Friday, January 28, 2011

Fried Squid (Calamari)

Every time I eat out I think to myself, "I could probably make this".   Now I love calamari.  I've had it at many restaurants some good and some bad.  How hard could it be to fry some squid?  So I looked up some recipes and after a few failed attempts I changed one thing and it came out delicious.  This can be served as an appetizer with a dipping sauce or it's also great in a salad.

2 medium sized squid (Or however much you want)
1 cup of flour
vegetable oil for frying

Pour the vegetable oil into a saucepan, about a 1 inch deep and heat the oil.  Place the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper.  Additional spices could be added to the flour such as smoked paprika or cayenne pepper, whatever floats your boat.  Slice the squid into 1/2 inch rings and toss in the flour making sure to coat well.

To test if the oil is hot enough, use a pair of tongs, dip one of the calamari rings into the oil. If it sizzles and begins to cook, the oil is ready.  Turn heat down to medium to prevent oil splattering.  In batches, dip the coated squid into the oil and fry for 1 minute or until golden brown.
Transfer calamari to a plate with paper towels using a slotted spoon.  Season with salt and pepper.  Repeat this process until all the squid has been cooked. Try not to over cook it or it will be rubbery.
 I decided to put mine into a mixed kale salad topped with some good balsamic vinegar

Friday, January 21, 2011

Crispy Duck with Veg Stir Fry

I've never cooked duck until I got to the UK.  I've had it at various Chinese restaurants in the states and let's just say it didn't leave a good taste in my mouth.  I was going through a few cook books, one of them Chinese Food Made Easy and Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite.  I had found a few duck dishes that looked good so I decided to give them a whirl.  After making them I came up with a combination of a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
So here we go... 

Crispy Duck with Vegetable Stir Fry
2 duck breast
1 tbsp groundnut oil

1 heaping tsp of Chinese 5 spice
3 tbsp of freshly grated root ginger
5 star anise
2 cloves
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp of rice wine

Vegetable Stir Fry
1/4 red cabbage shredded
1/2 savoy cabbage shredded
2 zucchini (courgette) halved or quartered
2-3 tbsp of oyster sauce
1 tbsp of dark soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar

Place all the ingredients for the marinade into a bowl and stir to combine.  Add the duck breasts and season with a little salt and pepper.  Set aside and marinate for around of 30 minutes. 

Next chop the veggies.  In a small bowl mix the oyster sauce, dark soy sauce and rice wine vinegar together. 

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF.  In a pan, heat the groundnut oil and place the duck skin side down.  Fry for 4-5 minutes until the skin is brown and crisp. 
Transfer to a baking tray, skin side up this time and cook in the oven for 3-4 minutes (depending on how well done you like the duck).  Pull the duck out of the oven and let sit for a few minutes to the the juices settle before slicing.

While the duck is in the oven it's time to make the stir fry.  In a wok or a pan heat some oil, add the zucchini and fry for a few minutes.  Add the red cabbage and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Finally add the savoy cabbage cooking for 2 minutes.  Pour the oyster sauce, dark soy sauce and rice wine vinegar mixture over the vegetables and give a good toss.  Remove from the heat and let sit while you cut the duck breast. 
You could easily add other veggies into the stir fry.  Chestnut mushrooms are an excellent addition if I have them.  Don't be afraid to be creative.

Serve with a side of rice.   Bada bing bada boom.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shrimp Fajita Wrap

I was in the mood for something nice and healthy for lunch.  I bought some frozen tiger prawns (shrimp) recently and decided to make some fajitas with them.  I used to buy Old El Paso fajita mix but after looking at the ingredients I knew it would be easy to replicate.  Plus it's going to be healthier because I know all of the spices that are going in and homemade always tastes better.  Here in the UK the ingredients aren't as bad as in the US.  We don't have any of these in the mixes - Maltodextrin, Hydrolyzed Corn and Soy Protein, Silicon Dioxide (Anticaking Agent), Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Sulfiting Agents, Ethoxyquin (Preservatives).  What is all this crap?  Talk about poising your body.  This is why I make the spice mixes for fajitas or tacos from scratch now.

