10 May 2017

Prawn Pad Thai - my new favourite thing!

And when I say "my new favourite thing", I'm talking about it being right up there alongside Nasi Goreng and Shepherd's Pie. Now THAT is high praise indeed.

I don't mind admitting that I was a wee bit intimidated by this recipe.  You see, I had attempted a Pad Thai a very long time ago - before I started blogging, so around seven or eight years ago - and it was a singular failure. Having just cooked the dish again, I can see that first go didn't work because I didn't understand the first thing about any of the ingredients. However, without the benefit of getting a good one under my belt, I was a bit worried that it would fail again.

Coming out the other side of having completed an outstandingly successful rendition of Pad Thai, I now haven't a clue what I was worried about as it was incredibly simple to make.  However, you do need to have your mise en place done before you begin to cook, as you cook at such a pace that you really have no time in which to turn around and chop a spring onion, for instance.  That, and overcooking the noodles in a big way, are much of the reason why the first one didn't work.


Having everything chopped, squeezed, measured out and ready to go is essential.  You almost need to put everything in order, the cooking goes that quickly.  However, once you've got everything ready, the cooking is fabulously simple and the results spectacular.

I've seen lots of different Pad Thai recipes, some ask for tamarind, some for coconut milk.  This one doesn't ask for any of those things, it keeps things clean and simple with just fish sauce, oyster sauce and gorgeous lime juice to stitch all the other flavours together.

I used John Torode's recipe from BBC Good Food as the guide for this recipe but several things are different and because of that things happen in a slightly different order, so I decided to blog the recipe so as not to lose it. The original recipe is here if you are curious.  I think my version just simplifies things a little bit further.

The only Cook's Tip I have for you is what I have already stated - get your chopping, peeling and squeezing done before you start cooking!

So, onwards to major, serious, deliciousness and clean, wholesome eating.

PRAWN PAD THAI   (serves 2-3)

Ingredients :

200g rice noodles, the white, vermicelli style
2 tbsp olive or coconut oil
2 eggs, beaten
pinch of sea salt & black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
6 spring onions, sliced diagonally
1 red chilli (leave the seeds in for additional heat)
200g beansprouts
15g coriander, chopped to include the stems
250g cooked coldwater prawns, drained
100g dry roasted peanuts, chopped slightly.

Method :

To begin, set a saucepan of water to boil.  Once boiling, add the rice noodles and remove from the heat.  As soon as the noodles have softened, but before being fully cooked - around a minute and a half - drain well and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Set aside to drain fully.

Add a pinch of sea salt & black pepper to the beaten egg and stir through. Heat the oil in a wok over a moderate heat and once the oil appears to shimmer slightly, add the beaten egg and stir gently to form an omelette. Reduce the heat to low, so as not to burn the underside of the omelette and once formed and set, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon so as to keep the majority of the oil in the pan, onto a plate to keep warm.

Still over a gentle heat, add the chopped garlic to the wok and stir fry it very gently until the pieces have turned a gentle golden colour.  Don't rush this process, or the garlic will burn and become bitter.  Slow and steady wins the day.

Next, add the sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce and lime juice, along with the spring onions, chilli, beansprouts and three quarters of the coriander. Increase the heat to moderate and stir regularly as the onions soften and cook.  This should take no more than around 4-5 minutes.

Add the cooked prawns, the drained noodles and a third of the peanuts and stir and toss to combine and heat through.  Keep the contents of the pan moving, so that nothing catches on the underside and the noodles combine well with the other ingredients.

Once well mixed, serve into warmed bowls and garnish with the remaining peanuts and chopped coriander.

Tuck in and enjoy!

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22 March 2017

Red lentil, butternut squash & chilli soup

Red lentil, butternut squash & chilli soup. Get your fix of beta carotene here, orange coloured food for the win. LOL You certainly know you've eaten something by the end of a bowl of this - and all for around 300 calories, which can't be bad. Of course, the crusty bread and butter blows the calories out of the water, but it's good to start low!

When I dreamt this soup up, I was after a main course soup that didn't involve much meat but that tasted like it did. Because of my predilection towards developing gouty painful feet from time to time, it is useful to have a few mainly vegetable recipes to lean on during these periods. Now I know there are those who would tut heavily and announce that lentils are incredible bad for gout - and I know that. However, not with me. They most definitely are not one of my gout triggers, whereas meat very often is - and pork (not bacon, interestingly!) can often be a prime trigger.

