Thai Beef Noodle Salad

Thai Beef Noodle Salad

I think a number of my fellow countrymen and women would admit the British don’t do salads. We’ve adopted other countries of late, sure, but when I grew up salads meant lettuce, quartered (and generally flavourless) tomatoes, some sliced cucumber and spring onion. And that was about it. This dry, ¬†flavourless token gesture of healthiness sat amongst the crisps and sausage rolls at the back of the table at many a get-together, slowly going limp and brown.

It only was much later in life when I first went to Italy and was presented with my first decent salad – a neatly arranged pile of rocket, semi dried tomatoes, parmesan shavings and a dressing, yes a dressing, of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I had no idea what the ingredients were at the time, but it was delicious. It was as much part of the dish as the piece of steak sat next to it and it changed my view of salad ever since.

I’m probably being a bit deprecating of us Brits, the humble ‘Ploughmans’ is still a great pub lunch and we simply don’t have the climate for the likes of semi-dried tomatoes or olives. As I mentioned though, we are keen to try other cuisines and we can readily get the staples for many different types of salad – Greek, French Spanish and my favourite – Thai

We went to a Thai restaurant recently and Helen went for a salad there. Partly because it’s a nice healthy option and partly because I encouraged her so I could try it. I do that a lot ūüėČ

Thai salad is the ultimate for me. I love Thai flavours anyway, but in a salad they are so much more prominent. I made this salad the other night although the very few who saw my first ever post may notice I did something very similar before….

I used a good steak from a local butchers (sliced thinly, you only need to buy one regular sized cut) and some rice noodles to give it a bit more substance.

I must admit I can’t really remember the dressing quantities, but I tend to add the juice of a whole lime to a bowl and adding and tweaking the rest as I go. I’ve tried to list them, but it’s from recolection.

  • 300g good quality steak, thinly sliced.
  • Half a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
  • two handfuls of breansprouts
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced (I used a potato peeler)
  • About 2 savoy cabbage leaves, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 a red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3 small spring onions or 2 larger ones, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp mixture of chopped fresh coriander/basil (thai basil if possible)
  • 100g rice noodles, cooked and cooled.

For the dressing (I think!):

  • Juice of one whole lime
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed or light olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 2 tsp palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
  • A splash of soy sauce to taste.

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Marinade the steak strips in some sesame oil and fish sauce for about 20 minutes.

Make up the noodles as instructed and rinse under the cold tap to cool. Flash fry the beef strips in a fiercely hot pan for a few second to brown and set aside.

Thoroughly wash and prepare the salad vegetables and mix together in a large bowl. Add the beef and resting juices one ready

Mix the dressing together, and taste/adjust as you see fit. Pour over the salad and toss well using tongues or a spaghetti spoon.¬†Can’t get much quicker than that!

Thai Beef Noodle Salad

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Salmon with Red Pesto and Tomato Broth

Salmon with Red Pesto and Tomato Broth

It was a busy old weekend, hence the slight lack of attention, or indeed subject matter for Food Frankly, and by busy, I technically mean excessive.

Helen and I headed to a favourite restaurant on Friday for a delicious steak and just a couple of really good beers (well I did, somebody else got driving duties ūüėČ )Then, Saturday morning, I headed down to Manchester to catch up with old friends and plan a stag do, or bachelor party, depending which side of the pond you live on of course.

After a delicious beef sandwich and pork-pie lunch, we headed off to watch my mate’s mighty Oldham Athletic nick a home win. Then, it was off to watch England take on the French at rugby, in a local pub before heading off on the tram into Manchester for far more beer than we really ought to, or can cope with these days. Dinner comprised fried chicken and pork rinds. Now, I’m no nutritionist, but I’m pretty sure that was not a balanced meal, although I believe there was lettuce involved somewhere in fairness.

The planning wasn’t ‘comprehensive’ it’s fair to say. “Germany somewhere, probably Munich” was the outcome. I think.

