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!

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Paneer, pepper and spinach curry

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Paneer is an Indian cottage cheese that is so versatile and can be used in a whole host of dishes however, sometimes, only a curry will do. I have written this recipe to be medium heat but of course if you are a chilli fiend then simply add in some extra along the way. After a festive season of excess and plenty of meat this recipe is a welcome break from heavy meals. Of course, if you can’t stand to wave goodbye to meat then this curry is perfect for chicken. I have kept the curry is purposefully light and fresh so the paneer is packed with flavour but not swimming in sauce. If, however, you want a curry that is saucier then you can add more tomatoes and reduce it less.

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Ingredients- serves 2-3
For the curry paste
2-2 Kashmiri chilies
3tsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tso ground fenugreek
2 garlic cloves- crushed
2 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp curry powder
Pinch of salt

For the rest of the curry
Vegetable oil
1 block paneer- cubed
1 tbsp cornflour
1 onion- sliced
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp ajwan seeds
1 red and 1 green bell pepper- chopped
5 vine tomatoes- chopped
Small bag of spinach- washed and roughly chopped
1 tsp garam masala
Fresh coriander to serve (optional)

1. The first thing you will need to do is soak the dried Kashmiri chillies for a little while- around 20minutes will usually do the trick. Whilst they soak you can make the curry paste; simply combine all the remaining ingredients in a small bowl and add a splash of water to bring the paste together. Set aside.

2. In  a large bowl, toss the paneer cubes with the cornflour and a little seasoning. Heat a good glug of oil in a non-stick frying pan and heat to medium-high. Fry the paneer on each side until golden and crisp before removing from the pan and blotting onto kitchen paper to remove any excess oil. Take a third of the curry paste and toss through the paneer. Use a little more kitchen roll to wipe out the pan and add another glug of oil before turning the heat down to low.

3. Add the sliced onion to the pan and cook until softening. At that stage add the mustard seeds, ajwan seeds and cook for a further couple of minutes.Stir through the remaining curry paste. Pop in the chopped bell peppers and continue to cook for a few minutes. If the pan starts looking a little dry then simply add a splash of water and mix it through the onions and peppers.

4. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan, an extra splash of water and simmer until the tomatoes start to break down and reduce. Don’t be tempted to rush this as the longer it has the richer the sauce will be! When the curry is a few minutes away from being ready, take the marinated paneer and roughly chopped spinach and add to the pan. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the paneer is warmed through and the spinach is wilted. Sprinkle over the garam masala and stir to combine. Serve the curry in warmed bowls with rice or flatbreads on the side. A liberal helping of coriander to finish the dish is optional!

Paneer, pepper and spinach curry- a great way to start the New Year, plenty of flavour and no turkey in sight!

Spicy Szechuan tofu with beansprout noodles

Spicy, crispy, sticky tofu with super savoury noodles are a match made in heaven. At least once a week an Asian dish hits our dinner table and satisfies the midweek cravings that only Chinese can fulfil. I have used ‘Facing Heaven’ chillies that are used in the Szechuan province to add heat and colour to a range of dishes. They are mild enough to use whole in dishes to flavour but can be chopped if you prefer. If you cannot find them then use red dried chillies but adjust the quantities based on the strength of them- don’t get caught out! The beansprout noodles I served the tofu with are a great accompaniment to any Chinese main meal that you’ll keep coming back to.

Like a lot of my Asian recipes, the ingredients need a little time to prepare in advance as the dish comes together at speed so it pays to be organised.

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Ingredients- serves 2
1 pack of firm tofu
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp ground nut oil
Handful of ‘Facing Heaven chillies’
1-2 tbsp chilli bean paste
1 garlic clove- crushed
2cm piece of fresh ginger- grated
Small red bell pepper and small green bell pepper
4 spring onions- sliced in the diagonal

For the noodle sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp dark soy
1 tbsp oyster or Hoisin sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour mixed into 2 tbsp water
1 tsp sesame oil
1 garlic clove- crushed
Small pack of beansprouts
1 head of shredded pak choi (optional)
2 nests of medium egg noodles

1. To start things off, make sure your ingredients are all prepared so you don’t have to scramble around your kitchen. Make the sauce for the noodles first by combining the vinegar, rice wine, soy, oyster or hoisin sauce, sugar, sesame oil and garlic. In a small bowl mix the cornflour with the water before adding into the sauce. Set aside.

