Chillies – Worth The Pain?

Daily Prompt: Ring of Fire

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That rush of heat on your tongue, your throat and down into your belly; that pop of pleasurable pain – conducted like a wild chorus and enjoyed in equal quantities of greedy gratification and spine tingling torment.

Produce the fresh chillies, leave the seeds in and toss the heavenly hell with abandon over your fresh salad, your soup your chicken, fish and, why not, quite possibly all your gluttonous fodder. Buy them pickled, eat them fresh, crush them dried and slip into the enslavement.

The chilli easily enters your life and rarely leaves, the chilli addiction is subtle yet essential, and despite the, sometime, sorely felt ring of fire the next day – it is, in my book, well, well worth it.

Daily Prompt: Ring of Fire

 

 

 

Thai Noodle Soup

Providing your not struck down by Delhi Belly, too often, street food remains the only way to savour local food at its best if you find yourself lucky enough to be in foreign parts.

Sitting on a dusty plastic stool watching a small Thai man ladling steaming stock broth into a deep bowl filled with glass noodles, small slivers of chicken and topping it off with green citrusy herbs and hot fresh chilli, is my most sublime memory of Bangkok.

Street Food Feast

Out of one corner of your eye you watch the bright green VW beetles whizzing round the Zocalo in downtown Mexico City, while the rest of your body is finely attuned to the tiny old lady  in front of you. And, in front of her, the accoutrements of her trade; large, round, green, crispy tortillas piled high, an array of salsas, advocado, chilli, tomato, maybe some shredded cheese: “a gusto, a gusto”, she urges, keen to serve the hungary businessman waiting patiently behind for his tostada, or taco, or quesadilla, or gordita or picada…..hmmm…Oh Si Si…

How about a banana leaf topped with boiled yucca, sharp cabbage salad and a hunk of crispy pig skin courtesy of a young Nicaraguan girl, this delicacy sounds unusual but is in actual fact utterly delicious. And the simple cabbage salad served throughout Central America is just fresh shredded cabbage, lime juice and salt – delectable and incredibly easy to remember.

Often, trying to recreate a dazzling dish once back at home, can feel frustratingly impossible, but only because each mouthful and memory is steeped with the exotic overtones particular to you in that wonderful moment – and those memories you cannot make.

Yet it is in the trying, and the eating, that you can sit back and and recall that mouth-watering epiphany.

Chicken is one of the few meats I buy with regularity and its stock is normally what I crave once the carcass has been devoured by my family. Inevitably, I endlessly try to recreate that first Thai soup I had so many years ago each and every time.

Simple, filling, nutritious and delicious, the binlids adore it now as much as I do. And one day, I imagine they will taste the original for themselves, but will they be reminded of their mum? Or of being sat in a busy street clamouring with noise and heat.

Thai Style Noodle Soup

Onion diced
Garlic sliced
Ginger as above
Hot chicken stock
Glass Noodles or any noodles
Peas
Bok choi
Spring onions
Lettuce
Chard
Any manner of greens – basically
Fresh mint and or corriander
Fresh chilli finely cut
Lime wedges
Fish sauce

Saute the onion, garlic and ginger until golden and soft, add steaming hot chicken stock to the pan. Throw in the noodles and stir with a fork or chopsticks to separate – cook as instructed on packet – no more than a few minutes. Prepare your greens to throw in at the last minute: peas, green beans, bok choi, spinach, chard, lettuce, into the steaming broth – you want them crunchy.

Serve with a squeeze of lime, a drop of fish sauce, some fresh coriander, mint, sliced spring onions and finely sliced chilli – enjoy.

Zingers

Do you fancy a super zingtastic pick me up?
One that will make you feel like a health goddess or god and will make your heart shiver with heat and sparkle with health?
Created by the Sky Team‘s own personal chef and one which the delectably, lithe Wiggo enjoys?

All you need are these three:

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Orange juice, preferably with the bits (why would anyone not want the bits?)
Fresh Ginger for the ZING
Carrots (so you can see in the dark)

Finely grate a carrot, a knob of ginger and throw into the whizzer, pour in the glass of OJ and a few ice-cudes – whizz.

Ta daaaaahhh!

Enjoy

Soup de jour – chou, chou

The Time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things.
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax – and cabbages – and kings…

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Ahh, yes, cabbage. Man, oh man, is cabbage the humble British vegetable, often unloved, regularly unwanted, but not here my friends, not any more.