And so today was about countering the excess and for dinner I made something light and delicate. Fish is the obvious choice for me and to avoid heavy sauces, I paired it with a quick red pesto and a light basil infused tomato broth. I used salmon simply because I had it, but this would work with a variety of white fish. Crushed new potatoes and steamed purple broccoli finished it off. I pan fried the fish using a non-stick pan to keep the oil and therefore calories down, but I could have grilled it to be even healthier. The broccoli was steamed but left with plenty of ‘bite’. It was all surprisingly good actually and packed with flavour, so much so I think this might be a ‘keeper’.

Serves 2, takes half an hour.

  • 400g salmon fillets (these were skinless)
  • 2 tsp olive oil

For the red pesto:

  • Large handful (50g) of pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Half a jar of sundried tomatoes (about 10 pieces), drained if in oil.
  • Half a red pepper
  • Handful of grated parmesan
  • 1 good lug of quality virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the tomato broth:

  • 3 large fresh tomatoes, quartered and de-seeded
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 pinch of chilli flakes
  • 4 basil leaves, shredded
  • 200ml vegetable stock (I used good vegetable bouillon powder for speed, mixed with boiling water)
  • 10-12 twelve new potatoes, cleaned, skins on
  • 8 pieces of purple broccoli (or regular broccoli if not available)

Make the pesto by simply toasting the pine nuts in a dry pan until browned (but not burnt!) then combining all the ingredients in a food processor. Blitz to a rough paste, taste and season if needed and set aside.

Start the tomato broth by frying the garlic and chilli flakes in the oil. Add the tomatoes and balsamic and fry until the tomatoes give up a bit of juice. When they do, add the stock and leave to very gently simmer. Add the basil towards the end otherwise the flavour will be lost.

Tomato Broth

Whilst doing the broth, in the bottom of a steamer, bring the potatoes to a boil. They take about 15 minutes, so after half that time, add the broccoli in a steamer insert and place above the potatoes.

I started the salmon now too as they were quite thin pieces. I used a non-stick pan to keep the oil to a minimum. Season with a little salt and cook until well browned on a moderate heat – there was no skin on these so I had to be careful not to break them. Set aside in a warm oven once done.

Taste the tomato broth and season if needed. Strain into a warm jug using a fine seive.

Drain the potatoes and crush them roughly and add a pinch of salt if you like. Put them on a very warm plate with the salmon on top. Add the broccoli and pour around the tomato broth. Add about a tablespoon of the red pesto and you’re done!

Salmon with Red Pesto and Tomato Broth

Steamed Open Dumpling Dim Sum

Open Steamed Dumplings
I have tons of cookery books, a cupboard full of everything from ¬£1.99 bargains through ¬†TV chef spin-offs to the bible that is La Gastronomique and I can say that I under-use all of them. I tend browse for the basics and then go…freestyle. With mixed results its fair to say

Now, I make a fair bit of Chinese food during the week as it’s fast, and (providing you watch the oil) healthy. The only problem I have is that I can’t say I’ve nailed a recipe or particular dish in the same way I can make, for instance, specific pasta dishes, they tend to be concoctions of whatever I have in the fridge. This was different though – I got the iPad (other tablets are available…) edition of Ken Hom’s Complete Chinese Cookbook recently and was keen to try his recipes with the ingredients as instructed. Being a big fan of dim sum thought I’d try the relatively straightforward open steamed dumplings.¬†Although the implementation probably wavered a bit, I used the ingredients as Mr Hom instructed and they were delicious.

I bought in the wanton cases as we were in the local Chinese supermarket recently. They keep brilliantly in the freezer but there’s nothing too hard about making them. The recipe quoted about 40, but I in fact made 20 presumably large versions. They didn’t seem so big, so who knows, but it didn’t seem to matter. I served them up with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, chilli oil, dried chilli flakes, sugar and ginger. I kind of did it off the cuff, so don’t remember the proportions, but it was very much ‘to taste’ anyway!

