One Pot Wonder

Having just moved into new digs in leafy Ikoyi, I have had to as the Nigerians would put it – ‘manage’ – with my cooking conditions. As workmen carry on working their magic on our new family home, we are temporarily using only a table top cooker. Being deprived of a grill and worse yet an oven would normally have me rushing for the smelling salts, gin or both, but this being Gastrotastic, my deprivation is my dear readers’ gain.

I have discovered that cooking everything, protein, veg and carbohydrate all in the one pot is often the way forward. For a start, it means no element will go fallow and cold while the others are being prepared. Secondly, it saves on washing up and here’s the exciting bit, can be surprisingly economical. Before you smarty pants at the back say that this is no different to a casserole – remember we have no oven so depth of flavor needs to happen pronto! And where else will rice, lentils, tomatoes and sardines all find themselves in the same pot happily, side by side?

Ikoyi Hot Pot

Difficulty rating: Easy Peasy
Ingredients:
1 tin of Sardines
2 Onions finely chopped
2 Scotch Bonnet Peppers finely chopped*
2 Tablespoons of Garlic Powder
½ a cup of Red Split Lentils
½ a cup of rice
1 tin of Plum Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons of any dried mixed herbs
1 Maggi Cube
Juice of 1 Lime
3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil or any other you prefer
Salt (to taste)

*Since becoming a Naija Wife I have accepted that heat in most dishes is a human rights matter, but if you are not a fan Scotch bonnets can be left out.

This dish, fancy neigbourhood in the title aside, is all about using ingredients that are very easy to find, even easier to store (as I said renovation has rendered me somewhat challenged), and very quick to prepare. Before you start this dish please note the measurements of ‘cups’; these are not American cup measurements, but the cup or rather mug that I had to hand. Choose one mug in your home and stick to it for the measurements of the rice lentils and later water to ensure consistency.

First heat a deep based frying pan and fry the onions and pepper if you are using it. Wait for the onions to slightly clarify before adding the garlic powder so that it doesn’t burn at the bottom of the pan. Next add the lentils, stirring rapidly so that they do not burn or stick to the pot for a couple of minutes. At this point add the tin of tomatoes, Maggi cube, my personal lifesaver on many an occasion, and herbs. When I said whatever dried herbs you have to hand, I meant precisely that, so whether you prefer Italian style or French style the choice is yours. Allow the tomatoes to simmer for five minutes before adding your rice and an additional two cups of water. Bring to boil and reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.

Remove the sardines from the tin carefully so they maintain their shape. Squeeze the juice of half of your lime on all the sardines and put to one aside. Check your pan at this point, some of the liquid should have reduced and it is at this point you should add the sardines. To make the finished dish look a bit special, put the fillets in a fan shape; this will also help with portioning the dish as you can either serve in one sardine or two sardine fillet portions. Put the remaining lime juice in the pan and cover once more.

You will know the dish is ready because the liquid will have been absorbed fully, unlike in a casserole. Check the rice in the dish is cooked before removing from the heat. If there is still too much bite in the rice add a quarter cup of water and re-cover the pot, the additional water should be absorbed and make the rice soft and perfect.

Plating up somewhat goes out of the window with this dish, think rustic, back to basics and chow down!

Heaven in One Pot

Heaven in One Pot

The Super Chilled Dinner Party

An invitation to a dinner party can often be met with trepidation.  Whilst it is always lovely to be invited, unlike a restaurant, there is no real way to check ahead for what to expect, unless your host has thrown so many that they merit their own page on Tripadvisor.

Lightening the load with my friendly kitchen assistant

Lightening the load with my friendly kitchen assistant

A dear friend recently threw a dinner party that featured some old-school Gastrotastic recipes. This is perhaps the number one element of ensuring your dinner party remains a chilled affair and delicious experience for all: tried and tested recipes that you know work. I have witnessed hosts work themselves up to the point of nervous collapse, trying to master a new recipe or follow a recipe book, whilst guests arrive, try to engage them in conversation and finally begin to hover as they can  telepathically feel the meltdown going on in the kitchen. If you are doing the cooking by yourself, then prep as much as you can earlier. And if you are catering for more than four, try and get another pair of hands involved. Trust me, it will make all the difference. The other consideration is the table itself. Dress it up! This is the time to bring out the charger plates, the good crystal and the candelabra and make the table and your guests feel special. The simplest dishes immediately look luxe with good cutlery and linen helping them along the way.  And your guests will feel all the more special for it:  A case of moderate effort for a massive return.