Shrimp Fajitas
About 20 tiger prawns (shrimp)
4 tortillas

For the fajita mix-
3 tsp chilli powder (I use mild, but you could use hot)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp sugar

For the guacamole -
1 ripe avocado
1 shallot diced
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
1 red chilli chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh lime juice
cracked pepper to taste

Place the frozen shrimp in warm water to thaw, then put them on a paper towel to dry.  Place all of the spices in a bowl and combine.  Once the shrimp have dried, put them in a bowl and sprinkle over the fajita spice mix.  Give a good toss making sure each of the shrimp is coated with the spice mixture. 

Next it's time to assemble the guacamole.   Cut and peel the avocado and place into a bowl.  If you don't know how to do that then this is a good explanation.  Mash the avocado with a fork and then add the shallot, garlic, red chilli, lime juice, S+P and give a good mix.  Taste and add more salt or pepper to your liking. 

In a pan heat a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.  Toss in the shrimp and cook until they turn white and aren't clear anymore.  The tails also curl up.

To serve -

1 ripe avocado sliced 
1 tomato sliced
1/4 red cabbage shredded
bunch of coriander (cilantro) roughly chopped

There you have it - a nice, tasty, and refreshing yet satisfying lunch or dinner.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Red Lentil and Spinach Salad

I was contemplating what to have for dinner and I asked Nicole what she fancied (That's British talk, in other words what she wanted).  She told something light and preferable no meat.  So I scrounged through the pantry and fridge to see what I had.  Red lentils popped out at me and I picked them up figuring I could create something good with them.  I didn't have a problem eating a vegetarian dish because lentils contain high levels of proteins, dietary fiber, and minerals.  So my body still got it's protein and all the other healthy stuff in lentils. 

Red Lentil and Spinach Salad
1 cup red lentils
1 bag of spinach
1/4 red cabbage shredded
1 avocado sliced
1 red pepper cut into small chunks
1/2 onion diced
1-2 tomatoes quartered
2 beets cooked, cut into chunks
3 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp evoo
1 garlic clove minced

Rinse the lentils under cold water.  Place in a pot and add water until fully covered.  Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes or until tender and then drain (you don't want them mushy).  Place spinach, red cabbage, onions, lentils and red pepper in a bowl and toss.  Add on top the avocado, beets, and tomato.  In a separate bowl mix balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and garlic.  Pour on top of salad and serve.
As I ate this dish I was thinking what else could I add to make this even better.  Adding sliced boiled egg and crumbled feta cheese would be a great final touch. 
Nice healthy fresh crisp salad.  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mixed Game Stew

With it being winter and cold, I wanted to make a dish that would warm me up.  I had bought some mixed game (pheasant, partridge, rabbit, venison)  at the butchers and was wondering what to do with it.  Then I thought a nice, warm, hearty stew would hit the spot.  I pretty much knew what I was going to put in it but still browsed online to get see how else I could jazz it up.  So this is a combination of recipes along with some alterations I made along the way.

Mixed Game Stew
1lb wild game (beef would do just fine)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2-3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
500mL (about 4 cups) beef stock
1 onion finely diced
1/4 tsp paprika
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced (I eat garlic like candy but you can add as much as you want)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp of dried oregano
1 tsp of dried basil
2 tbsp of ketchup
2 tbsp of A1 sauce
2 bay leaf
3 carrots chopped into bite size pieces
2 potatoes chopped into bite size pieces
2 celery stalks chopped
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
4 tablespoons plain flour  

Toss the meat in seasoned flour and then, in a medium stock pot, brown beef in EVOO. Add the beef stock, salt, pepper, onion, paprika, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, basil and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

For added flavor and also for thickening purposes add in the ketchup, A1 sauce and another dash of Worcestershire sauce.  You could also throw in a tablespoon of BBQ sauce as well.  I know it sounds strange but it turned out great!  Simmer for 45 minutes. 

Add carrots, celery and potatoes and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender.  Taste to see if it needs additional seasoning and add accordingly.   

Add the frozen corn kernels and 1 tablespoon flour or cornstarch and mix in order to thicken the stew. After mixing let sit for a few minutes.  If not to desired thickness add more flour or cornstarch until you are happy.  

