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MAGNIFICENT MEATBALLS WITH TOMATO SAUCE

July 18, 2011

Meatballs are great, I love love love love love them! Meatballs are extremely adaptable, you can use different meats such as pork mince, season them with paprika, chilli and a variety of herbs. There is something very comforting when eating them. They’re certainly in my top 10 list of comfort foods as they’re not some fancy food and instead it’s a reliable, tasty wholesome dish.

Homemade meatballs ready to be chilled for 30 min before cooking

They make an excellent batch making recipe so you can make a tonne of them, freeze them for another time or cook them and eat later on. This is a good recipe to get your kids involved as they can help you shape the meatballs and they get to learn about cooking. If you are freezing meatballs, make sure you defrost them properly before cooking.

Tomato sauce simmering which will eventually reduce and thicken

I prefer to make meatballs using bread which has been presoaked in milk rather than the usual breadcrumbs. I think it gives a softer smoother texture. I stopped using egg to bind the meatballs as I found I didn’t need it. The milk in the bread makes the mixture sticky enough and meatballs hold their shape well during cooking. Also when you’re making meatballs, chop the onion and parsley very finely to give a better texture and season the mixture well.

I hope you enjoy making these as much as I did!

Magnificent meatballs with tomato sauce

Serves 4

Meatballs:

500 g good quality beef mince

1 onion, very finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

2 medium slices of day old bread

Enough milk to soak the bread

2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

salt and pepper for seasoning meatballs

Tomato sauce:

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

120 mL red wine

2 x 400 g tins of chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp chopped oregano leaves

1-2 tbsp caster sugar

olive oil

basil leaves for garnish (optional)

  1. Soak the bread slices with enough milk to make them wet and soft.
  2. Add the mince, onion, garlic, cheese and parsley to a large bowl. Then add the bread to the bowl, ensure that you squeeze excess milk out. Break the bread up into very small pieces and mix everything together thoroughly. Season well with salt and pepper. You can test the seasoning out by frying a small patty of meatball mixture and tasting this. Adjust seasoning as required.
  3. Shape the mixture into balls (20-22 in total) using your hands to make them the size of a golf ball.  Lay the meatballs on a tray and cover with clingfilm. Chill for about 30 min to help them firm up.
  4. In a saute pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and saute the onion and garlic for about 5 min.
  5. Then add the oregano, red wine, 1 tbsp sugar and tomatoes and simmer for about 25 min to reduce the sauce.
  6. In a large frying pan, heat 3 tbsp olive oil and add the meatballs to the pan. Brown the meatballs for about 5 min on a medium heat, turning them using tongs.
  7. Using tongs, transfer meatballs to the tomato sauce, mix carefully into the sauce and simmer for 10 min. Taste the sauce and season with more sugar if needed. Season sauce with salt and pepper as required.
  8. Serve meatballs on freshly cooked spaghetti and garnish with basil leaves.

CHICKEN, RED PEPPER & CHORIZO

July 3, 2011

I’ve been in a retro mood recently admiring my boyfriend’s phone photos using the Hipstamatic application which  makes your photos look like you’ve used an older film type camera with different effects. Awesome application and thought I’d try Hipstamatic out on this occasion.

Chicken, red pepper and chorizo dish prepared and ready for the oven.

It’s been so lovely and sunny this past week. Thought it’d be best to do a minimal amount of cooking this evening but still produce a delectable, flavourful dish with simple, complementary ingredients so I could spend the majority of the evening out in the garden. A recipe by Michelin-starred chef Angela Harnett did the trick, can’t always afford corn fed chicken so used thighs and drumsticks instead. I served this dish with rice so this would soak up the tasty chicken and chorizo juices.

Well what can I say? Both my boyfriend and I tried to restrain ourselves as this is a recipe for 4 people, needless to say, most of this was scoffed. Though I managed to save a few pieces of chorizo and pepper and poured this over some rice and ate this for lunch the next day.

Absolutely divine!

