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Hot Toddy

21 Oct

 

 

This week has been pretty manic, so first off – apologies for the lack of posts. I have just started my first ever clinical placement, and I have absolutely loved the last two weeks. Needless to say, everything else has somewhat been sat on the back burner as I’ve also been quite poorly over the last week. As the cold, dark, miserable nights set in, I suppose it’s inevitable that people start to get ill, so this post is going to be all about the comforting wonders of the ‘hot toddy’.

I’ve read a couple of things about the history of this marvellous drink, and (much like most foodie history) some of the stories differ somewhat. It appears however that this comforting drink has its origins in India; ‘toddy’ is the name used to describe an alcoholic drink created from the fermentation of sap from the palm tree. How and when it became hot and infused with spices I have no idea, but other people seem quite quick to argue that it was actually invented by the Scots many years ago, to make whiskey more attractive to women. Hmm…

Who knows.

All I know is that besides mulled wine, this is one of my favourite tasty, warm you up from the inside comforting autumn drinks. In terms of whether or not it helps a cold…I’m sceptical. Depending on how much whiskey you put in it could probably knock you out, that’s for sure – sadly, I’m pretty sure you’ll wake up with a cracking headache the next day. I suppose if you use the logic that you’d be waking up with a sore head from the cold anyway…?? Medicinal properties aside, here’s my recipe for the perfect hot toddy!

 

– 2 capfuls of whiskey
– 1 clove
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 1-2 tsp honey (depending on taste)
– 2 slices lemon
– near boiling water

Put everything into a mug or thick glass (be careful with the very hot water – it might crack the glass if it’s not thick enough!), and top up with the water. Give it a good stir until the honey dissolves, snuggle up in a warm dressing gown and sip away to your hearts content. Yum.

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Thai Fish Cakes

7 Oct

If anyone likes Thai food…this is a recipe you will absolutely love. Both PD and I love Asia; I spent a fair few years growing up in Taiwan, and was lucky to have the opportunity to travel around Thailand quite a bit. The flavours are immense, and most of the cooking is incredibly healthy. I treated PD to a Thai cooking course for his birthday a couple of years ago, and one of the dishes which we learned how to cook was Thai fishcakes. I don’t mean to sound bigheaded, but they really were the best fishcakes that I’ve ever tasted (it was of course, all down to the authenticity of the teacher!), and I’ve generally been disappointed when eating them at restaurants since. I think the secret is that they need to be fresh and they need to be served straight away. With the likes of high street stores such as Sainsburys/Tesco selling Kaffir lime leaves now, there really is no excuse not to give it a go. Try them, I can assure you, you will NOT be disappointed. This is one of my absolute favourite dishes; if you’re ever at my house and I serve these up, you better be quick. I have a genuine problem when it comes to these little amazing nibbles – I just eat them until they are gone. Rapidly. With sweet chilli sauce.

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They are fantastic as a starter, or if you’re having some drinks and fancy a good nibble to go alongside. This dish will make you VERYYYYYYY popular – your friends will be raving about it forever. It’s seriously impressive, and surprisingly easy to execute. Try it with a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer – something crisp and dry but with a little bit of sugary goodness really works well with the Thai flavours. Nom nom nom……

If you need to, you can prepare the mixture and shape them into little cakes the night before, then get a couple of pans of oil on the go on the night to make sure they’re all ready at the same time. As long as they are served fresh out of the pan, they should still taste as amazing!

This recipe comes from Bill Granger’s ‘Everyday Asian‘ book; PD has cooked a couple of things from this book now and they’ve always turned out really nicely. The recipes generally use ingredients which you can actually procure locally, not bizarre ingredients which you’d need to drive around for hours and/or understand the intricacies of the Thai language to be able to find! Definitely a thumbs up for this book.

Recipe (makes 24….I can almost guarantee only 20 will make it to the table, ahem…..)

  • 500g boneless, skinless fleshy white fish, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp red curry paste
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 6 Kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced (or finely grated zest of 2 limes)
  • 60g green beans, thinly sliced
  • 80ml light-flavoured oil (e.g. rapeseed or vegetable)

Blend fish in food processor until smooth, scraping the sides down once or twice. Add the curry paste and pulse with the sugar, fish sauce and lime leaves.

Scrape into a large bowl, add the beans and stir to combine. Take a handful of the mixture and throw against the side of the bowl to firm the proteins, repeating a few times until the mixture is noticeably firmer (this does actually work!).

With moistened hands, form slightly heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture into discs. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat, and fry in batches until browned and cooked through (use the picture as a guide if you’re not confident about how brown they should be).

Drain onto kitchen paper and serve with sweet chilli sauce, or cucumber relish.

Sangria : the tapas tipple!

30 Aug

I have just realised that although I have quite a few ideas for tapas, one thing which we really must consider is what to be drinking whilst making said tapas. Cooking and preparing food always needs some form of tipple in hand, right? And what better tapas tipple than Sangria!?

