Like everyone else, I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan – who doesn’t love dragons, dinner and debauchery? Just like with The Hunger Games, it was partially the description of all that delicious food that hooked me in, and I’m obviously not the only one. If you have a passing interest in the food of GoT, you’ll probably have heard of the amazing recipe book A Feast of Ice & Fire, by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer. They started out with the blog Inn at the Crossroads, which is an equally amazing journey through some of the most intriguing recipes from Westeros and beyond. Many of the recipes are based on originals from Medieval cookery, which weirdly enough I also have an interest in, so this recipe book was a massive must-buy for me!
I’d heard of gougères before I made them, but I could never really understand why people raved about them so much. Basically, these are cheese puffs, made from the same kind of pastry usually used for patisserie like eclairs or choux buns – except this is a savoury version. They’re just cheesy, pastry bites – but in this case, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Trust me when I tell you that these will be devoured in short order at your next party – and they’re so chic you can even serve them for something formal as well as a BBQ!
Whenever I make ice cream, I always make meringues. All those leftover egg whites need using up, of course, and there’s nothing nicer than being able to offer your guests a plate of a cute little meringue kisses to have with a cup of tea or coffee!
If you have some guests coming over for Halloween and you want to serve something in the spirit of the celebration, then have I got a recipe for you! There are loads of foods themed for children, but this is a slightly more subtle recipe that takes an old classic and gives it a little tweak to make it suitable for All Hallow’s Eve!
Spooky Swampy Green Thai Curry Recipe
This recipe makes enough for 10-12 people, when served with rice.
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 6lb pork shoulder, diced
- 4 tbsp green Thai curry paste
- 3 cans light coconut milk (400ml each)
- 3 cans full fat coconut milk (400ml each)
- 2 sticks lemongrass
- 40 dried lime leaves
- 60ml fish sauce
- 6 tsp sugar
- 200g frozen chopped spinach
- 2tsp green food colouring
- 1kg frozen broccoli
- Coriander to garnish
- Rice to serve
- Fry the pork in batches until browned, and set to one side.
- With your last batch of pork, add in your curry paste and cook for a minute.
- Add a splash of water to the pan to bring up any juices stuck to the base.
- Gradually add in your coconut milk, stirring well to remove lumps.
- Add in the lime leaves and lemongrass, and return the pork to the pan.
- Simmer for 30 minutes or until the pork is cooked.
- Add in the fish sauce and sugar.
- Add in your spinach and food colouring, then test for seasoning.
- Now, if you’re making this overnight, allow to cool and place in the fridge, so you can remove excess coconut oil when it has solidified. Or, you can skim the oil from the surface with a ladle.
- Around 20 minutes before you are ready to serve, add the frozen broccoli, and then cook until piping hot. Alternatively, to keep the broccoli’s colour, parboil, then refresh under cold running water, then run it under boiling water and add to the pan at the last minute.
You can also read more about other Halloween food from past years here!
Recently, I popped along to my local pumpkin festival at Royal Victoria Country Park, and I thought I’d share some of the photos of the day!
Royal Victoria Country Park is one of my favourite places to visit. Nestled on the shores of Southampton Water, the site used to be home to the Royal Victoria Hospital, which was much used during World War I and visited frequently by Queen Victoria herself, as well as Florence Nightingale. Little of the original hospital remains except for the chapel, as a fire devastated the rest of the building in 1963. However, you can still walk the grounds and even visit the patients’ graveyard on the site, which has some fascinating grave stones.
The annual pumpkin festival is an October highlight for me, but this year it was strangely devoid of pumpkins to actually buy! I usually pick up loads of munchkin pumpkins for decoration for Halloween and Thanksgiving, but they were thin on the ground. Luckily, we managed to swing by Pickwell Farm Shop on the way home to stock up!