I made my own mince using some good quality belly pork as Mr Hom specified fatty pork mince. I just blitzed it in the food processor and it worked nicely.

So, via Ken Hom’s Complete Chinese Cookbook:

  • 100g/4oz uncooked prawns
  • 350g/12oz pork belly, minced or food processed (or fatty pre-minced pork)
  • 2 tbsp bacon lardons
  • 100g/4oz water chestnuts, tinned. Well rinsed.
  • 2 tsp ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped spring onion
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp dry sherry.
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt and a twist of black pepper
  • 20 wanton skin

Defrost the wanton wrappers at room temperature if needed. This takes a surprisingly short amount of time.

Prepare the pork by mincing or blitzing the pork belly in a processor. Finely chop the prawns and bacon and vegetables.

Open dumplings vegetables

Then, simply place the the whole lot into a bowl and mix very thoroughly.

Spoon a couple of teaspoons of the mixture onto the middle of a wanton wrapper.

Dim Sum Preparation

Bring up the sides, pinching firmly and turning as you do to make the open wrapping. Tricky – I’m sure practise makes perfect!

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Boil a little water in the bottom of a steamer. Use the bottom of the steamer insert and cut out some greaseproof paper to line the inside. I used a skewer to push though the holes to let the steam through.

Place the dumplings in, not too tightly packed, and steam for about 15 minutes. I used a probe to check the temperature in the middle and they were well done by this time, but may need longer – the recipe said about 20mins.

Open steamed dumplings in steamer

Repeat in batches until all done!

Slow Cooked Venison and Roast Butternut Squash

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Well the sun was out, the temperatures were bearable and it’s the half term school holidays next week meaning one thing – everybody was out and about. We headed up to Gibside on the fringes of Gateshead for a walk around the ruined Gibside Hall. It’s eerie and spectacular in equal measure, being now little more than an overgrown shell of a once grand house. The chapel and ‘column of liberty’ have fared a little better and still stand a mile apart and in direct view of one another. Hopefully this lends a scale to the size of the estate. We headed up around the far reaches of the estate for the better views and steeper climbs and before we knew it a couple of hours had passed.

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Gibside Chapel

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Ruins of Gibside Hall

Column of Liberty

Column of Liberty

Front of Gibside Hall

Front of Gibside Hall

And so, a moderately lengthy winter walk requires a sturdy dinner. I’ll admit, I’ve put this together based on a couple of dishes I’ve eaten at The Broad Chare, a favourite of mine, mainly for its rustic British food and locally sourced produce. They were actually starters of braised venison with Elsdon cheese on toast and blood pudding with roasted squash and I kind of pulled the two together. Not having Elsdon (a firm goats cheese), I substituted some Wensleydale which has a similar sharp flavour. The venison was diced shoulder, slowly simmered for two hours in wine and beef stock until massively rich. The sweet butternut squash and sharp cheese were perfect companions!

For someting a little different, I tried an ingredient given to me by a friend in a Christmas hamper – some chocolate extract. Chocolate is seemingly unlikely friend of venison and this did lend a nice flavour to the dish overall, without dominating it. I’ll experiment further though….

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Serves 2.

  • 500g diced venison suitable for slow cooking.
  • 2 large glasses of red wine, I used Rioja.
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 garlic clove, 1 carrot, 1 onion and 1 stick of celery finely diced.
  • 1 litre (2 pints) rich beef stock
  • 1 good splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves and a large sprig of thyme, leaves only.
  • 70g smoked bacon lardons
  • 1 butternut squash, halved, seeded and cut into chunks
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Wensleydale cheese to serve
  • Optional – chocolate extract to taste.

In a heavy casserole dish, heat some oil and fry off the venison and lardons (in batches) until well browned.

Stir in the vegetables and soften them. Return the meat and stir though the flour, adding a little water to make it ‘stick’. Pour in the wine and stock and add the bay leaves. Stir thoroughly.

