Edible gifts, The Basics

Celery salt

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Flavoured salts are a good way of adding subtle flavours when cooking, particularly if you don’t have any of the fresh ingredient for a dish. They also look better as a condiment than boring plain salt. If you are lucky enough to get a bunch of fresh celery with plenty of leaves then save the nice darker green outer leaves and after rinsing and removing any excess water, in a salad spinner, spread them out on a baking tray and put them in the oven at about 120 degrees C / 250 F for about 10-15 mins until they dehydrate. You can turn off the oven and leave them in there to ensure that they are completely dried out. They will be dry and crisp and you can either crush them in your hands or chop them up roughly with some scissors. Then place them in a mortar and add sea salt, enough to fill a smallish jar, and pound them together. Put the salt in a sealed jar and keep in a dry place. This also makes a nice gift for a foodie friend.

 

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Baking, Snacks, The Basics

Oatcakes 

If you live somewhere that they are readily available in the shops then you probably  wouldn’t bother making them but if you don’t and you get a craving for them they’re not ask to make and you can make them smaller than shop bought ones for a more delicate biscuit to go with cheese after dinner. They’re also very economical to make. This recipe makes about 40 biscuits.

So what do you need?

  • 250g porridge oats
  • 50g whole meal flour
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp. sesame seeds (optional)

So what do you do?

First preheat your oven to about 190 degrees C / 375F. If you have a baking stone then put it in the oven to heat up. Then put the oats in a food processor and grind them until they become like a rough flour still with about a third still in oat pieces. Then heat about 80ml of water and add a tsp. of sea salt and the butter until it melts. Mix the flour in with the oats and then pour in the water and butter. Mix everything together with a spoon until it comes together  in a ball. If necessary add a little more hot water to bring everything together. Put the mixture on a floured work surface and roll it out until it’s as thin as you want the oatcakes I made mine slightly thinner than shop bought ones. The with a cookie cutter of your desired size, I used one 4cms and one 5 cms in diameter. Cut out the oatcakes and the reroll any extra mixture and repeat. Then put the oatcakes on a baking stine or baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes and then turn them over for about 10 minutes on the other side so they dry out completely. Then put them on wire racks to cool. Enjoy with your favourite cheese!

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Thai Food, The Basics, Veggie sides

Stir-fried mixed veg with cashew nuts

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I used to eat this a lot when I first came to Thailand and in many restaurants when you ask what vegetarian food they have they say stir-fried mixed veg. served with plain rice, which I got bored of pretty quickly. However, a friend introduced me to a place that did a really good version using a more interesting variety of vegetables and the addition of cashew nuts which makes all the difference to me and somehow turns what might just be a side dish into an acceptable main dish. I don’t eat it as often these days but I do still sometimes order it in restaurants and occasionally make it at home if I have a nice selection of veggies. This version is a recreation of the dish I used to have over 25 years ago. They varied their veggies a bit but the selection was something like this with sugar snap / mange tout peas, asparagus, mushrooms and the more common, carrot, onion and tomatoes. You can use whatever you have, cauliflower or broccoli are good as are other greens such as pak choi.

Key tips

  1. Have a good variety of different vegetables and balance the quantities so that one single item doesn’t dominate the dish.
  2. Prepare the veg. in advance so that you can cook it quickly.
  3. Sequence the cooking so that the veg that take longer go in first and the quicker cooking items later.
  4. Fry the cashews first and add them back in at the end.
  5. Don’t overcook the veg it’s nice to have some crunch in the dish.

I prepared all my veg. a peeled and sliced (red) onion, 3 cloves of roughly crushed garlic, about a cupful of mushrooms, half a carrot (peeled and sliced), about a cupful of sugar snap peas, about a cupful of asparagus, a handful of cherry tomatoes (halved) or a roughy chopped large tomato.

First I heated about 3 tablespoons of (coconut) oil in my wok and fried the cashew nuts until golden brown and then I strained them of oil and put them to one side. I the same oil I fried the onion of a minute or so the I added the mushrooms and garlic and fried for about a minute, then I added the carrot and fried for a short while. Next I added about a  tablespoon or so of light (mushroom) soy sauce and then threw in the sugar snap peas and the asparagus. I added a splash of water at this point this will help steam the veg a little and help bring out the colours. I carried on frying as the water evaporated. Finally I added a couple of tablespoons of mushroom ‘oyster’ sauce and some (white) pepper and put the cashews back in. I made sure everything was coated in the sauce, you may need to add a dash more water. You can also taste it and add more soy sauce if necessary, remember if you are serving it with plain rice then the dish will need to have a good flavor. It can be served with other Thai dishes such as a curry, or served with a Thai omelette.

