food for thought

by michelle

bún-chả with bbq pork balls

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These Vietnamese pork balls are packed with flavour and wonderful when served as a complete meal with a fresh and delicious rice vermicelli salad and Nuoc Cham. I could eat this any time.

For the pork balls, you will need 450g (1 lb) of pork mince. Place ¼ of the mince in a small food processor and process until sticky. This will help to hold the mixture together. Combine with the rest of mince, 3 teaspoons of Vietnamese fish sauce, 2 -3 teaspoons of caster sugar, ¾ of a teaspoon of salt, plenty of coarsely cracked black pepper, 3 cloves of minced garlic and the finely sliced stems and roots of 4 sprigs of coriander (cilantro). Mix well and divide into small walnut-sized balls. Place them on skewers and barbecue (grill) over high heat for a few minutes on each side until browned and cooked through. Meanwhile soak some rice vermicelli in boiling water until soft enough to eat. Drain and run under cold water to cool. Shred some lettuce, slice cucumber and tomatoes, cut carrots into fine julienne and add lots of herbs – mint, Vietnamese mint, coriander (cilantro) and dill are all suitable. Finally add some roughly chopped peanuts. Serve with Nuoc Cham dipping sauce: combine ¼ of a cup of Vietnamese fish sauce, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1 finely diced small red chilli, ¼ of a cup of water and lemon juice to taste. If the balance needs adjusting use fish sauce for saltiness, sugar for sweetness and lemon juice for sourness.


Written by michelle picker

June 19, 2019 at 12:20 am

banana maple cake

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Not only did I have a surfeit of Maple syrup (thank you Luc) but I also found myself with over-ripe bananas. And here’s the perfect recipe!

Preheat your oven to 170ºC (350ºC) and grease and line a 23cm (9′) springform cake tin. In a food processor blend 4 very ripe, peeled bananas until roughly chopped, then add 75ml (2¾ fl oz) of maple syrup and blend to a smooth paste. Pour in up to 50ml (2fl oz) of milk and blend again to obtain a smoother consistency. In a large bowl beat together 200g (7 oz) of softened butter and 150g (5¼ oz) of caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Add 4 eggs one at a time incorporating each one into the mixture before adding the next. Now add 400g (14 oz) of plain flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, the banana mixture and 75g (2¾ oz) of roughly chopped walnuts. Fold the mixture together until just combined and spoon it into the prepared tin. Bake for approximately 60 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown and a skewer comes out clean. Set the cake aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack and allow it to cool completely. Meanwhile bring 200ml (7 fl oz) of double cream and 125ml (4¼ fl oz) of maple syrup to the boil in a saucepan. Boil for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened slightly then set it aside until completely cooled. Before serving, spread the maple syrup glaze over the top of the cake (allowing it to drizzle down the sides slightly) and decorate with some more walnuts.

*from this recipe

Written by michelle picker

June 12, 2019 at 12:13 am

Posted in cakes & desserts

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eggplant mexican style

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Eggplant (aubergine), not a common ingredient in traditional Mexican food, is now appearing in modern Mexican cuisine. Here it’s served with a sauce made with tomatillos and chipotle chillies in adobo sauce. Both are sold in cans and widely available where Mexican ingredients are sold.

Slice some eggplants lengthwise into thin slices. Season with salt and pepper and brush with oil. Cook on a barbecue or a hot griddle over medium heat until the eggplant has some colour and is soft inside. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, sauté 1 chopped onion and 2 finely diced cloves of garlic until the onion is translucent. Add 4-6 roughly chopped tomatillos (green tomatoes). Cook for a few minutes until they are softened. Transfer them to a small blender, add some fresh coriander (cilantro) stems and 1 chipotle in adobo sauce as well as some of the sauce. Blend to a suitable consistency and serve over the eggplant. Crumble fresh cheese over the top (I used goat’s cheese) and garnish with some coriander leaves. I served my eggplant with avocado dressed with salt and lime and buttered corn on the cob.

Written by michelle picker

June 5, 2019 at 12:22 am

lamb shanks with anchovies

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This wonderful recipe by Nigel Slater couldn’t be simpler or more delicious. Anchovies are the magical ingredient that make a fantastically tasty rich sauce. Serve it with a soft polenta or potatoes.