The pimped table setting

The pimped table setting

Because of my new Lagos location, there was an element of improvisation and a theme. The theme was Voyages of Discovery, with flavours and inspiration taken from around the world, but fish and seafood being the protein of the day. Improvisation was necessary in terms of ingredients, but this in itself created for exciting new flavour combinations. Coconut Red Lentils, that I have previously made as a vegetarian main course, were accompanied with baked Croaker a fish local to the area and with the pre-starter of sesame coated prawns, another throwback Gastrotastic recipe, green beans replaced sugar snap peas.  As with the best dinner parties; the aim was for food that looked great but that wasn’t too fussy or difficult to prepare, allowing everyone, chef in the kitchen included to fully participate in the merriment at the table.

Croaker and Lentils, every bit as delish as it looks

Croaker and Lentils, every bit as delish as it looks

Gastrotastic  Recipe: An Extra Course In No Time

On the day of the dinner party I was fortunate to get hold of some squid, about a kilo in total. I wanted to include the squid as a new course, still make it festive, and be quick to make.

Baked Peppers with Seared Squid and Courgette

Difficulty Rating: Super Simple

Ingredients

6 Bell Peppers

2 Courgettes

1 Kilo of Squid

2 Cloves of Garlic

2 Fresh Green Chilli Peppers

Olive Oil

Juice of a Lemon

Salt (to taste)

Black Pepper (to taste)

3 Tablespoons of Flat leaf Parsley

Method:

Cut the top of the Large Red Bell Peppers and remove the seeds inside. Coat the cavity and the outside of the bell pepper with Olive oil and a pinch of salt and put in a pre-heated oven at 200degrees Centigrade for approximately 30 minutes. If you are in a real hurry, and have the equipment, you can blow torch the outside of the bell peppers only for a similar result.

About half way through your bell pepper cooking process, assuming one is using an oven, heat a searing pan or a griddle to a high temperature . Sear your courgettes, which you would have sliced for 30 seconds on each side. The key is for them to still have bite and for their centres not to have completely collapsed. Put aside on a plate and dress with a teaspoon of oil and a sprinkle of black pepper.

Next sear the squid. If you have bought whole squid from a fishmonger you can ask for it to be cleaned and the beak, which contains the squid’s ink to be removed. The main body of the squid is then cut horizontally, creating rings and the remaining tentacles are best not cut as in the cooking process they will curl and can make for attractive shapes. When searing the squid, take care not to overcook and turn the flesh into a rubbery confection. As a rule of thumb no more than one minute on each side. If you are using a searing pan, you will get the striped charring marks, which look particularly ‘cheffy’. Put aside in a bowl.

In a separate bowl press your garlic and add pulsed green peppers which can be pounded in a mortar and pestle or in a blender.  A two table spoons of Olive oil and the juice of the lemon and pour over the Squid.

By this point, the peppers should almost be ready, and when they are put an individual pepper with its respective lid on a plate. Fill the cavity of the pepper with the squid and courgettes and put the lid on top.  Sprinkle fresh leaf parsley and serve. Your guests will think they are getting a roasted bell pepper but when they open the lid they will discover a lovely Mediterranean flavoured piscine surprise.

The finished Bonus Course!

The finished Bonus Course!

For pudding I did a riff on Eton Mess, renamed Adesoye Mess, in honour of the hostess’ alma mater, substituting strawberries for apple bananas and incorporating minced ginger and melted chocolate. Sadly there are no snaps of pudding as it was gone too quickly, even for a camera phone!  Suffice to say, many cups of speciality tea later, we called it a night, happily full and content, chilled and ready for the next chow down.

Loving the Legumes Part 2

In the second part of the Lentils Series Gastrotastic brings you a dish that could belong in an early noughties cookbook, so heavy is the fusion cuisine vibe. However, my justification is that I currently live in London, so different cultural influences and flavours are inevitably going to collide. The lentils featured today are a black variety, also known as Urad, except rather than teaming them up with more Chappatis (although of course you can), I am bringing baked cod and samphire to the party. If you plate this well, it can look terribly impressive for dinner party guests, although you can equally serve and go for a midweek feast. 

In the Gastrotastic kitchen we are listening to Ibibio Sound System’s Chop Chop. An appropriate title for a song to cook  to if there ever was one, but also from a group that are very much a fusion themselves – put Afrobeat and Electro in a blender and you would get something as sublime as this served up for your ears. We are officially fans of their music and the dish below.

