Midweek Magic in Minutes

We’ve all been there; peered in the fridge and realized that the weekly shop wasn’t done quite as comprehensively as it could have been but a decent meal still needs to be prepared. The options go a little something like this: eat out somewhere that may or may not be that great or make do with whatever random items you have to cook. Today’s post is all about the latter; working magic and creating something delish. The key is to have these four core food hack ingredients: garlic, onions, a green leafy vegetable of any description and finally pick a protein, any protein to act as the star of the show.

Pork Chop with Sautéed Vegetables

Difficulty rating: Easy Peasy

Ingredients:

2 Pork Chops

1 Onion finely chopped

2 Cloves of Garlic finely chopped

Approximately 100grams of Green Leafy Vegetable sliced if necessary

¼ of a Red Bell Pepper finely chopped*

3 cooked potatoes cut in half*

Approximately 50mls of Sweet White wine*

Salt (to taste)

*entirely random and completely optional, a case of they were also in the fridge so I decided to incorporate them too, just call me greedy!

Midweek cooking is all about short cuts, there are still full two work days ahead so it is here that one wants to get their food hack hat on. I am a great believer that anything and I mean truly anything tastes better and feels special with my essential food trio: Garlic, Onions and any Green Leafy Vegetable with the protein of your choice. Apart from providing you with your essential nutrients, they all go so well together and are super quick to make. I had two pork chops knocking at the back of the freezer, but this could work just as well with chicken breasts, fish fillets or Tofu.

The protein is going to take the longest to cook so put this on first. As I was using pork chops I put them in a large frying pan, fat side down and let the fat render down. You might have to stand over the chops so that they do not fall over and cook on their flesh side as this will dry out the meat. As the fat is rendered you will end up with a chop that has a crisp on the outside, sinfully juicy on the inside rind of fat. You have options with the fat itself: either discard (boring!) or put aside to make something delicious later. Once the fat side is cooked through, reduce the heat on the frying pan and lie the chops flesh side down and cook until the juices run clear. You will know the pork is cooked as juices will run clear once pierced with a fork. This shouldn’t take too long as the chop would have been cooking whilst the fat was being rendered, but it is important to make sure with pork or indeed chicken that it is fully cooked and there is no pink flesh in the middle. Wrap in foil and put aside so they do not get cold. You can deglaze the pan with the sweet white wine on a low heat stirring vigorously so that you don’t lose any of the meat’s juices but the alcohol burns off. Put this liquor to one side for use later.

For the sautéed vegetable medley, it is important that you have done your chopping before you start cooking as you don’t want your protein to get cold. In the same pan that you have been cooking the pork or whatever protein you are using (hey, this is all about minimal washing up too!), put a tablespoon of the oil of your choice and fry your onions until they become translucent, then add your garlic, so that it doesn’t burn. Next add whatever leafy vegetable you are using, in my fridge was a Nigerian vegetable that the chap in the market called ‘Green Leaf’ but which looks and tastes like a variety of Chard. I also put the remainder of a red bell pepper in the mix and sautéed for less than two minutes as I have a profound dislike for over cooked vegetables. Remove from heat and put to one side, stirring in the deglazed liquor if you made one into the vegetables.

Next re-heat your pork fat and fry the potatoes, the potatoes will colour, which always makes thing look professional kitchen worthy and also the pork flavor will give the illusion of them having been roasted – results all round!

To plate up put a puddle of the vegetables at the centre of the plate, balance your pork chop so the rendered fat side is showing in all its glazed glory, begging the diner to eat it and casually scatter your cheat potatoes in a semi-circle. Wednesday just got tasty.

Wednesday Night Feast

Wednesday Night Feast

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.

Simple Things Made Pretty: Plating Master Class Part 2

I have always described myself as an aesthete. I notice, love and pursue the pretty factor, be it in my surroundings, in clothing, in people and in food. However, one of my big gripes with the gastronomy scene is the assumption that you need to have a whole bunch of kit and plenty of time on your hands to make meals that taste and look great.

The last plating master class post proved such a hit that it felt right and proper to do another: But this time, I’ve left out the fancy ingredients of quail’s egg and scallops and gone back to basics ingredients wise with eggs (hen this time), smoked salmon, bread, cream cheese and because times are lean lumpfish caviar. Blow the Budget would be to use Ossetra caviar all the way…Sigh….

Scrambled Eggs and Smoked Salmon with Caviar

Difficulty Rating: Easy-enough, just watch out for timings

Ingredients

4 Large Eggs

80 grams of Smoked Salmon

1 Tablespoon of Double Cream

3 Tablespoons of Milk

A nob of Butter

1 teaspoon of lumpfish Caviar or Ossetra if the living is easy

Salt (to taste)

 

Method

Anyone can make amazing scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, what often gets in the way of success rate is a slap dash approach to timings, heat of the pan and maltreatment of the salmon.