Serve as is or with a nice slice of fresh buttered bread.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cacio e Pepe

I love cooking and eating Italian food.  Maybe it's because I have roots from there, but mostly because the food is so darn good!  Food to Italians is very important from preparing it with the freshest of ingredients to sitting down at the table and enjoying what was cooked.  They like to take their time and savor the food, there is no rush to go and do something else.  Also while sitting down over dinner they get the chance to talk, share stories, and bond with each other.  And as you know Italians LOVE to talk!!
I discovered this website a while back and have made a few recipes from it.  It has also given me some inspiration as well!  So while lounging around on New Years Day I wanted to make something simple but tasty - Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) was it.  This is one Roman dish I will make again which was fairly quick as well.  I didn't have any Cacio de Roma so I substituted Parmesan instead.  You could also just use Pecorino Romano if that's all you had.  I also added some shrimp to mine.

1 Pound Spaghetti 
4 tbsp Extra-virgin Olive Oil
2 tsp Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
1 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
3⁄4 Cup Grated Parmesan
10-12 Shrimp

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the pepper and cook until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Add 3⁄4 cup pasta water into skillet with the oil, and then bring to a boil.  Be careful that the pan is not too hot because it will spray out when mixed with the oil (this happened to me).  Using tongs, transfer pasta to the skillet. Sprinkle 3⁄4 cup of the Pecorino Romano and Parmesan over the pasta. Toss the pasta with the cheese and oil mixture to combine until sauce is creamy and clings to the pasta without clumping, adding some additional pasta water if necessary.  Serve hot and sprinkle over the remaining pecorino cheese adding some fresh cracked pepper if desired.
Cheap, simple and delicious!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rack of Lamb with Parsnip Puree

I was at the butcher the other day and noticed a rack of lamb just laying there waiting to be consumed.  I've never made one before but they always look really good so I decided to give it a whirl.  I've found really good recipes from this website and decided to use it again for some recommendations on a tasty rack.  After a quick search, this recipe came up and got great reviews and also looked good. I've also added a parsnip puree and roasted carrots as a side.

Here's what goes in -
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (7 bone) rack of lamb
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 Parsnips quartered
200mL single (or double cream)
4 medium carrots quartered

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and move oven rack to the center position.

In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic, rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss in 2 tablespoons olive oil to moisten mixture.  Set aside
Season the rack all over with S+P.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy oven proof skillet over high heat.  Sear rack of lamb for 1 to 2 minutes on all sides.  Set aside for a few minutes. Brush rack of lamb with the mustard, then with your hand pat the bread crumb mixture until evenly coated.

Place the lamb in a roasting tray and place in the preheated oven for 12 to 18 minutes, depending on the degree of doneness you want. With a meat thermometer, take a reading in the center of the meat after 10 to 12 minutes and remove the meat, or let it cook longer, to your taste. Let it rest for 5 to 7 minutes, loosely covered, before carving between the ribs. 

While the lamb is in the oven place the parsnips, cream, and a little seasoning into a saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until they are fork tender.  Place in a food processor with some of the cream and whiz it up.  Add a little at a time because you don't want it too soupy.  If you don't have a food processor you could easily mash by hand or an electric mixer.  I used my smoothie maker which worked just fine.  Eat plain or top with fresh chopped parsley.
Toss the carrots in olive oil, salt and pepper and place in the oven for about 15-20 minutes depending on how done you like them.

Here is the final product -

Monday, January 3, 2011

Leftover Turkey Surprise Pie

Wondering what to do with your leftover turkey from the holidays?  Well I've got something for you to try or maybe inspire you to make your own creation.  I had a bunch of leftover turkey from when we celebrated Thanksgiving here in England and decided to do something different with it.   I recently made a wild game pie which was delicious and thought why not do that with the turkey as well.  I looked at a few recipes online but nothing really caught my eye so I thought to myself "what goes good with turkey and in a pie".  So this is my own creation which turned out really good.  *Gave myself a pat on the back* 

Here is what went in my leftover turkey surprise pie - 
1 carrot chopped
2 stalks of celery chopped
.5 onion chopped
1 leek sliced
few sprigs of fresh thyme leaves removed
button mushrooms sliced or chopped or how ever you like them and up to you how many - I used what I had so about 6
1 can of cream of mushroom soup (They even have Cambell's Soup here - bonus!)
About 300mL of vegetable or chicken stock (look online for the conversion since that's what I always have to do)
1lb of leftover turkey chopped
1 head of brocooli
2 pie crusts - store bought or home made (I only bought 1 pie crust because I thought 2 came in the 1 package.  So I just made my own - butter, flour and ice water - just google a recipe, it's easy)
shredded cheddar cheese (optional) - Sounded good to me so why the hell not.
In a pot on the stove (or hob is what they call it here), pour a couple glugs of extra virgin olive oil.  Put in the onions, celery, carrots, fresh thyme and leek and let those cook for a few minutes to release all the wonderful flavors.  Then add the turkey, stock, mushrooms, cream of mushroom soup and broccoli.  Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes or so letting the flavors merry together. 

