Thursday, 27 June 2013

Week 21- Healthy Take on the Takeaway

In the UK we do love a takeaway meal.

26% of the population eat one at least once a week- and an astonishing 1 in 10 people eat one more than twice a week.

Although, 'can't be bothered to cook' is the most often cited reason for this- there are other reasons too. The food is tasty, often can be delivered to your home when you're tired or unwell, and the people in the small shops and restaurants work hard and long for their profits.

The problem is that the 'tastiness' comes from that hit of fat, salt, sugar and flavour enhancers which ultimately is not good for your health. The food is often deep fried, and the provenance and usage of the oil is outside of your control too.

So, this week I am preparing a menu of favourite takeaway-style Oriental food- to show that it can be very healthy and very easy to prepare.

Starter is miso soup with 'pot sticker' dim sum, followed by yasai yaki soba ( a vegetable stir fry with buckwheat noodles) and crispy chilli beef (yes- deep fried, it is supposed to be a treat- but you can control the amount and type of oil) and followed with an exotic fruit salad with ice cream and toasted coconut.

For the pot stickers, I am using minced turkey, which is low in fat, for the filling. Mix the meat together with some soy sauce, finely chopped spring onion, a little garlic and a few breadcrumbs to make a burger-like consistency. (Indeed you can keep any unused mixture and make it into burgers in a bun for tomorrow night's meal). Form into small sausages and leave to chill in the fridge.

Defrost 2 spring roll wrappers (or filo sheets) and keep covered with a damp tea towel whilst you work. Place the 'sausage' in on half of the square, brush the edges of the wrapper with a 'glue' of cornflour and water and then fold and seal a bit like a pasty.

Brush the 'pasties' with a little oil on either side and then fry them gently in a frying pan. When lightly brown on each side, turn off the heat, put on a tight fitting lid and leave to steam for 5 minutes to cook the filling through.

Serve with miso soup: you can buy jars of miso paste in most supermarkets. A jar will last for ages in the fridge, once opened. Put one heaped dessertspoon of the paste per person into 500ml of boiling water, add some chopped spring onion and a handful of beansprouts and serve immediately.
Miso soup with dim sum

The noodles are quick and simple to prepare too- just boil them for a couple of minutes in a pan (no need for salt), drain and refresh with cold water in a colander. Meanwhile, stir fry peppers, beansprouts and spring onions in a wok, add 1 beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of soy sauce and stir until the egg is cooked and evenly distributed. Mix in the drained noodles and add a dressing of your choice: soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, peanut butter (for a satay style sauce) etc Decorate with crispy onions and sesame seeds.
Yasai yaki soba

For the crispy chilli beef- cut one sandwich or flash fry steak into very thin strips. Marinade these for a short while in soy sauce, then toss in cornflour until coated. Heat an inch of vegetable oil in a wok until smoking and then add the beef piece by piece and fry quickly ( a very few minutes ) until golden and crisp. Lift out the pieces and drain them thoroughly on kitchen paper. Heat your favourite chilli (or black bean or hoi sin sauce) in a pan and coat the beef with sauce.

Crispy chilli beef

Exotic fruit salad
For dessert, a fruit salad is a refreshing choice. I prowl around the aisles of the supermarket looking for fruit which is reduced as it is a bit bruised or overripe- today's haul brought me kiwis, pineapple and mango- which I added to grapes, mandarins and strawberries. Topped with vanilla ice cream and a spoonful of toasted coconut- ( dessicated coconut dry-fried for 1 minute in a pan, stirring all the time, until it starts to brown lightly then removed immediately from the heat.)

Quite a feast- I hope you agree. If I had bought this from my local takeaway (not counting pudding which isn't available)  it would have cost : £12.50. If I had eaten in at Wagamamas, it would have been around £35 for two.

Making it myself cost: just under £7 for two. Plus, there is leftover stir fry to make noodle soup tomorrow, leftover fruit salad for my lunchbox and another meal of turkey burgers for tomorrow night.

If you would like to see more takeaway-style recipes, I have begun pinning them on my pinterest boards at

Live long and prosper!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Week 20- Other Fish to Fry

This made us laugh!
This week has been a busy one-guests at each end of the weekend, from home and abroad- and Father's Day to boot.

