Sweet and sour pork

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Sweet and sour pork is one of the mainstays of most Chinese takeaways and restaurants and is known and loved throughout the land. There’s only one snag though- it’s rich often cloying batter so I decided to give the dish a revamp and lose the batter but not compromise on flavour. If you know me, I am not a huge fan of fruit in savoury dishes, but the pineapple in this dish is a must as it balances the flavours and is deliciously tender. If you prefer, you can substitute pork with chicken.

Ingredients- serves 3-4
For the sauce
3 tbsp. ketchup
2 tsp plum sauce
4 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp lea and perrins
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 garlic cloves- crushed
1 inch piece of fresh ginger- peeled and grated
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp corn starch in 4 tbsp. water

For the rest
Groundnut or vegetable oil
1/2 fresh pineapple- peeled, cored and chopped
1 red and 1 green bell pepper- chopped
350-400g pork tenderloin tossed in 2 tbsp seasoned corn flour- chopped

1. Kick off proceedings by combining all the sauce ingredients in a small pan and heat over a low heat until starting to thicken; remove from the heat whilst you start the pork.

2. Take a pan that you can shallow fry in and add enough oil; heat to medium- high. In a couple of batches, fry the cornflour flour tossed pork until golden. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon, blot onto kitchen roll to remove excess oil and set aside.

3. In a wok, add a glug of oil and fry the pineapple and peppers until softening and until the pineapple is picking up a little colour. Pop the pork in the wok and cook for a further couple of minutes before adding the reduced sauce. Continue to cook until well combined and the sauce is coating each piece of pork. Serve immediately with rice or noodles and dive in!

Sweet and sour pork- not a scrap of batter in sight!

Cauliflower cheese

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In the modern world, we are constantly bombarded with messages of healthy eating, clean eating (no phrase annoys me more!) and food fads but sometimes we all need proper comfort food. It’s a time to forget calorie counting once in a while and eat what makes you happy and cauliflower cheese is definitely one of those meals! Cauliflower cheese needs no introduction as it is exactly what it says it is- no pretention! It can be the main event or a side dish for a whole host of dishes. It also allows you to play around with a mixture of cheeses to make it as savoury as you want and cheese sauce is also a perfect way to use up any odds and ends of cheese that may be lurking in your fridge. In this recipe, I have given you the basic cheese sauce recipe that I use but feel free to add blue cheese if you like as cauliflower can stand up to the sharpness of it. Fried off cubes of pancetta are also a welcome addition!

Ingredients- serves 3-4
1 cauliflower
45g plain flour
45g unsalted butter
250ml double cream
300ml milk
50g cheddar
50g parmesan

1. Kick off by preparing the cauliflower. Clean it and cut into large florets. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and boil until the stems are just tender- it will continue to cook when it is baked so it needs a bit of texture still at this stage. Drain well and set aside while you make the sauce.

2. For the cheese sauce, use a pan and heat over a medium heat. Melt together the butter and flour to form a roux. Gradually add in the milk and cream; making sure you keep stirring to ensure that no lumps form. If any lumps start creeping in then remove the pan from the heat and whisk it like your life depends on it before returning to the heat. Continue to stir and simmer until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and add in the parmesan and season to taste.

3. Choose an ovenproof roasting dish that will fit the cauliflower in a single layer. Arrange the florets and pour over the cheese sauce. Top with grated cheddar and a little extra parmesan if you like. Bake at 200c/ 180 fan for around 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower cheese- like a cheesy hug for soul!

 

 

Moroccan chickpea and vegetable filo scrunch pie

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‘Heady’, ‘aromatic’ and ‘fragrant’ are words that could be used to describe Middle Eastern spices and they lend themselves perfectly for spicing up vegetable dishes. This Morrocan chickpea and vegetable pie is a great way to get some of your five a day and I promise you that you won’t regret it. Make the pie filling in advance if you like to allow the flavours to develop even more- it can even be frozen. The pie can be enjoyed for dinner but also keeps well for lunch the next day.

Ingredients- serves 3-4
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- crushed
400g butternut squash- cubed
1 tin of chickpeas
1 red pepper or jarred roasted red peppers
100ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
2 tsp cumin and coriander
1 tbsp harissa
Small bag of baby spinach
100g feta
Melted unsalted butter
Filo

1.Get going by taking a large wide pan (with lid) and add a glug of olive oil over a medium heat. Add the red onion and cook until softening before popping the garlic in with it for a further minute or two.

