Posts Tagged ‘chilli’

Singapore GP – Laksa

September 30, 2011

Sunday was the Singapore GP and for the first time I have had difficulty deciding what to cook.  The cuisine of Singapore is a mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indian all cooked with their own local twist, but I struggled to find a dish that was native to Singapore (please let me know if you have a suggestion for a dish that is!).  In the end I settled on cooking Laksa because it’s really popular!

Laksa is a noodle curry/soup that comes in many variations.  As a fusion of Chinese and Malay styles of cooking it is a regular street food in Singapore.  I decided to create my own prawn and chicken version inspired by the recipes I found on the internet.

The first thing I needed to make was my paste.  For this I needed 5cm of fresh ginger, 3 shallots, 1 clove of garlic, 3 macadamia nuts, 1 red chilli, half a bunch of coriander and ¼ teaspoon of turmeric (as usual this is for 2).  All this went into my mini chopper with a little water and was blitzed to form a paste.  My mini chopper isn’t the best in the world and although everything came out very small, it wasn’t really paste like.  I decided to try and fix this by pounding it in my pestle and mortar but this didn’t really make much of a different either.

Making the Paste

With the paste as ready as it was ever going to be, I got on with preparing the rest of my ingredients.  I defrosted my prawns and took the meat off two chicken thighs.  The skin, bones and other assorted bit’s of the chicken were browned in a pan and then covered with 200ml of water to form a stock that would later go in my sauce.  I then sliced up two (rather large) spring onions, fished 50g of beansprouts out of the jar (I couldn’t get fresh) and I was ready to cook.

Preparing the chicken and making stock

The first thing to do was to cook my paste.  It went into a thick bottomed pan with some groundnut oil and cooked gently for 10 minutes.  I then drained my chicken stock and added this to the pan to create the beginnings of the sauce/soup.  This was allowed to simmer for another 7-8 minutes before I added the final bit of the sauce – 200ml of coconut milk.  The soup/sauce was then left on a gentle heat while I cooked everything else.

Making the sauce/soup

I started cooking the chicken in a pan and after a couple of minutes added the spring onions.  Two more minutes and it was time for the beansprouts to go in as well.  Finally, with everything else nearly done I added the prawn.  While the meat and veg were cooking I also cooked my noodles.  I had been unable to find rice noodles as suggested by the recipes I had found and had to settle for soya noodles, something I hadn’t used before.  These cooked in a couple of minutes and looked quite gelatinous!Cooking the other bits!

With everything cooked I assembled my dish.  In two bowls I placed some of the noodles and then topped them with the meat and veg.  The sauce/soup was then ladled on top and everything was ready.

Assembling the dish

I haven’t ever eaten Laksa so I have no idea how authentic mine tasted, however I really enjoyed it.  There as a nice warm hit of chilli that was strong without being overpowering.  The whole dish was fragrant and very light.  The coconut made it rich and creamy and took away any harshness that could have come from the chilli or the ginger.  I had my reservations about the noodles I used when I saw them cooked, but with the sauce they were delicious.  This is defiantly something I would make again; I think I might try it when I have guests sometime as a lot of it can be prepared ahead and you can pull the dish together in about 5 minutes when people are ready to eat.

As for the race, well, the result was never in doubt. A shining blue and red car owned by a certain energy drinks company had blitzed the field in qualifying, and the rapidly maturing Vettel barely saw the rest of the race as he took a unchallengeable lights to flag victory. Mathematically the German  had the chance of wrapping up his championship for the second year in a row at this race. But it wasn’t to be as the rest of the field conspired to make sure the contest was dragged out to at least the race in Japan.

However, like any race with twenty four high speed participants, there was plenty to keep the audience attention. Michael Schumacher, decided that he obviously preferred flying to driving that day, attempted to launch his appropriately named silver arrow off the back of the unwilling Sergie Perez  in an effort, moth like, to reach the lights surrounding the track of this night race. Failing this, he merely smashed the car against the barriers. Not an overtake the old master will ever be proud off.

Lewis Hamilton, seeing red in the form of Felipe Massa’s scarlet Ferrari, then smashed off his front wing against the rear right hand tyre of the other car. Having returned to the pits to have a new nose fitted by his mechanics, he then returned once more to serve a penalty metted out by the stewards. His Maclaren, having started the day 4th, ended up in 15th and was only helped by the safety car being deployed for Schumacher’s crash landing. He recovered, slicing his way through the field, to a respectable fifth, one place down from where he started.

Jenson Button, finding the Maclaren the second quickest car in the field, drove a lonely race against Vettel whom he only saw vanishing around corners ahead of him. After holding his position at the start, tyre choice allowed him to maintain this and his consistent lap times led him to a well deserved second place, his second of two races. The pressure is now one at Maclaren for Hamilton to prove he is still their best driver.