Once that thickens up a bit it is now ready to assemble.  I used a deep style dish but you could easily use a regular pie pan, you'd just have a lot of excess filling though.  So place one of the pie crusts into the bottom of the dish.  Start spooning the turkey filling, once you have a couple spoonfuls in, add some shredded cheddar cheese and then repeat this process a few times making sure to not go above the pie crust.  Mine was a little to liquidy so next time I might add as much when transferring to the pie.  Once you have it filled to the max and are happy, place the other pie crust on top making sure to tuck in the edges close to the bottom crust.  Cut a few slits in the crust or a hole in the center to let off some steam.  Just like Arnold said in the classic 80's movie Commando - "Let of some steam Bennett"

Phở - Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Soup

I was at the Asian House in East Lansing, MI when I first sampled Pho (pronounced).  It was really flavorful, delicious, spicy yet refrehsing.  Pho is great to eat on a nice cold wintry day to warm you up.  It was even good when I was in Cambodia with temps around 90ºF and 100% humidity.  I didn't mind sweating my a** off while eating this mouthwatering dish  - well worth the experience, culture and food!
So I bought this cookbook a while back, Gordon Ramsay Healthy Appetite and noticed a recipe in there for a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup or commonly called - Pho.  I showed this to Nicole and she got all excited because she absolutely loves this dish.  I've since made it a few times.
Pho is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup.  It is often served with beef fillet.  I had ostrich so I used that which tasted just as good.  You could use chicken as well.

Serves 3-4
500g beef fillet (about 1lb)
1 in. knob of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely crushed
1 tbsp sesame oil
200g dried thin rice noodles or already cooked soft rice noodles
salt and pepper

Slice the beef into rectangular shape pieces, thinly as possible 
Place in a bowl and toss with grated ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, and sesame oil.  Cover and marinate in the fridge for 30-40 minutes

1.5 litres beef stock
1.5 in. knob of fresh root ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
4 star anise
3 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cardamon pod, lightly crushed
2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp fish sauce
salt and pepper

For the broth - pour the beef stock into a large pot and add sliced ginger, star anise, cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamon pod, caster sugar, fish sauce, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Strain the broth into a clean pan, discarding the ginger and spices.  Taste and adjust the seasoning. 

Add the rice noodles to a large pan of boiling salted water and cook according to the packet instructions until tender, but still retaining a bite.  Drain and toss with a little sesame oil to prevent them from sticking.
I used ready cooked/soft rice noodles.  Place them in a serving bowl.  They will warm up once the broth is poured over.

Bring the broth to a boil and add the beef and bean sprouts.  Simmer for just 30 seconds, then remove from the heat.
Ladle the broth over the noodles, dividing the beef and bean sprouts equally.  

To Serve:
bean sprouts
2-3 spring onions
coriander (cilantro) chopped
lime wedges
hoisin sauce
chilli sauce
small bunch of mint or Thai sweet basil (Optional)

Basil Pesto with Home Made Pasta

I remember the first time my taste buds had the pleasure of indulging in such goodness.  Coming from an Italian back round on my mom's side she had introduced me to these wonderful ingredients at a young age.  Pesto in my opinion fairly easy to make.  I've tried store bought stuff before and it was disgusting, plus there is usually other "stuff" in it.  The basic ingredients for a basil pesto are -
2 tbsp of pine nuts
3-4 garlic cloves
About 2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese
Dash of salt
100mL (a little less than a half cup {.42 cup to be exact}) of extra virgin olive oil, or plain olive oil.

Toast and roughly chop the pine nuts.  Finely chop the garlic.  Roughly chop the basil leaves. 
I use a pestle and mortar but a food processor could be used as well making it easier but taking the fun out, plus they didn't have those fancy machines back then.  I also get a level of satisfaction doing it the old fashioned way.  Add the basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic and salt to the mortar.  Using the pestle start to grind away until it forms a paste like substance.  Add the parmesan cheese and grind until incorporated.  Slowly add the oil and mix together.  Presto you have pesto!!