2. Next in goes the squash, chickpeas and red pepper. Sprinkle over the cumin, coriander and spoon in the harissa. Pour in the stock, cover the pan with the lid and lower to a simmer. Cook until the squash is tender to a knife point. The liquid should be well absorbed but if there is some left then remove the lid and simmer for a further time so a light sauce is left. Shred the baby spinach through and wilt. Taste and season well; add some further spice if you like. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. When cool, crumble through the feta.

3. Preheat the oven to 200c/ 180 fan. Choose a pie tin that is approximately 20cm wide. Lightly brush the inside of the tin with some of the melted butter. Layer the tin with a sheet of the filo before brushing with a little more butter before placing a second layer in and repeating. Spoon in the cooled pie mixture. Bring the sides of the filo up and into the centre of the pie tin before finishing with more butter. If the filo sheets do not meet perfectly, take another sheet of the filo, rip it, scrunch it and place on the top. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the filo is crisp and golden. Serve with a simple salad.

Moroccan chickpea and vegetable filo scrunch pie- spice up your week!

 

Wild garlic pesto, asparagus and goats cheese puff tart

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This puff pastry tart makes the most of the seasonal produce around at the moment. The wild garlic and asparagus season in the UK is short so now is the time to get your hands on them and get cooking. Wild garlic is as it sounds- wild! You can forage it (if you’re sure what you’re looking for) but can now be found in some farmers markets or specialist grocers. It can be used in a range of dishes and pesto is only the start and even this can be picked up premade. Failing this, substitute this with a different pesto of your choosing. To ramp up the flavours in this tart, I have also used some Parma ham which I crisped and crumbled over the top for an extra element and texture.

 

Ingredients- serves 4
1 premade pack of puff pastry
3 tbsp wild garlic pesto (see below for recipe)
200g asparagus spears
100g soft rindless goats cheese
4 slices of Parma or Carmarthen ham
1 egg- lightly beaten

Wild garlic pesto
120g wild garlic leaves
1 garlic clove- crushed
15g pine nuts
200ml olive oil
Zest of a small lemon
35g parmesan
Seasoning

1. Get going by preheating the oven to 200c/ 180fan but do check the instructions on the pastry packaging in case this differs slightly. Take the sheet of pastry and place it on a work surface. Leaving a border around the edges of the pastry sheet, use the prongs of a fork to lightly prick the centre of the sheet. This will stop the centre of the pastry from puffing up but will let the edges do so.

2. If you want to make your own wild garlic pesto then simply take the leaves and blanch for 20 seconds in a pan of boiling water. Remove using a slotted spoon and plunge into cold water to refresh it. Take some kitchen roll and pat it dry before roughly chopping. Add all the remaining ingredients to a food processor and blitz and, hey pesto! Sorry… couldn’t resist…

2. Take the pesto of your choice and spread this in the centre of the pastry. Make sure this is as even as possible. Lay each asparagus spear on the pastry and scatter pieces of the cheese in amongst them.

3. In a small pan dry fry the parma ham slices until crisp. Remove from the pan and set aside for a moment; you will find that as they cool they go even crispier which makes the slices much easier to crumble or you can use a knife to roughly chop into smaller pieces.I added the ham topping towards the end of cooking so it didn’t catch..

4. Lastly, use a pastry brush and carefully glaze the edges of the tart with the beaten egg. This will give a wonderful sheen and shine to the tart. Cook the tart for around 20 minutes until the asparagus is tender and the pastry is golden. About 2-3 minutes before the pastry is ready then sprinkle over the parma ham before finishing off. I served this with a simple side salad and new potatoes. Jersey Royals are bang in season so look out for these too. Boil and toss with some butter and fresh herbs.

Wild garlic pesto, asparagus and goats cheese puff pastry tart- a light way to use the best of spring’s offerings!

Chimichurri surf and turf

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Chimichurri surf and turf is the perfect meal for sharing with a table of friends and family and it really does take very little effort. The quantities of steak and prawns are merely a guide so adjust according to appetite! The chimichurri can be made in advance, covered and stored in the fridge until you need it. Chimichurri should have a kick whilst still being able to taste the herbs and other ingredients so aim for a perfect balance. Use the best prawns you can find and afford as the flavour will be unrivalled. Eating shell on prawns can be a fun but messy affair so provide finger bowls for your guests too.

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Ingredients- serves 4
Small bunch of fresh flatleaf parsley
Small bunch of fresh coriander
2 garlic cloves
1 shallot
1 fresh red chilli
4-5 tbsp olive oil plus extra for cooking
Juice of half a lemon
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2-3 sirloin steaks
16-20 tiger prawns- raw and shell on
Salad leaves to serve- I used rocket, spinach and watercress

1. To make the chimichurri, blitz the parsley, garlic, shallot, chilli, oil, lemon and vinegar in a processor so grab your pestle and mortar and give it a good old bash! Set aside until ready to use.