This called for Man Food.

Strangely though, whilst the pubs and restaurants were all offering Father's Day meals of ribs steaks and burgers - my crew were asking for fish, shellfish and surf n' turf.

Happy to oblige.

We live on the South coast of England= fish aplenty still.

Of course, if you are cooking fresh you need to look at what is is in season and in June round here that is: flat fish such as Dover sole, megrim, Lemon sole, plaice and turbot and oily fish which are just coming into season such as sardines and mackerel. Also crayfish, scallops, lobster and palourde clams.
Best Chippie in Eastbourne

Cod is still OK- and if you want to eat out, rather than in,  then you can't beat fish and chips from a good fish and chippie. I struggle to cook better than fish cooked in a commercial fryer- although I will try. For the moment I concede victory to my local chippie for battered cod and chips!
Proper cod and chips

Meanwhile, here is my three course Man Menu: for starter I've done scallops with black pudding and pea puree, followed by grilled sardine salad and finished with raspberry wonton millefeuilles.

Masculine- but still notching up 5 a day- (fruit and veg that is.)

The starter is simplicity itself- cook a handful of peas per person in boiling water until tender. Fry 3 slices of black pudding per person in  a little sunflower oil. I like to use Clonakilty black pudding, as it is made all the crumblier with the addition of oatmeal - but if you can't find it, any good black pudding will do. Put aside and keep warm. Drain the peas and blitz with a stick blender until pureed. Quickly fry the scallops in the same pan as the black pudding was cooked and then assemble your starter: a bed of pea puree, your black pud and then the scallops, drizzled over with the juices from the pan.
Scallops with black pudding and pea puree

For the main course- again , the simpler the better. Arrange your salad in a deep dish and dress with a lemony vinaigrette. Heat some oil and fry off some leftover bread cubes ( I hope you kept the crusts from your afternoon tea sandwiches last week and made them into cubes for croutons.) Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with some fleur de sel or coarse sea salt. Heat up your grill and cook the sardines whole (obviously cleaned, gutted and scaled - by your fishmonger usually). Cook until sizzling and starting to brown. Voila!
Sardine Salad

Pudding is dainty- but not too sweet.

Wonton wrappers baked and dusted with icing sugar
Line a baking tray with silicone paper and lay 6 wonton wrappers per person on it. Brush with melted butter or liquid Flora and bake for 10 minutes in a medium oven (180 degrees) until golden.Watch them carefully. Cool them in the tray and sprinkle with icing sugar when cool. Mix up a tub of creme fraiche with a sachet of vanilla sugar and 2 tsp of vanilla essence. Layer up your  milles feuilles: bottom layer wonton, then cream, then raspberries, then wonton etc. Finish with fruit and dust with more icing sugar.

Keep the wonton wrappers in the freezer and only defrost what you need. Keep them under a damp tea towel as you work- just like filo pastry (which of course you can use instead.)
Raspberry Wonton Millefeuilles

So, I hope you enjoy these simple but pleasing dishes.I've started pinning my recipes on Pinterest - still a work in progress but you can take a look at That is, if you don't have bigger fish to fry!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Week 19- Afternoon Tea for Two

Afternoon tea for two
Around here, June is the month for garden parties, church flower festivals, weddings and village fetes. The bunting is out, the bands are playing and the flower arrangers,  jam makers and cake bakers are working flat out. What better time to think about sitting down to a civilized afternoon tea for two?

This week's blog looks at the traditional tiffin- three dainty courses, but served elegantly on the lawn or in the parlour.

A traditional afternoon tea has three elements: the savoury course (made up of dainty sandwiches and small savoury treats), the sweet course ( tiny cakes and meringues) and the cream tea (scones, with cream, and jam or fruit and a pot of tea.)

My version features smoked salmon sandwiches along with cucumber and dill squares and cakes aux olives for the savoury course. Followed by a trio of fairy cakes - a mini Victoria sponge, a butterfly cake and an iced fairy cake- along with meringues with fruit and cream. Plus of course the scones!
Sandwiches, cakes and meringues

The sandwiches should have the crusts removed and the bread cut into shapes (triangles and squares for example). The cucumber and dill filling is delightful- spread the bread with herby cream cheese into which you have mixed some chopped dill, then add layers of peeled and finely sliced cucumber.