Chocolate tasting!

February 12, 2011

Tucked away in the corner of our spare room I have a little paper bag in which I hide all my naughty treats so they don’t get “accidently” eaten while I’m out of the house. Hidden in this bag were several posh bars of chocolate I had acquired over the past few months on my travels and forgotten about.

Having just finished my box M&S Swiss Collection chocolate I’d had since Christmas, I fancied a chocolate hit but couldn’t decide which bar to open.  After a little bit of pondering I had a great idea: why not open them all at once and call it a tasting? So here are the results of my gluttony.

All 5 chocolates

Thorntons Milk Chocolate with Orange and Cardamom: £1.79 (or 3 for £5), 90g, 40% Cocoa.

Thorntons with orange and cardamon

This is from Thorntons range of Chocolate Blocks, some of which have won taste awards (their lightly salted pistachio is just divine!).  This particular block smelt distinctly like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange when I opened the pack which didn’t really fill me with hope.  I’ve always thought the chocolate in a Chocolate Orange has really gone downhill over the last few years.

Luckily this chocolate tasted much better.  The orange, although fairly prominent, did not taste as overpowering as it smelt.  The cardamom was pretty hard to detect and I wasn’t really sure if I could really taste it or if I just thought that because it said on the pack that it should be there.  You could notice it through the texture though as there was a slight graininess to the chocolate.  Not a problem if you chew it, but noticeable if you let it melt slowly in your mouth.

The chocolate itself was from Ecuador, but with the orange flavour it really could have been any chocolate.  I could easily eat the whole bar in one as this was very more-ish, it was not however refined or particularly special. All things considered, I think £1.79 for the bar was a bit much!

Frey Suprême Citron & Poivre, Bought from a Migros Supermarket in Geneva for CHF2.60 (£1.69), 100g, 55% Cocoa.

Frey citron and poirve

Frey is the no.1 chocolate brand in Switzerland so I had high hopes for this offering.  Inside the cardboard, the chocolate was wrapped in foil.  Tearing this open, the chocolate was beautifully glossy and divided into 10 big squares and had a fresh spicy smell. Letting this chocolate melt in my mouth the flavours were fairly subtle, providing a hint of lemon and a gentle burn on my tongue.

By contrast biting into the chocolate resulted in sweet sharp bursts of citrus from the tiny pieces of crystallized lemon zest.  These were strong and sherbetty enough to cause me to winch the first time I chewed the chocolate, but once I knew what to expect I really enjoyed it.  The chocolate itself had a lot of depth for something that only had 55% cocoa and it stood up to the lemon really well.  A combination I had not seen before, but one that I really enjoyed.

Montezuma Organic Milk Chocolate with Chilli and Lime – £2.29 in Waitrose, 100g, 34% Cocoa.

Montezumas chilli and lime

This smelt extremely strongly of lime and I wasn’t quite sure how such a sharp flavour would meld with the creamy milk chocolate.  Despite the strong aroma the lime was by far the weaker flavour, as soon as you put the chocolate in your mouth you got a strong chilli kick that didn’t fade at all.  I could feel it all down my throat as the chocolate melted!

Although weaker than the chilli the lime also made itself known (this was by far the strongest flavoured bar of chocolate I tried!) leaving a clean fresh taste in my mouth. However the flavour did seem slightly artificial.  The milk chocolate was well textured and nice tasting as far as I could tell, but it was masked quite a lot by the other flavours!

Artisan du Chocolate Fusion bar, Tobacco – £2.75 in Selfridges, 45g, 72% Cocoa

Artisan du chocolate tobacco

I spotted this unusual bar of chocolate while browsing the food court of Selfridges in Birmingham and was intrigued.  I’m not a smoker and I don’t normally enjoy the smell of tobacco smoke (wood smoke yes, but not tobacco) but I remembered reading somewhere about how well the flavours of tobacco and chocolate went together. So I decided to give it a go.

Upon opening the pack I was greeted by a slightly damp woody smell and a rather small looking bar of chocolate (45g is almost a snack, not a proper sized bar!).  Eating the chocolate I have to admit that the tobacco did seem to bring out a certain something in the chocolate, adding to the richness of the overall taste.  On the downside I could taste the tobacco on my breath for a long time after and I found that less than pleasant.  I think this is one for the connoisseur or the smoker, it’s not really suitable as a comfort eat as it felt a little worthy and too much like hard work to me!

Artisan du Chocolate Fusion Bar Orchid and Orange Blossom –  £2.75 in Selfridges, 45g, 72%  Cocoa

Artisan du chocolate orchid

Bought at the same time as the tobacco chocolate, this limited edition bar was a much nicer to eat (although at 45g again just as minuscule).  I quite like flowery flavours (I adore Waitrose’s lemon and lavender and rose and geranium cupcakes) and this was certainly floral.  It wasn’t too perfumed though as some floral chocolates can be. There was a nice hint of sweet orange that, along with the natural bitterness of the chocolate, stopped everything becoming too sickly.  This was another sophisticated chocolate, but one you could enjoy curled up with a book if you wanted.