The light green pumpkin is one of my favourite eating varieties, called Crown Prince (my other favourite is Kabocha). Although good meaning types will tell you to save the pumpkin flesh from your carving varieties to make soup and avoid waste, I have to say, it’s a good way of making rubbish soup. Literally, soup from rubbish. If you actually want to enjoy eating pumpkin, you need to purchase culinary pumpkins, which are delicious. The carving types are generally watery, tasteless and very stringy.
So I piled up my little trolley with some delicious pumpkins in order to make some pumpkin hummus from the first Leon cookbook – along with some other tasty tapas dishes from the same book, including sesame chicken wings, flatbread, sweet potato falafels, Imam Bayildi and magic beans. I highly recommend the book if you like healthy, hearty food. I’ve never had the pleasure of eating at a Leon restaurant, but the recipes are amazing.
Pumpkin votive from Cox and Cox / tapas spread / inside of a Crown Prince / pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks / trying to decide between three shades of orange nail varnish / pumpkin votives, munchkins and Design Ideas black Sherwood tree from John Lewis
The rest of the month has been a pumpkin-flavoured blur – I’ve been getting loads of use out of my gorgeous pumpkin shaped candle holders from Cox and Cox (no relation – I wish!), and downing as many pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks as my stomach can handle (a lot, it turns out!). I also bought some more orange nail varnish, as my Ciate Hopscotch was actually a cheat – I nicked it out of the advent calendar ahead of time. Naughty! (I ended up with Orange Attack from Maybelline.) Finally, I picked this pretty black Sherwood tree from John Lewis, which looks awesome bare as a Halloween decoration, or can be accessorized with baubles, birds and blossoms you can buy individually!
Mapo dofu is one of my favourite Chinese dishes, but if you’re not familiar with authentic Chinese cooking, it might come as a bit of a surprise. Most of the Chinese food we encounter here in the west comes to us by way of the takeaway and local restaurant, where families from the Cantonese region cook their specialities – subtle stir fries, noodles and light soups. However, as you can probably imagine, in a country with millions upon millions of inhabitants, the cuisine actually varies enormously, and this dish is fairly indicative of its origins in the Sichuan province. Sichuan dishes are popular on takeaway menus, that’s true – but although real Sichuan dishes are as spicy as their western namesakes, translated to our soft palettes via the Cantonese migrants, that’s pretty much where the comparison ends.
I can’t say I’m an expert, but I have learned a lot about Sichuan cuisine thanks to Fuchsia Dunlop (namely Sichuan Cooking and Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper). One of the recipes I’ve adopted as a staple is mapo dofu. I’ve tweaked it quite a lot from the original, which incorporates a great deal of oil (which is delicious but sadly far too calorific for me!) so I decided to share the recipe here.
Mapo dofu has a great, colourful history, which starts with the name itself: ‘ma’ meaning ‘pockmarked’ and ‘po’ meaning ‘old lady’. ‘Dofu’ is another translation for tofu, so the recipe’s name translates to mean ‘pockmarked old lady’s tofu’. Legend has it that this lady, Pockmarked Old Ma, used to make this incredibly spicy dish in her restaurant – and it was so hot that it would make the diners sweat! My version is certainly not that spicy, but the inclusion of Sichuan pepper certainly gives it an interesting feeling in your mouth – this spice is known for its numbing and cooling effect, so if you’ve never tried it before, go cautiously!
This recipe serves two people.
- Approx 1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 block firm tofu (approx 340g)
- 2 tbsp oil
- 200g minced beef or pork
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp chilli bean paste
- 1 tbsp fermented black beans
- 250ml chicken stock
- 1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp cornflour dissolved in 2 tbsp water
- Bunch spring onions
- White rice to serve
First of all, prepare the Sichuan peppercorns by roasting them in a pan until fragrant, then grinding in a pestle and mortar, You want to save 1/2 tsp of this powder to sprinkle on the top later. You can skip this and buy ready ground Sichuan pepper if you can get it, but it won’t be as fresh. However, the peppercorns themselves will stay fresh for a long time, and can toasted and ground to order – I always have some in a tin on my fridge!
Slice the tofu into 1/2 inch squares and poach in simmering water gently to give it a silky texture.
