Foolproof Meringues

Unlike most foods in baking, meringues are not cooked as much as dried out in the oven. A very low temperature should be used when making them to prevent the meringues from colouring in the oven – they should come out a brilliant white. They are also incredibly versatile as meringue can be used not only to decorate other desserts but also as the main base for pudding – for example pavlova and Eton mess. They can be either solid or marshmallowy inside but be careful, if they are undercooked a tasty snack can easily become the equivalent of eating something akin to superglue.

Owing to their minimal list of ingredients, colouring meringues can be a bit of a hassle. Ideally you want to use egg whites which you separate out from the yolk yourself. This is because the egg whites which come in a carton tend to be pasteurised and during this process, some of the proteins are affected so they do not whip up as well as fresh egg whites. If you do have to use egg whites from a carton, you will have to whip the meringue for far longer and should also use half a teaspoon of cream of tartar to help bind them. It is imperative that you use gel food colourings or even better, gel paste as normal water based food colouring can disrupt the balance between the sugar and egg white and lead to the meringues deflating. The same can be said of adding flavourings – if they are liquid based, add them right at the end and add as little as possible. Adding a teaspoon of cornflour can help offset this problem but won’t prevent it entirely.

There are several types of meringue – French, Swiss, and Italian – which are all made and used in different ways. The recipe below is a classic example of a French meringue. The egg whites and sugar are whipped together to form a thick, glossy mixture which holds it shape upon piping. It is then baked to set the proteins in the egg white and drive off excess water. Swiss meringue is similar however it is whipped in a bain marie (over a pan of simmering water) until it is thick. The mixture is then removed from the heat and beaten until cool – the meringue is again baked. The final type is Italian meringue. Unlike the other two, this used hot sugar syrup instead of solid sugar. When it is added, the mixture will go very runny. It is then whipped until cool resulting in a stiff meringue. As the sugar syrup was very hot when it was added, the egg whites are already cooked so Italian meringue does not need to be baked before using. As a result, it is common to put it on lemon meringue pie and baked Alaska before blowtorching the outside to give it a caramelised finish.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and that you end up loving meringue as much as I do!

 

Meringues

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 2 hr plus

 

Ingredients:

3 egg whites (room temperature works best)

6 oz caster sugar

½ tsp lemon juice/white vinegar/cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

 

Method One (with a stand mixer):

Preheat the oven to 85-90⁰C

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for around 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy.

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The meringue mostly holds its shape on the whisk – it could probably do with another few minutes at this point.

Take a tiny bit between your fingers and see if it feels gritty. If it does, continue to whisk the mixture for another minute or two until the sugar has dissolved completely.

Pipe or dollop shapes or piles of the mix onto a lined baking tray.

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Bake for around two hours until the meringues come away from the base of the baking tray without breaking.

 

 

Method Two (with an electric hand whisk):

Preheat the oven to 85-90C

Put the egg whites in a bowl and beat them until they reach stiff peaks.

Add the sugar in two tablespoons at a time and make sure to keep whisking in between additions so the sugar will dissolve properly.

Once all the sugar has been incorporated, add in the salt and lemon juice and continue to whisk for another five or so minutes until the mixture is very thick, glossy and smooth.

As with method one, use a piping bag or a spoon to make little mounds of meringue on the baking sheet and place into the oven for around two hours.

 

Serve with cream and fresh fruit.

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Deconstructed pavlova with rainbow meringues.
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Banana caramel with meringues? Yes please!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe; for another sweet treat check out my recipe for apple pie (it’s possible to make this one vegan) or if you fancy something a little more savoury, why not make yourself some red pepper and tomato soup?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with an easy recipe for crispy skin salmon and lemon couscous – it’s super fast and utterly divine!

H

 

Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

“Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad” – Miles Kington

The same could be said of the bell pepper. The entire family of peppers (bell peppers, chillies etc.) are technically fruits but you would never see them on a dessert platter – except possibly in some ‘ground-breaking’, edgy restaurant. I guess potentially I could be marketing this recipe as a smoothie bowl but let’s be realistic, it’s just soup.

