Tag Archives: Bell pepper

Lamb stir fry in home-made szechwan sauce

Beef in szechwan sauce

Pete’s favourite dish at his favourite Chinese restaurant (the China Rose in Nesscliffe, for those local to Shrewsbury) is the sizzling fillet steak stir fry (the steak cut into strips, obviously!), which comes in a savoury tomato sauce with lots of onions. I’ve never tried competing with it, because I don’t run a restaurant!

However, there was a lamb steak in the fridge at home yesterday, which I wanted to make a stir fry with for Pete’s dinner, rather than the usual pan-seared one. I asked what sort of sauce he wanted with it, and he suggested a tomato-based one (hmmm, wonder where he got the idea). I guess he meant for me to get a bottle of readymade Szechwan sauce on the way home from work, but that wasn’t MY plan. I wanted to make the sauce at home (or an approximation thereof). I could have looked it up online but since it’s my favourite for its spiciness and I know more or less the flavour I was after, I just decided to wing it.

Of course, this sauce being for Pete, I had no intention of making it as hot as it should ideally have been, but I kid you not when I say that it was absolutely PACKED with flavour and smelt so very good as it was cooking. I know this is only my opinion, but I really think that you should try it.

Recipe: Lamb stir fry in home-made szechwan-style sauce
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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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Prawn stir fry in chow mein sauce

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I think prawns may have just moved to the top of my list of non-veg things that I like to cook – they cook, quite literally, in minutes. It makes for the quickest stir fry ever, and they’re pretty easy to cook. I used uncooked frozen prawns, but I guess you could use fresh prawns (buy ready prepped from the supermarket or, if you’re lucky enough to have a fish market, from a fish market) just as well. The difference between raw prawns and cooked prawns is their colour – in their raw state they’re a rather horrible grey, but when they’re cooked, they turn a lovely light pinkish orange. Really, they look much better cooked, and I understand they taste good too.

You could, of course, buy pre-cooked prawns and just warm them in whatever sauce you’re using, but that is taking the lazy way out. Yes, the lazy way out, not the easy way out – because cooking the prawns is really almost as easy as opening a packet of cooked prawns.

I wish I could stop saying prawns.Prawns. Praaaaaaaaaaawns. Uh oh.  If only prawns were potatoes, I could refer to them as spuds, or tatties, or taters, or even murphies. But prawns aren’t potatoes. There isn’t a better word, or an alternative name (in English), for prawns, so I’ll just have to continue calling them prawns. 

Anyway, the first thing to do with the frozen prawns is to defrost them. The instructions on the packet will probably say to defrost the prawns in the fridge overnight or over 8 hours. But there is a much simpler, much quicker way. Just put the prawns in a bowl and pour warm water over – NOT hot water. After 10 minutes, there will be a lot more water in the bowl. Drain it off and if the prawns aren’t soft and defrosted, add some more warm water and leave for another 5-10 minutes. Once it’s defrosted, drain away the soaking water and reserve the prawns. After which, follow the recipe below.

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Sausage and bell pepper rice

This recipe came about because there were four Morrisons best sausages that had been sitting in the fridge for a few days. Every evening I would ask Pete if he wanted the sausages for his supper, and every evening, without fail, he would end up eating something else. I was getting daymares (as opposed to nightmares) about Pete getting food poisoning because I cooked and served him sausages that had expired. He kept assuring me that they were okay, but I’m extremely suspicious of any non-vegetarian items. They just seem too prone to making people ill – undercooked chicken, stale fish, meat past its eat-by date… all of these can give one severe food poisoning. And I’m extra wary of them because they look innocent enough even if they’re teeming with deadly bacteria – they smell and look the same to me. On the other hand, undercooked vegetables won’t make you severely ill – they just won’t taste good…

But no, I’m here to get over my fear of non-vegetarian cooking, so I’ll continue with the saga of the sausages. I looked up some jambalaya recipes on the internet, but they mostly required shrimp and chicken and something called Andouille sausages (which I know nothing about), so I didn’t bother with them. Then I came across a recipe by Gordon Ramsay, and that turned out to be JUST the ticket – I had almost everything on the ingredient list, bar a 1/2 cup of white wine. What you don’t have, you gotta do without – so I did.

Squeezing the sausagemeat out of the skin was possibly one of the most unpleasant feelings ever – at least it was to me. It just didn’t feel right… however, I persevered and crumbled it into small pieces. I say “crumbled”, but what I really mean is “pinched off bits”. If you can get over that, this is a very simple one-pot dish. Smells pretty good, and apparently the smell didn’t lie.

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Sweet and sour chicken

Pete’s favourite cuisine of all is Chinese. I’ve cooked Chinese stir fries for him at home… but here’s a confession – the sauce has always come from a bottle, so strictly speaking, it’s not cooking as such. It’s just prepping the veg and meat or chicken. When he says “Babe, this is good”, I get a sneaking feeling of guilt at the praise because I feel it’s undeserved. Hell, anyone can “cook” like that.

So this recipe is my attempt at a sauce that’s not from a bottle – it’s from several bottles and a can, haha. No, seriously – I know that sweet’n’sour is probably the most ubiquitous of all Chinese takeaway items. I don’t know if “real” Chinese would be surprised to learn that this is “their” cuisine, much as Madrasis would be surprised to learn that there’s a “Madras curry” in the UK that has literally nothing to do with South Indian food!

Authentic or not, sweet’n’sour is Pete’s favourite recipe, so I’ve tried to make it, with no extra sugar added. All the sweetness is strictly from the pineapple (and whatever is in the ketchup).

One extra tip: Before you add the chicken pieces, taste the marinade sauce to make sure it’s to your liking. You can add a bit more of whatever you feel is lacking. 

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