Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Squid with Chorizo, Chickpeas & Chard

This made a tasty, albeit slightly unhealthy, lunch. It was quick to make and very moreish. If I made this again, the one thing I'd change would be to have a greater ratio of squid - but then I absolutely love the stuff so I could be biased.

If you don't have chard, then spinach, kale or any other leafy veg would work just as perfectly.

If you are using chard though, first separate the stems from the leaves, as the stems take longer to cook. Once the chard is prepared, use the chopping board to cut the squid into strips and the chorizo into half moon shapes.

Heat up a large frying pan and first put the chorizo in, cooking it until the paprika flavoured oils coat the pan. Then add the chard stems and cook for a few minutes to soften them up.

Throw the squid in and give them a minute to start to cook through, then add a tin of drained and rinsed chickpeas. Pour a glug of sherry into the mix and cook until all of the alcohol has gone. Season with plenty of pepper, I doubt you'll need much salt, but a little is needed.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Bento Box: Soboro (Rice with Toppings)

I've seen a lot of these saboro recipes but this is the first time I've ever attempted to make one, again this is from the "Just Bento" cookbook. It tasted really good, I think the only thing that could have made it better is if I had one of those rice machines on a timer, so that the rice was fresh that morning instead of having sat in the fridge overnight.

There are four toppings to this one - the flavoured carrot batons are used as separators between the other three, which are basically vegetable, egg and meat.

First, cook up your rice so that it has time to cool before you come to pack the bento. All of the items below are enough for two portions.

Carrot Soboro
Cut two fresh carrots into little batons and simmer until cooked in 8 tbsp of dashi (or ordinary fish stock), 2 teaspoons of mirin, 2 teaspoons of shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), plus a sprinkle of sugar and a pinch of salt to taste. Put to one side to cool down.

Green Vegetable Soboro
I had peas, the book suggests green beans, I suspect pretty much any green veg would work. I simmered them in the same liquid mixture as for the carrots.

Egg Soboro
Beat two eggs with a teaspoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of sake and salt to taste. Cook just like scrambled egg, except make sure that it is completely cooked through and dry - you don't want any under cooked egg going in tomorrow's lunchbox.

Chicken Soboro
I took the meat off a chicken leg to make this, which was sufficient for two people. You just need to poach the little peices of chicken with a tablespoon of chopped ginger in a liquid mix of: 2 tbsp sake, 2 tbsp mirin, 4 tbsp dashi (or fish stock), 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp sugar and salt to taste.

When everything is cooked through, put each dish to one side and leave until cold. Then you can layer each bento box first with a quarter of the rice, then a quarter each of the peas, chicken and egg, separated with the carrot batons. Repeat for a second layer.

In order to make sure that the pretty layers didn't get all mixed up on the way to work, I used old egg boxes laid on top of greaseproof paper to keep everything in place.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Monkfish, Beetroot and Goat Cheese Salad

This is a pretty classic combo, it's slightly less striking in appearance than usual because I've used chioggia beetroot rather than the normal purple kind, but chioggia is lovely and sweet so it tasted great.

You just need one nice fillet of monkfish to feed two people, plus 2 or 3 beetroots and one pot of soft goat's cheese
Any leaves will do for the salad base, I had baby gem.

First, boil the beetroot whole for 20 minutes or so, then let it sit on the side to cool slightly before you rub the skin off and cut it into small wedges. Arrange the wedges in a small baking tray and mix with a large drizzle of balsamic vinegar, some olive oil, salt and lots of pepper. Pop into the oven at 180 for a further 15 to 20 minutes.

While the beetroot are in the oven, boil some new potatoes in salted water until cooked through and take the fish fillet out of the fridge to warm up slightly. Arrange the salad leaves on your plates.

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Heat up a frying pan with a little olive oil and butter and, when very hot, place the fish in the pan. Don't move it, just let it cook for a few minutes, until the sides start to turn slightly opaque. Flip the fillet over and cook for another one or two minutes, then take off the heat and allow to rest for a second while you plate up the rest.

Lay the slices of beetroot over the lettuce, then arrange peices of buttered potato around the top. Then top with chunks of the monkfish and teaspoons of the goat's cheese. Sprinkle a few extra drops of balsamic vinegar over the top and give the whole thing a nice grinding of pepper.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Bento Box: Chilled Soba & Seaweed, Sesame Chard & Other Sides

The second day in this series of bento lunches made use of the left over cucumber pickles, kamaboko and bean salad from the day before. To go with these, I made chilled soba, a hard-boiled egg and fresh tomato salad and chard cooked two different ways (because the stems and leaves have really different textures and cook in different times).

Once again, the inspiration for this bento came from various recipes in the "Just Bento" cookbook. Apart from the addition of kamaboko, this is a vegetarian bento.

The first thing to do for these recipes, is to toast up a load of sesame seeds, four tablespoons if you're cooking for two people. Also hard-boil a couple of eggs, which takes about 10 minutes on a lowish heat, so that they can cool down in time for bento-packing. Serve them with a chopped, fresh tomato.

Chilled Seaweed Soba
First cook the soba noodles, use the packet instructions, but that's basically just boiling them for a few minutes and then running them under a cold tap to stop them overcooking.
At the same time as you do this, soak some dried wakame seaweed in cold water until it rehydrates and is ready to use.

Finally, combine the soba and seaweed with a finely sliced spring onion, toasted sesame seeds and a generous sprinkling of furikake or simple salt and pepper. Ideally these would go with a dipping sauce made from warmed mirin, soy sauce and sugar mixed with dashi, but they were still tasty without.