Put the lid on the pot and simmer on the lowest possible heat for about two hours.

After an hour, place the prepared butternut squash in a tray, season with salt and drizzle with oil. Roast in a moderate oven for about an 45 minutes to 1 hour until very tender.

For the last half and hour of the vension, remove the lid to reduce and concentrate the liquid and for the last 5 minutes, add the thyme leaves. Add the chocolate extract to taste if using at the end – it’s worth a try.

Serve the dish up with shavings of Wensleydale cheese and a large glass of Rioja. Perfect.

Venison and Butternut Squash

In the face of recent food supply chain “issues”, maybe this is the answer!

Food and Forage Hebrides

This is a post part of which has been sitting in my drafts for some time and for some reason, I only now get round to publication.  This is not least with encouragement of Phil at Food, Frankly and my promise to do so last week. Being a person of my word (most of the time), here is the second volume of the rather graphic venison butchery episode.  Be assured that this is somewhat more gentle than Volume 1: In the Flesh and covers making the most of the animal and preparing fine game stock and venison sausages.

Part of the reason I have not posted this so far is that I am not really a very good step-by-step recipe blogger, especially with images as I lack patience and photographic skills for this, and the processes involved very much need this approach.  However, if going off on random digressions are…

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Pancakes two ways – savoury and sweet.

IMG_6411 There was a time long ago, when we had to go to the phone to use it, wireless meant ‘a radio’, Betamax was on the way out and Bluetooth would have presumably meant a trip to the dentist, when I used to eat “Crispy Pankcakes”.

I presume it was a UK thing, but they were basically folded and breaded pancakes that when cooked, by whatever means you choose, disguised a variety of fillings the temperature of molten magma. Now these weren’t haute cuisine by any stretch of the imagination, think savoury pop tarts, only hotter, but as a child I seemed to remember quite liking these things.

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day of course, so this and the fact Findus (the original makers) has featured heavily in the news of late, lead me to the natural conclusion that I had to replicate these little pockets of lava.

I was late home tonight so I swung by the store on the way back and picked out ingredients for the filling I thought would be quickest to be frank. Spinach, ricotta, bacon and mushroom seemed to fit that profile and is invariably good. And so it was on…

These turned out a little bigger than I remember so I ended up making 4 and freezing two. If I could have gotten them, porcini mushrooms would have had much more flavour, but I couldn’t.

I had to make a sweet one too, I had my orders, and I went for chocolate sauce, banana and flaked almonds. This was a little easier!

For the pancakes:

  • 200g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 350ml semi-skimmed milk
  • pinch salt

For the filling:

  • 4 handfuls of spinach
  • 250g ricotta cheese
  • 90g smoked bacon lardon
  • 4 medium mushrooms sliced thinly
  • A little salt and chilli flakes
  • Oil
  • Garlic, finely chopped

To finish:

  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 tsp of flour
  • panko breadcrumbs (or regular ones will do fine)
  • Oil

For the sweet version:

  • 2 pancakes (as above)
  • About 200ml chocolate sauce (I bought it in)
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 handfuls of almonds to serve

To make the pancakes, simply mix the ingredients in a bowl, adding the liquids to the flour and whisking as you do to avoid lumps. Stir in a good pinch of salt

In a small pan, fry the pancakes in a little oil so as they are thin and about 23cm/9 inches across. Once done, leave to go cool, they will need to be.

To make the filling, blanch the spinach in a little water until wilted. Drain, cool and squeeze out as much water as you can.

Whilst cooling, fry the bacon in a little oil, the chilli flakes and garlic with the sliced mushrooms until any water released has dried up. Set aside to cool.

Chop the spinach and mix into the ricotta. Once the bacon/mushroom mixture is cooled, at that too. Taste and season if needed.