 

 

Baked Cod with Urad Lentils and Samphire

Difficulty Rating: Easy-Peasy

Ingredients:

400grams of Cod Fillets (approximately 4 – 5 pieces)

250grams of Urad Lentils

500mls of Fish Stock

I tin of Tomatoes

1 Red Onion (chopped finely)

1 Clove of Garlic

2 Echalion Shallots (finely chopped)

2 Cloves of Garlic

1 Finger sized piece of Ginger

2 Red Chillis

90grams of Samphire

50grams of Butter

1 tablespoon of Olive Oil

1 tablespoon of Vegetable Oil

Salt and Black Pepper (to taste)

Method

Urad Lentils belong to the side of the legume family that needs a good long soak before cooking. One night before you intend to cook this dish put the lentils into a pan and cover with cold water and soak overnight.

Drain the water away and pour fish stock into the pan with the lentils – bring to the boil and keep at a steady simmer cooking for 1.5 – 2 hours. You may need to add water to the pan to stop the lentils sticking to the bottom. 

While the lentils are cooking chop the onions and fry them in vegetable oil for a few minutes or until translucent and add the garlic, ginger and chilli, taking care not to burn the additional ingredients. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes or until greatly reduced. Combine this sauce with the cooked lentils and put aside. You can always re-heat this dish, but it is essential that it is ready before the fish or samphire which needs to be served the moment they are cooked.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade (Gas Mark 6) and season the cod fillets, brushing lightly with olive oil and bake for 25 – 30 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet.

About 5 minutes before you take the cod out of the oven melt the butter in a heavy based pan and sauté the samphire for 3 – 5 minutes.

To assemble, place a puddle of Black Lentils on a plate, then the cod fillet and finally the samphire – flavours of the sea by way of the Indian Ocean and the English Channel – a delish mix

A Very Good Friday Supper

If like me, you are a card carrying Christo, you would know exactly where the notion of Fish on Friday came from, and no it is not to do with seafood going off over the weekend. It was a mark of respect that dates back to Good Friday, the day that Jesus died on the cross, and as he is also known as the ‘Lamb Of God’, meat was not an option so supper consisted of fish. If this little vignette has made you more curious on said topic you can read more on my other blog, http://www.coolchicandinchrist.blogspot.co.uk.

This Good Friday, I decided to continue on my theme started last Easter of eating foods that may have been on Jesus’ menu as they were on a near east tip. It doesn’t get more biblical than unleavened bread and fish, but because this is Gastrotastic there is an element of style and eclectic flavours so we have pimped the flat breads with Sumac, a middle eastern spice that works a dream with fish and brought in some European influences too with an accompaniment of beetroot and goat’s cheese and my current ingredient crush, samphire. If you are still hungry a cheeky side of couscous can be added to this dish and you are good to go. For the couscous method, take a look at previous posts on the site. In this instance we kept things simple with the couscous, only adding parsley, baby tomatoes, red onions and lemon, so that the fish would be the main event.

In case you were wondering what we were listening to in the Gastrotastic kitchen today it was Chris Tomlin’s Mighty is the Power of the Cross. No video today, as  the mood is contemplative, but they will be back very soon.

 

Pan fried Sprats, Sumac infused flat bread, Baby Beetroot, Goat’s Cheese and Samphire with Parsley, tomatoes and red onion couscous.

Difficulty Factor: Super Simple

Ingredients

4 Whole Sprats

80 grams of Baby Beetroot

40 grams of Samphire

40 grams of Spanish Goat’s Cheese

10 grams of Butter

1 small red onion chopped finely

1 clove of garlic peeled and chopped

2 Large Round Flat Breads

2 Tablespoon of Olive oil

1 Teaspoon of Sumac Powder

Juice of a Lemon

Chilli Pepper chopped finely

Salt (to taste)

 

Method:

 

This meal is all about prepping the ingredients first as the cooking time is minutes, giving you more time to chill rather than slave away in the kitchen. Using Sprat was a bit of an adventure. I have often been a bit sniffy about it – it doesn’t have the most elegant of name for a start, but I decided to get over my suspicions, which if I was honest were grounded on a wafer thin premise and give the fish a chance. Eat a sprat and what you have is a fish that is as flavoursome as mackerel but at a fraction of the price – results all round. But back to the prior prepping; chop all of the fresh ingredients and put in bowls for quick assembly. In the case of the Sprats, clean (if the fishmonger hasn’t already done it for you) and leave in the fridge until needed.

