Sweet and Sour Tempura Chicken

This is my first attempt at tempura. I have to say, I always thought it would be this extremely complicated procedure but, as it often happens, I was completely wrong. Deep frying the chicken pieces in a tempura batter keeps the moisture inside the chicken and, what with the batter itself not being extremely thick but, rather, crisp and light, the overall dish gains a completely new dimension. I have to admit I kept on eating the chicken pieces while I was waiting for the noodles to cook because they are just too good. If you’re a beginner with tempura like I was, please don’t panic. It’s easier than it looks and once you drop the chicken nugget in the scorching hot oil, nature will follow its course.

Rather than the more conventional rice, I decided to serve the chicken on a bed of noodles. The main reason being this week we already had quite a lot of rice, but in fact it also provides a much welcome alternative to the traditional recipe. The contrast between the crispy vegetables and chicken and the soft yet not mushy noodles is just phenomenal. I also like the fact the whole dish has very warm colours, what with the red and the orange provided for by the carrots and peppers. Needless to say, you can always substitute the vegetables with some which might suit your taste better (pak choi might be good). Last, but not least, do not freak out if the chicken cools down too much by the time your vegetables and/or noodles are ready. Once assembled, the sauce and side will slightly warm the chicken pieces up, bring the whole dish together.

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Ingredients (for the sauce)

  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp sherry
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 50ml water

Ingredients (for the tempura)

  • 85g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 1/2 table salt
  • 200ml fridge-cold sparkling water
  • a few ice cubes

Ingredients (for the stir fry)

  • 2-3 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1L groundnut oil, for frying
  • 2 red peppers, finely sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 thumb-sized ginger piece, finely sliced
  • noodles or rice, to serve

Method

  1. Start by cutting the chicken breasts in bite-size pieces, then add them to a shallow dish and pour in the soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside for later. Line a large plate with chicken paper.
  2. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, then set aside.
  3. Heat the groundnut oil in a deep fryer or a deep saucepan until it reaches 180C. To make sure, drop a cube of bread in the hot oil. If it browns quite quickly, then the oil is ready.
  4. Prepare the tempura batter only just before you are going to use it. Whisk the batter ingredients in a bowl and add the ice cubes. Quickly dip the chicken pieces in the batter, then drop them in the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan and fry in batches if necessary. The chicken is ready when it is a deep golden brown all over. Feel free to test one by cutting it open with a knife. Once each cube has been fried, set aside on the kitchen paper to drain.
  5. Heat a wok to hot, then drizzle some groundnut oil and stir-fry the vegetables with the garlic and ginger for about 3 minutes. Pour in the sauce, then let it bubble down to a thick and glossy sauce.
  6. In the meantime, cook the noodles in plenty of water. When ready, drain them and toss them briefly with the vegetables and sauce, then arrange on a plate and top with the chicken pieces. Enjoy.

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Salmon and Ginger Fishcakes

My partner’s Christmas presents was a massive Magimix food processor, something I had my eyes on for quite a while. Despite already having a food processor, I hated it. To be perfectly fair, we’d bought it a while ago because I wanted one and, having just moved into a new flat, we went for the cheapest option, Russel Hobbs. I think it probably worked fairly average for the first couple of months and then things started to go a bit pear-shaped. Because of the way it was designed, the plastic tube holding the blades kept on being pushed upwards, thus coming off its base and jamming the whole thing. It took me ages to simply process, let’s say, vegetables and making shortcrust in there was a big no.

Now, I’m in food processor paradise. It may cost 6 times as much, but believe me when I say it’s worth it. I have now made pastry in there and it’s a total delight. User-friendly, very silent (I am still impressed) and extremely easy to clean. This also means I can now tackle the recipes I was a bit worried about before, including fishcakes. This recipe comes from the delicious. magazine online portal and it originally states to mince the fish and the vegetables by hand. I say, “why bother if the food processor can do it for you?” I whipped up these fishcakes in a second. Very easy to make, quite as easy to eat, especially if accompanied by the crunchy salad. A simple recipe for a mid-week supper which can be quickly converted into a packed lunch too.

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Ingredients

  • 400g skinned salmon fillet
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 red hot chilly, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 red and 1 yellow pepper, finely sliced
  • 250g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Dice the salmon and add to the food processor together with the spring onions and the minced ginger. Pulse and/or process until thoroughly combined. Season well and transfer to a bowl, then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for about 10 minutes to firm up.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and rice vinegar with the chopped red chilli. Set aside until needed.
  3. Take the fishcakes mixture out of the fridge, oil your hands with a little bit of olive oil and divide it in about 8 portions, then shape each into a small patty. Heat some oil in a frying pan, then cook each fishcake for a couple of minutes a side.
  4. Arrange the vegetables onto a platter, then lay the cooked fishcakes on top. Drizzle with the reserved dressing and enjoy while warm.