Well, I certainly scored with this soup as it is hearty, wholesome and would fill you up on a chilly winter's night. The chilli gives it a nice friskiness that helps to keep your tongue interested, while the butternut squash and lentils give it that heartiness that satisfies. Oh and of course, discovering a piece of bacon every so often will reassure those carnivores amongst us that there is, in fact, some meat in their dinner and they haven't had a vegetarian dish sneaked onto their plate.

Now, where Cook's Tips are concerned, the top one for today is that it is really important to use low sodium stock cubes for this soup. Ordinary, salty, stock cubes will spoil the soup with salt overkill so it is way better to use a low salt stock powder or cube and have to add a little extra salt at the end, rather than the alternative.

As you will see from the recipe, I recommend using a potato masher a few times to break up the vegetables a little and so thicken the soup. Now, you can use a stick blender and whizz the lot, but you will lose a lot of the lovely interest from the texture and of course, you will lose the bacon pieces. However, if that's not important to you and you prefer a more pureed texture to your soup, then whizz away.

For all you vegetarians out there the soup is easily converted to being veggie. Simply leave the bacon out, use all vegetable stock and add half a tsp smoked paprika for the smoky flavour the bacon would have brought and you're home and dry.

Okay, well, I think that's it - so onwards to the recipe!

RED LENTIL, BUTTERNUT SQUASH & CHILLI SOUP (serves 3 as a main meal)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
6 rashers streaky bacon, cut into lardons
1 red onion, diced finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 large red chilli pepper, de-seeded and diced finely
2 carrots, peeled and diced finely
1 celery stick, diced finely
half a butternut squash (I used the stalk end), peeled and diced
3 large juicy tomatoes, cored, diced and as much juice as possible included
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp low salt chicken stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
1 tsp low salt vegetable stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
500ml hot water
150g dried red lentils
sea salt
ground black pepper.

Method :

Use a large sized saucepan and heat the olive oil over a moderate heat. Add the streaky bacon lardons and cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden.

Add the onion, garlic, chilli pepper, carrots and celery and continue to cook, sweating the vegetables down and stirring regularly until they have just begun to soften - around 10-15 minutes.

Add the butternut squash pieces and give them enough time - stirring regularly - to warm up.

Next, add the diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and tomato puree and stir to combine. Cook on until the tomatoes have begun to break down.

Add the dried basil, the two stock powders (or stock cubes), hot water and red lentils. Stir through until well combined, then cover the saucepan and bring to a lively simmer.

Remember to stir the contents regularly, as red lentils can sink to the bottom and singe if left unstirred.

Once the lentils are almost cooked and the butternut squash is tender, taste to test for seasoning and add sea salt and ground black pepper as necessary.

Continue to simmer the soup until the lentils, carrots and butternut squash are tender, then taking a potato masher, press it through the soup some three or four times to just break up some of the vegetables which will have the effect of thickening the soup. You can, if you prefer, whizz the soup with a stick blender, but I much prefer to have some chunky texture to it - I think it keeps you interested as you eat it.

Ladle into warmed bowls and serve with warm, buttered chunks of bread for dipping.

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18 March 2017

Simple garlic butter prawn spaghetti

Well, this one was a real unexpected surprise.  I wasn't supposed to be cooking this recipe at all and in fact, can't remember why I wasn't cooking the intended one.  Whatever the reasons were - and it could be any number of them! - I decided to go for this because it looked simple and sounded like it could be rather good.

Yes, it's certainly simple - both in number of ingredients, cooking process and method - and as for "rather good", well that's a bit of an understatement.  It turned out to be very good indeed.

The recipe originates with the BBC Good Food website and I could just direct you straight there, however, it occurred to me that if we ever lost that site, I'd lose a very useful and tasty recipe.  So here it is, with thanks to BBC Good Food for the original.

There is only one Cook's Tip for this recipe - and that is, if you are using cooked King prawns (or Tiger prawns), then literally just heat them up in the pan.  Don't cook them, as they are already cooked and will become tough and hard if heated for too long.  They just need to be brought up to a good temperature so as to avoid any risk of encouraging bacteria by half-hearted warming and that's all.


This dish certainly doesn't have big, bold flavours.  However, if you're into garlic butter, lemon and prawns, then you will love it.  The spaghetti gives it that comfort food thing and the lemon prevents the butter from becoming too rich.  I'd have it again tomorrow, I liked it that much!

SIMPLE GARLIC BUTTER PRAWN SPAGHETTI    (serves 2)

Ingredients :

250g dried spaghetti
sea salt
20g salted butter
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
a pinch of ground black pepper
250g cooked King prawns
zest of 1 lemon
15g fresh parsley, chopped.

