Pork stir fry with black sesame seeds

I’ve decided not to buy supermarket bottled Chinese stir fry sauces any more, because practically the first ingredient in them is sugar. Yes, I knew about this, but continued to buy ready-made sauces because of the convenience factor. That’s how those supermarkets nab you – they play on your natural vices. Laziness is my biggest vice. It was partly out of laziness that I bought those sauces, but also because I’m not confident with making Chinese food. Eating it, yes (not with chopsticks though), but making it… not so much.

However, there are plenty of recipes on the Net for instant sauces. As long as you have a little sweet (honey/sugar/sweetener of choice), a little sour (vinegar), a little hot (chilli sauce/flakes) and a bit of salt, you already have a base for the stir-fry sauce. After that you just add whatever takes your fancy (peanuts, cashews, sesame seeds, garlic, etc) and some veg and meat, and there you are.

Today I made a pork stir fry with black sesame seeds. There were two boneless pork medallions, a bell pepper and a pak choi. and that’s what made up Pete’s dinner. Those were the only veg I had handy, but you can add mangetout, mushrooms, baby corn, scallions – whatever you like.

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Linguini with squid in tomato-garlic sauce

So, squid.

Today, peoples, we will be cooking squid. If, like me, you don’t like the smell of seafood, I should warn you that squid will probably make a temporary mouth-breather of you. The important word here is “temporary”. It only lasts for as long as you’re around the squid. Once it’s cooked and served up, you will find your nose taking over that breathing thing once again, leaving your mouth free for talking or eating something that isn’t squid.

Ok, I’m being mean – truthful, but mean. I mean, I don’t want to put anybody off calamari (that’s squid in American, I believe) – neither the eating, nor the cooking. Then again, I guess anybody who loves this stuff isn’t going to be bothered by anything I say here.

The good thing about squid is that it’s quick to cook, like most of the seafood I’ve posted about on this blog so far. It also doesn’t make your whole house smell of seafood (unlike, say, sardines). I used pre-prepared frozen squid. (I’ve not tried cooking fresh squid, and I’m certainly not about to prepare the squid personally.) All I did was defrost it (place in warm water for 5  minutes, then give it 2 minutes defrosting in the microwave). Wash again and pat dry as much as possible, using paper towels. Then cut it up into rings about 1 cm wide. Leave the tentacles as they are, or you can cut them up smaller if you like.
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Once that’s done, cooking the squid is a doddle. You can make the pasta sauce with fresh tomatoes if that’s how you like it, But If you use jarred ready made pasta sauce (like I did this time), this recipe comes together quicker than quick.
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Rainbow trout with creamy chopped egg sauce

It’s been quite a while since my last post here.

I know, I’ve probably used that same intro for other posts too, probably word for word – on this blog, and on my vegetarian food blog too. Suffice it to say that I’m still looking for my mojo when it comes to posting something new. I’m trying, though.

Rainbow trout fillets

Anyway, I came across a recipe a couple of days back in The Guardian newspaper that kind of intrigued me, because it involved eggs and fish, a combination I had never come across on any food blog that I’d seen so far. As an added bonus, the ingredient list was pleasingly simple, so I went out that same evening and bought the required fish fillets.

Ok, the fish I bought (rainbow trout) was not the fish specified in the recipe (sea trout). Sea trout? What the heck is THAT? And where do you even get it? I was too shy to ask the fishmonger at Sainsbury’s, so I decided that one reddish fish was much the same as any other reddish fish. (Please don’t fillet me for that blasphemous statement, o fish purists!)

They weren’t whole fish, by the way. They were rainbow trout fillets, de-boned and blissfully unfussy to cook (and eat).

I also wasn’t going to buy double cream just for this recipe when I had creme fraiche at home, so creme fraiche was what I used. If you have/want double cream, by all means go with it. 
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Healthy General Tso’s chicken

I’d never heard of General Tso’s chicken before I stumbled across the recipe on a website (which I now can’t for the life of me remember). I like to check out as many recipes as possible until I can cobble together something a little different from any of them… But once I googled for other General Tso recipes, I found there were dozens.
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This recipe is pretty much as I saw it on various sites, including Martha Stewart’s. So I’m going to assume that this is HER original recipe, faithfully but not-very-honestly adopted by various bloggers as their own concoction. I can’t claim that, because it sure ain’t… but the next recipe coming up on this blog IS my own. That’s not for this post, though, so here’s the recipe for a non-deep-fried General Tso’s breast of chicken.

I must say I was pretty impressed with the way the egg-white and cornflour mixture sealed the chicken (like batter does when deep-frying) the second it hit the hot fat in the pan. Quite impressive, I must say. The recipe itself came up trumps. Thanks, Martha!

Ingredients:

1/4 cup cornflour
200gm snow peas or sugar-snap peas, trimmed and halved crosswise
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and peeled
1.5 tbsp light-brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp red-pepper flakes
2 large egg whites
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil

Method:

1. In a large bowl, stir together 1 tbsp cornstarch and 1/2 cup cold water until smooth.

2. Add snow peas, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and red-pepper flakes; toss to combine, and set aside.
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3. In another bowl, whisk together egg whites, remaining cornstarch, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.

4. Add the cubed chicken, and toss to coat.
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5. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium-high.