Don't waste those crusts though- I cut mine into cubes and froze them in a container to use as croutons in salads and soups.

Future croutons!

The olive cakes have featured before on the blog- but it is my most popular recipe -so no apologies for featuring it again.

Ingredients- 160g of olives, 100g of self raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 3 eggs, 1 pot natural yoghurt or 100 ml of skimmed milk, 80 ml of olive oil and 100g of grated cheese.

Roughly chop the olives, beat the eggs into the milk and then combine all the ingredients in a large mixing jug. Pour into silicone muffin moulds and bake at 200 degrees for 15-20 minutes until firm and golden.

Cakes aux olives

For the fairy cakes- make up a plain cake batter using 125g of self raising flour, 125g of butter and 125g of caster sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla essence and 2 beaten eggs.Pour into paper cases and bake at 200 degrees for 15 minutes until lightly golden.

When cool, split some of the cakes in two and spread with jam and cream, sandwich back together and sprinkle with icing sugar ( to make mini Victoria sponges ), slice the tops off others, fill with cream and then replace the top cut into two 'wings' to make butterfly cakes. Ice the remainder with toppings of your choice- cream and fruit, icing and sprinkles, buttercream icing etc

The meringues are simplicity itself (if you buy shop meringue nests). Just top with creme fraiche and berries.

Scones are next. I always follow a recipe from my mum's old school cookery book circa 1946!

The ratio of ingredients should be 1/8 fat to flour, 1/8 sugar, 1/8 other ingredient eg. fruit

So for 250g of  flour and 2 tsp of baking powder, rub in 60-70g of margarine, add same quantity of fruit and sugar and mix to a stiff dough with approximately 100 ml of milk.
Turn out onto a floured board and shape into a round about 4cm thick.
Use cutters to shape your scones or cut into triangles (for savoury scones).
Place them on a greased baking tray, brush with milk and place in a hot oven (210 degrees) for 4 minutes and then reduce the heat to 190 degrees and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until golden.

Scones can be varied endlessly- why not try mixing in fresh fruit such as rhubarb :

Rhubarb scones

Or cheese, olives, pepper or spring onion for savoury scones:
Cheese scones

But what of the leftovers? Well, cucumber is very good cooked. I made a cucumber and scallion soup- which was tasty warm (but would do nicely chilled in shot glasses as part of a buffet). Just peel and slice the remaining cucumber,slice some spring onions and add them all to some vegetable stock. simmer for 20 minutes or so, then blitz with a little skimmed milk. Season to taste and decorate with chopped herbs.

Olive cakes freeze really well, and I often have one or two with a salad as part of my packed lunch.

So there you have it: afternoon tea for two and a few extra meals besides.

I will leave you with some images of the church
fete so you can conjure up the right ambiance!

A quintessentially British summer event! (With tea and cakes.)

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Week 18- Getting Red-dy For Summer

At last, some interesting fruit and vegetables are coming into season- not to mention lots more fish, herbs and salad leaves. Early season cherries, strawberries and tomatoes have begun to appear on roadside stalls along my route to work, the sun is out- and has some warmth in it- and people's shoulders and noses are starting to turn red from this unaccustomed spell of, dare I say the word, summer?

So, just as last week I celebrated the green-ness of spring, this week I'm looking at all things red: tomatoes, peppers, beetroot and summer fruits.

This week's menu starts with vegetable crumble ( a ratatouille with cornbread crumble topping ), and is followed by salmon on a bed of chilli noodle salad with ruby slaw. Dessert is a fruit tart, filled with creme patissiere and summer berries.

This meal is made mostly from leftovers- the ratatouille uses up some roasted veg which accompanied a meal during the week and the cornbread crumble topping uses some cornbread from the freezer ( see blogpost 'Take Half a Dozen Eggs' for the recipe.) The chilli noodle salad uses cold noodles in a chilli and tomato sauce, mixed with grated carrot, beetroot and cabbage-plus some chopped mangetout (also now in season.), spring onions and cashews.