 

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Next, cook your couscous and add the parsley, chilli, lemon and oil to it. It doesn’t matter if the couscous isn’t served piping hot for this dish, but what is important is that it is cooked earlier than the fish, which most definitely needs to be hot. Wait to add the tomatoes at plating up so that the couscous doesn’t get too wet in consistency.

 

For the garlic oil that will coat the fish, chop up the garlic and on a low heat fry in a little oil and when the garlic is soft take out of the pan and reserve for later. It is important you start with a cold pan as this will ensure that the garlic does not burn and become bitter to the taste.

 

Cut the baby beetroots and put on a plate for assembly. Cooking your own beetroot is better for flavour, but this Good Friday dish is all about ease and speed so do a spot of cheating and purchase some of the posh baby ones that can be found in a decent supermarket. Slice into  the goat’s cheese log and cut roughly into chunks. Put aside for later on separate plates so that the beetroot doesn’t stain the goat’s cheese.

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And now onto the Sprats: heat a little olive oil in a griddle pan and  put the Sprats in the pan cook for two – three minutes depending on size and turn over. When turning over pour over some of the garlic infused oil that was put aside. By putting the oil in this at this point the garlic becomes a layer rather than the dominant flavour in the dish.

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On another hot plate at the same time, heat a frying pan with a drop of olive oil and put the bread in it to heat for 15 seconds. Sprinkle the Sumak on the bread and flip over for a further 10 seconds. The bread is now ready.

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For the samphire melt the butter and fry a couple of minutes or until it is tender. Samphire is salty so there is no need to season. Whatever you do, do not overcook. Regular readers will know my feelings about overcooked vegetables and that they run deep.

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For the plating I went for an effect that I would describe as rustic fisherman on the shores of the River Jordan – with a taste for the finer things in life of course.

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The Feeding Of the 5000*

(*Okay, not quite the 5000, but a rather large crowd nevertheless)

Summer is still going, the weather is pretty much still holding which means that al fresco entertaining is very much the order of the day. As some of my readers already know, I am a big believer in miracles and a lover of entertaining of the mass kind. The two passions got a chance to converge when I threw  a cocktail party at my church’s annual holiday up in the wilds of Lincolnshire a couple of weeks back. You can check out the more spirit led details and observations at http://www.coolchicandinchrist.blogspot.co.uk

I had more than a few challenges: I was cooking in a caravan so space was an issue both in terms of storage and prep. Meanwhile, because this was a Gastrotastic affair rather than a Glasto grungy affair, I still wanted to keep things pretty and stylish rather than gritty and grim. The food and booze travelled up from London rather unceremoniously in an old suitcase of mine that finally gave up the ghost, and the ‘tablecloth’, made from multi-coloured tissue paper, took a battering from wind and a brief but torrential downpour.

This being a church holiday, the menu was all loaves of fishes with some Wedding at Cana worthy drinks in the mix. Follow the recipes in a normal kitchen, and this should all be a cakewalk. As with all mass entertaining, my three rules of thumb for the canapés were that they must deliver on flavour but be easy to make,  be pleasing to the eye but not give you a heart attack in their assembly and finally have the guests hovering around for the serving trays to be refilled so that they can demolish some more.

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All of the recipes listed below will make approx. 50 servings or 70 if you use smaller bases. In the spirit of keeping things non-partisan I shopped in Sainsbury’s where previously I have shopped in Waitrose. So without further ado, onto the party food!

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Harissa Sardines on Toast

Difficulty factor: Easy-Peasy

Ingredients:

8 120grams tins of Sardines in Olive Oil

3 Loaves of Wholemeal Bread

3 400grams Cartons of Chopped Tomatoes

3 Red Onions finely chopped

4 Cloves of garlic finely chopped

1  90grams Jar of Harissa Paste

3 Tablespoons of Mixed Herbs

3 90grams Packets of Fresh Parsley

Juice of 2 Lemons

3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 Large (approx. 250mls) glass of Red Wine (optional)

Salt (to taste)

Method:

This dish is all about patience – for a quantity of this size I would recommend starting cooking as early as possible so the stew which is essentially what you are making, has a chance to come together and also that the tomatoes will reduce to an almost paste like consistency, for assembly later.