I have a very mixed relationship with peppers. I’m not a huge fan of the texture but I do quite like the taste so turning them into soup seemed like a perfect solution to my problem. Obviously as I was also using tomatoes, red peppers were the obvious choice for a bright, vibrant soup but if you don’t like tomatoes, pepper soup is also very tasty and can be made in a wide range of colours. Peppers come in more than the standard four varieties (red, orange, yellow and green); you can also find them in white and both light and dark shades of purple. Purple isn’t a colour that appears in many dishes as there isn’t a wealth of naturally purple food out there so a bowl of bright purple soup is really exciting!

Peppers differ from their spicy counterparts as they exhibit a recessive trait – they do not produce capsaicin. This is the molecule responsible for the burning sensation when eating chilli. It is a strong irritant and is very hydrophobic so is not affected by water at all. This means rinsing your mouth with water will do nothing to alleviate the heat from chillies but milk (which is an emulsion of fat in water) can help relieve the pain. For the same reason, washing your hands with just water after chopping chillies will not remove the capsaicin so it is still dangerous to rub your eyes but using soap – something designed to bond to both water and fats – will help clean the capsaicin off your skin. Interestingly for the same reason, even bleach will not remove capsaicin but oil will so swilling your mouth out with oil, whilst gross, will remove the heat. In the same vein, capsaicin is soluble in alcohol so rinsing with vodka or another spirit would also help alleviate the pain but do not swallow it as this just moves the capsaicin to an area which you can’t clean as easily. Of course you can then proceed to wash your mouth out with water which will remove the remaining vodka.

The difference between red/yellow/orange peppers and green peppers is time. All peppers start out green and as they ripen they change colour. As a result, red peppers are sweeter than their green counterparts although you can get some varieties which stay green even when fully ripe. This means you can make soups of all shades.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Tomato and Red Pepper Soup:

Serves 6

Time: 1 hour

Cost per portion: about 50p

Ingredients:

3 large red peppers

6 medium tomatoes

1 medium to large onion

2 cloves garlic

500ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp tomato paste

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

For cheese tuiles, grate 200g cheddar or parmesan.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Halve the tomatoes, remove the seeds and stalks from the peppers and place on a baking tray.

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Drizzle with olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper.

Roast the vegetables in the oven for half an hour. Give them a mix halfway through to ensure nothing burns and everything is roasted evenly.

Once the peppers and tomatoes have been cooking for 20 minutes, roughly chop the onion and the garlic.

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a large pan and start to fry the onions and garlic.

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When the peppers and tomatoes have finished in the oven, add them to the pan with the onions.

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Add the stock and simmer for fifteen minutes.

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Using a stick or jug blender, blend the soup until it is smooth.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the cheese tuiles, decrease the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C).

Arrange circles of cheese on baking parchment or a silicone mat.

Bake for 5 minutes until the tuiles are pale gold and lacey looking. Make sure they do not turn too dark as this will make them taste bitter!

Serve the soup hot with a drizzle of cream, a few tuiles and a little fresh coriander.

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This soup is ideal as it freezes very well and can be kept in the fridge for several days. It makes a perfect lunch when you’re in a hurry and tastes delicious.

If you really love your soup, I have posted recipes for both butternut squash and curried parsnip soup so you should check those out. If you are looking for a more substantial meal, why not try out a beef stir-fry or for a delicious dessert (which is simple to make vegan), treat yourself to an apple tart!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with my foolproof meringue recipe.

H

Basic Beef Stir Fry

The most important things when making a stir fry are heat and speed. The oil must be hot enough to cook the ingredients quickly so that nothing turns mushy and any meat you put in doesn’t become rubbery. Woks are ideal for something like this as they concentrate the heat in one area but also make sure that you can move the contents around the pan so everything can be cooked evenly.

Everyone uses different ingredients when they make a stir fry, but for me long strips of carrot and spring onion are essential when noodles are involved. Once they soften, you can twirl them up with the noodles into a delicious ball and eat! If you use rice instead of noodles, I would recommend cutting everything a little smaller – for example cutting spring onions into circles rather than lengthwise into strips. You can also add things like beansprouts for added crunch; peanuts are also a common addition at the end. It should be noted that beansprouts scorch easily at the high temperatures required to make a good stir fry but a way to avoid this is adding them just after the sauce and place them on top of the other ingredients which allows them to steam so they are cooked but still retain their crunchy texture.

