Sunday, 28 November 2010

Experimental Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Vietnamese Spring Roll
After re-cooking the Cambodian Aubergine Curry and Stir Fried Spinach with Nuoc Cham for friends on Friday night we'd got the taste for Oriental food again. We'd managed to source some Shrimp paste for the curry, as in the original recipe, but were not able to include it this time because of allergies, so this also fueled the inspiration for all things oriental.
We took a drive into Manchester and to Wing Yip so I could see the delights available - Tim was the one who'd been there for the Shrimp Paste.
It really was like an Aladdin's Cave. The shelves were full of everything you could possibly need to create a Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese etc etc dish, and even though I wanted to read every label of each exciting sauce and condiment we had to focus! We picked up a couple of different Malaysian curry pastes and concentrates which were wheat free to try, some exciting Shrimp Chilli, some rice sticks, (which seem to be noodles, but there were also rice noodles, hmmm?) some Prawns and the main thing we were after, some spring roll wrappers.

Vietnamese Spring Roll Wrappers
Vietnamese spring roll wrappers are different to Chinese it seems as they are rice, as opposed to wheat. They can be used for Vietnamese fresh rolls, or summer rolls, and also deep fried to create the crispy, crunchy spring rolls we normally first think of.

We'd got some pre-packed (I know, I know!) vegetable stir fry and together with the prawns we thought that would make a decent filling. Plus the veg was half eaten and needed finishing off. We'd also got quite a bit of Nuoc Cham left from Friday so we used this to season the mixture. We decided on the deep-fried version rather that fresh as one of the core flavours for fresh rolls is mint and coriander, and rather than go shopping again we decided to use what was in the fridge.

We cooked through the veg and added the Nuoc Cham and Prawns at the last minute to heat through. We then, as per the pack instructions, soaked the spring roll wrapper in warm water for about 5 seconds until pliable. A spoonful of the stir fry mixture was then placed on the wrapper - once we'd managed to spread it out ready to roll, and perhaps not in the neatest of ways, rolled it all up.

Spring Rolls ready to go.
We heated some sunflower oil in the wok and chucked them in. First mistake. They all joined together, stuck to the bottom, burst, and pretty much mangled themselves into one big lump of rice paper and small floating bits of now deep fried veg. We did not take a picture!
After looking up a recipe for Vietnamese Spring Rolls in Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey we saw where things had gone wrong. He specifies the temperature of the oil - not much use to us without a cooking thermometer, but also says to cook them so they do not touch. If we'd read that first we wouldn't have had to sacrifice the first 4 rolls. Actually we didn't really sacrifice them, as we did eat them! So we cooked the remainder very carefully. The higher temperature of the oil ensured that they didn't stick, plus we'd double wrapped a couple so as we turned them over the fragile rice wrapper didn't burst on us.
These were rather more successful.

The wrappers crisped up nicely and the Nuoc Cham dipping sauce added extra salty and hot seasoning. Lovely. The next couple we made we didn't pre-cook the filling - the prawns were cooked already, and they tasted just as good. Next time we get the Spring roll wrappers out I think we will try a recipe similar to the one in the Rick Stein book which includes minced pork as well as chopped prawns with veg and rice noodles. And also try the different option with the wrappers of the Fresh Rolls. Although we may need to practice the rolling up stage to perfect the look for Fresh Rolls really.

We will keep going back to Wing Yip for all our Oriental ingredients as everything seemed so cheap, not to mention exciting and inspirational. They also have an online store, but at first glance they don't seem to carry the full range of goods as the actual shops. Fresh produce was also notably cheap, their chillis, coriander, galangal etc all much cheaper than our normal supermarkets. The range of ingredients available will, no doubt, prompt us to being slightly more adventurous with our cooking, but I think we're a while off buying some frozen durian and some tinned abalone!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Northcote and the Tomato Consomme

Over a year ago we had a very pleasant trip to Northcote. We'd booked the Gourmet package which included an overnight stay as well as the 5-course Gourmet meal with champagne and canapes.
This was around the time that Nigel Howarth had been successful on the Great British Menu, and 4 of the 5 courses were from the programme. We had the famous Lancashire Hotpot, Muncaster Crab, Parfait of Duck with Duck Scratchings as well as the Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire cheese ice cream which we seem to remember made Oliver Peyton swear, and not in a good way! All we thought were superb and matched very well with the recommended wines.

The next day we were lucky enough to come across the head gardener who told us all about the various herbs that were picked each day from the kitchen, the edible flowers and where exactly the summer fruits came from that we'd eaten with the ice cream.

