Monday, 28 July 2014

A Passion For Old Siam

Five years ago today I woke up in a Bangkok hotel bedroom, unsure as to how I'd got there. Not as sinister as it sounds as I had just arrived a few hours before and I had terrible jetlag but I was at long last fulfilling a childhood dream by travelling to Thailand. As a child I had fallen in love with Siam, as it used to be known, whilst watching Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr dance around the huge ballroom in The King and I. Even though the entire film was made on a Hollywood sound stage and not a single glimpse of the real Bangkok was to be had it still provoked an air of exotic mystery in my wanderlust fuelled imagination. Interestingly, the film was banned in Thailand because of how it portrayed the king.

Ornate steps at The Grand Palace

Over three decades on and the modern version of Siam that we found did not disappoint. Bangkok was breathtakingly busy and exciting. There were many memorable places to visit, such as The Grand Palace and the Floating Market. The evening we spent at the vast Siam Niramit theatre was the one of the most awe inspiring, lavish spectacles I have ever seen and it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

After four days in the fast paced capital we flew on the island of Koh Samui, where we spent a wonderfully relaxing ten days in a hotel, in which the rooms were actually little bungalows. During our stay in the vegetation surrounded little house we shared our verandah with all manner of local wildlife. Lizards, snakes, ants, spiders, the odd rat and a particularly noisy toad who insisted on serenading us in the wee small hours.

Our verandah lizard, who I wanted to bring home.

The noise toad.

All through our time in this vibrant country we found the people to amazingly polite, warm and dignified. Nothing was ever too much trouble and any task was always performed with a smile and a bow. Of course the food was amazing and I fell in love with Thai cuisine. It seemed to combine all we loved of Chinese and Indian ingredients with the addition of less familiar flavours. During our stay in Bangkok and Koh Samui we deliberately sought out the smallest but busiest cafes where the locals ate, rather than the big tourist trap restaurants. Just down the road from our Koh Samui hotel were two small restaurants, that were basically on the patios of family homes and their kitchens were used to feed paying guests, as well the residents. The food at both was fresh and flavoursome and I think I sampled a different dish every night. Although I did develop a taste for the local crab cakes, delicately flavoured with ginger and lemongrass. I did try all the colours of curry; green, red and yellow but I think the yellow or Massaman chicken curry was my favourite and the one that when I taste it immediately transports me back to that tropical isle.

Dancers at the Siam Niramit theatre

Recently, a new Thai restaurant opened in the very hip Spinningfields area of the city, called Thaikhun. It is billed as serving Thai street food and has a rustic, beach side feel about it. Kim Kaewkraikhot, the Chef Director used to run her own small restaurant in Bangkok so she knows Thai food. When I ate there recently, just after it had opened, I was happy to see Massaman curry on the menu and ordered it without a second thought and it was just as I remembered. I was in Thai food heaven and in the ensuing days I constantly thought about, even dreamt about it. It was time to research a recipe and make my own Massaman at home from scratch.  As you know, I only every cook from scratch because I don’t believe that any pre-prepared, factory made substitute can ever provide a totally authentic flavour experience.  For this recipe I bought most of the ingredients from my local Indian food store as they carry stock from most parts of Asia. The main point is not to be afraid of cooking a cuisine you haven't tackled before. The recipes are there to guide you through and the best tip I can give you is to gather all your ingredients, prepare them, weigh them out and have them ready to go. There's nothing worse than getting to a crucial point in your cooking and realising you haven't peeled and finely grated your ginger, for instance.

Vibrantly decorated figures at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

The recipe I settled on is from the website. I have made a few minor amendments and additions to the ingredients but the method is the same. To see the original click on the website name above. Give it a go and take a trip to the tropics in your own kitchen.