If making the starter from scratch, roast some vegetables in a little olive oil and salt and pepper in a tray in a hot (190 degree oven). I used onions, quartered, sliced courgette, red pepper, aubergine, a few garlic cloves, some baby new potatoes and tomatoes.They are done when tender and starting to caramelize nicely. Mix with a strong tomato sauce (made from reducing 1 can of chopped tomatoes with  a little red wine vinegar in a saucepan until thick, blitz with a stick blender (or leave chunky if you prefer) and toss the veg in.
Veg ready for roasting

Pour into a gratin dish or individual ramekins. Meanwhile, blitz together 2 slices of cornbread with a knob of butter, some grated cheddar or gruyere cheese  and some parsley or herbes de provence. Place again in a hot oven (190 degrees) for 10-15 minutes until bubbling and golden on top. Serve with a green salad .

Vegetable crumble with cornbread topping

The main course features an ingredient those that know me might find surprising. My hatred of beet root is well known. As a child I lived In the Far East until I was 5 years old and returned to a chilly Norfolk winter in 1963. The weather ( the coldest winter ever in the uk) didn't faze me. I embraced the delights of snowmen and sledging with joy.

 Not so the austerity of Norfolk County Council school dinners- they left me with severe food trauma. I was unused to dairy products and root vegetables, pickles and vinegary sauces- and these seemed to be the mainstay of their so-called salads. Over the years I have learned to love some dairy products, though am still wary of many cheeses. I love most root vegetables now- but vinegary pickles and beetroot rank high on my list of food hell. Just conjuring up the image in my mind of a blob of cold mashed potato, stained with a pool of pickled beetroot, salad cream and grated cheese makes me re-live the experience of feeling like an alien from another planet in a hostile world.

So why does my main course feature beetroot? Well, it was a mistake- but one that worked out quite well. I was cooking in someone else's kitchen, so for convenience sake, I bought a bag of ready prepared 'ruby slaw'. I prepared my dish, served it, ate it and enjoyed it- all the time blissfully ignorant of the secret ingredient.

Here's how it goes: boil some egg noodles for 2 minutes until tender and then refresh with lots of cold water. When just warm, toss in a chilli dressing made from sweet chili sauce and some tomato puree loosened with a little rice vinegar. Add chopped cashews or peanuts, some chopped spring onion, chopped mangetout and the 'ruby slaw' ( 1 carrot, 1 beetroot and 1/4 of white cabbage all grated together in a food processor.)

This salad made a lovely base for a fillet of cold poached salmon.

Poached salmon with chilli noodles and ruby slaw

The dessert features creme patissiere- cold confectioners custard- in a pastry case and topped with some summer fruits.
Bake a sweet pastry case blind and allow to cool completely. Make the custard by bringing 500ml of milk to the boil in a pan with 4 tbsp of caster sugar. In another bowl, mix 2 egg yolks and 1 egg together with 4 tbsp of caster sugar and 4 tbsp of cornflour until smooth. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, return to the saucepan and gently heat until thickened. Whisk in 25g of butter and 1 tsp of vanilla and allow to cool completely in the fridge.

Fill the case and top with fruit of your choice.

Summer Fruit Tart

This quantity of custard is more than you need for the tart- so I also made a rhubarb fool with the leftovers: poached rhubarb mixed in and served in a pretty glass with ginger biscuits
Rhubarb fool with ginger biscuits

These are the easiest biscuits in the world to make: 6 oz of self raising flour, 4 oz of soft brown sugar, 2 oz of melted butter or liquid Flora, 1 tsp of ginger, 1 tsp of bicarb of soda, 1 tsp of golden syrup, 1 beaten egg.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl, add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. 

Line a baking tray with baking paper and place walnut sized balls of the mixture on the sheet. Space them well apart as they spread as they cook. After 10 minutes in a medium oven (170 degrees), they should be looking golden and round. Cool on the paper and lift off with a pallet knife.

I use this recipe too for gingerbread men when cooking with children, as they love the way the dough magically spreads out and gets 'fat'- like a real gingerbread man coming to life!