Wednesday, 30 January 2008

A perennial favourite

In many ways, M is a creature of habit. Food, is definitely one of those ways. There are certain dishes which he loves and if its on the menu, he will order it. One of those all-time favourites is Chicken with cashew nuts. It doesn't matter whether its done Thai style or Chinese style, he loves them all. So much so that I often tease him for it.

Don't get me wrong, I certainly have my favourite dishes as well but being a food lover, I find that there's still so much out there to try that I'm often loathe to miss out on tasting something new just to have one of my favourites again.

Given how much M loves his chicken with cashew nuts, it surprises me that its taken so long for the recipe to appear on my blog. Better late than never, though, as they always say. I served this for dinner last night, and needless to say, there were no leftovers.

Stir-Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts
Adapted from Popular Thai Cuisine

300g chicken breast, sliced thinly
1/2 cup fried cashew nut
1/4 cup crisp-fried dried spur chili, cut into 1 cm pieces
1 red pepper, chopped into small pieces
1 small onion, sliced
1/3 cup spring onion, cut into 2 cm pieces
1/2 tbsp chopped garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp cooking oil

Fry the garlic in oil over medium heat until golden and fragrant, add the chicken and cook until done.

Add onion, cashew nuts, fried dried chilies, red pepper and spring onion, stir well.

Season to taste with fish sauce, dark soy sauce and salt, stir again. Turn off the heat.

Spoon onto a serving dish and garnish with fresh coriander before serving.

Serves 4

Monday, 28 January 2008

Another year, another Daring Bakers' challenge

Due to travels during the holiday season, I had to skip the December DB challenge but I just couldn't let 2008 start without participating in the first challenge of the year. This time, our challenge was Lemon Meringue Pie - something I've never made before. Sure I've made tarte au citron, but I've never made this kind that is topped with a fluffy layer of meringue.

There are 3 main components to this pie - the crust, the lemon filling and the meringue topping. While not hard to make, getting all 3 parts ready in order to assemble the pie requires some pre-planning. Truth be told, I started my pie a little late in the evening so I was scrambling a little bit in order to get in on the table in time for dessert after dinner.

Still, I think the pie made quite an impression on the dinner table and was a hit with M. I thought the pie tasted good but my personal preference would be to have it without the meringue on top. I think the pie is plenty sweet enough without it! To see how the other Daring Bakers got on with this month's challenge, check out the DB blogroll.

Lemon Meringue Pie

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Something warm for the winter

Its been a reasonably mild winter here in London this year even though we had a brief spell of unusually cold weather right before Christmas. Thankfully, I missed the worst of it as I headed back East for a 2 week break in the tropics. Still, since I'm accustomed to heat and humidity, the mild winters here can still feel bitingly cold to me. As such, there's nothing I like better than to warm up with a hearty bowl of steaming, hot soup.

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that late last year I discovered the wonders of using pumpkin in baked goods. This year, I'm continuing to find that pumpkin is amazingly versatile as demonstrated by this Thai-inspired pumpkin soup that I made for dinner last night.

For dinner, I served it with some crusty pieces of toast as an appetizer but I find that by tossing a few pieces of chicken in, it can even be a meal in itself, as it was for my lunch today!

Thai style pumpkin soup with coriander pesto
From delicious.

2 bunches fresh coriander, roots trimmed
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
80ml olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp grated ginger
1 heaped tbsp thai red curry paste
1 kg pumpkin, peeled, cut into small cubes
500ml vegetable stock
400ml canned light coconut milk
thinly sliced red chilli, to garnish

To make the coriander pesto, whiz the coriander, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic in a food processor. Slowly add 60 ml of the oil to make a sauce consistency, adding a little warm water if necessary, then season to taste.

Heat the remaining oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and stir for 1 minute. Add the ginger and curry paste and stir for 1 minute.

Add the pumpkin and stock, bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes until pumpkin is cooked. Cool slightly, then blend until smooth. Return to the pan, add the coconut milk and season, then warm through.

To serve, pour the soup into bowls and swirl in a spoonful of pesto. Garnish with the onion, chilli and reserved coriander leaves.

Serves 6

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Sesame noodles

In my continuing  quest for healthy recipes, I've been surfing some of our favourite recipe sites for low calorie meals. At the delicious. magazine website (UK version), I came across this recipe for Asian style noodles that not only sounded delicious and also came in at a measly 289 kcals per serving! 

I made it for dinner this week and it was a hit with both M and myself. Whoever said healthy food has to taste bad?