Simmering in the wok

Serves: 4
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40/50 minutes
400g chicken pieces OR chopped chicken breast/thigh
2 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
1 x 400ml coconut milk
1 small red pepper, thinly sliced
1 small yellow pepper, thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
I medium onion, thinly sliced
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 thumb sized piece ginger, finely grated
3/4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped
200ml chicken stock
1 stalk lemongrass, bashed a few times to release the aromas and oils
3 bay leaves
1 tsp turmeric
100g chopped unsalted dry-roasted cashews plus extra to garnish
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp whole cumin seed
½ tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp cardamom
1 tsp tamarind paste
¾  tsp shrimp paste
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar OR brown sugar

  1. Heat a wok, large frying pan, or soup-type pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle in the oil and swirl around, then add the onion, ginger, garlic, and chili. Stir-fry 1-2 minutes to release the fragrance.
  2. Add the stock plus the following: lemongrass, bay leaves, turmeric, chopped cashews, ground coriander, whole cumin seed, white pepper, cardamom, tamarind paste (or lime juice), shrimp paste, fish sauce, and sugar. Stir with each addition and bring to a light boil.
  3. Add the chicken, stirring to coat with the spicy liquid, then add the coconut milk, star anise, cinnamon stick and potatoes. Stir and bring back up to a boil. Reduce heat to low, or just until you get a good simmer.
  4. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken and potatoes are tender. Add red and yellow peppers and tomato during last 10-15 minutes of cooking time. Tip: if you prefer a more liquid curry sauce, cover while simmering. If you prefer a thicker curry sauce, leave off lid.
  5. Taste-test the curry, adding more fish sauce for increased flavour/saltiness, or more chili if you want it spicier. If too sour, add a little more sugar. If too salty or sweet for your taste, add a touch more tamarind or lime juice. If too spicy, add more coconut milk.
  6. Add a handful more cashews and fold in. Top with fresh coriander, if desired, and serve with Jasmine Rice.
The finished dish

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A New Love

I have a new love. Dark, good looking and rather luscious. It may sound like Jonny Depp and what woman wouldn’t love him but no this is a ham recipe.   To be exact, a Nigella Lawson recipe for Coca Cola ham. My friend Glenn has been making it for months and putting mouthwatering pics on Facebook. Eventually I got round to giving it a go and I was hooked. Because the meat is simmered for a couple of hours and then glazed and roasted in a hot oven it becomes sweet, juicy and melts in the mouth.

Now a top of the range gammon joint is fairly expensive but because of the cooking method you can use a much cheaper one. Personally I buy a 900g unsmoked bacon joint from Morrison’s for a mere £4 which feeds two of us very well over two meals, with enough left over for a sandwich. Bargain!


As most of you know, I am not one to religiously follow a recipe, well maybe the first time of cooking it but then I like to fiddle and introduce methods and ingredients of my own. For one thing, I hate, nay loath salty food, so prior to adding the cola I will simmer the joint in plain old tap water for about 45 minutes, then drain. Instead of using full fat Coca Cola, (other brands are available but don’t seem to work as well), I use full fat Cherry Coca Cola as it seems to add another layer to the flavour and sweetness.  In addition to the onion in the recipe I also add two crushed cloves of garlic and two star anise. I'm not keen on cloves so I leave those out of the glaze.

Simmering in cola

The juices can be made into a gravy to be served with the ham, creamy mashed potato and veg. In the summer months the ham can be served hot with new potatoes and peas or cold with a salad or as a cold cut with crusty bread and pickle. Whatever you fancy really and at approx. £1 a portion cheap enough to have whenever you fancy.

Here is a link to the original recipe

Glazed and ready for roasting

Serve to your hungry family

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Foodlink Articles

I have very busy writing articles for the Foodlink website for the last couple of months. There have been lots of exciting foodie things happening in the North West. I thought you might enjoy reading a few of my recent missives and your feedback would be great. I have readers all over the world and would love know who you are and how you found me.  If you aren't signed up for Blogger you can always go to my Facebook page.

Here are the articles. Enjoy!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Ice Cream Dream

There has been much excitement this week. Loving a gadget as I do, particularly a kitchen gadget, I ordered an Andrew James ice cream maker.  Well, it was a bargain, £20 down from £80. It would have been rude not to. The delivery man arrived last Saturday and the package was reverently carried into the kitchen for a formal opening. Amid much pomp and fanfare the machine was lifted from its cardboard and polystyrene cocoon.

Within moments the inner chamber was washed, dried and consigned to the freezer to chill for the required amount of time. Meanwhile I scoured the accompanying recipe book to find a suitable recipe. After much discussion with the daughter, we settled on a rhubarb and ginger confection.