With the Head Gardener at Northcote
The course that stuck out for us though, had not appeared on the Great British Menu and this was Tomato Consomme. This was served from a cafetiere, after being infused with herbs, over sweet and sour cherry tomatoes and tomato caviar. It had the most intense tomato flavour we had ever tasted. The sweet and sour tomatoes burst with freshness in the mouth, and the tomato caviar was truly a thing of wonder. I did ask how it was made and the well-rehearsed answer was something to do with agar-agar and squid ink as well as tomatoes, and probably dropped from a height into oil to make the tiny black spheres. We later found out that this was a dish by Head Chef Lisa Allen, who has since gone on to become successful on the Great British Menu herself.

Rather more recently we happened across the recipe for this tomato consomme in Good Food Magazine, and thought it was definitely one to try. I should mention that the scientific tomato caviar was not listed as part of the dish. Here is the original recipe. We pretty much followed it all the way through but decided against trying the cheese on toast for this occasion. And the occasion was, dinner for the parents. We actually adjusted the quantities for 4.

You will need: (for 6 people)

For the Consomme:
3kg ripe plum tomatoes , quartered
175ml white wine
750ml tomato juice
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 large shallots, finely diced
2 tsp salt
1½ tsp caster sugar
fresh picked herb leaves and small sprigs, such as chervil, baby basil, baby sorrel, snipped chives and small salad leaves, to serve

For the "sweet and sour" tomatoes:
18 baby plum tomatoes, peeled
squeeze lemon juice
¼ tsp icing sugar
2 tsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Put the tomatoes in a very large pan (very very large, the largest you have. We used a big stock pot) with all the consomme ingredients.
Simmer on a low heat for 2 hours. Yes really.
It will then look like this.

Then strain the tomatoes through muslin. For ages. (We actually went out for a meal. I think to the Orange Tree as those were the next photos on my camera!) Eventually the liquid will drained through giving a lovely clear liquid. Apparently if you push the tomatoes through it will end up cloudy. The draining process was itself, an engineering feat. We managed to do this with cunning use of a colander, pegs and gravity. All well worth it though.
As Lisa suggests, we actually did use the left over tomato pulp as a base for a tomato sauce. We used it for a couple of meals, and through the slow cooking, it gave a very rich sauce on all occasions.
The Sweet and Sour tomatoes are made by skinning the cherry tomatoes - putting a small cross in the skin then plunging into boiling water for a few seconds worked for us, then marinading simply in the lemon juice, icing sugar, a little salt and a drizzle of oil.

To serve, put a few cherry tomatoes in a bowl, with the fresh herbs. We used mainly basil (as it is the best herb in the world) and some fresh oregano from the garden.

Then pour over the re-heated consomme. We had considered the cafetiere thing, but really? All very nice at Northcote, but maybe a bit too silly in our kitchen.
This consomme was very nice and rather special. It somehow didn't seem to have the same tomato hit as we remember, but that would obviously be effected by the quality and ripeness of the tomatoes. And we actually do not have one of the best kitchen gardens in the country, which is the only one with 100% score as organic from the soil association as at Northcote. We just had Lidl for our tomatoes on this occasion!
We would fully recommend you give this a go as it is a bit of a show-off soup, and it went down really well. The tomato hit was still there, and the way that it was served added to the occasion.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Cafe de Bourg de Four, Geneva, Switzerland

Our last post on our trip to Switzerland.
As with most things, our trip around Geneva was mostly about the food. We'd discovered Cafe de Bourg de Four earlier while in search of something gluten free for lunch.
It is situated in Place de Bourg de Four along with several other cafes, restaurants, choclateries, and we were directed to Cafe de Bourg de Four when we asked in other cafe if they did anything that wasn't made out of bread. Unfortunately by the time we headed over the place was heaving with what looked like everyone on their lunch breaks from work. The menu looked great, and it indeed had the bread-less item of Rosti on the menu.
This was another classic Swiss dish that we were on a mission to try before we left Switzerland.

We returned the next day, early enough to get a table before the workers entered.

The restaurant was deceptive in size, going back quite a long way. It had lots of vintage posters on the walls and ceiling which added to the character of the place.

Ceiling posters
We didn't really need much time to look at the menu as we both new what we wanted to order: Rosti. There were, however, several Rostis to choose from. With egg, with cheese, with ham, with all of them etc.
This was our last meal in Geneva and Switzerland so we opted for the Rosti with cheese, ham and egg, and to balance things, a green salad to start.

Green Salad

Rosti with ham, cheese and eggs.
Barbara told us that Rosti is best made the day after Raclette, as the left over boiled potatoes work very well, and in fact recipes that we have since looked up and tried all say to leave the par-boiled potatoes to cool completely.