Chicken Tikka Wraps

December 6, 2010

For tea last week I decided to cook some chicken tikka wraps.  I’ve made a few Indian marinades before, but I usual cheat a little and use a pre-made paste of spice mix.  After a little bit of research around the web I found that I had most of the common ingredients for chicken tikka in my cupboard. So I thought I’d have a go at making the sauce from scratch.

The ingredients for the chicken tikka marinade

Most of the recipes I saw recommended marinating the chicken for a couple of hours.  However being in work during the day, and figuring it couldn’t hurt, I started the day before giving the meat plenty of time to marinate.

Making the marinade

My marinade consisted of:

  • 200g Greek yogurt
  • 3 cloves of garlic (diced)
  • 2 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1tsp smoked paprika (I didn’t have any of the plain variety!)
  • 2 tsp chopped chilli
  • 1tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

This was all mixed together before adding the chicken (around 450/500g) which I had chopped into inch cubes. This was then covered and placed in the fridge

Adding the chicken to the marinade

All nicely covered

When I was ready to cook I got the chicken out of the fridge to take the chill off, then heated the oven to 200C.  Rather than take off the excess marinade I decided to put the dish straight in the oven to ensure that the chicken had a good coating.  In the end I left everything in for 20 minutes and when I checked, the chicken was cooked though and still very moist – perfect!

Chicken tikka just out of the oven

While the chicken had been cooking I prepared some accompaniments.  I chopped up a red onion and two large shallots which were gently fried until translucent and shredded some romaine lettuce.  Looking back I think fresh baby leaf spinach would have been good as well, but I didn’t have any in the flat.

lettuce and onions

With everything ready I fished the tikka pieces out of the excess marinade and put them in a clean dish.  Plenty of the marinade clung to the chunks, which was wonderful!   Grabbing my garlic and coriander wraps from the cupboard I served up everything and got to work on constructing a wrap for myself.

Making a wrap

I was really pleased with how everything turned out in the end as it was a great alternative to fajitas.  The marinade was really fragrant and not too hot.  Although, with all the yogurt, it could easily take more chilli if desired.  I didn’t think it was  bad for a first attempt!  There was a slight bitterness from the garam masala, but the subtle sweetness of the slow cooked onions countered this well.  With everything else being soft the lettuce also added a much needed bit of crunch.

The final chicken pieces looked amazing.  I wasn’t sure about the colour of the marinade when I first made it as it had seemed a bit pale.  However once it was cooked it turned a deep orange which contrasted really well with the pale flesh of the meat.

My chicken pieces were too large to eat as one piece which meant I needed to cut them to go in the wraps. But I think keeping the pieces large helped keep the chicken moist so I will keep them that size when I next make this.  I also make far too much for two (the quantity would easily do 3!), but this was no bad thing.  The tikka pieces kept really well in the fridge and were consumed for lunch a few days later!

A lovely meal out with work at the Laguna Restaurant

November 19, 2010

Last week my department held a two day off site retreat at the Park Plaza Cardiff (not very far for me to travel I know :-p), and apart from two days out of the office the thing that excited me most was the prospect of eating in the hotels Laguna Restaurant.  I had been there previously as part of a day spa package at the hotel and really enjoyed the food and so was eager to try it again.

The restaurant is situated at the back of the hotel and overlooks the greenery of the old canal feeder and Cardiff’s civic centre.  It was very spacious and light with a high ceiling and modern feel. There’s a terrace for the summer days (and smokers), but what with it being November and rather chilly, we ate indoors.  This being a work event I didn’t have the nerve to bring along camera to capture the food and so, inspired by Ailbhe Phelan’s magnificent drawings on her Simply Splendiferous blog, I have attempted to recreate the meal through the medium of coloured pencil (unfortunately falling far short of her own skilled artistry).

The meal began with warm bread rolls.  Olive triangles, mini French loafs and rye buns were on offer and bowls of olive oil and balsamic vinegar were provided for dipping which proved to be a nice, lighter alternative to butter.  I had an olive triangle the first day and a rye bun the second.  Both were delicious and wonderfully soft, a lovely nibble while we waited for our starters.  Our meals were to be two courses, and the menu provided plenty of option with four starters, two “large or small” options you could choose as either starters or mains and four main choices.  There was also the option of dessert, but I ended up keeping it savoury both days.