First chop your onions and garlic and pre=heat a saucepan with some olive oil. Be generous with your Olive oil pouring as you do not want either the onions to stick to the bottom of the pan or the garlic to burn and give the sauce a bitter taste.

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When the onions start to clarify add the tomatoes and the mixed herbs. If you are adding the optional glass of wine – this is the point to do it as it is important the alcohol burns off before you introduce any of the other ingredients. Allow to simmer on a medium heat for 30 minutes, by which point the sauce will have begun to reduce.

Next add the sardines. I add them in whole, they will break down in the cooking process, but it is also attractive to have the odd, not punctured bit of silvery black skin glinting through the sauce. When you have added all your sardines, empty out the jar of Harissa Paste and cover the saucepan and cook for 1.5 – 2 hours on a medium/low heat. Intermittently check that the sauce is not sticking to the bottom of the pan, and, if necessary add some water, but remember the objective is a sauce that reduces to an almost but not quite paste quality.

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Whilst the Sardines are doing their thing, toast 4 loaves of bread and allow them to dry on a rack so that they do not get soggy. Cut into squares when they are bone dry to assure easy assembly.

Another fiddly but worthwhile job is removing all the leaves from the fresh parsley. Don’t discard the storks – instead chop them up finely and add to the sauce – parsley always freshens up a sauce and in this instance it will bring a hint of luxe to the otherwise packet and tinned ingredients.

At the two hour mark remove from the heat and allow to cool for twenty minutes. Do not assemble whilst the sauce is still hot otherwise it will leak through the toasts and make a mess. When tepid, take a spoonful of sauce place atop of the toasted squares and finish off with a parsley leaf as a garnish.

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Smoked Salmon and Dill on Blinis

Difficulty Factor: Over 5’s and above can join in

Ingredients:

8 Packets of Smoked Salmon Trimmings (I used Sainsbury’s Basics to keep things keen)

2 90grams Packets of Fresh Dill

Juice of Four Lemons

Method:                    

If you are making canapés with some little people or friends who are not confident in the kitchen, this is a great one to get them involved with, as it needs minimal skill and you won’t be looking over their shoulders to spot mistakes.

Place the Salmon Trimmings in a large bowl,  and stir through the lemon juice into all of the salmon.

Next remove the finer Dill leaves from the thick storks and add to the bowl with the salmon. This will take you a little while but it is a great job to get kids involved with, or to gossip with a friend. I did this particular job whilst the Sardines were cooking.

Blinis need to be toasted, otherwise they have a powdery consistency. If you are using cocktail sized ones the best way to do this is in the grill function of the oven so that they do not get stuck in a toaster. Toast for a minute and put on a rack to cool, again avoiding the same soggy vibe as we are with the toast.

To assemble put a teaspoon of the mixture on a blini and they are ready to serve.

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Mini Tuna Nicoise-Lite on Toast

Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy

Ingredients

6 130grams Cans of Tuna in Spring Water

3 Loaves of Wholemeal Bread

500grams of Cherry Tomatoes

2 Red Onions

300 grams of Capers (a spoonful more if you like more zing)

450 grams of Black Olives

Juice of Four Lemons

6 Table Spoons of Olive Oil

3 Table Spoons of Balsamic Vinegar

2 Table Spoons of Dijon Mustard

2 Red Chillies (Optional)

Black Pepper (Optional)

Method:

Before the pedants come out in force – I know that this is not a Nicoise per se. Where is the potato and the egg you may ask? Omitted for ease and cost. If you are blowing the proverbial budget, you can substitute the toast for a New Potato, hollowed out in the middle with a scoop of the filling. For an egg variant and staying in the luxe zone, a quail’s egg, sliced in half can slide between the tomato and the olive that form the garnish on these canapés.

First finely chop your Red Onions and if you are choosing to use them, the red chillis. Also halve the olives you are using and put in a separate bowl and halve the tomatoes and put them in a separate bowl. Dull and repetitive as this job is it will make assembly all the more easier.

Next decant the tinned Tuna into a large bowl and break up with a fork.  Add the chopped red onion, chillies, capers and half of the olives from your bowl  into the mix. Next mix in the olive oil, balsamic, lemon juice and the Dijon mustard and pour over the tuna. If you like a sharper tang to your dressing you can increase the mustard and balsamic accordingly, but I have gone for a more one-size-pleases-all -palate in making this dish. It is important to mix the dressing through, allowing for all the tuna to be coated and all the ingredients to be evenly distributed.

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As with before, toast bread, leave to cool on a rack and cut into squares .