2. Next, get going on the tofu. Take it from the pack and pat dry; if there is a lot of moisture with the tofu you buy then press firmly for a few minutes to remove excess water. Cut the tofu into bite size chunks, season with salt and sprinkle the cornflour over them, making sure that each piece is coated. Take a non- stick frying pan or wok and add 1 tbsp of groundnut oil over a medium to high heat. Take the tofu in a couple of batches and fry off until golden and crisp. Remove the first batch with a slotted spoon and blot on kitchen paper before frying the remaining batch.

3. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil in a wok and heat the ‘facing heaven chillies’ over a medium heat for a few minutes. The chillies will release their flavour and turn the oil a wonderful shade of red. Add in the garlic and ginger and cook for an additional minute before adding the peppers; cooking these until the peppers are starting to soften. Spoon in the bean paste and stir well to coat the peppers. You are aiming for the peppers to retain some bite. Toss the tofu chunks into the wok and cook until heated through. You will find the sauce thickens as the cooking continues to give a sticky, savoury finish. Add the sliced spring onions before serving and toss through.

4. In the meantime, prepare the egg noodles are per packet instructions as different brands vary. Prepare them so they are suitable for stir fry; this usually entails soaking them in boiling water for around 4 minutes before draining and then cooking with. Take a separate frying pan or wok and heat a glug of groundnut oil and fry the garlic. Beansprouts and shredded pak choi (if using) and cook for a couple of minutes. Pop the drained noodles in the pan along with the sauce you made earlier. Cook until the noodles are heated through and the sauce is thick and clinging to the strands. If you find it is a little dry then add in a little more oyster/ hoisin or soy sauce.

 

Gnocchi with red pepper, tomato and asiago cheese

Asiago is an Italian cheese that I have recently been using in everything from pasta to salads. It is a sheep’s milk cheese which reminds me of feta in texture and taste. When trying to rustle up a quick dinner the other night I stumbled across some tomatoes and peppers that were nearly seeing better days and, with a few added extras, this gnocchi dish took shape.

I have added another couple of my favourite ingredients here to really lift the flavours- anchovy and capers. The capers add a zip and zing whilst the anchovy dials up the savouriness of the sauce to eleven so do try them! I have kept the tomato sauce purposefully light for this time of year however a similar sauce could be made using tinned tomatoes if you prefer. You could also try baking the gnocchi in the sauce in the oven with a liberal extra sprinkling of the asiago to finish.

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Ingredients- serves 2
400g gnocchi
Olive oil
2 garlic cloves- chopped or crushed
Chilli flakes- as many as you dare
2 anchovy fillets- finely chopped
1 red pepper- finely sliced
6-8 tomatoes- roughly chopped
1 tbsp capers
60g asiago cheese
Handful of freshly torn basil to finish

1. Take a pan and heat a glug of olive oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic, chilli and anchovy and cook for a couple of minutes. Pop in the red pepper and continue to cook until softening.

2. Next up, the tomatoes followed by the capers. At this stage lower the heat to low and allow the tomatoes to break down and simmer. You want the sauce to be able to lightly coat the gnocchi. If the tomatoes look dry at any point, simply add a splash of water. When the sauce is nearly ready, bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the gnocchi for 2 minutes or as directed on the packet. Drain and add the gnocchi to the sauce to finish. Crumble in the asiago and finish with the basil before serving.

Gnocchi with red pepper, tomatoes and asiago cheese- the perfect introduction to this Italian beauty!

 

 

Tuscan panzanella salad

From time to time most households have leftover bread that it heading past its best but there’s no need to waste it- that’s where panzanella comes in! Panzanella is a traditional Italian tomato and bread salad that’s full of fresh, seasonal flavours. There is no one panzanella recipe so this is my take on it. I included fried capers to give an added dimension and texture. Anchovies are also added to ramp up the savouriness but you can omit these if you prefer.

For the perfect panzanella the tomatoes you choose are important as you want the freshest available. I have used a combination of smaller heirloom varieties which have become easier to find and add a range of colour. Panzanella makes a great light lunch or it can also be served with simple grilled meats for a more substantial meal. if you have any leftovers, you can simply baked the remaining pieces of bread on a tray in the oven until crisped and then serve with the salad- delicious!

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Ingredients- serves 4
200g open textured bread such as sourdough or ciabatta
500g assorted tomatoes- chopped
1 red onion- sliced
Jarred or fresh red and yellow peppers- finely sliced
6-8 anchovy fillets- finely chopped
2 tbsp capers- drained
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt
Fresh basil

1. Take your bread of choice and roughly tear it into pieces. Place on a tray and leave for around 20-30 minutes to help dry it out a little. Meanwhile pop the chopped tomatoes, peppers and onion in a colander with a bowl underneath and add salt and pepper. Leave to sit so it draws some moisture out of the tomatoes and softens the peppers.