In this recipe, I use glass noodles (sometimes called cellophane noodles). These appear transparent when cooked (unlike rice vermicelli which are opaque white) and take on the colour of whatever sauce they are in, so your dish will look beautiful. I am also a fan of standard rice noodles or even stick noodles in stir fry but you have to bear in mind that these are all cooked differently so you have to adjust your timings for the rest of the dish accordingly.

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The glass noodles have taken on all the colour from the sauce but are still shiny and inviting.

The final things which should be mentioned are the meat and the sauce that you decide to use. The high heat means you can seal the meat to prevent all the juices from leaking out but leave the inside relatively uncooked so that when the sauce is added, the meat can cook as the sauce reduces and coats all of the ingredients. Make sure the sauce isn’t too sweet as the sugar can burn, so if you see the sauce getting a bit thick and starting to caramelise, add a tablespoon of water to make sure everything cooks properly.

To give your stir fry a restaurant finish, add some raw beansprouts to one side, sprinkle over some fresh herbs and thinly sliced spring onions. You can also add some crushed peanuts when making dishes like pad thai. As with most dishes, a little garnish goes a long way so I would always recommend experimenting until you find the method of plating up that looks best to you!

 

 

Stir Fry

Prep time: 10 minutes (optional extra 20 minutes if leaving the beef to marinade)

Cook time 10 minutes

Serves 2

Cost per portion: around £1.80

 

Ingredients:

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp sherry (optional)

2 tsp honey

2 cloves garlic

1 inch ginger

1 bunch of spring onions

1 large carrot

170g frying steak or thinly sliced beef

2 portions of glass noodles

Vegetable oil

 

 

Peel the garlic and ginger and finely chop both.

Stir in the soy sauce, sherry and honey.

Thinly slice the beef and add to the sauce and leave for about 20 minutes (if you have time).

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Peel the carrot and then use the peeler to thinly slice the carrot lengthwise into long strips.

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Slice the spring onions lengthwise into quarters.

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Soak the noodles according to the instructions on the packet but take one minute off the soaking time as the noodles will soften more later – drain the noodles.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and add the carrot and spring onion.

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Once they start to soften, move the carrots and onion to the side of the pan, lift the beef out of the marinade (reserving the liquid for later) and place it into the centre of the pan.

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Turn the beef until all of it is sealed on the outside (and it all looks an opaque brown).

The moment the beef is sealed, add the noodles and reserved marinade and stir to mix everything together.

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Keep cooking until all the liquid has been absorbed into the noodles.

Serve piping hot and enjoy!

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This stir fry also keeps very well in the fridge and can be reheated easily in the microwave.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe and if you fancy a very different dinner, check out my recipe for spinach and ricotta lasagne or if you want to try your hand at a posh dessert, why not make some choux pastry and finish your meal with profiteroles?

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a recipe for an exciting, fancy apple tart.

H

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne

Lasagne is a comfort food. Layers of steaming hot pasta and filling with a crispy cheese topping; what is there not to love? It’s so versatile too as you can put whatever you like inside. My two favourite fillings are the one given below and also bolognaise (as is given in my recipe for Beef Lasagne).

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With the first recorded recipe dating back to the 14th century, lasagne is one of the oldest foods I have researched for this blog. The original recipes used fermented dough, not pasta, and the dough was rolled out and boiled before being layered with the filling. Traditional lasagne de carnivale from Naples is stuffed with sausage, meatballs, boiled egg and Neapolitan ragu. Outside Italy, most people use a thicker ragu akin to bolognaise sauce inside and béchamel sauce on top. You may notice that I don’t put béchamel sauce on my lasagne but that is just because I don’t like it. You are perfectly welcome to swap the top layer of filling for béchamel sauce if you like and then continue with the recipe.

Spinach and ricotta is a classic pasta filling. It’s used in cannelloni, tortellini and ravioli as well as several other filled shapes. It’s incredibly easy to make at home and it is simple to tweak the recipe to your requirements – be that stronger cheese, more spinach or you just want a little extra garlic.

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The recipe is particularly good for feeding a crowd as you can get six solid servings out of it!