To make the pancakes, first beat an egg in a bowl decant half to a ramekin and mix with a tsp of flour to make a ‘glue’. Spoon about two tbsp of filling onto the middle of a pancake and brush the edge all the way round with the egg/flour glue. Fold it over carefully trying to expel any trapped air.

Crispy pancake filling

Brush it with the plain egg and coat well in the breadcrumbs all over.

Fry gently in a little oil on both sides and repeat with the others!

Crispy pancake frying

For the sweet pancakes, I simply heated the chocolate sauce with a mashed ripe banana. Spread on the warm pancake (I reheated it in a fresh pan but the microwave will so) and roll up, dust with coco powder and the flaked almonds.

Pancake with chocolate sauce, banana and almonds

Monkfish, Queen Scallops and Pea Puree

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I’m so hungry, I could eat a Findus Lasagne…..

The horse meat scandal rumbles on in Europe at the moment and whilst there’s nothing necessarily wrong with eating it, as the French and Italians in particular will no doubt protest, it raises big issues. It makes you think about the chain involved in mass manufactured food and personally, made me think about the source of the food we eat. It was sold as beef, but was nothing of the sort and that’s worrying.

I generally avoid processed foods, as I guess most people reading this will as you’re probably a ‘fan’ of good food like me. I can’t pretend to be pious enough to avoid supermarkets but try to buy better quality wherever possible.

Whenever I can though, I get meat and fish from local butchers and fishmongers where I’m happy the produce is as far away from the likes of Comigel as possible. Once such place is Latimers which I first wrote about a few weeks back.

I went down today and got chatting to the guy behind the counter who was genuinely enthusiastic about the source of the fish, even explaining that the recent weather meant a poor catch, highlighting which fish they’d had to buy in (to keep a decent range in stock no doubt). They have a couple of boats landing fish as often as weather allows and you can phone ahead to see what was bought in and order it to collect later. I love this. Proper sustainable, sourceable food and as fresh as you can get.

One fish that was landed was monkfish which has undergone something of a promotion from little regarded lobster pot bait to an expensive restaurant regular. Now, I’m not a huge fan of this fish, it can be a little bland compared to others, but it works well with accompaniments and strong flavours and sauces rather than being the ‘star of the show’.

When deciding what to do with it, I thought about contrasting the flavours and textures which is pretty much the basis of a good dish I’ve come to learn. So, I combined the monkfish with some sweet tasting Queen scallops (also from Latimers), even sweeter pea puree, salty lardons and crisp, slightly bitter braised lettuce. I was pleased with the results, but next time I would sear the monkfish some more, it would have been well worth it.

  • Once large monkfish fillet halved into two portions
  • 150g Queen scallops
  • 1 large knob of butter
  • 100g bacon lardons
  • 1 Little gem lettuce halved
  • 200g frozen peas
  • 200ml vegetable stock
  • Oil
  • Salt and pepper

Put a couple of plates in the oven to warm, they will need to be hot for this dish.

In a small, lidded, pan bring the peas to a gentle simmer in the stock and turn the heat off. Blend the peas with a little of the stock and some butter (if you like) to make a puree and return to the pan with the lid on to keep warm. Taste and season if needed.

Put a griddle pan on the hob and get it hot. Rub the fillets with oil and a sprinkle of salt/pepper and and lay then on the pan.

Monkfish - griddle pan

Fry off the lardons in a heavy pan and a little oil and remove, leaving the oils in pan. Put the halves of lettuce on the same pan, flat size down for about five minutes to caramelise.

Keep your eye on the monkfish and turn after about 5 minutes.

Remove the lettuce and keep warm with the plates.

Finally, put the lardons back in the pan and with a good knob of butter. Add the scallops and fry on a high heat until just cooked, about 5 minutes max. Don’t over-do them!

Plate up some of the scallops on the pea puree with the rest dotted around with the lardons. Slice the monkfish and pour over half of the butter from the scallops pan. Add the braised lettuce and you’re good to go!

Monkfish Scallops and Pea Puree