chicken, also cut into pieces by the same butcher.  I love my butcher in Saint-Chinian!  I sometimes wonder what I’ll do when he retires!  We also used some chorizo, which was not listed in the recipe, but we felt like it.

Some of the ingredients used for our paella

Some of the ingredients used for our paella

The recipe also called for one chopped onion, three tomatoes, olive oil, 500g of assorted beans (we used broad beans, French beans and a type of flat bean), a sprig of rosemary and 500g of short grain rice.  We also made up 1.2 litres of chicken stock.

More ingredients for our paella

More ingredients for our paella

If you have read Colman Andrews’ article, you’ll know how important it is to use the right kind of rice for your paella.  Long grain rice just won’t do – you’ll have to find the right kind of short grain rice, or use risotto rice.  Where I live I I can find paella rice in almost every supermarket and grocery store – lucky me! 🙂

Paella seems to take its name from the dish in which it is cooked, although in Spain, outside of Catalan territory, the pan is called a paellera, and in Valencia the pan is called a caldero.  I’m sure there are reasons for that!! 🙂  The pan is almost as important as the rice – it has to be wide and shallow, to allow the rice to cook through evenly.

Paella pan

Paella pan ready for action

We started off the cooking by browning the rabbit and the chicken pieces in some olive oil.

Browning the meats

Browning the meats

After the meat was nicely browned and had been removed from the pan, the chopped onion was added and cooked in the remaining fat until golden .

Cooking the onions

Cooking the onions

The tomatoes, which had been peeled, seeded and chopped, were added to the onions and cooked until they had softened.

Tomatoes and onions cooking together

Tomatoes and onions cooking together

Meantime the beans and chorizo had been prepared.

ingredients all prepared

Ready for action!

The beans went in first:

beans added to the paella pan

Beans ahoy!

Then came the chorizo:

beans'n'chorizo

 

All topped up with the chicken stock:

IMG_2593a

Ooops!

It was at that point that we realised we might be in a bit of trouble! 🙂  The pan might not be quite large enough to hold all our ingredients!!  The rice was next:

Adding the rice

Adding the rice

Once it was all in, the pan looked extremely full:

Almost there!

Almost there!

The meat and rosemary were tucked in, and the pan brought gently to the boil.  Somehow we managed it without making an unholy mess all over the cooker!  If you are going to try this at home, be sure to use gentle heat to avoid burning the rice.  Once it had cooked for about 10 minutes. we covered the pan with aluminium foil and turned the heat to its lowest setting.  Then we had a well-earned glass of wine while we waited!!

Waiting....

Waiting….

The wait was difficult, the smells ever so tempting.  When the cover finally came off, after about 35 minutes, the paella looked like this:

The finished paella

The finished paella

The rice was perfectly cooked and the flavour was divine.  The recipe notes stated the quantity to be enough for 6-8 as an appetizer and 4-6 as a main course.  There were six of us, and despite our best efforts there were plenty of (delicious) leftovers!

It was a truly wonderful dish, and one which I’ll be making again!!

Buonissimo – Italian food

The theme for our most recent “cooking with friends” get-together was Italian food and our hosts were the owners of La Petite Pepiniere in Caunes Minervois.

For our menu the following had been decided:

The recipe for the pimientos came from Italian Food by Elizabeth David.  As with many of her recipes the instructions leave some room for interpretation. 🙂  The peppers are grilled and peeled, and left to marinate in olive oil with a very little lemon juice.  After they have marinated for about half an hour they are cut into strips lengthwise.  On each strip is put a chopped anchovy fillet and some chopped capers.  Each pepper strip is then rolled up to form a sausage shape.

When the peppers were all done that way, they were arranged on a platter and garnished with some chopped parsley.

P1160167

The next course was a very refreshing salad made with fennel, cucumber and radishes, all thinly sliced and dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

P1160184

No self-respecting Italian meal would be complete without its pasta course.  Our pasta course consisted of mushroom ravioli, with a white wine and tarragon cream sauce.  Below are the ingredients we used (note, we didn’t use the chicken breast specified in the recipe):

P1160126

First the pasta dough was made, as that needed to rest for a good half hour before being rolled out.  While the dough was resting, the filling was cooked:  the onions were finely chopped (in the food processor) and slowly cooked with some olive oil, garlic and thyme.  The finely chopped mushrooms (again done in the food processor) were added, and the whole cooked until the mushrooms were tender and had “dried out” somewhat.

P1160136

Next came the fun part – rolling out the pasta dough!!  With he help of a pasta machine it was easy and great fun!  We ended up with three long strips.

P1160142

We deviated from the recipe in that we put the filling all down one side of each sheet and then folded it over to make our ravioli – doing it that way worked very well for us!

Here are the finished ravioli, before being cooked:

P1160165

The spinach was supposed to be cooked separately and the ravioli served arranged on top of it, but we decided to give the spinach a miss.  The sauce was simple to prepare:  onions and shallots were cooked over gentle heat until golden, white wine was added and cooked a few minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate, then the cream and tarragon were added and heated through.  Very delicious!!

For our main course our hosts had choosen Osso Bucco Milanese – stewed shin of veal.  Since this is a dish which requires long and slow simmering, it was already cooking when we arrived.  The recipe again came from Elizabeth David’s Italian Food.

P1160139

To round off this meal, we baked an Italian almond cheesecake:

P1160125

It was one of the first dishes we prepared that afternoon, as it required a fair amount of cooking and cooling time.  Here’s what it looked like fresh from the oven:

P1160163

Once all our dishes were pretty much finished we had a little break.  I took the opportunity to wander about the beautiful show garden at La Petite Pepiniere, and took a few pictures for you.  The flowers are all different varieties of cistus, a native plant to the Languedoc region.

Soon it was time to sit down to our feast:

Pimientos stuffed with anchovies and capers

Pimientos stuffed with anchovies and capers

Fennel, cucumber and radish salad

Fennel, cucumber and radish salad

Mushroom ravioli with a white wine, cream and tarragon sauce

Mushroom ravioli with a white wine, cream and tarragon sauce

Osso bucco milanese, served with plain risotto

Osso bucco milanese, served with plain risotto

Italian almond cheesecake

Italian almond cheesecake

And what a feast it was!!  A big thank you to our hosts for choosing such wonderful dishes!