 

 

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 6

Cost per portion: around £1.20

 

Ingredients:

750g ricotta cheese

400g frozen spinach

1 clove garlic (minced)

2 eggs

150g grated cheddar cheese (or 100g parmesan)

Salt and pepper to taste

60ml water

1 packet fresh lasagne sheets

150g mozzarella (grated)

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C)

Place the spinach in the microwave with a little water and heat on the maximum poser to defrost. Make sure to stir it every few minutes.

While the spinach is defrosting put the ricotta, garlic, egg, 100g grated cheddar (or parmesan) and seasoning in a bowl and mix together. This will form a thick pasty filling.

Stir in the water to loosen up the mixture and set 60ml (a quarter of a cup) aside. This will be used on the top of the lasagne instead of béchamel sauce.

Remove the spinach from the microwave and drain through a sieve.

Use your hands to squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as possible. You should end up with a solid ball by the end of it.

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Pull the lump of spinach apart and stir it into the ricotta mix and now is time to start building the lasagne.

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Lightly oil a baking tray and place a sheet of pasta on the base.

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Spread out some of the filling on top and add another sheet on that.

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Repeat this using up all the filling and finally top with the last sheet of pasta.

Spread out the spare cheese mixture from before and sprinkle on the mozzarella and reserved cheddar.

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Bake for half an hour and then increase the temperature to gas mark 6 (2000C) for the last ten minutes to crisp up the top.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy making some dessert, check out my recipe for chocolate fondants or if you are looking for a slightly different main course, why not make yourself a Thai curry?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for choux buns with a delicious filling.

H

 

Chocolate Fondants

A hot, gooey chocolate fondant is one of the most indulgent ways to end a meal and, like many baked goods, they are not as hard to make as most people think. There is something exciting about cutting into a cakey looking dessert only to have a chocolatey soup pour out ready to act as a sauce to the rest of the pudding.

Although fondants and lava cakes are relatively recent desserts in the grand scheme of things, appearing in the last 50 years unlike cakes and cheesecakes which are hundreds of years old, they have become incredibly successful. Many high-end restaurants serve them and they are a staple in the home bakers’ repertoire. They can be flavoured with fruit, coffee, caramel and all manner of different things so you can mix and match to make them perfect for you.

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Fondants, unlike lava cakes, are made by creaming butter and sugar before adding the eggs and flour and finally stirring in the chocolate. The high chocolate levels and low amount of flour make them dense and fudgy with a melt in the mouth texture. Perfectly cooked fondants will still ooze when they are cut but the centre is thick and viscous and incredibly rich. On the other hand, lava cakes are made by whipping eggs and sugar until thick before folding in melted chocolate and butter and finally the flour. This whipping gives the cake surrounding the centre a light and airy texture and the high butter content means the centre is super runny and flows out of the dessert when it is cut.

Lava cakes and fondants are ideal desserts for entertaining as they can be made up to two days in advance and stored in the fridge until needed when they can be whipped out and shoved into the oven just prior to serving. Even better is that as a result of the refrigeration, it takes far longer for the centres to set so you are much more likely to get the runny centre you desire which looks so impressive on the plate.

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This fondant has a salted caramel sauce and some double cream to cut through the richness of the chocolate

Perfecting the chocolate fondant is a matter of trial and error. If they split when you turn them out of their ramekins, try cooking them for a little longer and if they are solid all the way through, reduce the cooking time a bit. The hard part comes if they start to burn during baking as can happen in some ovens with white chocolate and green tea desserts. The best way to avoid this is to place a little foil over the top of the fondant but it must be loose to allow the dessert to rise in the oven! Using a combination of these  changes will allow you to get to know your oven’s preferred baking requirements for fondants and lava cakes.

These are so easy to whip up in a hurry – it only takes ten minutes and then the oven does the rest of the work. They are a personal favourite of mine and hopefully will become one of yours too!

 

 

Chocolate Fondants

Makes 3 cakes

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 12 minutes

 

180g dark/white chocolate

25g butter

75g sugar

1 tsp Vanilla extract

2 eggs

30g plain flour

1 tsp matcha green tea (this is only for green tea fondants and you should use white chocolate for these)

 

Place a baking tray into the oven and preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200oC).