Cabbage is a treasure trove of a staple, it lasts for ages in the fridge and is peanuts to boot. This little beauty was grown on Salisbury Hill, just outside Bath, by my buddy Mikey Mike – the vegetable king – it is fresh, crisp and ripe for scoffing.

Soup is a staple in my house and this one I make religiously; simple vegetable soup with fresh cabbage thrown in at the last. This number, also known as the cabbage soup diet, will have some folks despair at how they ate bowlfuls; day in, day out for weeks, in a desperate bid to loose weight. That it will do for you, oh yes! But it will also make you utterly sick of a very hearty, yet prudent soup.

For me, and I fast twice a week, this prince of a soup always comes up trumps. It is less than 80 kcal a bowl and it hits the spot when your hungry and it is freezy windy outside the front door.

Method
One tin of tomatoes
One small onion, or a handful of shallots
Two to three cloves of fat juicy garlic crushed
Two or three stalks of celery sliced finely
(any other vegetables will do here: courgette, peas, spinach, leek…if you insist etc)
A tiny dot of olive oil.
Cabbage fresh & shredded
One litre of bouillon or other stock
S&P
Good handful of fresh parsley (if you’ve got some)

Gently sweat your onions, garlic and the celery in your dot of olive oil. Add the tomatoes and the stock and gently simmer for 15-20 minutes. Tomatoes always taste their best if they are given plenty of time and are cooked over a low heat – they will transform into the delectable fruit they truly, truly are.

When you are ready to eat – season well with a good crunching of sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper – add the cabbage at the last minute, allow it to wilt for a minute or two. If you have some fresh parsley throw that in too. Serve and enjoy this hearty, healthy, nutritious and warming soup.

To make this more of a meal for children add some chick peas or other legumes or even some stellini – tiny star shaped pasta. Serve it with a stack of home-made bread and butter….hm hmmmmm.

Barbie Rhu

She stands out red and well-girthed on the far side of town, her long cheeks rouged and ever so slightly green. All the bugs and slugs under her; a profusion of pests whose days are spent in the seclusion and safety of her wide hips and hairy green leaves – wide, elephantine amongst this small English garden.

The rhubarb plant is a sturdy gal and one I can neither kill; nor abate her growing fury, despite my weekly random leaf plucking, stalk slashing and general abuse of this well-established, stubborn English maid. 
In my natural joy of owning a healthy plant I decide I must, obviously, do something with the bounty. A ferret on google reveals this simple recipe, much praised and easily produced: Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam.

Equal your weight of barb to sugar – say 1kg of each. Throw it in the jam pan and let the sugar melt, when it has melted add a whole vanilla pod  – whip it about a bit and then leave the jam to boil and bubble and furiously become jam – a matter of ten minutes of so.   

I like the saucer test best, to check for jam jammage conclusion, stick a saucer in the freezer – after ten minutes of jamming – drop a few splots onto said frozen saucer and push the jam with your finger tip – if it forms wrinkles its ready to go – if not keep boiling for another few minutes and then try the saucer test again.   
Decant – enjoy.

Sweet, tart – this stuff is truly gorgeous on hot buttered toast, as a compote with fresh sliced English strawberries, or on just out the oven warm , steamy scones…

5 Ways to host a half-decent Dinner Party

Hindsight is a beautiful thing and, over the years, I’ve learnt that when you invite friends for supper they generally like to eat something before, say, 10 0’clock. Thing is, with your buddies around you and the vin flowing – who wants to actually cook?

If, like me, you have a habit of getting over-excited during a dinner party and loose sight of your goal: feeding people – by downing an extra glass of bubbly or smoking a bifta; then suddenly find yourself at 9 0’clock standing in the kitchen, trying to focus on the back of a packet of rice… something must surely change; particularly if you want to invite these people again. The only bonus to this method of entertaining is that by the time you actually feed your guests, they are so plastered, and so ravenous, they will stuff anything in, with no thought to its taste or texture – just grateful to be consuming something, solid – finally.
Entering my mid-thirties has, appeared to, mature me somewhat and experience has left me wiser to feeding troops – thus I impart my, expert entertaining, knowledge henceforth:
1) Spoil your guests – by giving them a 5* experience. Offer them a cocktail on arrival or a glass of something ice-cold and bubblie. A Rhubarb Bellini is the height of English cocktail sophistication: Cook some fresh English rhubarb with a smattering of sugar and a little water – when cooled, whizz it up. Put your bubbles in the freezer an hour before folks arrive, to ensure complete coldness. On arrival, carefully pour a little of this stunning pink rhubarb compote into each glass – top with bubbles – stir – and enjoy this delicate and beautiful, quintessentially English, cocktail.