Method :

Firstly, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.  Add the dried spaghetti and cook to manufacturer's recommendation.

In the meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan over a gentle heat and add the chopped garlic.  Sweat, as opposed to fry, the garlic ever so ever so gently until the pieces are softened, adding the black pepper along the way.  Then, add the prawns, the lemon zest and the parsley and increase the temperature just slightly, sufficient to heat the prawns through without cooking them and without frying the pan's contents.

Drain the pasta and add to the prawn & garlic pan.  Toss the pasta in the garlicky butter and serve into warmed bowls, sharing the prawns out evenly.

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6 March 2017

Chorizo & saffron baked cod

First of all and before I say anything else, let me just say how much I love this dish.  We thought it up during one of our brainstorming sessions and I liked the idea immediately.  It has everything I could like about a fish dish - it's simple, it only needs a few ingredients and it involves a fillet of fish rather than some broken up pieces in a sauce.

It's hard to imagine, but once upon a time I despised fish.  Couldn't bear the smell of it and certainly wouldn't eat anything more than a fish finger. Although, the seeds were there because I would happily tuck into a fillet of rock salmon (Huss) in batter from our local chippy.  However, all that changed when I fell pregnant with our son (who adores fish of all kinds) and suddenly I was craving fish.  Weird but true.  Since then, the liking for fish has thankfully stayed with me and since we've started shopping at Lidl stores, I have discovered an affordable source of proper fish fillets.  Yay!

As Lidl had their extra large packs of cod fillet on special offer it seemed rude to not take advantage of that, hence we thought up this lovely recipe. 

I reckon that as winter is coming to a close here, that might explain why my culinary head was concentrating on sunnier recipes from warmer climes and I was thinking along Spanish lines, although I do hear tell that this is very much a Portuguese recipe in spirit.  Atlantic or Mediterranean, it's all good to me.

As I've said, I loved this dish.  The cod is beautifully cooked and the en papillote (in a bag) cooking retains all its moisture.  The lovely tasty oils from the chorizo and saffron bathe the fish and just add that extra bonus to the flavour.  Inevitably, there will be some cooking juices from the fish that amalgamate with the oils and provides a perfect light sauce so if you enjoy your fish, you're going to love the simplicity and unfussiness of this recipe.


Again, I don't have many Cook's Tips for you.  Most importantly is not to be scared and cook the fish for too long.  It's far better to open the package and then have to put it back in the oven for another 2-3 minutes, than to overcook and dry the fish out.

Now I know that saffron can be quite expensive, however this recipe isn't asking for a lot so if you can devote some saffron threads to it you'll benefit from the improved flavour.  However, if all you've got is ground saffron, don't sweat it - it'll be fine.  Just add a small amount.


So, there we have it.  This cod dish would go well with paprika roast potatoes and any kind of Mediterranean vegetable, but I served it with Nigella Lawson's rapid roastinis (to which I added some dried rosemary), petit pois and green beans, which were very good indeed.  Now, onwards to the recipe!

CHORIZO & SAFFRON BAKED COD   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

3 good sized, chunky and skinless cod fillets
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, diced finely
70g finely cut chorizo slices, cut into fine strips
a small pinch of saffron strands
10g salted butter
a pinch of ground black pepper
a small pinch of sea salt.

Method :

Firstly, cut a long strip of silver foil or greaseproof paper that is twice as long as your pieces of cod when laid in a row.  Fold it in half and lay it onto a baking tray, opening up the top layer.

Take the cod pieces and starting from the folded end, lay them along the centre of the foil right side up, then set aside.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a small frying pan over a moderate heat.  Add the shallots and fry for 3-4 minutes, until they have softened.  Then add the chorizo strips and the saffron and cook for another 5 minutes or so or until the chorizo has released some of its tasty oil.  Reduce the heat to low and add the butter, pepper and sea salt and stir to combine.

Spoon the chorizo mixture evenly across the top of the fish, making sure to use all the flavoured oil.  Quickly fold up the sides of the foil package, folding each side at least three times, to secure it well.

Place the fish into a pre-heated oven (180degC/350degF/Gas4) for 20-25 minutes, a little bit less if your fillets aren't of the chunky kind.  When the fish is cooked, the foil package will be puffed up like a balloon.