The first drink PD and I ordered when in Barca was a sangria. We were later to realise that generally the only people we saw actually drinking sangria were tourists, and I hate looking like a tourist! The reason for this is because around the area sangria is really a cheap studenty punch – it’s supposedly cheap red wine laced with brandy or vodka, a potent punch sure you get you a bit squiffy. But what of the history? ‘Sangria’ comes from ‘sangre’ which means ‘blood’. When the Romans arrived in Spain around 200BC (I believe), not only did they plant loads of wonderful vineyards, but also were pretty hell bent on killing a bunch of people to get their land. Apparently they were quite fond of blood because when they started making wine out of the many red grapes, they thought it was only fitting to call it sangria – blood. Nice. It was only a matter of time before they started adding some of the delicious fruits to the wine to make a nice fruity, alcoholic punch, and so sangria as we know it today was born. Most families and restaurants have their own recipes for sangria (and indeed, you can find white wine or cava versions too), so PD and I experimented a bit to find one which we enjoyed. This is what we came up with:     

  • 1 bottle cheap-ish red wine (we used a nice local Rioja)
  • ~500 ml ginger ale
  • ~400 ml sprite or equivalent
  • 1 lime sliced
  • 1 large orange sliced
  • 1 lemon sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • loads of ice!

 

We didn’t add anything else as we didn’t have any to hand. I would perhaps have added a splash of brandy if we’d had some. I’d be more inclined to go for brandy as it would at least add a some flavour – vodka seems a little pointless unless you’re simply looking to get your mates completely squiddled and end the night with your head in the loo. You can also add a handful of pineapple or some mint leaves, or a dash of sugar (personally I don’t think it needs it, especially with the sprite). Simply mix everything together and serve it up! Experiment with the quantities, everyone has their own personal tastes. I intend to try out some more varieties myself…for research purposes only, of course…….  

A good tipple

17 Aug

I don’t normally review wines, I know, but I’ve not been cooking anything new and exciting, so the kitchen has been rather quiet whilst I get ready for our ‘relaxing’ trip to Barcelona…….cue emptying all drawers/cupboards/storage spaces hunting for passports and lost euros, spending the morning in A&E because of a terribly painful ear, trying to find a new bikini in three hours and losing hope when the only five shops near me are completely sold out and only have mismatching tops/bottoms in completely the wrong sizes (can I go to Barca with no bikini?) and having to splurge on the only one I can find because, well, it’s the only one I can find, cycling frantically back home to empty desk drawers/filing cabinets to try and find all car details necessary to cycle frantically to the parking office to buy parking permits for the new car, to cycle frantically back home again to check in for flights and make sure all is ready for our early am departure, to double and triple check that the taxi company will definitely wake up in time to come and pick us up to take us to the airport, and ‘can I really get everything in a bag for under 20kg??’, and the upsetting realisation that I don’t actually have a suitcase to pack any clothes into so I may well look like bag lady when I turn up to the airport tomorrow morning, and THEN PD tells me that the boarding cards I have just printed out say that our flight left TODAY. Not tomorrow, TODAY. As in, THIS MORNING. Then came the wobbly lip as I nearly burst into tears, and he rushed over to tell me that he was joking. Ha. Ha. Ha. NOT a good time for pranks. So he has now poured me a glass of wonderfully chilled white wine and I am taking a little bit of time to write this and let the wine work its magic to relax my pre-holiday stress levels.

And this wine is good. So I thought I’d share. Just in case you’re ever in the same situation and need a nice little tipple. 

I don’t really like sweet white wines unless it’s going alongside a dessert, and even then I can only take a little. I much prefer slightly drier whites, but it’s often difficult to find a white which excites me but which also doesn’t burn a hole in my pocket. This bottle comes in at around £8-9 from Majestic, or £6.99 per bottle when buying two. At that price, I’ll have two please. It’s ‘The Ned Black Label Waihopai River Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Marlborough’, and it actually won a decanter trophy this year for being the best New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for under £10. The tasting notes suggest that it has a ‘nose of nettles and grass which lead to generous gooseberry flavours with a smoky herbal twist on the palate.’ There is also apparently added complexity from a ‘subtle gun flint minerality’. Personally I get hints of grass and grapefruit on the nose, with zesty, warm tones on the palate, filled with notes of pineapple, gooseberry and yes, a touch of grass and herbiness. I don’t know what flint tastes like so I can’t vouch for that one, I’m not often in the habit of going around and licking rocks, but perhaps I ought to from now on to improve my tasting notes? If you’re looking for something a bit more complicated than your average sauv blanc, something easy on the purse and definitely enjoyable, I’d definitely recommend trying it out. Do let me know what you think. It would go really well with a light salad or light, lemony seafood I reckon. Or just on its own, when you need a little glass of something to bring you back to that holiday mood, once you’ve found the passports and the euros, and you’re feeling somewhat reassured that no, your flight did not leave without you this morning, and yes the taxi driver has a perfectly good alarm clock and will be at your door at 4.15am to pick you up, and that hey, it’s okay to chill out on the sofa with a glass of wine sometimes. Especially when it’s as tasty as this one.

