Asia de Cuba

I am less than a week away from becoming a homeowner.   This is exciting for all number of reasons, particularly because I want to start throwing more dinner parties and will finally have some proper space to do so, including a balcony with lots of room for summer barbecues. But before any of that good stuff can happen, there are a lot of things to be done.  Including using up as much of the food in the house as possible.  Given the random collection of items in my freezer, this has led to some unusual dinners over the past few weeks.  Some more successful than others.  But this is one that I might actually try again: a Mexican-Chinese mash up that worked surprisingly well.  Also very quick and easy for nights when you don't feel like putting a lot of effort into cooking but don't necessarily want to buy takeout.

Chinese-style tacos

4 taco shells/soft tacos
1 red onion
1 green pepper
500g diced beef steak
4 tbsp black bean stir fry sauce
sour cream
handful of grated cheddar cheese, to serve
guacamole, to serve (if desired)

In a large saucepan or wok, heat a splash of oil and fry the onion in until it starts to turn golden.  Add the diced beef (you could substitute with other types of meat here) and then cook until there is no pink showing.  Drain the fat from the pan, and then return to the heat and throw in any other vegetables you like.  I used a green pepper for colour contrast and texture, but you can definitely be creative with alternatives here.

Here's where I deviated from a more traditional taco - by adding a few tablespoons of garlic black bean sauce to the mixture.  Cook for a few minutes, during which time you can heat the tacos, if desired.  I would recommend doing it in an oven if possible - I warmed mine up in the microwave and they went a bit soggy.

To serve, scoop a few spoons of the beef mixture onto one side of the taco, and either serve plain, or with condiments.  I had sour cream, grated cheese and guacamole, so I used a little of each.  Slight overkill perhaps, but it was delicious.  I also chopped up a few cherry tomatoes and threw them on for good measure.  Et voila, a slightly unusual but still very good fusion taco!

Suggestions welcome on what to do with the remainder of my freezer: a fillet of lemon sole, half a ciabbata loaf, frozen vegetables galore, and some frozen bananas. Preferably not all in the same recipe!

p.s. Apologies if a half finished version of this post showed up in your inbox last week.  I had it saved to post later, but Blogger decided to publish the draft on its own schedule!


Prawn and orzo stew

We have a hung jury.

I recently discovered orzo.  Well, I'd heard the word but never bothered to find out exactly what it was, imagining it, in my ignorance, to be either a soft and niffy cheese or perhaps the entrails of an animal.  As neither concept appealed, I simply skipped the page without learning more.  I see you knowledgeable orzo fans all smiling condescendingly, as well you might.

That all changed when I started seeing orzo combined with many ingredients that I do like to cook with and we are now firm friends. I wish I could say the same for my entire family - with orzo, not with me!  I've used it in two completely different recipes in the past month, both of which I've judged successes and my youngest (not so young, anymore) was most complimentary.  David, however, finds this  ingredient troublesome, as he says it's pasta trying to be rice and it fails on both counts.  Sigh.

Orzo's hybrid nature is precisely what appeals to me.  It doesn't have long stringy bits to get tangled around the other ingredients, it's neither grainy nor gluey nor desiccated as rice, improperly cooked, can be.  I like orzo  because it's effective in a soup, stew or casseroles and marries up successfully with fish, chicken, seafood, vegetables, in fact any savoury ingredient.  Ergo, I'm not about to give up in my quest to get that last all-important orzo vote and so proclaim it not guilty as charged.

We've debated the merits, in this blog, of altering and amending original recipes and this one as it came, had a couple of flaws from the get-go so I changed it slightly and, I think, improved the whole.

650 ml chicken broth
500g broccoli florets
400g tin tomatoes
275ml uncooked orzo
400g uncooked prawns, peeled and deveined
400g ratatouille (either tinned or home made if you're fortunate to have some you made earlier)
½ tsp salt
good grinding of black pepper
pinch ground red chilies (my own addition)
handful fresh basil, roughly chopped
15g butter

Bring the broth to a boil in large pan.  Stir in the tomatoes and orzo and simmer for about 6 or 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add  broccoli, prawns, ratatouille and seasonings and cover, continuing to cook for a further 5 to 7 minutes until prawns turn pink and broccoli is cooked but not mushy (be careful here as the broccoli is the litmus test of doneness).  Stir in basil and butter and serve over crusty bread.

The ratatouille (my own addition) thickens the stew to a good consistency .  Kit and I truly enjoyed our Friday night supper but David still needs convincing that orzo isn't pasta in rice's clothing.


The breakfast club

In preparation for holding the first of what I hope will be many vintage tea parties, I bought a book to research precisely how to give one. The book, by Angel Adoree, is a delight: beautifully produced, with pictures of invitations, crockery, style tips... and recipes. Glancing through the brunch section, I found something I had to try.

What follows is something of a cautionary tale. In attempting a fairly simple Chocolate Coconut Granola, I got all a bit arrogant and changed quantities as well as following my own instructions. Don't do this. Miss Adoree's done this before and I will give her recipe verbatim (with one or two things I may have done differently, what I learned and how I'll cook it next time.)

What she advises you use is this: 240 grams of rolled oats; 175g of flaked almonds; 70g shredded unsweetened coconut; 70g dark brown sugar; 40g unsweetened cocoa powder; 90ml honey; 50 ml vegetable oil; 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and 3/4 teaspoon of salt.

What I did was to say, "oh, that'll hardly be enough," and promptly doubled the amounts. As I say, don't do this: you'll double some measures but forget to do others; after a while you'll think, "does it really need that much?" You. Will. Get. This. Recipe. Wrong. Just do as the lady says. Which is this:

In a large bowl, mix the oats, almonds, coconut and brown sugar. In another large bowl, mix the cocoa powder, honey, oil, cinnamon and salt. Switch your oven onto 120ºC / 100ºC fan assisted / gas mark 1/2. This may not seem too high, but trust the instructions.

Then combine the two mixtures. This is slightly difficult: you'll be mixing your oat cocktail with a chocolate sauce that has the consistency of crude oil. You'll need to mix and mix so that all the oats are covered. Use your fingers rather than a spoon and wash your hands regularly. Pour onto two baking trays.

Now place the trays in the oven and bake the granola for 1 1/4 hours, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even colour. So doing, you may find that the granola looks and feels quite soft. Again, trust the recipe. On taking it out, the granola will cool and harden, whereupon you could either use the granola to serve up to eight people right there and then, or store for some delicious breakfasts for yourself over the coming week. Just add milk.

Once made (properly), by all means, throw in what you like next time. When I make this again, I may add raisins or more seeds. Either way, now I have this granola recipe I may never buy it from a shop again.