To serve, simply make an incision across the top of the foil package and using a fish slice, plate up each piece of fish onto hot plates, making sure to capture as many of the chorizo pieces as you can, placing them on top of the fish.  Drizzle with the cooking juices.  Serve with roast potatoes, or rosemary fried gnocchi, along with a few vegetables of your choice.

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4 March 2017

Sticky Hoisin chicken and red pepper with onion rice

Well, this one wasn't supposed to be like this at all.  However, the Chinese chicken traybake that I'd originally intended to make just wouldn't have suited our different requirements, so I bailed out at the last minute and made this up instead.  I think it turned into a very definite win.

As such, I can't give you chapter and verse as to how the recipe came about - I just made it up on the fly!  However, I will tell you that I was very impressed with myself for running two pots that required so much watching over and stirring, without burning either of them.  LOL  I must be improving!


Everyone loved this recipe and hubby even went so far as to declare it delicious and say that he was missing his deep fried King Prawn balls with sweet & sour sauce and prawn crackers that we normally have with a Chinese takeaway.  So that is high praise indeed.

If you're not used to juggling two pans, both of which require your attention, you can always just make plain boiled rice or alternatively buy a bag of egg fried rice from the supermarket to go with it.  However, it really isn't a difficult thing to get the two pans working well and fortuitously the action does seem to alternate from pan to pan!

As for any Cook's Tips, well the most important one is to ensure you have all your a-chopping and a-peeling done before anything hits a hot pan.  Getting a mise en place together in this way is worth dividends when you're cooking Chinese food as you really don't have time to stop and chop a pepper as you go!

It really is worth the 45 minutes of fairly intense cooking action involved in this one, to hear the admiring plaudits from your family as they tuck in happily.  So, onwards to the recipe!

STICKY HOISIN CHICKEN AND RED PEPPER WITH ONION RICE   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

For the chicken :

1 tbsp olive oil
3 chicken breasts, sliced
sea salt
ground black pepper
1 bunch spring onions, sliced diagonally
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 red chilli, chopped
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
1 red pepper, cored and sliced
4 white mushrooms, sliced
200ml hot water
4 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp clear honey
1 tbsp light soy sauce.

For the rice :

2 individual tbsp olive oil
2 medium eggs, lightly mixed
0.5 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
sea salt
ground black pepper
1 large brown onion, chopped
200g white rice (I used Basmati), rinsed until the water runs clear
400ml good chicken stock
200g petit pois.

Method :

Begin by heating one tbsp of the olive oil for the rice in a wok set over a moderate heat.  Crack the eggs into a small bowl and add a pinch of sea salt, a pinch of black pepper and half a tsp of Chinese five spice powder.  Whip lightly with a fork.  Once the oil is hot, pour the egg into the wok and cook until an omelette has formed.  Ensure the egg is solid (you can flip the omelette over if you wish) and remove to a warmed plate and reserve.

Next, place 1 tbsp olive oil into both the wok (for the chicken) and a deep saucepan (for the rice).  Heat the wok over a hot heat and the saucepan over a moderate heat.  Once they are both hot, add the chicken to the wok and the brown onion to the saucepan, including a pinch of sea salt & black pepper to both.

Cook the chicken until it begins to caramelise, then turn and cook again until it again begins to caramelise.  It is not necessary to cook the chicken through at this stage, but it should have two golden sides, at least, after which remove from the pan and set aside somewhere warm.

Cook the onion until transparent and softened and just beginning to caramelise.

While the onion is cooking in the saucepan, add the spring onions, garlic, chilli and five spice to the wok and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.  Next, add the red pepper and white mushrooms to the wok and stir fry for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the water, cover the wok and bring to a boil.

In the meantime and while the water is coming to a boil in the wok, add the rinsed rice to the onion in the saucepan and stir to combine.  Add the chicken stock and cover the saucepan, bringing the contents to a gentle boil.  Allow the rice to cook approximately half way and add the petit pois.  Cook the rice until just al dente, after which turn off the heat, leave the lid on and allow the rice to steam until the chicken is ready.

Going back to the wok, uncover it and add the hoisin sauce, honey and soy sauce.  Stir through and bring to a frisky boil.  Re-introduce the chicken and stir through.  You are now just waiting for the liquid to reduce in the pan, to a sticky, coating sauce.  It's up to you how far you take it, I suggest you taste it as it reduces and stop when you're satisfied with the flavour and texture.

Finally, chop the omelette into small pieces and stir into the rice.

Serve onto warmed plates.  You can set aside some of the green parts of the spring onion and a few chilli slices for garnish, if you wish.

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