Sunday, 14 June 2009

Vegetable Spring Rolls

Yeah, I'm writing again. Hello! I won't do my usual long apology/explanation for my absence because it will probably happen again and if I do it every time it will just get boring. This time, however, I must name check Jo, whose great new blog is an inspiration and delight and has encouraged me to get back in the game. The blogging game, that is.

So, a few of my besties and their men came for dinner on Friday, and to start with I made vegetable spring rolls. They are incredibly easy – the only slightly complicated bit is in the folding, which I'm sure most of you would be able to do without any difficulty but I was never good at origami and I couldn't work out how to do them until Vangie, my parents' great cleaner, showed me how, Phillipines-style. She gave me a spring roll masterclass one afternoon, and in exchange I gave her a chocolate cake masterclass – the perfect swap.

These spring rolls are only lightly pan-fried, so are much healthier than those you'd get in a restaurant, and they crisp up beautifully in the oven if you want to fry them in advance. Additionally, you can make up the spring rolls and leave them uncooked in the fridge for a couple of days before you need them, so they are great for parties and big dinners.

Vegetable Spring Rolls

Vegetables of your choice – I think the ones that work best are bean sprouts, carrots (grated or finely sliced), pak choi or Chinese cabbage, onion, and thinly sliced peppers. It's hard to give exact quantities but if you want to cheat with this, I recommend buying those packs of ready-prepared stir-fry vegetables – one 300g pack will make around 8 spring rolls (obviously depending on size)
Fresh ginger, grated
Garlic, crushed
Soy sauce
Vegetable oil
Spring roll wrappers
1 egg white

Add a small amount of oil to a hot frying pan, and add the ginger and garlic. Fry for a minute or two and then add all the vegetables. Stir fry for a few minutes, and add soy sauce. You could, of course, stir fry using any sauce of your choice. The key is to add all the flavour you want at this stage because there is no other opportunity to do so. The other important point is to make sure there is no liquid remaining – either drain the vegetables when cooked, or cook them enough so that all the liquid is absorbed or has evaporated. Soggy vegetables will make soggy spring rolls.

Cool, and spoon a small amount onto each spring roll wrapper (this is one kind of pastry I don't think I'll be making myself!) and roll and fold the pastry to seal. It is hard to explain how – see this link for pictures.

Essentially, angle the square pastry so that one of the points is facing you. Put a dollop of vegetables just above this point, about a quarter of the way up the pastry. Roll upwards from your point to the back, and when you are just over half way, fold the sides in over your roll. Continue rolling until the end, and then, using your fingers, smear some egg white over the last point of pastry remaining and stick it down to the roll to seal it.

When they are all formed, heat a little oil in a frying pan and put the spring rolls in. They cook very quickly, so keep turning them to make sure they don't burn. Crisp up later in a hot oven, or eat straight away.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Bloggeraid Cookbook

Googling around the other day (or maybe I was following links from other bloggers, I can't remember), I came across Bloggeraid and its cookbook project. In support of the World Food Programme's School Meal project, which helps to provide a nutritious meal at school for children in developing countries who may get no other meal each day, Bloggeraid is publishing a very special cookbook!

I have just submitted my recipe to the people at Bloggeraid and hopefully, in November/December 2009, you will be able to buy the Bloggeraid cookbook on Amazon! 100% of the profits go to the WFP School Meal programme, and you'll get to enjoy recipes from food bloggers all over the world, including one never-before-released recipe from me! I think the closing date for submitting recipes is 31 March 2009, so there is still time for you to get involved. I am posting this now, even though I haven't got a picture of my recipe yet, to give any readers time to get involved as well.

I am very excited by this as, clearly, I love writing about and thinking about food, and I think the School Meals project is a great one. My months spent volunteering in Kenya and Ghana brought home to me the necessity for children to be given a nutritious meal at school, as for many, there may be no other meals that day. Additionally, many families are reluctant to send their children, particularly their daughters, to school, and the school's provision of a meal may be a great incentive for parents to allow their children to go. I can't wait for the cookbook to be published, and I encourage you to submit a recipe too, as this is a fantastic and fun way to get involved in such a great project.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Yellow Chicken Curry

Ok, so this looks like a pile of dog sick, but it's actually a really great dish and one of my favourite chicken curries. Adapted from a Delia recipe, it's quick, easy and delicious, and I make it all the time. We had it on Wednesday, when Steve came for dinner and to play board games - it went down very well, but I was still able to snatch one portion away to freeze before it was all gobbled up.

Yellow Chicken Curry
(serves 2 people - easily multipliable for more)

Chicken pieces (I use chicken breast meat, skinless and boneless and cut into bite-size pieces, but you can make it with bigger pieces, pieces on the bone, etc - you just cook it for longer when you first put it in the oven) - enough for 2 people
1 large red pepper, roughly chopped
1 large green chilli, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped or blended in a food processor
2-3 cloves garlic
Large knob of ginger
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
8 cardamom pods
1 tbsp turmeric
approx 200ml soy cream
salt and pepper
Choose an oven-proof dish that is big enough to fit all the chicken pieces in a single layer. In this dish, grate the ginger, crush the garlic, add 1-2 teasps oil, the turmeric, salt and pepper. Mix together, and then add the chicken to this dish and coat the chicken in the mix. You can put this straight into the oven if you're in a rush, otherwise, leave this to marinade.