2. When you are ready to cook the steak, take a griddle pan and heat until smoking hot. Season and lightly oil the meat and cook to your liking. I allow 1 minutes each side for your average size sirloin for rare but cook according to your tastes. Remove from the pan and allow to rest.

3. Whilst the steak is resting, cook the prawns. Take a frying pan and heat a glug of oil. Cook the prawns until pink and cooked through. Use some of the chimichurri and toss well to coat the prawns. When the steak is ready, cut into slices. Take a large serving platter and scatter the salad leaves. Place the steak on the platter and spoon over some of the chimichurri before arranging the prawns around. Finish off with more of the chimichurri and serve immediately.

Chimichurri surf and turf- a treat fit for any occasion!

Spicy, sticky Korean chicken drumsticks

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Spicy Korean chicken is the ultimate in Asian comfort food. Sweet, spicy and savoury flavours make them one of the most moreish dishes which is perfect for a quiet night in or a party with friends. Just be prepared for them to go down a storm so make more than one batch! Allow a little time for the chicken to marinade in the fridge before you need them so the flavours have time to infuse. The recipe can easily be multiplied depending on how many guests you are feeding and can be used for a whole range of chicken pieces from drumsticks to thighs to wings so get cooking!

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Ingredients- makes 12 drumsticks
12 chicken drumsticks
60ml dark soy sauce
3 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp gochujang

1. Crack on with the marinade in advance by simply combining the soy, honey, rice wine vinegar and gochujang. Simple! Place in a bowl or in a zip lock freezer bag along with the chicken pieces and make sure they are well coated. Chill in the fridge until you need them. A couple of hours is good but overnight is even better if time allows.

2. When you are ready to cook them, they will take around 20-25 minutes in the oven on 200c/ 180 fan. Make sure the chicken is cooked through and the juices should run clear when it is ready. Reserve the marinade and place in a small pan on the hob and gently heat until it begins to thicken. When it is ready brush the chicken drumsticks with the thickened sauce on each side before giving one last minute in the oven. You can also finish them off with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds if you like. The marinade makes the chicken deliciously sticky and irresistible. That’s all there is to it!

Spicy Korean chicken drumsticks- grab a pile of napkins and dive in!

 

Chinese vegetable spring rolls

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Ah the humble spring roll- a cherished Chinese appetiser that longs to be paired with a sweet chilli sauce or a glossy ginger and soy dip perhaps? Whatever your preference, spring rolls are there to be filled with whatever filling you so choose however a vegetable spring roll is a wonderful thing. I have loved beansprouts since being a child so these are packed with them alongside rice vermicelli noodles that are spiced as well as carrot, sugar snap peas and cabbage. To tell you the truth, I used odds and ends of vegetables that were loitering in the fridge from other recipes so love your leftovers and get rolling!

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Ingredients- makes approx. 12 medium rolls
1 nest of rice vermicelli noodles (optional)
1 garlic clove- crushed
Small piece of fresh ginger- grated
1 tbsp Chinese five spice
2 tsp soy sauce
Handful of beansprouts
1 carrot- thinly sliced or grated
Red cabbage- finely shredded
Small pack of sugar snap peas- thinly sliced
3 spring onions- shredded
3 large filo sheets
1 egg- lightly beaten

1. Start in advance of when you want to serve these as the filling needs to cool before making the rolls. Soak the vermicelli noodles (if using) for 10 minutes until softened before draining well and cutting down. In the meantime, take a wok and heat a glug of vegetable oil. Fry the garlic and ginger for a minute before adding the vegetables, five spice and soy sauce. Cook until softened and add the spring onions at the last minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

2. In a large bowl, mix the cooled filling with the noodles. Take a filo sheet and quarter it. Take a spoonful of the mixture and place near one edge of the filo. Lightly brush the edges of the filo with the beaten egg. Bring the edge of the filo over the filling before then bringing the sides in over the ends before continuing to roll. Make sure the end is well sealed so the roll does not fall apart when you cook it. Repeat this process for the remaining pieces of filo.

3. When the rolls are ready to cook, take a wok and add oil so it is deep enough to fry in. When the surface of the oil is shimmering and small bubbles can be seen, fry the spring rolls in batches. They will take around 5 minutes but the bigger the rolls, the longer they will need. Fry until the rolls are golden and crisp. Blot the cooked rolls on kitchen paper and serve immediately. If you have any left (doubtful!) you can reheat in a moderate oven on a baking tray until warmed through and crisped up.

Vegetable spring rolls- a side dish fit for any Chinese feast!