6. Place a few pieces of chicken in the skillet without crowding, after shaking off the excess egg-white mixture. It will immediately form a “skin”.

7. Cook the chicken, turning occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. (Check that the pieces are cooked inside – they should be opaque all through.) Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining oil and chicken, and set aside.
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8. Now, in the same pan, add the snow-pea mixture. Cover; cook until snow peas are tender and sauce has thickened, 3 to 5 minutes.

9. Return the cooked chicken to the pan with any juices. Stir well. Serve with simple etso3gg-fried rice.

Verdict: Pete had nothing but praise for this recipe. Score!

Hake steak bake

You could be forgiven for wondering if I bought the hake just so I could make a play with words in the title! But it wasn’t like that – honest! I was looking for fish to try for Pete at Sainsbury’s. It was about 6.45 p.m, and the fish counter was just beginning to close. I was wondering what to get, staring at some swordfish, when the fishmonger pointed out that there were some fish that were being sold at a discount because they were closing. I didn’t want to get salmon – they’re not Pete’s most favourite fish – so when I saw the hake steaks, I knew what he was going to have for dinner.

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Not that knew for certain that the hake steaks would withstand baking without falling apart, but  I was fairly sure that as they were steaks, the fish was probably less delicate than others and would stand up to being baked. I was right. 

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Baked salmon fillets

This recipe for cooking salmon fillets comes from my good friend Prema, and it is all thanks to her status message on Facebook which mentioned that she had cooked salmon for her family’s dinner. But there was no recipe. Naturally I had to ask her for it, and she provided me with some simple instructions. I followed her fishy (just kidding, Prema! *wink*) advice to use plenty of freshly ground coriander seeds, but changed the spice rub mix somewhat because of wanting to try out the Za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, marjoram and oregano) that had arrived from Amazon. I was slightly worried that the sesame seeds would just fall off the salmon, so I pounded the Za’atar (not the whole bottle, just the amount I was going to use) and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle. I have to say it worked fine.

When I bought the salmon fillets, I hadn’t noticed that the fishmonger had put two free pats of some kind of herb butter (I assumed herb as it was greenish in colour!) in the pouch. I guess the idea was to bake the salmon in the bag and let the butter flavour the fillets. But I didn’t notice this until I had cut the pouch open. For a moment it was disconcerting because, you know, there’s no un-cutting a cut bake-in-the-bag bag.

Then I remembered that I was not going to cook it that way anyway, I was going to follow Prema’s advice! I felt pretty sheepish at this point, but luckily there was nobody around to see my expression, even if my initial dismay and subsequent relief was all in my head!

I used the butter too – I didn’t want to throw the pats away, and I couldn’t use them for cooking anything else because they had had a very intimate relationship with the raw fish fillets. So in the end I just placed them on the fillets just before putting them in the oven. I figured that the butter would melt and leave behind the herb flavouring, and I was right. When the fillets were cooked, I simply removed them from the baking tray, leaving the melted butter behind.
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Oh, and another thing – I used a really fancy salt (Hawaiian red clay sea salt) that I’d bought from an organic supermarket called PCC, when I was in Seattle last month visiting my family. I used it in this recipe because I suddenly remembered that I had not yet tried this salt. It’s a reddish colour (hence the name, duh) but basically it tastes just like salt. There were lots of other gourmet salts to buy there but I restricted myself to just three types because PCC, while being a fabulous place for great food and grocery, all organic and preservative-free, is FREAKING expensive!

I deliberately didn’t use all the marinade for the fish because I wanted to do as Prema had suggested, and use the marinade to roast some potatoes to serve with the fish. Softer vegetables (like peppers or tomatoes) can be put in the oven to roast along with the fish fillets, but if you’d like to use potatoes or parsnips, given them a 10-minute head start in the hot oven before putting the fish in.

Anyway… I’m definitely liking cooking fish, because it’s simple, quick or simple AND quick. I’m beginning to realise that cooking small portions of fish is not really a problem. The time to worry is when I’m faced with having to cook an entire salmon, but I think that will not be taking place this side of never.
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Oven baked whiting

Oven baked whiting

I wasn’t even going to post this originally, because there’s absolutely no recipe involved. But Pete convinced me to put it up anyway, because he said it might be of use to someone as a quick, easy idea for a meal.

Whiting is something I associate with Alice in Wonderland (The Mock Turtle’s song, specifically – “Will you walk a little faster, said a whiting to a snail…”). So if I said I just couldn’t resist buying two butterflied fillets of whiting when I was in Morrisons today, I’m sure you’d understand.

I like conducting my little fish experiments on my husband, since I’m vegetarian, and by and large he’s a willing enough participant. Today’s experiment was really rather basic. I had a jar of Sacla tomato and olive stir-in sauce. All I did was place the whiting fillets in a small baking dish, pour the sauce over to cover the fish completely. Then I baked it at 180C/350F for about 25 minutes. Served with potato salad with a honey-mustard dressing and coleslaw, it was a quick but simple dinner for Pete.

In case you only have normal fish fillets (rather than butterflied) you can still cook it the same way, but just make sure that the fish is cooked through completely, by inserting a knife in the thickest part (after 25 minutes). The fish should be opaque all the way when it is cooked.
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