Before you do anything, tear the salmon into nail cuticle sized bits and put in a separate bowl and mix in a tablespoon of double cream. The tablespoon of cream should be enough to coat the salmon pieces and also to prohibit drying. I leave the bowl out of the fridge to avoid curdling when the mixture is added to the egg.

In a separate bowl beat your four eggs adding the milk and any salt. I don’t add salt myself  as the saltiness in the salmon and the caviar are more than adequate, plus isn’t it nice to give one’s arteries a break? But if you must, a teeny pinch will suffice.

Next heat a pan on a medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the nob of butter. Once it has melted it is time to add your egg mixture. I am a great believer of whisking quickly and where necessary taking off the heat and continuing whisking to avoid side clumping or burning at the bottom of the pan.

When the eggs are almost cooked remove from heat and add the smoked salmon. It is important to do this off the heat as the cream coated smoked salmon would become rubbery in texture if cooked through.  And now to making what seems entirely ordinary, spectacular-spectacular!

Plating Option 1: Surprise in a Pot

3 Guesses...

3 Guesses…

As I’ve said before, fancy items aren’t needed for a great looking plate. Here we use ramekins and the shells themselves! When you are making your scrambled eggs, crack the eggs using one hit to the side of the bowl thus minimising the shells falling to pieces.  Rinse out with water and leave to the side to dry whilst you make the scrambled eggs.

Once your eggs are cooked, spoon a portion into the egg shell and with a tea spoon put a dollop of caviar. Your egg shells might want to move around and tip over in the ramekin so for minimum mess-ups balance them at an angle so that they support one another. Now cover once more so that your guests will be surprised!

Eggs in a Shell!

Eggs in a Shell!

Plating Option 2: On Toast Redux

One of my least favourite things in the world is soggy toast. This is a very different creature to Normandy Butter seeped toast, which is a very beautiful thing, and not soggy at all, but seeped in goodness. Soggy toast can ruin an array of dishes as the condensation from the heated bread fails to get an escape route and instead finds a home on the bread’s surface.

So, to avoid this watery wheaty reality spoiling your feast, I suggest grilling or toasting bread and then leaving it on a rack to ‘dry out’.

Once toast is dry, cut it into squares. For the assembly place a forkful of scrambled egg on each square and you’re ready to serve.  I have photographed the non-caviar topped version but the same rules apply as they did when the eggs were served in their shell. The beauty in this dish is that is entirely familiar but because time has been taken in plating the elements it looks rather special.

Almost too pretty to eat

Almost too pretty to eat

Canapé Cuties: Making the Best of the Rest

A great way to make January nights seem a little less austere is to host a canapé party – with the leftovers. Simply repeat the toast exercise once more and this time spread a liberal amount of cream cheese (I like Sainsbury’s Organic one best), now add a dollop of caviar and you are ready with option one. For the salmon versions, simply roll a strip of smoked salmon and position at a slant. The better the quality the salmon the less ‘help’ it will need with lemon, black pepper and the rest, but you can add if you fancy. Now it’s just a question of figuring out who is worthy of an invite!

A Feast for the Eyes

A Feast for the Eyes

Into the Deep – Carb Light Feasting and a Plating Masterclass

Two weeks to go and apart from the Herculean task that is cooking Christmas Dinner the festive season means relatives, guests and assorted hangers-on rocking up and expecting to be fed, ideally well. Whilst we all accept a kilo or two may be added to one’s weight, no-one wants to end up looking like the proverbial bloater come twelfth night, so we at Gastrotastic have come up with three recipes that are big on flavour, low on carb and best of all look pretty on a plate:

Scallops wrapped in Pancetta with Quails Egg, Asparagus and Hollandaise (please note the Blow The Budget, BTB hereafter item which is Quails Eggs)

Difficulty Factor: Easy Peasy

Ingredients

Four Scallops with their coral (that’s the deep orange claw shaped flesh)

Four rashers of Pancetta

12 spears of Baby Asparagus

Four Quail’s Eggs

Hollandaise Sauce* (today we cheated and bought Waitrose’s fresh version  – as egg yolks, tarragon vinegar and lemon juice would make this recipe BTB all the way – but if you have a blender you can make from scratch)

Black Pepper (optional)

 

Method:

This dish relies on you getting your timings spot on as both the prep and equipment used are pretty back to basics simple. First things first prepare your scallops by separating the coral from the main scallop and wrapping each in a strip of pancetta. The pancetta should go round the scallop once and when you do cook them cook them on the ‘join side’ first, thus allowing for the fat on the pancetta to act as a natural adhesive.

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Heat a heavy based frying pan with just a drop of olive oil and cook the scallops for approximately one and a half minutes. Ever putting JC at the centre of much of what I do I normally time it to my saying the Lord’s Prayer thrice before flipping over, or if you aren’t religious, take the pancetta as your cue – deep pink in colour with slight crisping of the fat is the sign for the scallops to leave the  frying-pan party.