2) Choose just one course to stun and delight your people. Then you can focus your time on that while the other two courses, having been made in advance, are taken care of. I like to fiddle with a starter, knowing my mains are chootling away with no help needed, perhaps pan-fried scallops or Thai fish-cakes whilst a tangine or a Thai or Indian curry is slowly simmering in the background. Or perhaps an easy salad with greenleaves and some delectable cheese while you focus on a last-minute arrangement of sauted salmon or caramelised chicken as a main-course.
3) Everyone loves a pud and soo many can be simply thrown together. Never underestimate the power of pudding as the ultimate crowd-pleaser, whatever may have gone wrong before – if your pudding has enough chocolate or cream in it – you will leave your guests thoroughly grateful. Make it in advance and wow them with a chocolate or lemon or apple or nut or, anything really, tart – made with home-made pastry and served with thick cream – you cannot fail to score. Strawberry fool, lemon posset, home-made coffee ice-cream, apple granita with home-made shortbread…the list is endless and will always win you points.
4) Your biggest advantage to a fabulous dinner party is, of course, time. Having the time to prepare your dishes in advance means on the evening you can concentrate on that fiddly number and getting everything else ready. Plan and shop at least two days beforehand. So you have two full days for cooking ahead of you. Prep all your extras so they are ready to go, leaving you little chance of forgetting that finishing touch.
5) Those little extras mean a lot and give your evening a luxurious edge. Light plenty of candles inside and out, make sure, if it is slightly cool, a fire is blazing, with plenty of logs nearby to keep it stoked. Choose some cool new tunes to play, flowers freshly picked; a bunch of rosemary or some blossoms make for a feminine touch. A table cloth always adds an elegant nod to proceedings and along with napkins and candles gives your space an atmospheric depth. Fresh mint leaves for mint-tea, post-feast and fresh coffee and some little chocolates make for a full and sumptious evening.
Above all enjoy all of this yourself, the planning, the preparation; the success!! Bask in the compliments, relish the sounds of laughter, the tinkling of glasses and the sounds of your food being enjoyed and devoured around your table.

Bean endowment

Broad beans, carrots, plums, pears, apples, runner beans, cauliflowers, cabbages, potatoes, the bounty dripping off the vegetable plot at my mum and dads house this summer has been melodious. We have feasted like kings on great bowls of fresh runner beans steamed and lathered with melting butter and a frolicking of french sea salt…….scrummmdiddly.

The children love it too and, to be frank, nothing tastes more wonderful than a freshly picked pea or a head of cabbage, as we should all know by now if we listen to the vast array of chefs who continually intone; seasonal, seasonal, seasonal…
I love to get the children involved in picking, plucking and podding. I send Fealte up the pear or plum tree if there is one particlularly perfect looking specimen waaaay above my head and Betty-Blanche prefers nothing better than digging in the mud for potatoes, or carrots or beets.
As we have just moved into the house of our very dreams, I thought, really too late in the year, that I should get down and groovy with my new, small, veg patch.
So I spent a full day turning over the soil and removing a whole host of strange looking, seriously stubborn green beasts, and with a profound sense of pleasure and achievement I planted a very small courgette plant. One I had procured from an honest lad at the school fete; he had grown it from seed and I was heartily impressed with his apparently blasé success.
So in it went, tucked up and fed with a great drink of agua. The next day I went to visit my newly planted green baby, already fantasizing about the courgette glut I was so obviously to expect, as it is, according to my veg book, a bloody easy plant to grow.
But, yeeuuuuuuchhhh, it’s leaves had been eaten by foul slugs and slimy snails, ergo I put loads of slug pellets down and went about my business, pretending to myself I was and am the keen garden professional and this is one small setback in my plan to…succeed.
The next day I went to view yet more dead snails and slugs, and the next day more, and more and really my veg patch has become a graveyard to many, many molluscs and my courgette plant is a yellowed and wilted affair from far too much rain and too many mollusc munchers, which quite frankly are putting me off my pathetic attempt at vegetable domination.
What on earth should I do next year when I really would like to achieve some kind of vegetable production on the very simplest foundation.
Any mollusc murdering advice greatly appreciated.