French bean, mangetout, prawn and sesame noodles

15g sesame seeds
200g French beans
200g mangetout
125g dried medium egg noodles
400g cooked and peeled prawns
1 medium-hot red chilli, deseeded and chopped

For the dressing
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp sunflower oil
1/4 tsp caster sugar

Heat a dry frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the sesame seeds and stir for 3-4 minutes, until lightly toasted. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool. Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Meanwhile, top and tail the French beans and cut them in half lengthways. Cut the mangetout in half lengthways, too. Drop the beans into the pan and cook for 3 minutes, until just tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and refresh under cold water. Add the mangetout and cook for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, then drain and refresh as before.

Add the noodles to the pan and cook for 4 minutes or until just al dente. Drain and set aside to cool.

Mix the beans, mangetout, noodles, prawns, most of the sesame seeds and the chilli together in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss together well. Sprinkle wit the rest of the sesame seeds just before serving.

Serves 4

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Spa cuisine

Its my first real food post of the new year and like many people around the world, one of my new year's resolutions is to eat healthier. In general, I think I eat pretty well but I have a big weakness - sweets of all kinds - and this year, I'm trying to be more moderate about it. This year, I have added incentive to be good, at least until May, because our big day is coming up! Yup, our wedding is about 4 months away. Yikes!

Towards this end, one of goals is to cook a little more and bake a little less. As such, you may find the recipes that I post here veering more towards food than desserts. To start off the new year on a healthy note, I found a recipe from Bill Granger that is reminiscent to me of spa cuisine. You know the kind. Typically found on menus of cafes in spas, they are usually dishes that are fairly simple where the main ingredient is allowed to shine through without being smothered by heavy sauces and the like.

Today's recipe features pork as the main ingredient which is seasoned only with sea salt and black pepper but whose flavour is enhanced by a mango salsa topping. Despite the simplicity of ingredients, I thought it tasted great. The added bonus was that dinner was on the table in 25 minutes tops. I served mine with a side of french beans and mangetout and a small portion of wild rice, but I'm sure it'll be equally good with a green salad or mashed potatoes.

Pork medallions with mango salsa
Adapted from Bills Food 

2 pork medallions
1 tbsp oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

pineapple salsa
1 cup chopped fresh mango
1/2 fresh red chilli, seeded and finely died
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp fish sauce 

Brush the pork with oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.

Heat a large frying pan over a high heat for 2 minutes until very hot. Sear the pork for 1 minute on each side, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 4 to 5 minutes longer on each side, or until cooked through and golden.

Remove the pork from the pan and leave it to rest for 2 minutes. 

For the mango salsa, stir all the salsa ingredients together in a bowl to combine. Serve the pork with mango salsa, rice and greens.

Serves 2

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

I'm back!

After two weeks in Asia, I'm finally back to London. My trip back home was amazing and despite the fact that I returned to a flat with no heat and hot water (boiler is on the fritz) and my bags didn't make it back with me (connecting in CDG is a nightmare), I'm still feeling the glow from a wonderful vacation.

Santa was extremely generous this Christmas and I received many, many food-related presents that will in some way or another be used on this blog. My favourite present hands-down came from M who surprised me with my very own MacBook! Readers of my blog may recall that sometime towards the early life of the blog, I managed to destroy my previous computer when I tripped over the wire and sent it crashing to the floor. Since then, I've been blogging from M's computer (a MacBook as well) and although I've always been a PC user, I quickly fell in love with the Apple's speed of booting up and its stability. Not once have I ever seen the blue screen of death on an Apple, a sight that was becoming all too common on my IBM laptop. My new MacBook is sleek and black and best of all, it comes with a magnetic power cord that automatically detaches when pressure is applied so no worries about this baby ever crashing to the floor! Needless to say, I am now blogging on my very own MacBook. Gone are the days of having to fight over the computer.

My sexy new Macbook

Other presents that I received, in no particular order are:
  • An Oneida cupcake carrier (Thanks to J and S)

Oneida cupcake carrier
  • A lovely cast iron pancake / blini pan (Courtesy of A and H)
  • An egg timer (Thanks again to H)
  • A foldable chopping board which eliminates spillage (from M)
  • A heart shaped oven mitt (yet again from M)
  • Cool, zebra-patterned muffin cases (also from M)
  • A nifty, electronic kitchen timer (M is really spoiling me...)

Clockwise from top left: Pancake pan, chopping board, kitchen timer, muffin cases, oven mitt and egg timer
  • A Le Creuset set consisting of 4 ramekins, a baking dish, a round cocotte and an oval cocotte

Le Creuset set
  • A 9" springform pan
  • Assorted silicone bakeware

Silicone bakeware and springform pan

Okay, the last 3 items were really things I bought myself but since they were bought during the holiday season, I consider them presents to myself. I can think of so many things that I can make with the different gifts I've received from souffles to cheesecakes to potato blinis to delicious cupcakes. I can't wait! 

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year and I'll be back soon with my first food post of 2008.