Chicken, red pepper & chorizo

Serves 4

1 large corn-fed chicken, jointed into legs, thighs, breasts which can be chopped in half  (or use enough chicken thighs and drumsticks for 4 people)

2 tbsp olive oil

3 large red peppers

100g chorizo, peeled and sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1–2 tbsp chopped sage

2 tsp chopped thyme

1 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Season the chicken well with salt and pepper. Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan and brown the chicken on both sides for 4–5 minutes. When all the chicken pieces are golden, remove them from the pan and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas mark 4. Cut each pepper into four lengthways and discard the stalk, seeds and white flesh. Roughly dice the peppers into 2.5cm (1in) squares. Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and cook the chorizo for 2–3 minutes. Add the peppers, garlic, sage and thyme to the pan and cook for another 2 minutes.
  3. Pour the chorizo and pepper mixture into a roasting tin and place the chicken pieces on top. Zest the lemon and sprinkle over the chicken, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze over the juice of one half. Bake in the oven for 40–45 minutes, turning the chicken pieces halfway through the cooking time.

DEVILLED CHICKEN LEGS

June 29, 2011

Got an easy recipe for you, it includes the process of devilling and no, it doesn’t involve any satanic rituals, instead devilling involves making a sharp piquant sauce from mustard, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. This was a popular way of flavouring food in England from the 18th Century onwards, probably to disguise meat that was perhaps not so fresh.

These days, chicken is a popular meat to devil and it’s easy to prepare. This is a good basic recipe which uses store cupboard ingredients and is great if you’re into your mustards. The chicken should be succulent and bursting with a lovely mustard flavour when you try this out.

Devilled chicken legs

Serves 4

4 chicken leg quarters

1 1/2 tbsp English mustard

1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp salt

  1. Make a few deep slashes on each side of the chicken leg quarters.
  2. Mix both mustards, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, cayenne, garlic and salt together to form a paste.
  3. Rub the paste over the chicken ensuring the paste gets into the slashed parts and also under the skin. Marinate for 30 min.
  4. Preheat oven to 190 deg C/375 deg F/gas mark 5. Bake the chicken for 45 min or until cooked and baste a few times. Serve immediately or this can be left to cool and eaten cold.

HURRAH FOR THREE CUP CHICKEN (ALMOST…)

May 8, 2011

Seriously depressed the other night….

Some essential ingredients for three cup chicken

Had a horrible afternoon at work wishing I was anywhere else besides work. Got into trouble because I wasn’t doing enough work despite the fact my employer hasn’t been paid me for the past 2 months. The cheek of it!

Low on cash, low on happiness. Needed something cheap, fast and tasty to eat at home as can’t afford to go out and eat at restaurants every Friday. Plus wanted to make sure my boyfriend was satisfied in the food department as he works so hard and deserves lots of lovely treats. Passed by my local supermarket and checked for any special food offers, luckily chicken thighs and drumsticks were half price (about £2.60/kg) so I couldn’t resist.

Remember seeing a dish called “three cup chicken” in some Chinese restaurants a long time ago and was intrigued to find out more. It’s a Taiwanese dish which basically has three main ingredients, dark toasted sesame oil, rice wine and kecap manis in equal proportions. Three cups of these ingredients is actually alot of sauce, maybe in the olden days, they used those small Chinese tea cups that people drink out of instead to measure a cup.

This is a flavorsome dish so this is fab for garlic lovers as alot of garlic cloves are added! Great for keeping vampires away! Traditionally the chicken is cooked in a claypot, not sure how much difference this makes as I don’t have one. This turned out fine in a casserole pot.

Ta-da, cutting the nozzle enables one to transfer kecap manis onto food!

Look out for these ingredients in your Chinese supermarket. Dark toasted sesame oil is preferred as the aroma is stronger than light untoasted sesame oil. Shaoxing rice wine can be substituted with sherry. Kecap manis (pronounced “ket-chup maness, like ketchup as in tomato ketchup, funny as kecap manis contains zero tomatoes) is an Indonesian condiment. It’s a dark coloured liquid which is sweet and slightly salty. If you can’t find kecap manis, use light soy sauce and add palm sugar until sweet enough for your liking. Worringly, I couldn’t work out how to get the sauce from my new bottle of kecap manis. Had to hand it to my boyfriend to deal with the situation. Silly me, I just needed to cut the tip off the nozzle!

Found a recommended recipe from the “Rasa Malaysia” website. It’s a great looking site with excellent photos with recipes on different Asian cuisines. Had to make a few changes as didn’t want to chop chicken drumsticks into 3 pieces as there was a higher risk of splintered bone stabbing my boyfriend’s mouth while eating plus was too timid to accurately chop bony pieces with a Chinese cleaver. So I chopped chicken drumsticks into 2 pieces and deboned chicken thighs so there was a mix of boned and deboned pieces.

