Whilst writing this week I feel full and contented having just eaten a rather delicious evening meal. There has definitely been a little Thai influence in my kitchen this week although somewhat ironically, I haven’t used any of the items that I purchased specially from the Thai supermarket last week. There wasn’t a huge amount of midweek cooking though, although this is so often the case, but I have had a very pleasant weekend in my kitchen. In fact, I spent the weekend doing two of my favourite things: shopping and cooking. I was about to say that I didn’t buy anything for myself because it was Christmas present shopping, (starting to feel quite smug actually because I’ve only got one present left to buy), but then I remembered that this afternoon I bought myself some new ski trousers. I also got to spend the entire weekend, this never happens, with my boyfriend so pretty happy all round.
I kicked off Saturday morning with bacon and cheese bagels (no Thai influence here), to fortify us ahead of Christmas shopping on the Kings Road. Simple yet effective. Also quick. I toasted the bottom half of the bagels whilst frying off quite a quantity of bacon and quickly grated some cheese. Then it was simply a case of piling bacon onto the bagel bottom, adding cheese and popping under the grill for a couple of minutes whilst toasting the bagel tops. I was glad that we ate these because although it was considerably less cold than during the week, it was still anything but balmy whilst out shopping so a good breakfast was an absolute must.
I also made a butternut squash soup this weekend but because I often find that butternut soups can be disappointingly bland, I added rather a lot of other ingredients. Unusually for me, even when making vegetable soups, this was a vegetarian dish because I used vegetable stock instead of chicken. I started by peeling and roasting a relatively large butternut, approximately 1.3kg of butternut, along with a red pepper and a red onion. Whilst these were roasting I lightly fried some grated ginger and a stalk of lemongrass with some red Thai curry paste. I love the smell of lemongrass and it reminded me of the time when I tried to make lemongrass truffles. I say tried, they were delicious chocolate truffles but the lemongrass flavouring was extremely subtle/non-existent. It was then merely a case of adding the roasted vegetables, a tin of coconut milk and ½ a litre of vegetable stock, bringing it all to the boil and then removing the lemongrass before blending together. I was relatively happy with the soup and it’s definitely the weather for it! I would have been happier if there had been a lovely crusty loaf of bread to accompany it but it completely slipped my mind to buy any. That said, I would have bought it on Friday night and by Sunday lunchtime it would have been considerably less crusty and much chewier.
The Thai influence, although perhaps it would be more accurate to say the South East Asian influence as none my dishes were actually Thai in the end, continued into this evening’s meal. It is something that I have been planning for some time. I have, obviously, wanted to do it since I went to the Thai supermarket and bought all of my amazing ingredients that I then didn’t use this evening, and secondly because I really wanted to make some of the recipes in Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey, a rather marvellous book that a rather marvellous friend gave to me. Trying to choose what to cook was something of a challenge. Unusually for me, I spent quite some time reading the book on Thursday night. Normally when I’m looking in my cookbooks I am either searching for a specific recipe or I’m flicking through looking for inspirations but not really reading anything unless something catches my eye.
To an extent I was limited in my choices by either a lack of key ingredients (most notably Vietnamese rice papers) or lack of equipment; I had been particularly interested in some crispy spring rolls.
I made three dishes and what I was most struck by was the amount of preparation involved in the dishes. The actually cooking was incredibly easy, not to mention quick, but the prep involved was quite surprising. So much chopping. From Rick Stein’s book I made the rather un-inspiringly named Vietnamese dish, baguette sandwich of char-grilled beef marinated in soy, lemongrass and chilli and from Malaysia, stir-fried duck with garlic, ginger, mushrooms and five-spice, wrapped in lettuce leaves, otherwise known as Sang choi bau. In addition I stir-fried some noodles with some spring onions and a red pepper and used the left over marinade from the beef as a sauce. Personally, I found that the noodles were unnecessary but the boyfriend made light work of them. I think the most challenging part of the whole meal was trying to take the iceberg lettuce apart without tearing the leaves – virtually impossible; there must be a technique that I am unaware of because it was almost beyond me! I did also forget to add the mushrooms to my duck dish, despite having chopped them and placed them in a bowl next to the hob, but it was still delicious and if I hadn’t mentioned it then no one would have known that there should have been mushrooms. The beef was delicious. I left it to marinate for several hours before cooking it under the grill. It is really intended for the barbecue but it’s not exactly the weather for it at the moment. I really enjoyed eating the beef and despite my scepticism, the accompanying cucumber and mango, yes you did read that correctly, mango, complimented the flavours of the beef beautifully. It was quite a feast and I think that the preparation was definitely worth the end result and am quite convinced that it is not possible to cook South East Asian food without having prepared all of the ingredients in advance because it takes so little time to cook once you do get started.