Off I went to my local Morrison’s supermarket and bought the required ingredients, then paced the floor and tapped my foot, whilst I waited for the inner chamber to reach optimum frostiness. When the wait became too much I whipped up a rhubarb pie to go with the ice cream.

Finally the time arrived and the machine was set in motion. Thirty minutes later a soft, luxurious ice cream was ready to put back in the freezer for an hour to firm up a little more.

When it was served with the warm pie it didn't disappoint. The texture and flavour were that of a very expensive, premium brand but with absolutely nothing artificial in it. Even the calorie count wasn't too bad because the recipe (see below), contained low fat yoghurt as the main ingredient with a little single cream to ramp up the unctuousness. The amount it made lasted two of us three meals. Not bad for a £3 initial layout. 50p per portion means there will be a lot of ice cream being made in my kitchen.

This weekend I will be making Amaretto liqueur ice cream with Amaretti biscuit pieces to be served wafer fans. My new favourite tipple is a Gin and Limoncello cocktail and I’m going to turn this into a sorbet.  I'll keep you posted.

I have already ordered the Melt book from the wonderful, locally based Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, who serve their rather marvellous grown up flavours from a vintage ice cream van and from their parlour in Affleck’s Palace, Manchester. They perform alchemy with milk, cream and previously unthought-of flavours such as Chorlton Crack, Marmalade On Toast and Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Hawaiian Black Salt & Strawberry. There are non-dairy confections such as Melon, Cashew & Chilli and even camel milk ice cream. Yes, that’s right, camel milk ice cream, which apparently is fab for those who are lactose intolerant.

Ginger's Ice Cream Van at The Vintage Village

I definitely want to try making my all time favourite flavour, Brown Bread Ice Cream and the daughter wants Rocky Road.  I’m not sure that camel’s milk is readily available in my local Morrison’s but keep an eye out for our upcoming icy, creamy adventures.

Rhubarb & Ginger Ice Cream
450ml tub of Rachel’s Organic Low Fat Rhubarb Yoghurt (or similar)
150ml tub of single cream
2 tbsp of Chase Rhubarb Liqueur (optional)
2 tbsp of the syrup from a jar of stem ginger
2/3 nubs of stem ginger, chopped in to chunks

In a bowl mix the yoghurt, cream, liqueur, syrup and chunks. Remove the ice cream maker inner chamber from the freezer and assemble the machine. Put in the ingredients and set the machine going for approx. 30 minutes or until a soft ice cream texture is achieved. Serve straight away or decant into a suitable container and place in the freezer for about an hour or until the texture you require is achieved. Eat within 3 days, removing from the freezer about 15 minutes before serving to allow to soften slightly.

If you do not have an ice cream maker put the ingredients in to a freezable container. Take out and stir thoroughly every 30 minutes to avoid ice crystals forming, until frozen.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Bank Holiday Heaven

A couple of weeks ago I answered a shout out from BritMums, Britain’s largest collective of lifestyle bloggers, who were looking for bloggers to undertake a project in partnership with Morrison’s Supermarkets. The chain was giving out £80 of vouchers to each Mum chosen and in return our brief was very simple. Go to your local Morrison’s branch over the May Bank Holiday weekend, spend the vouchers, Tweet it, Facebook it, Instagram it and write about your shopping experience and recipes. 

This was manna from heaven to me so I quickly applied. I genuinely like Morrison’s and I am a very keen cook. I have been a Morrison’s shopper for about 25 years. Over the years, I have strayed to other supermarket brands but I've always come back to Morrison’s. I like the layout of the stores, the quality on offer and the prices. The High Street counters that purvey deli products, cheese, fish, meat and pies are always a feast for the eyes. The greengrocery sections are always displayed so pleasingly. Like the greengrocers of my youth. Although, since the credit crisis descended on us, the cost of my weekly shop has shot up. Even though I always cook from scratch, which I find the most economical way to eat, I have had to be even more creative to be able to eke out my meagre food budget.

The news that Morrison’s were slashing their prices in order to take on the budget chains was music to my ears but would the reality live up to the hype? Armed with my vouchers and the meal planning list I had written…yes, I really am that organised…I set off for my local store.