With assembly, put the tuna in a mound on the toasts, now balance as best as you can half an olive and a tomato. Some of them will fall down, if they do, try, try and try again!

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Caviar, Cream Cheese and Chives on Blinis

Difficulty Factor: Super-Simple if your hand is steady

Ingredients

1 Jar of Lumpfish Caviar

1 90grams Packets of Fresh Chives

1 Packet of Cream Cheese

Cocktail Blinis (approx. 50)

Method:

Sometimes ingredients are just so full-on that they need minimal help. Lumpfish Caviar is admittedly the poor cousin to  the stuff produced by her Sturgeon friends (I am a Sevruga rather than Beluga girl when in full blow the budget mode), but these eggs are also yummy and certainly look every bit as impressive when served to guests who aren’t regular Caviar chow-ers.

This canapé is all about assembly. Simply toast the blinis as previously, allow to cool then spread some creamed cheese on them and then carefully spoon some lumpfish caviar. Cut the chives into small enough batons to balance atop the caviar and cream cheese at a jaunty. And serve. 

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And to Drink

As I already said, space and that rather boring word, cost, was an issue. I opted for the one drink rule so everyone was offered Raspberry Bellinis. A case of pouring a glass of Prosecco, adding a dash of Chambord and a fresh raspberry. Yes, it really is that simple. Although as you can see below, keeping cases of Prosecco cold in a caravan took a rather back to basics turn using ice and the kitchen sink!

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For my teetotal guests I served Orange juice with fresh raspberries pulped in the bottom of the champagne flute and a fresh one adding colour at the top of the glass.

And onto those glasses, purchased from, drumroll a Pound Shop, they were pimped with diamante stickers also brought from the very same Pound Shop…This is a fun thing to do for an al fresco party where bringing out the crystal will only break you out in a cold sweat but you still want to keep things festive and let the guests feel special.

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A final shot from the morning after the night before…

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Mum In A Million

It doesn’t take much to convince me to create a feast, but with Mother’s Day less than 24 hours away, it felt right and proper to share two recipes that will have the woman who made you feeling all not only well fed but well loved.

Some of you might notice a pudding course, but today may I suggest that one cheats and buys this in? And if you live in London then may I promote a carrot cake courtesy of the good people of Wholefoods…we don’t believe in stressy chefs at Gastrotastic and we’re sure the soon to be spoiled Mummys across the globe would agree to taking it a little easier.

A Bijoux Seafood Platter is the perfect Amuse Bouche (*BTB*)

At Gastrotastic we believe in feasting the eyes: we begin the Mother’s Day feast with a Dressed Cornish Crab some toasted blinis, smoked mackerel pate and sour cream.

We cheated a little and relied on the offerings of The Cornish Crab Company – they make all sorts of amazing takes on Dressed Crab and best of all they are stocked in Waitrose. No, I do not have shares in the The Cornish Crab Company although I sorely wish I did. If you’re in blow the budget mode serve this pre-starter up with smoked mackerel, sour cream, a glass of champagne and smiles all round.

Dressed Crab Seafood Platter

Starter: Salmon, Grapefruit and Avocado with Sesame Dressing

Difficulty Rating: Easy-Peasy

Ingredients

125 grams of Smoked Salmon (try and buy as expensive a

1 Red Grapefruit

1 Chinese Leaf Lettuce

1 Ripe Avocado

For the Dressing:

2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon of Sauvignon Blanc Wine Vinegar

1 Tablespoon of Grapefruit juice

1 Teaspoon of Tamari Soya Sauce

10 grams of Sesame Seeds

Method:

This dish is all about balance and is based on the amazing salad I was served as a starter at Grainger and Co but that I have slightly altered.

First pull four leaves from the Chinese Lettuce, wash under cold water and allow it to dry naturally. Whilst the leaves are drying heat a heavy based pan and put a dash of olive oil in the pan and toast the Sesame seeds until they begin to brown and put aside. Some of you keen readers will notice this is the third time sesame seeds have made it into Gastrotastic – let’s just say I am on a health kick and a big bag is still in need of getting through!

Next, tear the salmon into generous strips and place in the leaf.  After you have done this cut the grapefruit into quarts and then halve again and place the flesh of the fruit in the leaf. Finally do the same with the avocado. I say do the avocado last because if left in the air it will discolour and take on a grey colour; far from festive or cute. For the dressing combine the ingredients in a separate bowl and then spoon on to the mixture and serve.