I also like to make my own pasta from scratch.  It's fun, tastes good and it's easy!  I buy pasta flour here in England but you could use AP flour (I personally thought the pasta was a little heavy with it though).   Another alternative is 00 flour.  

250-300g of flour (about 2.5 cups)
3 eggs
Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs.  Beat with fork gradually pulling in flour.  After it begins to come together some, start kneading it by hand.  
Knead for 5 minutes or so working it with your hands to develop the gluten in the flour.   Your pasta will be ready when it starts to feel smooth and silky instead of rough and floury.  Wrap it in cling film and set in the fridge for 30 minutes.  
Now you're ready to roll it out.  I do it the old school Italian way using a rolling pin, but a pasta machine could also be used.  Cut the dough in half so it's easier to roll, sprinkle some flour on the counter and rolling pin and then get down to business.  Roll, rotate, flip, roll, rotate, and repeat a bunch of times (add a little flour if it begins to stick).  I try to roll my dough into a circle or close to.  How thin you may ask?  Well I just eye it really, though it is pretty thin - enough to see the counter through it.  Once rolled out, fold it in half 5 times or so.  Cut into strips depending how wide you want them.  
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta in batches.  Once it rises to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon. 
Now that everything is prepared, time to throw it all together.  I sauteed up some shrimp in EVOO and garlic for my protein.  Another good alternative is chicken.  Place the pasta in a bowl, add the shrimp and pesto and toss together making sure the pesto is evenly distributed.  Sprinkle with more parmesan cheese if desired.  

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Banana Oat Bread

My girlfriend Nicole suggested to me that I start a food blog seeing as how I love to cook and do it well.  Now I'm no claim to fame when it comes to writing so I figured I'll give it a shot and share my recipes with family and friends.  So here goes....
I was at the veg shop the other day and saw some very ripe brown bananas for half price because they were going bad.  I suddenly got the idea of making some banana bread to put them to good use.  Now there are tons of banana bread recipes online but I have tried this recipe before and it was mouth watering delicious so I decided to go with it again. 

***See my modifications below***
2 cups all-puropse flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
1 1/2 cups regular oats
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (I used 4 small and 2 medium bananas)
1 cup brown sugar 
2/3 cups light buttermilk
1/2 cup light olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to a scorching 350º F/180ºC (I always have to convert living here in England)
First combine the buttermilk and oats in a small bowl and let sit for about 30 minutes.   In a separate bowl combine all the dry ingredients - 2 flours, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon.  Now in a different bowl mix the bananas, olive oil, vanilla, sugar and eggs together (I mashed the bananas first with a fork to make it a little easier).
Add the dry ingredients and oat/buttermilk mixture to the wet ingredients and stir just until combined.
Spray, grease, or oil (anything to keep it from sticking) an 8x4 baking pan, but any bread pan will do (I have no idea how big my pans are, plus they are in cm).   Divide the batter equally into the two pans and bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Let it cool for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and enjoy.  

***I used wholemeal and white bread flour since that's all I had - seemed to come out ok.  You could also substitute wholewheat, rye, or spelt flours in this as well. 
I like cinnamon so I used 3 Tablespoons.  I didn't have any buttermilk so I used 2/3 cup of milk and added just under a tablespoon of white vinegar, let that sit for 5-10 minutes = good substitution (if you didn't have white vinegar you could also use lemon juice).
***You could also get creative and add a variety of yummy stuff - walnuts, slivered almonds, any kind of seed, raisins, coconut flakes, raspberries, etc. 
Slice and enjoy by itself or a little spread of butter!! 


Food is a glorious thing.  It is fuel for us to survive but it is also a time for family and friends to get together and enjoy good conversation.  For my family, especially dinner time, we would all sit around the table eating our dinner, talking about how our day went, what's going on in the world, the weather,  and even topics such as sex.  That's how it was.  When we were full we would undo our button to our pants to make it a little easier to breathe and then chat some more.

Which leads me to say that I grew up in the kitchen helping my parents prepare breakfasts, lunches and dinners which is where I got the foundation for my culinary knowledge and skills.  It wasn't until just recently that I became more passionate about cooking and preparing all different types of food, which is why I'm starting this blog so that I can share my recipes with my family and friends.