Line the base of three ramekins with small circles of baking parchment and butter and flour the sides.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave stirring every 20 seconds to prevent it from burning. Set this aside once it is done.

Cream the butter in a bowl and slowly add the sugar until they are combined.

Add the vanilla to the butter and sugar and beat again.

Add an egg and a tablespoon of the four and beat until everything has mixed together. Repeat with the other egg.

Add in the rest of the flour and beat together.

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(If you wish to make green tea fondants, add the matcha powder at this point and mix it through the rest of the batter)

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Pour in the slightly cooled chocolate and mix through – the chocolate should be a little cool to the touch but not have started to set.

Divide the batter between the ramekins.

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Bake for 12 minutes in the centre of the oven on the preheated tray. This will help ensure that the top of the fondants is fully cooked so they are less likely to split.

To turn them out onto a plate, run a knife around the inside edge of the ramekin. If the knife comes out with liquid filling, place the ramekin back into the oven for another two minutes. This is very important or the cake part with stick and the whole pudding will fall apart.

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I may have forgotten to loosen my green tea fondant from the ramekin before I tried to turn it out.

serve immediately with ice cream, double cream, salted caramel sauce or anything else of your choice – the possibilities are endless!

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I have discovered that to get the perfect melty centre, you need to make these a couple of times to get used to the oven as the cooking time can increase or decrease depending on the oven that you use.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy making a slightly less rich chocolate dessert, have a look at my recipe for a raspberry and white chocolate tart or if you are in the mood for a delicious main course instead, why not make a Thai curry? They are creamy and spicy and perfect to keep you warm over a cold winter (or at any other time of the year for that matter).

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a yummy vegetarian lasagne recipe.

H

Thai Curry and Other Coconut Curries

I have always found that Thai curry is one of those foods which is never as good when you make it at home as it is when you go out to eat it. This probably stems from the fact that the Thai curry paste available in most shops is nowhere near as good as the stuff that most restaurants use. It’s also taken me a long time to figure out how to get the coloured oil on top of the curry which gives it the authentic look – and in the process, really helps to meld the flavours together.

The coloured oil is formed when the coconut milk is cracked. This is where the coconut oil starts to split out of the rest of the liquid. It happens when the coconut milk is heated and boiled and as the water is driven off, the balance of oil to water is changed so the milk, which was previously an emulsion of oil in water, now has too high a fat content so the coconut oil starts to leak out. Coconut oil is a colourless liquid however it absorbs both colour and flavour from the curry paste which is why it always has a vibrant shade, far more intense than the rest of the curry.

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Cracking coconut milk for red curry. Top left – curry paste by itself. Top right – immediately after the coconut milk is added. Bottom left – the coconut milk has started reducing and the colour is intensifying. Finally the bottom right image is after the coconut milk has begun to crack. You can clearly see the red oil splitting out of the mixture.

It should be noted that not all Thai curries contain coconut milk. A notable exception is Jungle Curry which is water based. This is a direct result of the lack of coconut trees in the northern parts of Thailand where this curry came from. Unsurprisingly, it was the coconut curries which caught on in the western world. Whether that was because they are naturally creamier in texture or because they are less spicy is unknown but red, green, yellow, massaman and panang curries have all become very popular in England. Unlike their coloured counterparts both massaman and panang curry make use of peanuts giving them a distinctive flavour. Panang is very similar to red curry and can be quite spicy whereas massaman curry is very mild. It is very creamy and nutty and generally contains both peanuts and boiled potato. Despite the lack of spice in it, massaman curry is definitely one of my favourite curries.

One of the best things about curry is that you can make it to your personal preferences. You can swap ingredients in and out until you find the perfect combination for you so you never have to eat the same thing twice. In my recipes, I always use onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. These come canned from my local supermarket and are normally in the Asian section. It is also common to add red/green/yellow peppers to their respective coloured curries. I have also seen mange tout added to green curries as well as green beans. The chicken can also be switched out with beef, pork, tofu, quorn or just left out entirely. Prawns are also popular in curry however if you use them, you want to add them to the curry very last minute so they don’t become overcooked so make the rest of the curry first and add the prawns just before serving.

I hope you enjoy the recipes below.