The Rosti was lovely, everything I'd hoped. Crispy on the outside and with lovely melted cheese towards the centre. I hadn't really expected a big slab of ham on the top, I thought it would have been within the grated potato itself, but maybe that would make it a different dish? It was very filling, and I couldn't eat it all. But it was a very satisfying meal and saw us right through our journey back to Manchester.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Beetroot Risotto

Last week we paid another visit to one of our favourite places: Kenyon Hall Farm to see what seasonal delights were on offer.  It had shrunk considerably since we last visited.  Apparently they are building a new cafe which should be interesting when it opens next year.  Despite the pending building works etc there was still a great deal of tempting seasonal produce for sale.

This time we were tempted into a fantastic pumpkin and a couple of gem squashes, tomatoes, carrots with tops and a lovely bunch of fresh beetroot.  Later today I am planning on cooking a pumpkin and chorizo risotto but last week I used the beetroot for a wonderful, healthy and fresh (and colourful) beetroot risotto.

Beetroot Risotto
What I used:

A bunch of fresh beetroot (about 300g), peeled and diced
250g Arborio rice
1lt chicken stock (gluten-free)
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
Large knob of butter
Glass of white wine
1 onion (or use shallots)
300g bag of rocket, watercress and spinach mix
50g grated Parmesan
Olive oil
Pepper to taste


First prepare the beetroot.  I kept some back and made a raw beetroot and carrot salad for the side.

Bring the stock to a simmer and add the chopped beetroot.  Cook for about 15 minutes till softened. 

Drain the beetroot and put aside.  The red stock is now ready to use to make the risotto.

In a large pan heat some oil and butter.  Fry the onion till soft and add the wine.  Allow the alcohol to evaporate and mix in the rice. 

Then add the stock (keeping it simmering), ladle at a time, allowing it to almost dry each time but stirring constantly so it does not stick. 

This should take about 25 minutes.

When the rice is cooked, add the beetroot, Parmesan and mixed leaves.  Heat through and when the leaves are wilted it is ready to serve.

With a little pepper and a sprinkle of Parmesan this was a really tasty, healthy and seasonal meal.  We had it with some raw beetroot and carrot salad.  For this we mixed grated beetroot and carrot as it is so sweet it doesn't really need any dressing.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Coconut Beef Madras

Yesterday saw the return of the slow cooker.  There is something very pleasing and homely about coming home to the smell of something slow-cooked.  For some reason it always smells better than when done in the oven.  The added benefit of course (other than being able to use a cheaper cut of meat) is that with the money you save you can spend in the pub and return home at a time to suit you - knowing that the food won't spoil.

After a not very successful trip to start the Christmas (and a few birthdays) shopping at the Lowry Outlet, we came back with only 1 present but we did buy a new grater and yet another little cookbook.  I was particularly taken by this book as it had a flip out piece of card so it can stand up allowing you to easily read the recipe while cooking - genius. 

This recipe is taken from "Slow Cooking" by Top That! Publishing

So for our first of many slow cooked recipes we will no doubt take from this book we chose the Coconut Beef Madras.

Coconut Beef Madras
You will need:

1.5 kg Beef such as braising steak (cut into pieces)
2 tablespoons of plain flour (we use gluten-free)
2 large onions (chopped)
6 cloves of garlic (crushed)
Big chunk of ginger (3 inch, finely chopped)
3/4 a jar of madras curry paste
200 ml coconut milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
3 small green chillies (halved length ways)
1 teaspoon of salt
Vegetable oil

First dust the steak and brown it in batches in a hot pan with some oil.  Put meat aside as you go.

In the same pan, fry the onion, garlic and ginger and cinnamon powder - add a little water and soften for 20 minutes.  When ready - transfer the onion mix to a food processor and blitz to a paste.

Put meat and paste into the slow-cooker and add coconut milk, madras paste, cinnamon stick, chillies and salt.  Mix well and cook on low for about 8-10 hours.

Serve with steamed rice and fresh coriander

The recipe asked for 2 cinnamon sticks but as I only had 1 I used the cinnamon powder in addition.  This created a different twist to a normal madras and I think this is what caused Fran to declare it is nice but a little odd.  She assured me this was not a negative statement but merely to describe the interesting flavours she had noted.  I thought it was lovely and the recipe above would make 5 or 6 portions so is also great for the freezer or a big hungry family.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Le Perron, Geneva, Switzerland

Interesting place mat
Our first evening in Geneva certainly was a windy one! We'd checked in to the hotel, eventually, after the obligatory phone call to the bank to say that yes it was us attempting to use the card abroad, and in fact we have told you this already. Anyway, we wrapped up warm and headed out to see what culinary delights were on offer in the city.
All the guidebooks and things we had read pointed us to the old town, so after a rather blustery crossing of the river we headed up the cobbled streets. We spotted Le Perron in an attractive square, it had plenty of tables outside under a tree canopy, and a rather interesting menu, mainly featuring game. The Wild Boar in particular caught our eye. (Or is it eyes when there's two of you?)
We thought not to eat at the first place we saw, but since this was a Sunday night, we didn't really have much luck elsewhere. Obviously, this being a major European city, there were plenty of places to eat, but it is rather more difficult when things have to be gluten free, therefore quick pizza, pasta, chinese, etc is out of the question.
Anyway, we circled round the cathedral and came back to Le Perron.