If you are using skinless boneless meat as I did, put it in the oven uncovered and start doing the following steps straight away. If the meat has bones, you will need to cook it for at least 30 minutes before starting on the rest of the recipe.

In a frying pan with no oil, heat the cardamon, cumin and coriander seeds, tossing them for a few minutes until you can really smell them and they turn a shade or two darker. Tip them into a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder.

Put the finely chopped or ground onions into the frying pan with a little oil, and fry until they turn golden. Add the red pepper and green chilli with some salt, and then add the ground spices. Cook for a few minutes until the pepper has softened, and then take the frying pan off the heat. Add the soy cream and stir until you have a thick, brownish sauce. Remove the chicken from the oven, and pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover the chicken with foil and return to the oven. Cook for at least 15 minutes like this (probably longer if your chicken has bones).

In the meantime prepare your rice or whatever accompaniment. About 10 minutes before you are ready to eat, remove the foil from the chicken and stir. The sauce should now look yellow as you mix in the marinade from the chicken into the sauce. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes and then serve.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

a couscous comeback

I have been a bad blogger. I apologise, but I am staging a comeback. Thanks to those who remembered that I had a blog and kept pushing me to update it (Jo and Dannii) and to Vanessa whose fabulous blog inspired me to return.

Why haven't I been writing? Well, in the past eight months I've gone off cooking and Blondini and I have been eating nothing but takeaways and ready meals. And then pigs flew and the Pope became a druid. Really, it's because it turns out that blogging is one of those things that is really enjoyable but once stopped is hard to restart. I kept thinking: that would be interesting to write about, I'll do it later, but obviously later never came. And then of course there were the photos that I constantly felt guilty about not taking and not uploading, because I felt that a food blog needed to have lots of pictures of the food I'd been making (which it does). But maybe sometimes I'll have to do it without pictures, because I just can't always be bothered.

So, something foodie....

Well, last night I discovered couscous. I had known of couscous, of course, but I just didn't really get couscous before, and I now know that this was because I, and probably most people in this country, didn't know how to make couscous. Blondini makes it for lunch quite often, with sardines or tuna or mackerel and vegetables, and he had made it for me as a side dish on a couple of occasions but although I generally love everything he makes, I just didn't really love the couscous. It was a bit tasteless (apart from the bit where he'd put an enormous quantity of cayenne, cumin and salt and not stirred it in - that bit had too much taste) and kind of lumpy and stodgy. But then about a month ago we went out for dinner to a Moroccan restaurant and I had couscous and it was delicious. So I did some googling around, and found out that although in this country couscous is considered to be a kind of instant food - just pour on some hot water and let it stand - in North Africa it is anything but instant. I am not talking about the laborious process of actually making couscous, the rolling of the semolina and so on, but of the actual cooking itself.

According to google, the first thing I needed was a couscousiere. This appears to be an enormous pot whose sole purpose is, yes, couscous cooking, and since we don't have the largest kitchen on the planet, nor did I even know if I liked couscous yet, I decided, in an uncharacteristic move, not to go out and immediately purchase a couscousiere. Instead, I discovered that you can fashion a makeshift couscousiere out of an ordinary saucepan, a sieve and some foil.

Step 1

Weigh out the couscous. Apparently you want approximately 60 grams of dry couscous per person. I made 200g for 3 generous portions.

Put the couscous in a shallow but quite large bowl. Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in water - use approximately 15ml water for every 50g couscous. Pour the water onto the couscous and stir in with your fingers, rubbing to separate the grain and break up lumps. When the couscous has soaked all the water, stir in approximately a teaspooon of olive oil.

Step 2

Pour boiling water into the saucepan and put the sieve on top. Choose a saucepan that your sieve fits snugly on top off - the point is to avoid any steam escaping around the sides of the sieve but to allow as much surface area of the sieve to have contact with the steam rising from the pot as possible. It is also important that the water does not reach the sieve, so pour out some of the water if necessary. Fit foil around the sieve and saucepan to close off any gaps, and then put the couscous in the sieve. Cover with the saucepan lid, and simmer the water for about 20 minutes.

Step 3

Tip the couscous back into the bowl and sprinkle with more water - the same amount as you used before. Add another teaspoon of olive oil and stir well with a wooden spoon. Let it soak up and fluff up. You can leave the couscous at this stage until 10-15 minutes before you are ready to eat it.

Step 4

Put the couscous back into the sieve and repeat Step 2 for another 10-15 minutes. Serve your delicious, fluffy and light couscous with anything you like! We had it with a simple chicken tagine of my own invention - caramelised onions and preserved lemons.