As the weather report for the Saturday was fine and sunny, I decided to fire up the BBQ for the first time this year. I had already been online and seen that there was a half price offer on rump steak. I found a lovely big piece, nicely marbled and with a good layer of fat and added to that a pack of four Scotch Beef Quarter Pounder Burgers from the chiller. There were three of us to feed so the steak worked out at £1.61 per person and the burgers at £1.33 per person. Bargain!

A good piece of steak, simply barbequed is a joy for your taste buds to behold but I decided to add another flavour dimension and marinaded it in my own combination of olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire Sauce, crushed garlic and finely chopped red chilli. To accompany the meat I made a potato salad with garlic mayo, a green salad and a tomato and feta salad with balsamic vinegar dressing.

I wasn’t going to have time to make a dessert and as Morrison’s in-store bakery is so good at cakes I picked out a Lemon Bombe. A creamy confection of light sponge, lemon curd, whipped cream and white chocolate shavings. Naughty but nice.

When I finished the shop I treated myself, with the money I had saved…yes the prices have genuinely been reduced… to a bottle of Tanqueray Gin and a bottle of Limoncello liqueur, in order to create lovely, sunny cocktails. 1 shot of gin, 1 shot Limoncello shaken with a sprig of fresh mint poured over crushed ice and topped up with soda water. Perfect and at approx. £1.60 per glass far cheaper than the chichi cocktail bars of Manchester. Here’s the disclaimer: Always drink sensibly.

Sunday was going to be the big family meal day and I spent all week pouring over the recipe books. Should I go for a traditional roast or something more exotic? We love the exotic in our house and I regularly cook Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, North African and Asian dishes. The final vote was for tapas with a traditional Spanish dessert.

The menu was thus:

·          Gambas Al Ajillo – Garlic Prawns - £1.16 per person
·          Alitas De Pollo Al Vino Dulce – Chicken Wings with Sweet Wine - £1.23 per person
·          Albondigas En Salso – Meatballs - £1.03 per person
·          Patatas Bravas - £0.46 per person
·          Crema Catalana -£1.48 per person

Total cost for the meal - £5.58 per person

Because I love Crema Catalana so much I thought I’d share my recipe with you.

Crema Catalana – Serves 4

120ml double cream
360ml Jersey milk
Zest of one orange – cut long wide strips of just the zest, no pith
1 stick of cinnamon – snapped in half to release more flavour
1 vanilla pod – split and scrape the seeds out
5 medium egg yolks – freeze the whites if not required or make meringues
80g granulated sugar – plus extra for the caramelised tops

Preheat oven to 150C or 130C for a fan oven/Gas Mark 2.  Put the cream, milk, orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla pod and seeds into a pan. Bring almost to the boil, then turn off the heat and set aside to infuse for 30 minutes to an hour. Strain through a sieve and dispose of the ingredients left in the sieve. Lightly whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Carry on whisking whilst slowly pouring on the milk and cream mixture. Decant the mixture into four ramekins or small ovenproof bowls. Place the ramekins into a roasting tin and pour boiling water in to the tin VERY carefully so the water comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Place in the oven and cook for 30/40 minutes. The custards should still have a slight wobble and the tops should not be cracked. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before placing in the fridge for 2/3 hours at least. When ready to serve sprinkle a light layer of sugar over the tops of each of the custards and use a cook’s blowtorch to caramelise. Alternatively place under a hot grill until golden and bubbling.

Bank Holiday Monday was to be a chilling out kind of day. A lie in, a long walk with the dogs, then flopping on the sofa with some DVDs. I wanted to chill out in the kitchen too. My solution on days like this is to cook Nigella Lawson’s Coca Cola Ham. Served with peas and cheesy mash, this is the ultimate comfort food and there’s usually enough left over for lunch boxes or tea the following day.

Overall, this has been a very interesting project for me. I have been able to combine my love of cooking 
with my writing skills whilst looking at my favourite supermarket with a fresh pair of eyes. I’m really glad I 
volunteered and I’d be happy to do again.

I was sent £80 of Morrisons vouchers to spend as I wished. All views and opinions are entirely my own.