 

Thai Chicken Curry

Serves 3

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 large chicken breast

Curry paste

600ml coconut milk

1 large onion

Water chestnuts

Bamboo shoots

1 tsp sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon unflavoured oil

Optional:

2 garlic cloves minced/finely chopped

1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Chop the onion. I tend to chop it into eight sections by cutting it in half and then quartering both halves.

Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or large non-stick pan.

Add the curry paste and the garlic/ginger if you are using them.

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Fry for a minute or two to let the flavours come out of the paste.

Add 200ml of the coconut milk. Stir until it is combined with the paste and then boil for five to ten minutes, stirring regularly, until the coconut milk splits. You will know this has happened as you will start to see coloured oil appearing on top of the mix. The coconut milk will have reduced down a lot during this time. Once you start seeing the oil appear, you should continue to boil the mix for another minute to ensure it is split properly.

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Add the chicken and fry until it is sealed and opaque on the outside – about five minutes

Add the onion and fry for another minute or two.

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Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, bring to the boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes.

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Drain the bamboo and water chestnuts and stir into the curry along with the sugar and a little salt to taste.

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Cook for a further two minutes until the water chestnuts and bamboo are cooked through.

Serve with rice.

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Thai green curry garnished with a little bit of reserved coconut milk.
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Thai red curry garnished with a little fresh chilli and coconut milk.

Chicken, Sweet Potato and Spinach Coconut Curry

This curry is a combination of my basic curry from my last curry post but it is elevated to the next level by the addition of coconut milk instead of stock.

Serves 2

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Chicken – off the bone

1 medium sweet potato

Spinach (I use three or four frozen blocks)

1 onion

400ml coconut milk

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped

1 tbsp unflavoured oil

Peel and cube the sweet potato.

Cut the onion into large chunks – like before, I do this into eight pieces.

Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.

Place the oil, garlic and spices into a wok and heat until the aroma starts being released.

Add two tablespoons of coconut milk to stop the spices burning.

Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is sealed and opaque on the outside.

Add the onion and sweet potato and continue to cook until the onion starts going translucent. It’s fine if the sweet potato is still hard at this point.

Pour in the rest of the coconut milk and stir it through.

Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.

Add the spinach now. If you use fresh spinach, add it a little at a time and let it wilt down before adding the next batch otherwise it won’t all fit into the pan! If you are using frozen spinach, just add it all in at once.

Once the spinach has mixed in, bring the curry back to boil and simmer for another five minutes.

Serve immediately with rice.

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I hope you enjoy these recipes. As I said before, the brilliance of curries is that you can tailor them to your tastes. By adding extra vegetables and removing others, you can create an almost unlimited amount of different meals to spice up your life.

I hope this has given you some ideas about different meals you can add to your repertoire – the hard work is already done when you buy your own curry paste.

If you want to make a lower fat curry, check out my basic curry recipe. Again, you can add whatever meat and veg you want to it and it is a water based curry so has far less saturated fat in it that coconut based curries. The base recipe I use is also vegan!

If you enjoy baking, you should also try your hand at my Raspberry and White Chocolate Tart. Crumbly shortcrust pastry layered with luscious raspberry caramel and white chocolate mousse, this is not one to be missed and will stun anyone who eats it (providing you don’t finish it yourself!)

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for melt in the middle chocolate puddings. These things are actually amazing!