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Faux Mexican Chicken Stew with Rice & Beans

I have to apologise to people with a preference for savoury dishes as there have been a lot of desserts and cakes recently. Thing is, on top of being a very sweet tooth myself (which doesn’t help), December is a really cold month which calls for comfort food. And for me, comfort equals chocolate, which in turn takes the shape of a cake/biscuit/dessert. Christmas being round the corner also clearly doesn’t help…

Anyway, this time we’re down to cooking. I called it ‘faux’ chicken stew because I found it on a cooking magazine as a chicken stew, but due to the shorter cooking time it can’t be quite considered as such. I have also slightly changed it, so mine wouldn’t necessarily be *that* chicken stew anyway. It’s a really rich and dark chicken pot, if you wish, with plenty of peppers and smoky flavour. I served it with rice and beans, but you can just as easily leave those out or substitute them with mashed potatoes, a salad or some roasted vegetables. One last note: you really need the lime to cut through all that richness and tomatoes. Lemon juice wouldn’t quite work here, but be free to give it a go.

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Ingredients (for the chicken pot)

  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 red & 1 yellow peppers, chopped into large chunks
  • 4 tbsp chipotle paste
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 3 skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper

Ingredients (for the rice and beans)

  • 150g basmati rice
  • 1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • black pepper

Method

  1. Heat some olive oil in a deep frying pan, then tumble in the onion and peppers. Cook until softened. Stir in the chipotle paste and continue cooking for another minute.
  2. Now add the tomatoes, then fill half a can with water and pour that in too. Lay the chicken breasts on top of the sauce and push them right into the mixture with a wooden spoon. Gently simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  3. Once the chicken is fully cooked, remove it from the pan with some tongs, then use two forks to pull the meat apart. Tumble the chicken shreds back into the pan, then add the sugar, Worcestershire sauce and season well. Leave to cook for another 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly.
  4. In the meantime, bring a small pan filled with water to the boil, then tumble in the rice and cook for about 15 minutes, until just right. Keep stirring to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Towards the end of the cooking time, stir in the beans and give them a quick stir, just to warm them through. Drain the rice and beans, then tumble into a bowl. Add the rice, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Remove the chicken pot from the heat, sprinkle some coriander on top and some lemon juice, then serve and enjoy.

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Fried Peppers with Cheese

This is a traditional Bulgarian recipe (or so I have been told), very easy to prepare but full of flavour. It is usually served as a starter or as a light snack, but you can easily turn this into a main dish. Use red peppers for best flavour and a nice chromatic contrast with the filling, yellow is fine too. I wouldn’t use green, but then again it’s completely up to you.

I decided to serve this with a nice and fresh salad made with leftovers. Seeing as you only need half a block of feta for the filling, I used the rest for the salad, added some sweetcorn I had in the fridge and pepped it all up with paprika, black pepper, some oil and some coriander.

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Ingredients

  • 4 long peppers
  • 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • olive oil
  • 100g feta, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp chilli powder

Method

  1. Cut the peppers in halves, scoop out the seeds and the white core, then place under a preheated grill, skin side uppermost. Cook until the skin is charred and blackened. Place them on a plate, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steam for about 10 minutes.
  2. Using a sharp knife, carefully peel away the skin from the peppers.
  3. In a bowl, mix together 1 egg, the feta, parsley and chilli powder. Divide evenly among the pepper slices.
  4. Reshape the peppers to look whole. Prepare two shallow bowls, one with the remaining egg slightly beaten and the other one with the seasoned flour. Dip the whole peppers in the beaten egg, then in the flour. You can create a double coating if you want to.
  5. Pour some olive oil in a frying pan, then gently fry the peppers on both sides for about 4 minutes a side. Drain them on kitchen paper before serving them.

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Mexican Pasta Bake

I love being creative in the kitchen. And if you can be creative and use leftovers at the same time, then even better. I wanted to make a pasta bake for dinner last time and, when faced with the prospective of baking the traditional British tuna and sweetcorn pasta bake, I decided to give it a twist using some ingredients I had leftover in my fridge and cupboards. Mexican-inspired was the choice of preference after I found a tin of baked beans, the abovementioned sweetcorn and some pinto beans in my cupboard, but the addition of a half a jar of red roasted peppers and some chipotle paste helped the dish to come together. Very easy, delicious and can be made with a little effort.