Wash and drain your fermented black beans.
Heat the oil in a wok, add the beef or pork and garlic, and stir fry, breaking it up, until the meat has coloured. Now add the chilli bean paste and stir fry for about 30 secs. Add the fermented beans and stir fry for a few more seconds.
Pour in your stock, then add the drained tofu gently so as not to break it up. Add the soy sauce and sugar, then taste for seasonings to see if anything else is needed.
Simmer for 5 mins, and slice the spring onions on a steep diagonal whilst it’s cooking.
Add the cornflour mixture a bit at a time, mixing gently until the sauce thickens to the tofu. You might not need all the mixture to do this.
Put your rice into the bottom of each bowl, the pour the mapo dofu recipe over the top. Sprinkle over the Sichuan pepper and spring onions, and enjoy!
Five years ago, when I started blogging, the first thing I wrote about was Chinese New Year. So it seems appropriate to come back to it in time for the Year of the Snake (which is to be celebated tomorrow, on Sunday 10 February) with a healthy recipe that is packed full of flavour, looks ambitious, but in reality is incredibly easy to prepare.
Just like a lot of the traditional foods consumed during Chinese New Year, steamed fish is symbolic because the word in Chinese, ‘yu’, sounds like ‘wealth’ or ‘abundance’. Many festive foods revolve around similar Chinese puns, which is great fun to discuss during dinner, but hard to replicate unless you’re very fluent in Chinese!
You need a whole, white fleshed fish to make this dish – pink fleshed fish such as salmon or trout are too strong for the delicate seasonings used here. You can be flexible with the type of fish you buy – go for what looks the freshest, or take advantage of a special offer. Sea bass is usually an expensive option, but consider bream – my favourite! Ask your fish monger for advice if you’re not sure which type of fish to buy.
When you get your fish, chances are it will be gutted but not descaled. If you can get the fishmonger to descale it for you, all the better, but it’s not too difficult to do at home, and it keeps the fish fresher if you do it just before cooking. Simply rub a spoon (or knife) firmly along the fish, towards its head. This can be quite messy, so ensure you do it over a sink, and wash the fish after to remove all the inedible, loose scales. If you’re not used to cooking with fish, it could be hard to tell if the fish has scales or not – rubbing a spoon or knife backwards over the fish will soon help you tell. Whatever you do, rinse the fish thoroughly afterwards!
- 500 –750g whole white fish
- 3 spring onions
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 inch ginger
- 2 tbsp fermented black beans
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine
- 1 tbsp sesame seed oil
(In order to cook this dish, you will need a steamer – it sounds obvious, but make sure your fish will fit in your steamer before you buy it! Electric steamers are more convenient for this dish than bamboo steamers on a wok, mostly because they are generally oval, and therefore fish-shaped!)
- Wash and dry your fish thoroughly. In a shallow dish, pour over the soy sauce and rice wine, then sit the fish in the fridge for ten minutes to marinate while you prepare the other seasonings.
- Clean the spring onions and shred them finely. Crush the garlic with a garlic crusher. Skin the ginger (you can do this really easily by rubbing on the papery brown skin with the side of a spoon) and slice it, then cut it into fine matchsticks. Wash the black beans thoroughly, then crush them slightly to release more of their flavour.
- Remove the fish from the fridge, and place it either on a heatproof dish that will fit your steamer, or in strong, double wrapped foil. Scatter the seasonings over the top and inside of the fish, then pour the liquid marinade on the top, along with the sesame seed oil.
- Steam the fish for at least ten minutes. You can check whether the fish is done by pressing the flesh with chopsticks or your fingers. If the flesh is very firm and doesn’t flake, or still looks translucent, it will need longer. Check the manufacturer’s advice for cooking fish in your electric steamer.
- Serve the fish on an oval platter, picking the flesh away from the bone with your chopsticks. Don’t forget to eat the tasty cheek flesh – or save it for your honoured guest! Serving a whole fish is a traditional way to end a banquet, but if you don’t like the thought of eating a fish with the head on, the flesh can be stripped from the bone before serving instead – but do try this recipe with a whole fish, as fillets of fish can produce a drier finished dish.