Seared duck breasts with orange and chilli glaze, served with kale (and a rather delicious red wine…)

30 Jul

The last time I cooked duck was with my dad (who is an amazing cook) sometime over Christmas, for a rather fancy dinner party. When I say ‘I cooked duck’, what I really mean is that my dad told me exactly what to do while I plonked the duck here and there and somehow it miraculously ended up on the plate looking rather professional. But I’ve avoided it since……….so when the local shop was doing a 3 for £10 offer on a load of meat, I picked up the duck, put it in the basket, and walked off before I had a chance to put it back. So why was I so reluctant? Simply because meat is expensive. In fact, it can be VERY expensive, and I’ve not had a lot of experience in cooking much other than chicken, so I am always terrified that I’ll ruin it and it will all end up in the bin, along with the receipt and my eyeballs registering £££ signs.

Time to face the fear I reckon.

Whenever I have had duck it has either been Asian style, shredded in pancakes, or served with a deep dark fruit and red wine sauce, so I thought I’d try something different. I found a recipe for roasted duck fillets with a marmalade glaze, but having cooked with my dad I knew that it would be important to try and sizzle off as much fat as possible before sticking the duck breasts in the oven, so I slightly adapted the recipe. I decided that as I was trying something new I may as well go the whole hog and cook some new vegetable too; kale it was. I’ve never cooked kale but I’ve heard many talk of its superfood status. It’s packed full of antioxidants,vitamins A (good for bones, teeth and vision), C (skin, ligaments, and immune system) and K (essential for normal blood clotting) amongst others, and is a great source of fibre as well as being low in calories. Many studies have noted its use as a great cancer fighting veg, in addition to suggesting it may have anti-inflammatory properties. So, it seems like a good’un. Duck…well, let’s face it, duck’s probably a bit naughty. But it does have health benefits; it’s high in protein, and is a good source of many vitamins and minerals. So put together, I think it’s quite a balanced dinner option!

A little note: whilst I did really enjoy this dish it is quite light and the flavours can be quite delicate. I must admit I do prefer the deeper flavours which come through in some of the red wine and darker fruit sauces, and would be inclined to try using them in future. That said, the dish is wonderfully light on a warm summer day and probably also relatively healthier than some of the heavier options. Additionally it’s something very easy to put together with ingredients you probably have in your cupboards already. PD wasn’t a particular fan of the kale as it can be a little bland, so next time I’m going to try sauteeing it with a bit of onion and garlic to try and give it a bit more of a lift.

Recipe (serves 2)

  • 2 duck breasts, skin on
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 4 tbsp seville orange marmalade
  • Pinch crushed chilli flakes
  • 1 orange
  • 100g kale, shredded
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 220C (or 200C for a fan oven)

2. Make up the glaze by mixing the marmalade, the juice of half an orange, the pinch of chilli flakes and sherry vinegar in a bowl and set aside.

3. Score the skin side of the duck breasts in a criss-cross fashion and season with salt and pepper. Place skin-side down into a preheated frying pan on a medium heat. You really don’t need to add anything to the pan, enough fat will be generated by the skin! If you’re like me and prefer to get rid of as much fat as possible, keep draining the fat into a little bowl throughout cooking.

4. Cook skin-side down for around 6 minutes until the skin is brown, adding a little of the glaze to the pan, and then seal the non-skin side for about 30 seconds.

5. Place the duck skin-side down in a roasting dish and spoon over around 3/4 of the glaze. Roast in the oven for 8 minutes (rare), 12 minutes (medium) or 16 minutes (well-done), and leave to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. A note here, I like mine rare and 8 minutes plus resting time was more like medium, so it might be worth knocking a minute off the cooking time. Have a look at the cooking guidelines on the pack.

6. While the duck is resting, fill a large pan with 1cm of water and a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Add the kale and cook for around 5 minutes, or until the kale has wilted and is cooked through.

7. Add the left over glaze to a small pan and heat it through. Drain the kale well and serve onto plates, slice the duck breast and arrange on the plate, drizzle with the warmed glaze and serve with a couple of wedges of orange.

A note on ‘resting’: when PD taught me how to cook steak properly I used to get very grumpy that we had to wait for 5-10 minutes when the steak looked like it was ready to eat. In my mind my dinner was sat on the work surface getting cold when it should be on my fork and entering my mouth. I’ve learned to appreciate the value of resting; it ensures that the meat has time to cook through evenly and also means that the juices somehow magically stay in the meat instead of running all over the plate (I’ll find out the science behind this for you in another post). It’s worth it.

A note on wine: we enjoyed a couple of glasses of a 2009 red Chilean blend from the Colchagua valley. It’s a delicious wine, fruity, with lots of ripe red fruits and berries, and a healthy pinch of spiciness and soft tannins. To be honest it had a bit too much of a complicated and intense character to match the more delicate flavours which came through in this dish, so if you’re looking for a matching wine I’d personally choose a lighter red.