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Main Course Seared Coriander, Lime and Ginger Tuna Steak with Peanut Coated Noodles and Stir Fry Vegetables

Difficulty Rating: Slightly Tricky  – prep ahead to avoid elements that are cold

Ingredients

2 Large Tuna Steaks *BTB

125 grams of Egg Noodles

100 grams of Tender Stem Broccoli

100 grams of Mange Tout

50 grams of Baby Corn

25 grams of Peanuts

10 grams of Coriander

10 grams of Ginger peeled and sliced

2 Limes

1 Clove of Garlic

2 tablespoons of Tamari Soya Sauce

1 tablespoon of Clear Honey

1 tablespoon of Crushed Chilli

Olive Oil (for the tuna)

Vegetable Oil (for the noodles)

Tuna is expensive, there is no way around it. But you only have one mother so if you’re not willing to spend on her, then who will you? I went to a fishmonger and asked for steaks that were cut an inch and a half thick. The trick with this dish is to let the tuna marinade for as long as possible.

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First put the Tuna Steaks in a bowl and add the juice of 2 limes, the ginger which can be either be peeled and sliced or if you’re feeling lazy out of a jar and the coriander which should be roughly chopped. Put in the fridge and allow to marinade for at least an hour.

Onto the stir-fry, the surprise element in this dish is the crushed peanuts which unlike with Pad Thai are cooked with the noodles. I crushed the peanuts ahead of time in a mortar and pestle.

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To make things generally easier, buy your vegetables already prepped and have all the ingredients measured out so that when you come to cooking it is speedy and nothing is left to get cold. Heat a wok or as large a pan as you have and add the Vegetable Oil, when it is hot add the vegetables, garlic and soya sauce. Stir for a minute and then add the honey. Next add the noodles and the peanuts and the remaining ingredients. Stir for another minute and cover.

Now for the tuna: Heat your pan as high as you can bear, when the pan is smoking hot, place the tuna and cook for 20 seconds max. I am a believer in rare tuna – cook it through and you might as well have not bothered. Now serve up and watch your mother tear up as she sees what a superlative meal you have made! Happy Mother’s Day one and all!

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A Loved Up Supper For Two

It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow. And if like me, you are a master of all things last minute, it might have escaped your mind until now. The bad news is that anywhere decent to eat will have long been booked, and besides, how romantic is a dinner for two with a room full of other diners with exactly the same agenda? Far better and indeed more romantic to keep the action, as it were, closer to home with this fool-proof menu that delivers on taste and some tactile moments:  Finger food that’s perfect for feeding your partner? Check. A main that’s as tasty as its pretty? Check. Melted Chocolate that will hopefully melt their heart for pudding? Check. And all simple enough to prepare and cook with someone else around who might be distracting you in the most delicious of ways!

Ingredients:

For the Starter:  A Pleasure Filled Platter for Two (Difficulty Rating: Non-Existent)

Charcuterie Board (four slices of each cut of choice Gastrotastic picked Finochiona, Milano, Ventricina Salamis and Prociutto Di Parma)

Cheeses (pick one from Feta, Mozzarella, Pecorino Piccante and Manchego)

Cherry Tomatoes (cut in half, as many as you need)

For the Main:  Seared Salmon with Sesame Coated Broccoli (Difficulty Rating: Easy Peasy)

Two Salmon Fillets

8 Broccoli Florets

20 Grams of Sesame Seeds

Juice of 2 Lemons

3 Tablespoons of Honey

2 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce

1 Teaspoon of Garlic

1 Teaspoon of Ginger

A quarter of a dried chilli cut in shreds

Olive Oil

For the Pudding:  Poached Pears With Chocolate (Difficulty Rating: Easy Peasy)

2 Conference Pears

50 grams of High Grade (minimum 70%) Dark Chocolate

2 Tablespoons of Golden Sugar

A dash of brandy (optional)

A nob of Butter

Starter Method:

The Joys of Charcuterie:

I am an unreconstructed carnivore. Beasts, be they flying, walking or swimming in the sea are not discriminated against in my palate. I also think there is something rather carnal about a plate of cold cuts shared with someone you fancy. A nibble here, a little slither rolled up with a cherry tomato in its centre and gobbled whole there, and with absolutely nil preparation required. What better way to kick off this Valentine Menu than with a platter of treats.