2. Take a small frying pan and add a small amount of oil over a medium heat. Fry the capers until crispy. Tip the bread, tomatoes and onion into a bowl along with the peppers, anchovies and capers. Drizzle over the vinegar and oil; taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Finish with some freshly torn basil and serve immediately with some simple grilled meat such as chicken if you like.

Panzanella- a sunshine dish to brighten up even a rainy summer’s day!

 

Mediterranean sea bass tray bake

Sea bass is a wonderful, readily available fish that deserves a place on all good dinner tables across the land. Cooking fish can be a daunting prospect if it is not something that you are used to and a tray bake is a brilliant introduction to it so read on and give it a try. I have taken inspiration from the Med and used sweet cherry tomatoes, olives, capers and peppers to ramp up the flavours. The ingredients are so fabulous that very little needs doing to them. I used Jersey Royal potatoes which are currently in season in the UK but new potatoes work well if you cannot find these.

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Ingredients- serves 2
2 boneless sea bass fillets
1 tbsp vegetable oil
200g Jersey Royal potatoes or new potatoes
1 red onion- cut into small wedges
150g cherry tomatoes- halved
50g pitted black olives- halved
1 tbsp capers
2 jarred roasted red peppers- sliced
Squeeze of lemon juice
Torn basil leaves to finish

1. Start by making sure that the sea bass fillets are boneless as nobody likes to find one of those. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan and think about what you are going to bake this in; a normal baking tray or roasting tray is perfect but I used a cast iron roasting pan. As the oven is heating, pop your tray of choice in there to heat too with a glug of vegetable oil.

2. Meanwhile slice the potatoes so they are 5mm thick. Remove the heated tray from the oven and place the potato slices in. Leave to bake for 20 minutes or until starting to turn golden and soften.

3. Remove the tray and add in the onion wedges, halved tomatoes, olives, capers and peppers and cook for a further 10 minutes. When the potatoes look like they are nearly ready and the onion is nicely softened pop on the sea bass fillets to finish off for 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the fillet. Use your judgement with your oven, if you think the fish skin won’t quite crisp up to how you like it then you can always cheat a bit and pan fry the fillet skin side down for a couple of minutes before finishing in the oven for another 2-3 minutes. When the sea bass is ready the fish will be translucent- do not overcook. Finish off with a squeeze of lemon juice to bring all the flavours together and a few torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.

Mediterranean inspired sea bass tray bake- a colourful addition to your culinary repertoire and a summertime winner!

 

Five a day roasted vegetable sauce

Every now and again I get a fancy for vegetables and lots of them! This roasted vegetable sauce is perfect for ensuring your family get their five a day and is great with gnocchi and pasta or even with cous cous. I chose to use baby courgettes and baby aubergine alongside pepper and onion to give vibrant colour and a balance between sweet and savoury. Feta was made to be paired with such flavours so a liberal sprinkling of this over your finished dish really lifts the flavours. The sauce should be chunky with a light tomato coating- I used Cirio Tuscan chopped tomatoes which have the perfect ratio of sauce to tomato chunks. You can find them at http://www.cirio1856.co.uk.

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Ingredients- serves 4
4 garlic cloves- kept whole
1 large red onion- peeled and cut into small wedges
1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper- chopped
Handful of baby courgettes- chopped
Handful of baby aubergine- chopped
Handful of black olives- optional
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chilli flakes
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
Fresh basil

1.Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan ready for the veggies. Take a large roasting tin and place all the chopped vegetables into it including the whole garlic cloves. Drizzle with a good amount of olive oil and season. I used smoked sea salt which is fabulous with roasted vegetables. Roast for around 15 minutes until everything is tender- test with a knife, if it goes into the vegetables easily then it’s ready!

2. Take a large frying pan and add a small glug of oil over a medium heat. Rescue the garlic cloves from the vegetable tray and squeeze out the tender and wonderfully fragrant garlic. I then fried off the garlic with a touch of chilli flakes (or as much as you dare!) for a minute or two before scattering the vegetables into the pan. The chilli should enhance the flavours rather than drowning them out. Pour in the tinned tomatoes and cook for around 10 minutes on a simmer so the tomato brings the sauce together and the flavours develop even more. Finish with a liberal sprinkling of freshly torn basil leaves and away you go! Serve with gnocchi or pasta and feta over the top if you like. Mozzarella would also be delicious. Any leftovers can be easily reheated or blitzed into a smooth sauce or soup for the freezer.

Chunky roasted vegetable sauce- get your five a day in the most effortless way!