The first day I went for a starter of prawn and brown shrimp cocktail which was served with granary bloomer bread and half a lemon wrapped in muslin to catch the pips.  The plate looked extremely elegant and appealing and I thought the lemon in muslin was a great touch.  The cocktail itself was succulent and full of flavour.  The lettuce was crisp and fresh and the rose marie has quite a kick in it which really lifted the dish.

My starter of prawn and brown shrimp cocktail

My main of seared salmon with squash sage and chilli risotto

For my main I chose the seared fillet of salmon which was accompanied by a squash, sage and chilli risotto.  The portion was enormous, a huge of fillet salmon with crisp skin and lovely soft flesh and a supreme quantity of autumnal orange risotto.  The sweetness of the squash was complemented by the sage and the subtle chilli heat which was much milder than that in the starter.  The combination of rich creamy risotto (I suspect there may have been a fair quantity of cream and butter involved!) and oily salmon was delicious, but far too much for lunchtime and I must admit to being unable to finish it all.

Having enjoyed my lunch so much on the first day I was excited to go to see what was on offer on the second.  About half the menu was the same as the first day, but there was still plenty I wanted to try from both the old and the new selections.  This time I went for a starter of seared spiced salmon with asian salad and pesto.  This was once again the picture of elegance, presented in clean straight lines.  I can’t say that I’m familiar with the concept of asian pesto, and on tasting it I would have to just say that it was just a mix of coriander and garlic.  Tasty, pretty, but not overly inspiring.  The tuna though was nicely flavoured and the salad had a great variety of flavour colour and textures including lambs lettuce, radish, carrot and sesame seeds.

My starter of seared spiced salmon salad with asian pesto

My main of confit belly pork apple sage risotto

For my main I decided to go for a risotto again (repetitive I know!).  This time I had a confit belly pork, sage and apple risotto from the “small or large” section.  Once again this was exceptionally rich and I dread to think juts how much dairy (and fat!) was involved.  The pork had been flaked so thst little nuggets of flavour were speckled throughout the dish as well as some large chunks of sweet red apple.  Overall this dish was rich, sweet and decadent.  This time I had eaten less for breakfast in preparation and was able to finish it all, but only just.

Overall I was impressed with the restaurant and I think I’ll be going back again.  The quality of the food was excellent and although the service was relaxed it wasn’t too slow.  It’s not too expensive either (£16.50 for a 3 course pre-theatre menu).  I wouldn’t normally consider the restaurant of a hotel chain when planning a meal out, but Laguna is a great lunch or early evening destination in a great city centre location.

A visit to Cafe Rouge

May 16, 2010

Cafe Rouge is one of my favourite places to eat, and so armed with some friends and a 2-4–1 on main meals voucher I visited the restaurant down Cardiff Bay recently.  Unfortunately I was suffering with a fairly heavy cold, but the food was strong and flavoursome enough that I could still enjoy it, even if I couldn’t hear a thing people said to me.

As with many chains, the decor is pretty much the same in each location, in this case a depiction of a French Cafe which feels slightly like a jokey caricature, but not so much so as to be offensive or overbearing.   This particular restaurant overlooks Cardiff Bay and Barrage, with some seating outside which proves very popular in the summer with people who wish to spend a relaxing evening enjoying good food and wine.  The restaurant itself was pretty busy on this occasion, which reflected in the speed of service.

As with the decor, the menus are standard across the chains; this meant I had a fair idea of what I fancied eating before I even turned up.  To begin with we decided to share some starters between us going for the Fougasse bread and dips and some Petit Saucisson.

The bread was shaped like a leaf and still warm from the oven, the accompanying dips (hummus, garlic mayo and warm tomato and chilli) were all great.  The sausages were garlicky if a little chewy. We even managed to end up with an extra serving when the staff got confused, so there was plenty to go around.

Half eaten sharing starter

There were more than this when the dish arrived!

For my main course I went for the Beef Bourguignon.  This was served with dauphinoise potatoes and French beans.  The mains were slow to arrive, but when they did turn up it was worth it.  The beef itself was meltingly tender, falling apart to the touch, and the rich sauce contains plenty of baby onions, mushrooms and bacon.  My only complaint (apart from my blocked nose meaning I was not quite tasting as I should and that flavoursome as it seemed, it was probably even better) would be that the potatoes on one side of my block of dauphinoise were slightly undercooked and as a result a bit solid.  The side that was cooked was delicious though, and the meal had the warming and comforting effect I was looking for.

My meal before I tucked in

Of those dining with me, one also went for the Beef Bourguignon and the other two went for steaks.

One of the steaks

All in all this was a pleasant meal out. Luckily we weren’t in too much of a hurry or else the slow service might have spoiled things slightly, but as it was it ended up being only a slight annoyance.  The food was satisfying and tasty even through my cold.  Cafe Rouge, although not the most glamorous or upmarket place to eat is great for a meal out or a relaxed lunch.