Some rules on charcuterie – it really is a case of you get what you pay for, so try to avoid pre=packed offerings in the supermarkets and head to the deli counter. In my quest to keep things keen in these straightened times I have found that the charcuterie counter at Carluccio’s offers surprisingly good value, as does Waitrose. You can go wild in the aisles with a tenner. Yes, really.  Secondly, take the cold cuts out for at least fifteen minutes before serving. Too cold and there will be a loss of flavour, however, too warm and your cold cuts will have a sweaty sheen – never a good look.

When picking your cold cuts go for variety, just the one salami can feel a little less festive, plus your beloved might not be a fan, so make sure you have a play on flavour and texture on the plate. On this platter we have some Finochiona – a Tuscan salami that is spiked with fennel seeds, Milano – the classic that you’ve probably all had before that is studded with peppercorns, the Grand-Daddy of them all, Prociutto Di Parma, in this instance 24 months old for extra flavour and my current favourite salami (it changes all the time), Ventricina, which has a spicy kick from mixed chilli peppers. A couple of cherry tomatoes for the aforementioned wrap and go mouthfuls and some Feta (you can substitute with whatever cheese you like – I hop between Mozzarella, Pecorino Piccante and  Manchego) and this is ready to be shared.

a morsel, for me?

a morsel, for me?

Main Method:

A Match Made In Heaven

There are some pairs that always work brilliantly together, one such taste pair is salmon and broccoli. Whether in a quiche, a pasta dish or a salad this is a couple that just works. Today’s recipe has an Asian influence (it was Chinese New Year last week after all) and much of the prep can be done before hand, allowing for beautification, candle lighting, iPod playlist arranging and the rest.

First take the salmon fillets and place in a bowl and coat in the marinade of soy sauce, ginger, honey and garlic and lemon. Make sure your salmon fillets are equally coated with the mixture and place in the fridge for a minimum of an hour, if you are super organised and are reading this today and not tomorrow, overnight.

The magic happens when we marinade

The magic happens when we marinade

Next start on prepping the broccoli: Remove just the florets and put in a steamer or colander over a saucepan of boiling water. Bring the saucepan to the boil and steam for no longer than 6 minutes or until the stalks have begun to colour, put aside.

keep an eye for colour change

keep an eye for colour change

Onto the sesame seeds; toast in a little oil until they begin to colour and remove from heat. Combine with the broccoli and the juices from salmon marinade and they are ready to plate up.

Tossing and Turning in the Pan

Tossing and Turning in the Pan

To sear the salmon heat a frying ban with a little olive oil, to as high a temperature as you can handle. Now place the salmon, skin down and sear at the same high heat. As the marinade will have semi cooked the salmon 2 minutes should suffice or when the fillet has taken on an entirely opaque colour whichever is first.

the pan's as hot as you dare

the pan’s as hot as you dare

For the scorched ‘cheffy’look flip over the salmon  flesh side for 10 seconds and then  sprinkle the chilli on top, put on the same plate as the broccoli, arranged however you fancy and serve to your beloved. Are they bowled over? Thought so…

One word. Yummy!

One word. Yummy!

Pudding Method:

Art for Afters

I love pears, I love chocolate even more and I also love the artist Jackson Pollock. This pudding gets all three onto a plate, well not quite Pollock, but it features a plating method that is more than a nod to his oeuvre. If everything else on the menu has yet to get the desired effect, this most certainly will!

First slice two Conference pears and remove the cores and pips. Heat a nob of unsalted butter and place the pears in the pan for 2 minutes, turning over once half way through. Next add the golden sugar and gently fry for a further 2 minutes. If you are adding brandy, now is the time to do so as the alcohol needs to burn off. You will know this is done because the sharp smell of alcohol will not be present.

Pears kissed in sugar and brandy

Pears kissed in sugar and brandy

Using a similar method to the broccoli of a saucepan full of boiling water put a ceramic bowl and the chocolate above it. Allow the saucepan to simmer and the chocolate should begin to melt fairly quickly. When the chocolate is melted it is ready to use. Do not allow the chocolate to bubble.

melting chocolate - a beautiful thing

melting chocolate – a beautiful thing

Now for the art bit: place your pear slices on a plate – they should have a slight caramel-esque coating which adds to the yum factor. Next with a small spoon take some of the chocolate and paint the plate and the pears with as little or as much chocolate as you wish. And serve

Almost too pretty to eat!

Almost too pretty to eat!

What to do with the remaining chocolate I hear you ask? Well, it’s Valentine’s Day, so use your imagination!