Upon entry, we asked "Parlez-vous anglais?" We can understand basic menu items in French, but this was to make the gluten free questions easier. And the answer we got was "Certainly do" in what turned out to be a Harrogate accent. We were shown to our table and were told that the Game dishes were recommended at the moment.

We ordered the starter of the mushroom salad and the pumpkin soup.

What sounded like a plain mushroom starter actually was lovely. A mixture of warm mushrooms with crisp leaves some unknown, but flavoursome shoots, and a balsamic dressing.

The pumpkin soup was not as good as Barbara's version, but came with a garnish of cheese, croutons and cream. Compared to Barbara's this was more "restauranty", creamy and nice, but nothing too notable about it.

For our main course I ordered the Venison, a first for me, which came with what was called traditional accompaniments. And the waiter made sure that there was no flour in the sauce therefore everything was fine. Tim ordered the Stag, after enquiring as to if there was any mountain deer - a guidebook recommendation. The Stag was described as coming with chestnuts and figs.

The main courses looked identical!
Although the venison was noticeably more tender than the stag. Both were served with what may have been quince or apple, fig, chestnuts, pureed something, which if it was potato, had a secret ingredient, a red current jelly and a lovely deep rich sauce. I take it all of the above are actually traditional accompaniments.
Tim's dish came with a side of something which resembled little pieces of pancake. We were told what it was, but unfortunately can't remember, but apparently it was a traditional Swiss dish. It was batter-based and probably cooked in a frying pan or similar in very small amounts, then seasoned with salt. Ed, Barbara, do you know what we mean?
I thought the venison dish was fantastic. Obviously since this was the first time I have eaten venison I have nothing to compare it to, but similar to the Chateaubriand at the Panorama, you could almost cut it with a spoon. After eating this dish and the Chateaubriand I have now decided to order steak rare if it is at a decent restaurant, so it must have been good!
For desert we ordered the Creme Brulee, as my rule is; if Creme Brulee is on the menu, it has to be eaten. And the special of the day being an apple tart.

Both deserts were good, but I thought the Creme Brulee was nothing special. Similar to others I'd eaten. Not really sure what I was expecting though!

We thought the meal at Le Perron was very very good, although on the pricey side. But it did seem that if you didn't eat pasta or pizza then things were expensive.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Paprika Baked Pasta

Yes I know it is another Pasta Bake - but they are just so convenient.  You can prepare them in advance and just pop them in the oven half an hour before teatime.  All that is ever needed is a pile of leaves and/or some nice crusty bread and you're done.

I suppose there are limitless ideas for what you can put in a pasta bake.  Even with this one I was meaning to put mushrooms and peas in but forgot.

Paprika Baked Pasta

As with many of our own recipes they are generally to eat up what is left in the fridge and this is no exception.  The only thing we knew we wanted in this dish was paprika and cream - probably due to the dishes we have been sampling recently at the Orange Tree Tapas in Denton.

What you will need for this dish:

Bacon Lardons (handful)
1 Medium Onion (chopped)
1 Courgette (chopped)
1 Clove of Garlic (crushed)
1 Tablespoon of Tomato Puree (that is paste not passata - long story!)
1 Tin of Italian Cherry Tomatoes
1 Tablespoon of Paprika
* 1 Tablespoon of Dried Sweet Basil
Single Cream - according to your taste
a good handful of grated mature cheddar for topping
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
Dried Pasta - for 4 (we used gluten-free)

* it is worth a mention that the sweet basil we used was bought from Greek Oil Direct who have a fantastic stall at Marple Farmer's Market.


First gently fry the chopped onion and bacon in olive oil for 5 mins

Then add then corgette and garlic and fry for a few mins more

Add the sweet basil and paprika and mix well

Add the tomato puree and cherry tomatoes, mix well. 

Add the cream till the desired consistency
Season and bring to a simmer

Put dry pasta into a casserole dish and pour over the sauce.  Add a little water if required till the pasta is just covered.
Cover and place in pre-heated oven at 200c and cook for 15 mins
Remove lid, sprinkle over cheese and bake uncovered for a further 15 mins

The picure above was taken before adding the topping.  Serve with leaves, bread and shavings of Parmesan.  This was just as nice cold the next day.