Meanwhile you would have a separate saucepan with boiling water in which you would have plonked your quail’s eggs in for precisely two minutes – any longer and they will be very hard boiled and you won’t get that cheffie two-toned yolk that always makes guests ooh and ahh before they have tasted anything.

In the same water pop the asparagus spears for two minutes (this way everything will be ready and hot at the same time) remove and leave in a sieve ready for assembly.

If you are cheating this is the point where you gently warm through the shop bought Hollandaise in the same pot you used for the eggs and the asparagus. Why? Because you do not want to put Hollandaise be it freshly made or shop bought on a high heat stove as it will make it more likely to curdle. To avoid the dreaded curdle, keep whisking rapidly and do not on any accounts bring to the boil.

All the elements are now ready to plate up and serve.

On Plating

We are all visual creatures. We’ll notice a winning smile before we discover the winning character and the same is no different with food.  Plating food is rather like fashion, trends come and go, from the precision of molecular gastronomy, to the home spun rustic where chunkily cut veg will have a protein casually resting a top. Or a hearty carb will be dressed in an inky rich sauce that goads you to mop up the remnants with bread or if needs must, one’s own finger.

The above dish has been plated up two different ways. The first is best described as old school classic – ideal for a sit down dinner where the best porcelain may be out and a deal needs to be struck somewhere between the pudding and the cheese course.  The asparagus is laid out like paving the scallops sit atop, the quails egg is cut in half and the sauce arranged in circular dots around the plate. 

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In contrast the second is plated in a more contemporary style, think puddle of sauce, asparagus in a criss-cross formation a scallop and claw nestling both between and atop and the quail egg betwixt the two. The plate is cosy yet still yummy, ideal for a kitchen supper where you still want to wow, without looking like showing off, it is the culinary equivalent of the no-make-up make-up look or the perfect pullover thrown on with just the right side of worn in jeans. You get the picture.

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As you can see there is no ‘right’ or wrong way to plate but do not think about it and the meal might not be as gastro-tastic as it could be as the eyes need to be fed too!

Seasonal Salads – Two Cracking Ideas

Salads may not be associated with winter, but these two combine exotic ingredients to make everything altogether more festive, after all why should only Northern Hemisphere ingredients have a starring role; some of us may be dreaming of warmer climes! Better yet, they are easy to prepare in advance and have on standby for additional guests, or for those who are done with their carb-comas and cannot face another roasted potato or parsnip!

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Baby Octupus Chick Pea, Tomato and Coriander Salad

Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy

Ingredients:

Four Baby Octupus

One Clove of Garlic

Juice of One Lemon

A Can of Chick Peas

A bunch of Coriander

Two Large Vine Tomatoes

2 Table Spoon of White Wine Vinegar

4 Table Spoons of Olive Oil

Salt and Black Pepper  to taste

Seeded red chilli (optional)

 

Method

Season the Baby Octupus and place under a grill or an a grill pan on a medium high heat for two to three minutes.  When cooked, cut into irregular slices, put aside and mix with half the clove of garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and some olive oil.

In a separate saucepan place the remaining clove of garlic and add the chick peas cooking on a low heat for five minutes – do not stir too much as this will break up the chick peas, add the coriander and stir through for 30 seconds

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Cut in quarts then half again the vine tomatoes stir them into the bowl that has the chick peas and coriander mix, then add the remaining olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and black pepper. If I am preparing this meal for an adult crowd I would have also flung in the seeded pepper as an introduction of heat to proceedings.

Now place the octopus artfully on top, remembering some of the visual tricks from before and serve with wedges of lemon on the side for guests to squeeze to taste on their own serving. If you are not keen on Octupus you can substitute with king prawns instead, but trust me the Octopus rocks.

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Warm Chorizo, Roasted Pepper and Spinach Salad

Difficulty Factor: Easy Peasy

Ingredients

One Ring of Chorizo

Four Red Peppers

Four Cloves of Garlic

One Red Onion

500 grams of Baby Spinach Leaves

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to Taste

 

Method

First things first preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade (Gas Mark 6)

Cut the Red Peppers length-ways into sixths; not too thin otherwise they will burn, not too thick otherwise they’ll take forever. Peel the garlic and put in whole, cut the red onion roughly and put in an oven proof dish, drizzle a generous amount of olive oil, and cook for 20 minutes,

Remove and turn over, so that the bake is cooked evenly and add the roughly chopped chorizo to the tray and cook for a further 20 minutes taking care to make sure that the chorizo does not burn.

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Remove from oven and combine the spinach leaves into the tray – the spinach leaves will pretty much wilt due to the heat of the other ingredients and allow to cool to warm/tepid before serving

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These two salads work excellently together – think surf and turf but remixed!