Definitely recommend thighs and drumsticks rather than breast because the texture is meaty and more succulent. Another change was that I could not find any Thai basil leaves after scouring my local market, Chinese supermarket and a few ethnic stores so had to substitute these with chopped spring onion. Didn’t fancy using the type of basil used in Italian cooking as I think the taste and aroma is too different for this dish. Also added a few dried red chillies for an extra taste dimension.

Waiting for Thai basil to germinate and grow, might be a while...

One technique some readers may not know about is tenderising chicken with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). Alot of Chinese people add this to meat to ensure a tender, silky and succulent texture. As long as you rinse off the bicarbonate of soda after tenderising, it shouldn’t have any weird aftertaste.

My brain got so mad and frustrated that as soon as work finished, it made me dash into Wilkos, looked desperately for Thai basil seeds, marched to the till, paid for it and ran to catch my bus. Got home and immediately planted those seeds despite me feeling so tired and warped in the head. Will let you know when I’ve grown enough Thai basil so I can remake this dish properly and tell you whether this ingredient is definitely needed. Plus I just want to smell the aroma, check out the flowers and cook more Thai dishes.

I really enjoyed eating three cup chicken, easy and tasty and boyfriend approved. Loved the whole cloves of garlic and strong complementary flavours. However I just kept thinking, I wish that Thai basil was wilting away in the chicken pieces releasing gorgeous fragrant aromas. Alas, c’est la vie, we have to make to with what we have already.

You can read the original recipe at Rasa Malaysia here.

Here is my adapted version:

Three cup chicken

Serves 3-4

0.5 kg chicken pieces (thighs and drumsticks)

10 slices of peeled ginger (2mm thick)

10 cloves garlic (skin removed)

1 1/2 tbsp dark toasted sesame oil

1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 1/2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

1 1/2 tbsp kecap manis

3-4 dried red chillies

2 spring onions (green parts only, chopped)

A large handful of Thai basil leaves

1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda (optional)

  1. Chop chicken drumsticks and thighs into 2 or 3 pieces with a cleaver.
  2. Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over chicken, massage this over the meat and leave for 10-15 min to tenderise.
  3. Rinse the bicarbonate of soda thoroughly off the chicken with water and pat dry with kitchen paper.
  4. Heat up a casserole pot on medium heat, add the sesame oil, leave to heat for about 1 min, then add ginger and garlic and stir fry for 1 min.
  5. Add the chicken pieces and stir until the chicken is coated in the oil.
  6. Add the soy, Shaoxing rice wine and kecap manis and stir everything together for 1-2 min, the mixture should be bubbling away.
  7. Cover the pot, turn the heat down and simmer for 5 min or until the chicken is cooked.
  8. Uncover pot, add spring onions and Thai basil, stir and serve immediately.

CORONATION CHICKEN

April 30, 2011

Hope everyone enjoyed watching Prince William getting married to Kate Middleton, a wonderful royal and stylish spectacle and a great representation of British culture and tradition. Makes a change from watching the news where so many awful events have featured recently such as the tsunami in Japan, the bombing in Morroco and problems in the Middle East. At least, today felt like Britain was united in cheering on the newly wedded couple. Just felt like there was a glimmer of hope in this cruel world.

Luckily yesterday was a holiday for me and many others due to the royal wedding, couldn’t help but notice how quiet the streets and shopping centres were as many were watching the wedding. As I had a number of hours to spare today, thought I should cook coronation chicken. This is a old dish which was produced for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and contains cold chicken pieces mixed with spices and mayonnaise.

Shredded chicken after poaching

Not really tried alot of coronation chicken as was put off slightly by the high amount of mayonnaise and gooeyness in a sandwich bought for me on my first day at work by an ex-boss about six years ago. So was inspired and intrigued by Felicity Cloake who writes a food column for the Guardian newspaper. She published a recipe the other day claiming she had produced “perfect coronation chicken”. She’s superb because she does alot of the hard work in testing out a number of recipes for a particular dish and then kind of picks out the best aspects to produce what she thinks is the perfect recipe. One day, she should think about publishing a book full of her perfect recipes as I’m sure she has alot of fans!

Poaching is one of my favourite ways to cook chicken and reminds me of the way alot of Chinese people cook “white-cut chicken” where they gently cook a whole chicken in simmering water which usually has spring onion and ginger added to it.  The chicken is then chopped into pieces and often served up on special occasions such as New Year. Chicken cooked this way means that it is the star of the show where you can taste the subtle flavour of the chicken and the texture of the meat is silky smooth and tender.