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Ingredients

  • 500g fusilli pasta
  • 1L whole milk, at room temperature
  • 100g butter, at room temperature
  • 100g plain flour
  • 85g red roasted peppers, drained
  • 400g can of sweetcorn, drained
  • 300g can of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 250g smoked cheese
  • 100g chorizo sausage
  • 150g can of baked beans
  • 100g mascarpone
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 3 tsp chipotle paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • salt & pepper
  • chopped coriander, to decorate

Method

  1. Start by making the bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low to medium heat, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour. Put the saucepan back on the heat and cook gently to create the so-called roux. You should get a smooth and golden-tinted paste, but don’t cook it too long or you-ll burn it. Start adding the milk by pouring it gently into the saucepan and mixing it in with a wooden spoon. Keep on stirring over a medium heat making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan until the mixture starts to thicken a little and covers the back of the spoon. This will take approximately 10 minutes. Remove the bechamel sauce from the heat, season with some salt and pepper, then stir in the ground cumin, chipotle paste and chilli powder. Cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming on the surface, then set aside.
  2. Put the sweetcorn, beans (both pinto and baked) and mascarpone in a big bowl, then mix to combine. Add the peppers, previously sliced into small strips.
  3. Slice the chorizo into pound coin slices, then quarter them. Heat a frying pan over a high heat, then tumble the chorizo in and cook until crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain over some kitchen paper. Once cooled, add to the big bowl.
  4. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to packet instructions in plenty of salted boiling water. You want it al dente rather than mushy, as it will have to hold its shape. Once cooked, drain and tumble in the bowl with the beans and sweetcorn. Mix to combine and coat the pasta evenly with the mascarpone. This will prevent the pasta to stick. Add the oregano, then coarsely grate the smoked cheese and set aside.
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 180C, then take a big roasting dish.
  6. Remove the clingfilm from the spicy bechamel sauce and spread about 1 ladleful on the bottom of the dish to prevent the pasta from sticking to the dish. Use half of the pasta mixture to create an even layer in the roasting dish, then scatter with half of the grated smoked cheese. Cover with half of the bechamel sauce and spread it around.
  7. Top with the rest of the pasta, the remaining cheese and bechamel sauce. Bake it for about 35-40 minutes until slightly scorched on top. Remove from the oven and let cool down a little, then scatter with coriander and serve.

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Seafood Peppers

The jury seems to be out on whether we eat enough or too much fish on a daily basis. Some maintain the fish stocks are currently running out (and aquaculture is not helping in the slightest), while other believe we are consuming too much meat and that fish is a sustainable source of food. Whomever side you might be on, you surely cannot deny fish plays a very important role in summery dish. Personally, I love fish. I would eat it all year round, were it not for the price. And I do try as much as I can, mostly because it is good for you (and I’m not saying this just for the sake of saying it) and because, let’s face it, it tastes amazing.

This dish manages to combine vegetables and fish in a very peculiar and still tasty way. The peppers are slightly roasted with some olive oil, then stuffed with seamince (yes, that’s not a word, I know) and covered in crunchy breadcrumbs. The stuffing is both delicate and ‘meaty’ at the same time, which makes it a perfect main. It can also be eaten cold. The recipe comes from the July issue of La Cucina Italiana.

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Ingredients

  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 yellow peppers
  • 250g cleaned squid
  • 200g seabass fillet, deskinned and deboned – any other ‘white meat’ fish would also do
  • 300g crayfish
  • 150g rustic bread, sliced
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 50ml white wine
  • 3 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. Slice the peppers in half, remove the green top, the white membranes inside and the seeds. Lay them empty side up on a lined baking tray, drizzle some olive oil on top, season with salt and pepper. Roast at 200C for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the side.
  2. In the meantime, finely chop the garlic clove and the onion, then tumble in a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and fry over medium/high for 3 minutes, until golden. Add the seabass fillets, squid and crayfish and cook for 3 minutes, until slightly firmer.
  3. Add the white wine and let it bubble away, then turn the heat down to medium/low and cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. Cut the bread slices into small cubes, then tumble those in the pan too and cook for another 2 minutes. Season with pepper.
  5. Remove from the heat, transfer to the bowl of a food processor and whiz until smooth.
  6. Use the stuffing to fill the peppers and ensure you use all of it by pressing it down inside the pepper cavities. Scatter the breadcrumbs on top, then drizzle some olive oil and roast for 20 minutes (still at 200C). Remove from the oven, decorate with the finely sliced spring onions and serve.

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