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The Basics

Homomade paneer cheese

Paneer is easy to make at home and is great in Indian curries. For about 200g of cheese bring 1 litre of full fat milk to boil in a thick bottomed saucepan. Keep stirring the milk so it doesn’t catch as soon as it starts to  come to a boil turn down the heat and add the juice of about half a lemon. Keep stirring for a few seconds and the milk should begin to split into curds and whey. If it doesn’t split add a little more lemon juice. As soon as this happens turn of the heat. Leave to stand for a minute and large pieces of curd will form as in the picture on the left. You can shake the pan a little to help the separation. Prepare a sieve lined with two layers of muslin or cheesecloth above a bowl and then pour the milk into the sieve. The whey will go through the muslin leaving the curd in the muslin. Leave it for an hour or so then put the cheese in the muslin between a couple of saucers and put a heavy weight on to top for a couple of hours help press the moisture out of the cheese. Keep the whey you can use it when making bread of put it in soups or smoothies.

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Thai Food, The Basics

Thai omelette ‘Kai-jiew’


One of the simplest Thai dishes that can be eaten as a quick meal or as part or a larger Thai dinner. You can put different things in it, the classic veggie version would have some sliced onion and tomato in it but my favourite version is with Thai sweet basil ‘horapah’ leaves and some chopped spring onions. It’s traditionally severe with Siracha sauce but also like it with soy sauce with some chill powder in it.

It’s best not to try to make a massive omelette as it’ll be difficult to cook. If you just want to eat it with rice then a couple off eggs per person is fine. I normally don’t make an omelette with more than four or five eggs. They are quick to cook and best eaten fresh from the wok so just make more if you have a crowd to feed. If I’m cooking for two and having another dish or two I’d probably use 3 eggs.

In a wok heat about a half cup (75ml) oil for a two egg omelet, probably 100mls for a larger one. A Thai omelette is almost deep fried so you do need quite a bit of oil. If you don’t use enough oil it won’t puff up well, or get as crispy.

While the oil is heating crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them well. Then add a good splash of (light) soy sauce and a splash of water and beat this in. Next add a good handful of Thai sweet basil leaves and a chopped spring onion (optional) keep beating the mixture until you pour it into the hot oil. Use the back of a spatula to push the outer, uncooked egg mixture into the centre until it starts to cook. (This will help cook the omelet evenly.) Then allow the underside to cook. Shake the wok a litle once the omelette moves easily it should be ready to turn over with your spatula. Cook on this side, it should puff up nicely and begin to get a bit crisp around the edges. As soon as it’s cooked lift it out of the wok, draining off any excess oil, and serve.

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Baking, The Basics

Plain scones

I’ve already posted recipes for rich fruit scones and cheese scones, but today I made some plain scones to enjoy with my recent batch of strawberry conserve. This is based on a recipe by Delia Smith and will make 6 smallish scones.

So what do you need?

  • 220g plain flour and 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder or 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 40g unsalted butter (slightly softened)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 100ml milk
  • 1tbsp. plain yoghurt

So what do you do?

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C / 450 F. I cook my scones on a pizza stone so I heat this up in the oven, you can also cook them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl. Add the butter and quickly mix it into the flour using your fingertips. Then add the salt and the sugar. Mix the milk and yoghurt together and pour this in a bit at a time and mix it into the flour with a cutting, rather than stirring action, with a knife or large spoon. The dough should come together into a soft malleable ball. Then put the dough on a floured surface and roll it out a little, you mustn’t roll it too thin, it should be about 3cms thick so the scones will rise. Then cut with a 6cm cookie cutter. Roll out any leftover dough and do the same. Dust with flour, if necessary, and cook for about 12 minutes until they rise and start to go golden on top. If they rise properly they should split open easily. Allow to cool on a wire rack and enjoy with cream, jam and a pot of tea.

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The Basics, Veggie mains

Veggie mince / ragu

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This is a great way to make a veggie base for dishes that would normally used minced meat e.g. for pasta dishes like Bolognese or lasagna, moussakaveggie chilli, Shepherd’s pie etc. I don’t really like soya based meat alternatives and find this works really well and is packed with vegetables a good way to get your 5-a-day. You’ll need a food processor as the veggies need to be very finely chopped. You can adapt this to use the vegetables you like / have available and flavor / season it according to the dish you plan to make. You can also add lentils / other pulses to it if you like. For about 1.2kg of ‘mince’ I used:

  • 3-4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large aubergine / eggplant
  • 3 courgettes / zucchini
  • 1 carrot
  • 300g mushrooms
  • 600g fresh tomatoes
  • Salt & pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 1 dried chilli (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. of light (mushroom) soy sauce

Start by putting the oil in a large thick-based frying pan or wide saucepan, that has a lid, and heat it up. Chop the peeled onion into chunks and put it in a food processor and chop it very fine put it in the pan and fry for a couple of minutes. Next do the same with the aubergine and the garlic and add about a level tsp on salt, add these to the pan. Next process the courgettes, carrot and mushrooms and add them. Add the soy sauce and fry for about 5 – 10 minutes, until the liquid that comes out of the veggies evaporates off. Meanwhile blend the tomatoes and add them with the bay leaves, herbs, chilli and a good grinding of pepper. Stir these in to the other veggies and bring to a boil then cover and simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally. You want to slowly cook and reduce this down it will take about 40-60 minutes depending on how juicy your veggies are and how thick you want your mince to be. If you want make a big batch, doubling or trebling the quantities, and then freeze it in meal sized portions.

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Penne & veggie ragu.

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