Mixing the cold chicken pieces with the spices, mayonnaise, yoghurt and coriander

I followed most of Felicity’s recipe except for a few things. I decreased the simmering time to 30 min and turned the chicken once during this cooking time. Then I turned off the heat and left the chicken in the water for 1 hour. This is the way my mother cooks her chicken so as not to overcook it. I didn’t have any saffron so had to leave that out and the brand of curry powder I tried was by Schwartz.

I was so glad to have followed Felicity’s version but couldn’t wait for the chicken to chill for a couple of hours before eating it. Me and my boyfriend just chomped our way through. I asked him whether it tasted the same as the ones in the supermarket. He declared “Well you know, supermarket ones have raisins in them and are a far brighter yellow but this tastes f*** loads better!” Even though he was full, he just couldn’t stop picking up more chicken pieces out of the bowl to scoff! I was glad that the sauce wasn’t just mayonnaise, the yoghurt does lighten it and I could taste the spices and ginger coming through. It was a very moreish dish and extremely good for picnics and outdoor eating such as when you’re having a barbeque. I would leave the chilled chicken mixture at room temperature for at least 30 min before serving just to take the chill off.

This is a recipe which was easy and well worth trying out especially as summer is almost here.

Here’s Felicity’s article in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/apr/28/cook-perfect-coronation-chicken-royal-wedding

Thanks Felicity!

Coronation chicken

Serves 6

1 x 1.5 kg chicken

1 cinnamon stick

5 black peppercorns

1 tsp salt

4 cm piece of fresh ginger

1 bay leaf

Pinch of saffron (optional)

5 tbsp mango chutney

50 g ready to eat dried apricots, finely chopped

2 tbsp curry powder

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

200 mL mayonnaise

200 mL Greek yoghurt

50 g flaked almonds

Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped, reserve some leaves for garnishing

Green salad such as watercress and basmati rice to serve

  1. Put the chicken breast-side up in a large pan and add the cinnamon, peppercorns, bay leaf and salt. Chop the ginger in half and cut one of the half pieces into slices a few millimetres thick. Pop these slices into the pot. Add cold water until this just covers the chicken and heat the water until boiling. Turn the heat down and put the lid on the pot and make sure the water is gently simmering. Simmer for 30 min and turn the chicken once. (I used a pair of chopsticks to do this by sticking one each into the sides of the chicken and carefully rotated it). At this point, I also stabbed a couple of holes into the thick parts of the chicken such as the thighs to help ensure these areas get cooked. After simmering, turn off the heat and leave the chicken in the water for 1 hour. Then take chicken out, drain out the water from the chicken cavity and leave in a bowl to cool down.
  2. Shred the chicken into small pieces, it’s optional if you want to keep the skin or not.
  3. Slice the skin off the remaining piece of ginger and chop finely.  Toast the almond flakes in a dry frying pan for a few minutes. Watch carefully as these can easily burn. Put the almond flakes aside in a bowl.
  4. Put the mango chutney and chopped apricots into a big bowl. Dry-fry the curry powder in a frying pan for about 2 min. You should be able to smell the aroma of the spices by now. Add the curry powder to the bowl. Then add Worcestershire sauce, ginger, mayonnaise and yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper. Mix and taste, adjust seasoning if required.
  5. When the chicken is cold, add the chicken pieces to the sauce and mix so that each piece is thoroughly coated.
  6. Leave the chicken mixture in the fridge for a few hours. Then add chopped coriander and mix this in. Sprinkle toasted almonds and coriander leaves on top.
  7. Serve with rice and salad.

HUMMUS

April 28, 2011

Hummus, houmous, humus and hommos are different spellings of this Middle Eastern dip made from chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic and salt. It’s easy to make if you have a food processor to puree the chickpeas and tinned ones are more convenient than dried ones as they require soaking and cooking for a while.

You can eat flatbreads, toasted pitta bread or vegetables cut into lengths for easy dipping into the hummus making this quite a tasty snack when you’re at home or work. Be warned, raw garlic is used so be aware that you might breathe garlic fumes into your colleagues’ faces when speaking to them or perhaps your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s nostrils. They probably won’t be appreciative of your tasty snack. I advise chewing on parsley or chewing gum otherwise you might be rejected romantic snogs from your partner or your colleague may be stepping back from you gradually.