A Cantonese way of finishing the dish is to heat a couple of tablespoons full of hot vegetable oil in a wok, in order to pour it over freshly sliced spring onions and ginger which have been laid over the surface of the cooked fish. This then cooks the aromatic seasonings, as well as crisping the skin of the fish slightly. I left this step out to make the finished dish healthier, but I won’t tell anyone if you give it a go!
It might be the depths of winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t brighten up your lunch time with a tasty dish of yaki udon. Thick Japanese noodles are combined with veggies and a savory sauce to make a great alternative to sandwiches – or, you can serve hot for dinner!
Yaki Udon Recipe
- 2 portions cooked udon noodles
- 60g thinly sliced chicken thigh
- 4 spring onions
- 2 leaves white cabbage
- 2 shiitake mushrooms
- ½ green pepper
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- Cut the chicken into small pieces. Cut the spring onions diagonally in small pieces. Thinly slice the mushrooms. Chop the cabbage roughly and julienne the pepper.
- Stir fry the chicken, then add the spring onions, cabbage, mushrooms and pepper and fry until tender. Add the cooked noodles and fry for a minute, then add seasoning, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
- You’re done!
This serves two adults, for a hearty lunch or dinner!
Another week, another box from Hello Fresh!
I was really looking forward to this week’s recipes, and I have to say, they didn’t disappoint! First up was chicken fajita – a fairly simple recipe flavoured only with chilli and cumin. But there were plenty of accompaniments (no sour cream or cheese though…), and the end result was delicious!
The dish I was most excited to try was duck ragu, because I’d never made something like that before – you slow cook the duck legs in tomatoes, veggies and herbs. I thought the dish could have used a lot more cooking, to be honest, because the meat was difficult to get off the bone (especially when piping hot!), but it was still fairly tender in the dish itself.
Very filling – huge portions this week!
Finally, a good old classic – bangers and mash. The red onion gravy was delicious – I don’t very often make this dish, but this recipe was so easy and gave such great results, I’ll be doing it again. The mash was made with roasted garlic, and tasted gorgeous. Again, another mammoth portion.
All of the calorie counts were much higher this week, but then this was hearty fayre. Hello Fresh isn’t really for those on a diet, but I hope in the future they’ll consider introducing a dieter’s box, because I’d sign up regularly. This will be the last Hello Fresh box from me for a while, because the holidays make dinners very unpredictable – but if you’d like to sign up, use the code FOODFASHFIT, for £10 off your first order at Hello Fresh!
Scattered sushi is a nice summer dish for the bento as the vinegared rice helps it to stay fresher for longer. But, you can eat it any time of the year! Here the rice is covered with chopped, deseeded cherry tomatoes from the vine, chopped, blanched mange tout, and toasted sesame seeds. In the top part of the bento is teriyaki chicken, salted edamame beans and soy sauce eggs (with some vinegar and sugar added to the mixture to preserve and to cut through the strong soy sauce taste).
There are some great scattered sushi recipes (including this one) in the book Sushi: Taste and Technique by Kimiko Barber.
- 1 cup of raw Japanese rice
- Splash of sake
- 4-6 tbsp sushi seasoning or rice vinegar
- Packet mange tout
- Packet cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted
- Place the raw rice in your rice cooker as usual, and add the konbu and sake, along with the required amount of water. This should make enough rice for two bento boxes.
- When the rice is done, allow it to steam for 10 minutes, then remove and place it in a dampened, flat container. Sprinkle over the sushi vinegar, then fold and fan the rice (using a wet spatula) until no more steam rises from it. Cover with a damp towel and leave to sit until cool.
- Blanch the mange tout and slice thinly on the diagonal. Deseed the cherry tomatoes and chop them into wedges.
- Spread a mixture of the mange tout and tomatoes over the top of the rice, then sprinkle on the sesame seeds.