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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Celebration Summer Fruits & Pimms Jelly Tart

When summer happens along in Britain, which it does occasionally, my thoughts soon turn to summer fruits. Sweet strawberries, ruby red raspberries and beautiful blackberries are amongst many of the soft fruits this fertile isle produces.  They are the best in the world and they are so versatile. You can enjoy them with nothing more than a sprinkling of sugar and a drizzle of cream. Or turn them in to jewel coloured jams to see you through the dark winter months. How about creating the quintessential Summer Pudding, in all its sweet, juicy loveliness? The list is endless. Last year I was asked to develop a recipe that encompassed the British Summer. This is the recipe I came up with and it combines many of my favourite summer flavours.  This tart has an all butter shortcrust pastry case, filled with a creamy egg custard and topped with summer fruits in a Pimm’s jelly. It’s a celebration of all that is best about a British Summer and the perfect centrepiece for a special celebration.

Ingredients – serves 8

250g/9oz plain flour
50g/2oz icing sugar
125g/4½oz unsalted butter, cubed
 1 large egg, beaten

Egg Custard Filling
6 large egg yolks
80g/3oz caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split and scrape out the seeds
500ml/18floz double cream

Pimm’s Jelly Summer Fruits Topping
400g/14floz soft fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
400ml14floz water
100ml/4½floz Pimm’s (substitute Vimto cordial for a non-alcoholic version)
100g/4½oz caster sugar
4 leaves of gelatin

Prep time and cooking time:  1 hour, 50 minutes plus resting and cooling time

Preheat oven to 170°C/Gas Mark 3 (AGA equivalent). Grease a 26cm/10” loose bottomed flan tin and place a circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of the tin. Into a large bowl sift in the flour and icing sugar. Rub in the cubes of butter until a breadcrumb texture is achieved. Add in the egg and gently combined with your hands, to form a soft dough. Handle as little as possible to achieve a light pastry. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 40 minutes to chill. Roll out, line the flan tin, trim, line with another circle of greaseproof and pour in baking beans. Use uncooked rice or pulses if you don’t have baking beans. Place in the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and put to one side. Turn the oven down to 130°/Gas Mark 1 (AGA equivalent).

To make the egg custard. Separate eggs and place yolks in a bowl. Add in the sugar and beat lightly. Pour cream in to a pan, add vanilla seeds and bring to the boil.  Pour on to the egg mixture, whisking as you pour. Sieve the mixture then pour into the flan case. Place the flan tin on a tray and put in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes until the custard is set. Put aside to cool.

To make the summer fruits jelly.  Place the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water. Into a large pan pour the water, Pimm’s, (or Vimto) and sugar. Bring to a fast simmer and stir until sugar has dissolved. Add in the fruits and bring back to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and lift the fruit out with a slotted spoon. Ensuring it is well drained place the fruit on top of the egg custard. Bring the liquid back to a simmer. Squeeze all the water out of the gelatine sheets and add to the pan of fruit liquid. Stir occasionally until dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Spoon over the fruit topping and place in the fridge to set.

Serve the tart on its own or with cream. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Autumnal Pumpkin Soup

Autumn is well and truly here and with it seasonal squashes. The shops are full of pumpkins in anticipation of the forthcoming Halloween celebrations and every year I make this hearty, warming soup. It can also be made with other squashes such as butternut or a combination of them.

Pumpkin, Red Pepper and Bacon Soup
1 medium sized pumpkin
3 red peppers
2 onions
2 sticks of celery
3 pints chicken stock
6 rashers smoked streaky bacon

Remove the flesh from inside the pumpkin. Discard the skin and seeds. Or save the seeds for oven roasting for snacks. Slice the peppers in half and place under a hot grill until the skins blacken. Place the halves in a plastic bag, seal and leave for 10 minutes. The steam will make it easier to peel the skin off.

Chop the pumpkin flesh into 1” squares and add to a large pan. Chop the onions and celery and add to the pan. Remove the peppers from the bag and peel off the skin. Chop and add to the pan. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Once boiling drop to a simmer, put on the lid and leave to simmer for 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Blend the soup in a food processor or with a hand blender. Chop the bacon into lardons and add to a hot frying pan. Cook until crispy. Add the bacon and the fat to the soup.

Stir and taste. Season as required. Serve with crusty bread. This soup freezes well.