Hummus

Ingredients

1 x 400 g tin of chickpeas

Juice from 1 lemon

1 to 2 cloves of garlic crushed and then finely chopped

1 tbsp tahini

4 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Pinch of salt

  1. Drain the liquid from the tin of chickpeas and rinse chickpeas several times with cold water.
  2. Blend chickpeas, lemon juice, 1 clove of garlic, tahini, olive oil, cayenne pepper and salt in a food processor until the consistency is smooth.
  3. Taste the mixture and adjust seasoning if needed such as adding more lemon, garlic and salt. Blend again if required.
  4. Spoon mixture into a bowl and smooth the top of it flat and then use a small spoon to make a circular indent. Sprinkle cayenne pepper on top if you want. Pour a small amount of olive oil into the indent.
  5. Serve with your favourite toasted bread and/or vegetables cut into lengths.

ENGLISH-STYLE CRAB CAKES

April 27, 2011

Oh, I have a longing for seafood now that summer is approaching. I seriously have a craving for some yummy superfresh fish and crab to barbeque or some gorgeous fried squid to gobble up. Miss Hong Kong where I remember walking past tanks of crab, lobster and fish and picking exactly what was going to be cooked for my dinner.  Yes, I am serious about food, blame my parents for influencing me to this extent.

A convenient alternative to fresh crab

Beggars can’t be choosers as I don’t live near the sea plus my food budget isn’t that high at the moment so I decided to compromise and make do with tinned crab. I know it’s not the best thing to use but it’s a reasonable choice in my circumstances. If you can access freshly cooked crab, great! Go ahead and use it instead of canned crab. I decided to make crab cakes as wanted something light and fresh tasting to eat.

Tried a crab cake recipe from a young English chef, Jason Atherton, who has won a load of awards and recently published his recipe in the Independent newspaper.  English crab cakes tend to combine mashed potato with crab meat while American ones generally use breadcrumbs instead. I found that you have to be gentle when handling these crab cakes. Thought it would be good to compare coating half the crab cakes with Japanese panko breadcrumbs to the remainder without any breadcrumb coating. If you want to use breadcrumbs, panko or not, you need a beaten egg to dip the crab cake into before placing in a bowl of breadcrumbs. The egg helps the breadcrumbs to stick to the crab cake.

Crab cakes: top 3 coated with panko breadcrumbs, bottom 3 without breadcrumbs

For those not familiar with panko breadcrumbs, they have a very pleasing texture compared to normal breadcrumbs, kind of like, more crisper and lighter. They are used to coat pork and chicken pieces, fried and eaten with Japanese curry, it’s very popular over in Japan, almost like a comfort food for them. You can buy these breadcrumbs from Chinese supermarkets.

After comparing with and without panko breadcrumbs, I thought both types were great tasting, however the texture of the breadcrumbs gives them a better edge so I’m happy eating crab cakes coated with panko.

Chilling the crab mixture is essential otherwise they tend to fall apart easily. You have to work quickly when shaping the crab cake patties and handle gently when shallow frying, only turn once otherwise there’s a risk you might break the crab cake. Jason Atherton’s recipe was fairly easy and tasted light and fluffy but I cut back on the ground black pepper seasoning (1 tsp to 1/2 tsp) so that the crab flavour was more dominant.

These are great to make well in advance and make a lovely starter when served with salad, I combined watercress and spinach leaves with a few scattered coriander leaves with a lime, soy sauce and olive oil dressing. I added lime wedges to squeeze over the crab cakes and added a dollop of sweet chilli sauce. YUM!

English-style crab cakes

Makes 6 cakes, serve 2 cakes/person

250 g  cooked crabmeat

100 g mashed potato

3 spring onions, dark green part only, finely chopped

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 beaten egg

1/2 tsp salt

Flour for dusting

Olive oil for shallow frying

Optional

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs in a bowl

1 beaten egg in a bowl

Crab cake mixture

Crab cake patties

  1. Combine potato, crabmeat, spring onion, parsley, pepper, cayenne, egg and salt and mix evenly.
  2. Use your hands to form 6 balls of crab cake mixture, place on a plate or baking tray and then use your palm to flatten the balls into circles about 6 cm in diameter.
  3. Chill in the fridge for at least 45 min.
  4. Preheat olive oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat, use enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan.
  5. Dust the crab cakes with flour on both sides. Optionally, if you want to use breadcrumbs, after dusting with flour, coat them in egg followed by breadcrumbs.
  6. Shallow fry gently for 4-5 min on each side until browned. Serve with a salad of your choice with your favourite dipping sauce.