Preheat your oven to 160ºC (300ºF) and season 2 lamb shanks with pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy casserole and start browning  the shanks. When they’re slightly browned, add 2 roughly chopped onions and 1 sliced clove of garlic. Chop up 2 anchovy fillets and add them to the casserole. Tear in 2 sprigs of rosemary and 2 bay leaves. Add a cup each of good quality chicken or beef stock and dry red wine and bring to a simmer. Cover and bake in the oven for two hours, turning the shanks halfway through. When the shanks are soft remove them from the sauce, cover them and keep them warm. Meanwhile finish the sauce by adding 2 more chopped anchovies and a handful of chopped parsley. Bring to the boil and adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve the lamb shanks smothered in sauce. 

Written by michelle picker

May 29, 2019 at 12:24 am

Posted in meat

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sago pudding with coconut and gula melaka

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Sago pearls are little balls made of starch extracted from tropical palm stems. Malaysia and Indonesia have the largest supply in the world so it’s no surprise that it’s popular in the region. Fifi made this wonderful Malaysian sago pudding served with salted coconut sauce and caramelised palm sugar syrup. Yum.

In a large pot bring approximately 2 litres of water to boil and then pour in 400g (14 oz) of sago pearls. Stir constantly while cooking to prevent the pearls from sticking together or to the bottom of the pot. As they cook the water will become thick and starchy and the sago will disappear as it becomes totally translucent. When you can’t see any more white centres the sago is ready. Drain the sago into a large sieve and place it in an even larger bowl. Carefully pour in cold water and stir to remove the excess starch. Pour out the water and repeat – you will have to do this a number of times until the pearls are separate and not surrounded by starchy water. Finally, drain the sago and divide it into small bowls, glasses or cups. Chill for at least 2 hours. Now take a small saucepan and add 500ml (17 fl oz) of thick coconut milk, 1 cup of water, 1 teaspoon of salt and 6 pandan leaves tied together in a knot. Pandan leaves are usually available fresh or frozen from Asian food stores. Stir and cook over low heat to prevent the coconut fat from separating. When you achieve a simmer it’s ready to take off the heat and set aside. To another saucepan add 300g (10½ oz) of roughly chopped palm sugar (gula melaka) and 1 cup of water. Stir and cook until the mixture becomes a slightly thickened syrup. Set aside to cool. The puddings can be served in the bowls you chilled them in or turned out into larger bowls. To serve, pour the coconut over the pudding and top with some of the syrup.

Written by michelle picker

May 22, 2019 at 12:17 am

home-made hummus salad

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Hummus is such a universally recognised Middle Eastern dip and is widely available ready-made. It’s not so difficult to make from scratch, though, and well worth the effort. It makes an excellent quick lunch when topped with salad and served with flat bread.

To make the hummus, first soak 250g (8¾ oz) of dried chick peas in 1 litre (1 quart) of water overnight. If you’re in a hurry you can achieve this in less time by boiling the chick peas for 4 minutes and allowing them to sit for an hour. Next, cook the chick peas in 1½ litres of fresh water until they are very tender (this might take up to an hour or if you have a pressure cooker only 10-12 minutes). Drain the chickpeas, place them in a food processor with 250g (8¾ oz) of tahini paste, ⅓ of a cup of lemon juice, 1 large crushed clove of garlic and 1½ teaspoons of salt, and process to a smooth paste, thinning with cold water to achieve a consistency you like.

For the salad combine tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, parsley, feta and pickles of some kind, dress it all with a good olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper and sumac.

Written by michelle picker

May 15, 2019 at 12:16 am

seafood stew

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This hearty seafood stew (Cioppino) is Mexican in heritage and was lovingly recreated by Mary from this Rick Stein recipe. Instead of monkfish, Mary substituted Rock Ling.

Remove the heads and shells from 12 large prawns (shrimp), leaving the last tail segment in place. Set the prawns aside and simmer the heads and shells in 700ml (1½ pints) of fish stock for 20 minutes before straining and discarding them. Set the stock aside. (If you intend to leave out the first step make sure you have a good quality stock.) In a small saucepan bring 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar to boil, reduce to a couple of teaspoons and set aside. Now heat 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add 5 minced cloves of garlic, ½ a finely chopped onion, 1 finely chopped stick of celery and 1 finely diced green pepper and cook over low heat until the onions have wilted and become translucent. Add 100ml (3½ fl oz) of white wine, 1 teaspoon of salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, ½ – 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes, a 400g (14 oz) can of chopped tomatoes, the fish stock and the vinegar reduction. Simmer for 30 minutes adding 1 teaspoon of oregano for the last 5 minutes. To finish add 250g (8.8 oz) of fresh fish cut into chunks, 20 cleaned raw mussels and the reserved raw prawns. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. To serve, toast some sourdough bread, rub with raw garlic and drizzle with a little olive oil. Garnish the stew with chopped parsley.

Written by michelle picker

May 8, 2019 at 12:11 am