Sesame Chard Greens
Separate the green leaves from the stems of a packet of chard and reserve the stems for the next dish. Pop the sliced leaves into a pan with a little water and cook until they look just like cooked spinach.

Let them cool down and then mix in a bowl with some salt, chilli powder (I love Korean chilli powder), a teaspoon of sesame oil and a load of toasted sesame seeds. This is much more than the sum of its parts, it's really really tasty.

Steamed Rainbow Chard Stems
Simply steam the stems in a microwave for a few minutes with a little butter and water.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Singapore Noodles

Singapore noodles are an old family favourite but they are a bit hit-and-miss from takeaways. The ones I've made contain fairly average veg that a Uk fridge is likely to contain, rather than any specialist (expensive) ones, so they aren't exactly like ones from a good Chinese but they are tasty.

The guideline recipe I used is from "Chinese Food Made Easy" by Ching He Huang - a great book if you love a Chinese takeaway, but hate the heart-thumping, water gulping after effects.

I like to pre-prepare all of the spices and veg, so that the last thing to touch the chopping board is the raw meat. For the spices, you need a chopped red chilli, a few cloves of chopped garlic and a couple of generous tablespoons of turmeric. The garnish is chopped spring onion and a sprinkle of dried chillies. In addition to the veg, you're also going to need 2 tbsp light soy sauce, 2 tbsp oyster sauce, 1 tbsp of rice vinegar, some chicken and some bacon. Or use prawns if you have / like them.

The veg I used (and by no means feel bound by these, because I certainly didn't choose these ones based on any recipe!) were: one green and one red pepper, spinach, a cob's worth of sweetcorn and a carrot sliced into thin batons. I also had a jar of mushrooms preserved in olive oil which needed using up, these were really good in it.

Then you can chop up your chicken - this was the meat off two legs, as they are cheaper than buying a pack of four thighs or two breasts, and I always feel the breast is less tender anyway. The sad water-injected legs you'd get off a battery/poorly treated chicken won't cover this, at the very least a free range bird is needed, but I'd recommend organic for too many reasons to cover here. There are some notes on choosing chicken in this earlier post.

Pre-cook the chicken with nothing more than a little seasoning and some oil, then put the peices to one side. You also need to soak your rice noodles, hot water from the tap will do, for about 5-10 minutes depending on what the packet says.

In the same frying pan, heat up a little more oil and add the garlic, fresh chilli and turmeric (and mushrooms if using). Cook for at most a minute, then add the bacon and cook for a minute more. Tip all of the veg in and cook until tender, then add the soaked noodles, light soy, oyster sauce and vinegar.

Mix it all up, add the dried chilli and spring onions, and serve.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Bento Box: Pepper & Beansprout Stir Fry, Maki Roll, Cucumber Pickles

A bento is basically just Japanese for a packed lunch, but there is something really special about the way bentos are put together. The variety of ingredients, the visual presentation... all of it makes lunch something to look forward to, more so than even the tastiest of leftovers.

I got the "Just Bento" cookbook (based on the well known website) for my birthday and I love it. My maki roll was a bit squiffy, I think I over-packed it, but it was a really exciting lunch anyway. The quick pickle recipe is from "Everyday Harumi".

This bento has 3 homemade sections and two bought. The kamaboko is bought as-is, just taken out of the freezer in the morning to defrost over the course of the day, ready to make up the bento the night before you're going to eat it. You can find out a bit more about kamaboko from this earlier post.
The adzuki and edamame bean salad was one I bought on a whim in the supermarket because it looked nice and I've got a weak spot for beans.

Homemade Cucumber Pickles
These are easy peasy and ready in as little as 3 hours of marinating time. First peel a cucumber and cover it in salt then, over the sink, rub the salt into the flesh. You'll see droplets of water coming from the cucumber, keep squeezing and massaging it for a few minutes, then rinse in fresh water and pat dry.

Deseed and finely slice it and pop it into a baggie or other non-reactive container. Pour 100ml shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), 100ml rice wine vinegar, a few drops of sesame oil, a couple of tablespoons of chopped ginger and two tablespoons of sugar over the cucumber and give it a good mix. Put in the fridge for at least 3 hours before eating, but they'll be tasty for a good couple of days after.

Pepper and Beansprout Stir Fry
Slice half each of a green, yellow and red pepper (or whatever you actually have), plus a large spring onion and a big handful of beansprouts. Heat up some oil in a frying pan and stir fry the veg.

Towards the end of cooking, season with some soy sauce and any other ingredients you commonly like in your stir fries - I used a splash of sherry, a little sugar and crumbled in the corner off a vegetable stock cube.

Prawn & Cucumber Maki Roll
I think the technique of rolling maki is going to take a bit of practice to get right, but it is really very satisfying to make, whether it comes out perfectly or a bit squiffy as mine did.

First, cook up your rice - this should be shortgrain, preferably Japanese rice but I used to use pudding rice and the outcome was generally excellent. Then put a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar into a glass or wooden bowl and tip the hot rice in as well. I had an accomplice to fan the rice as I mixed the vinegar through it but I guess it's doable with one person. Keep fanning and stirring for a few minutes until the rice starts to become sticky, you can mix up to a second tablespoon in as well if you have the time, but you don't want the rice to be wet, only sticky.

Lay out a sheet of dried nori or lava seaweed onto one of those sushi mats (or a bamboo placemat) and layer the rice over the top. A cup of dried rice made enough cooked rice for two maki rolls.
Along the centre, lay strips of cucumber and spring onion, followed by a mixture of finely chopped prawns, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and chilli powder. Then lift up the edge furthest from you and slowly roll the square towards you.

When you come to cut the maki into circles make sure you do it with the seam facing down, that'll help it stay together as you cut.