H

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Basic Curry

Tofu is not known for its wonderful flavour. Or texture. Or visual appeal. In fact, most people’s first reaction to the word is some sort of grimace. This probably stems from the fact that, in England, one of the more available forms of tofu is ‘silken tofu’. This has a very gelatinous texture and is incredibly fragile, in fact I have found it almost impossible to cook silken tofu without it all falling apart and becoming some sort of mush – though this is probably just me. Silken tofu is created by curdling soy milk but the liquid is curdled inside the carton in which it proceeds to be sold, whereas standard firm tofu is curdled and then the liquid is strained off before the curds are pressed into a block.
With records dating back to the Chinese Han dynasty, tofu has been around for about 2000 years. One of the leading theories is that it used to be made by curdling soy milk using sea water – the impurities in the water acted as the coagulants needed – and some forms of tofu are still produced like this today. The production of tofu spread around eastern Asia and it became a popular meat substitute as it is far cheaper.
There are several different types of tofu ranging from extra-soft to extra-firm. Extra-soft tofu has so much liquid in it that it barely holds its own shape – think of the texture of ricotta cheese. The next firmness is standard silken tofu. This tends to be used in desserts and sauces or smoothies as it can be used as a substitute for dairy and eggs. When blended into sauces or smoothies, it gives them a very creamy texture.
For tofu to be firmer than silken tofu, it must be pressed during production. This involves straining out the soy bean curds and then squeezing them to remove as much liquid as possible. The tofu produced from this has a much harder texture and tends to be what I use for cooking. You can press it at home to drive off even more of the liquid by wrapping the block in a tea towel and placing a heavy object on top – I tend to use either a pan or an encyclopaedia. The tofu can then be cooked in a variety of ways to give it the texture you want. Extra-firm tofu is incredibly dry. It is a little rubbery and is firm enough to be sliced very thinly without the pieces breaking. It is sometimes shredded and used instead of noodles in dishes.
Standard tofu is bland. It has basically no flavour whatsoever. This makes it perfect for absorbing flavours from other things so you can always marinade tofu in soy sauce or flavoured oils after it has been pressed to give it some taste. When I bake tofu before adding it to curries and such, I like to add some salt, pepper and sometimes a little curry powder before I put it in the oven as that way it will have a natural taste. The other way to avoid this lack of flavour is continuing to cook your curry for five or so minutes after the tofu has been added as it gives a chance for the moisture from the curry to soften the tofu a little bit and also infuse the flavours of the sauce into it.
Nowadays tofu is only really used as a meat substitute Europe and America. In eastern Asia, it tends to be viewed as just another ingredient and is often used alongside meats or seafood in dishes. A lot of people, especially in England, are not exposed to well cooked tofu when they are younger resulting in the reactions I mentioned at the beginning. With proper seasoning and cooking and, most importantly, the correct type of tofu, I believe most people would appreciate it far more and use tofu when cooking on a more regular basis.

Basic Curry (Vegan)

Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 40 minutes Serves: 2
Price per portion: £1.30 (for tofu)

Ingredients:
1 block of tofu (400g)
1 large onion
500ml vegetable stock
1 ½ tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 cloves of garlic – chopped
1 ½ tsp cornflour mixed with 3 tsp water
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
Oil

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200 C).
Drain the tofu and if you have time, press it (this step is optional).

Cut the tofu up into small cubes, I tend to do one horizontal slice through it and then cut it to make cubes which are around a centimetre a centimetre and a half long. The tofu will shrink in the oven.

Line a tray with baking parchment or a silicone mat and spread the tofu out on it.

Drizzle over a little oil or if you use a cooking spray, a couple of sprays of that will also work well.

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Season with a little salt and pepper and place in the oven for 40 minutes remembering to turn the tofu every 10 minutes.

After the tofu has been cooking for 20 minutes you can start on the curry.

Chop the onion into wedges (I tend to go for eight of them).

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan or wok and add the onion.

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Once the onion starts going translucent, add the stock, garlic and spices.

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Simmer for 15 minutes while the tofu finishes off in the oven.

Stir in the soy sauce, sugar and cornflour mix and let the curry sauce thicken. If it is still

very thin, add some more corn flour but if the sauce has become too thick, add some more stock.

Take the tofu out of the oven and pour it into the curry and stir through.

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Let the curry simmer for another two minutes to so the tofu can absorb some of the flavour and then serve with sticky rice.

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This curry keeps very well so if you are only cooking for yourself, you will have leftovers to eat the next day too. I like to use medium curry powder but if you like a spicy or particularly mild curry, there are different versions available. You can also eat this curry with noodles or bread.

A way to make the curry even cheaper on a budget is just don’t use the tofu! This will also drastically reduce the cooking time and you can replace it with whatever you want. Cubes of carrot work well and you can always throw in water chestnuts and bamboo shoots at the end too to bulk it out. Obviously you can also use meat too but make sure to sear it in the wok before you add the onions and the stock to it.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For another easy meal, check out my One Pot Pasta or if you are looking to do something a little more flamboyant, why not make yourself a Chocolate and Caramel Cake filled with lashings of cream and delicious caramel.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a yummy shortcrust tart.

H

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