Spiced Pilau Rice

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As winter is officially here and the nights are drawing in so our diet begins to crave more hearty filling food. Stew and warming curries get given centre stage during the winter months, well at least they do in my household. I realise that I have never posted a pilau rice dish, which would be a great accompaniment with a wide range of curries. Plain basmati rice is all very well but if you delicately spice it and accompany it with some nuts or fruit, it just adds a lovely new fragrant dimension to the meal and really only takes a couple of extra minutes to prepare.

I find my spiced pilau rice is really versatile as it works equally well with Middle Eastern dishes as well as Indian curries.

 

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The three C’s are wonderful spices: cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick and give a warming aroma to any dish. I also have a particular weakness for cardamom in sweet dishes, but that’s for another post. Star anise not only looks inviting but also has a delicate aniseed smell and taste and is used a lot in Vietnamese and Chinese dishes. The queen of spices is saffron – one of the most expensive so it is used sparingly, hence only a pinch used in this dish. If you do not have saffron you could use a generous pinch of ground turmeric instead, which will give a yellow hue.

 

 

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I used blanched almonds this time, but depending on what is in my cupboard I may use cashew nuts or even unsalted peanuts. If you are serving a more Middle Eastern dish then pistachio nuts would also work really well.

Let me know how you get on. Send me a photo of your dish and accompanying curry to my twitter account and I will retweet it to all my followers. Is there any particular pilau rice that you make at home? How does if differ to my spiced pilau?

 

 

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Spiced Pilau Rice

serves 4

1/2 tbsp ghee/butter

7cm cinnamon stick, broken in two

2 star anise

4 cardamom pods, slightly opened

3 cloves

190g basmati rice (Approx one handful per person)

350ml cold water

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp hot milk

1 large pinch of saffron (or ground turmeric)

1 tsbp rose water

2 tbsp blanched almonds or cashew nuts

1. First rinse the rice a couple of times with cold water so that the water runs clear and not cloudy. Drain and set aside. If you have time then soak the rice in cold water for 10 minutes then drain.

2. Heat the milk and then place the saffron in the milk. Give a good stir. Leave to soak whilst you prepare the rice.

3. In a pan heat the ghee or butter and when it is melted add the star anise, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle away for half a minute, before adding the drained rice and salt and stirring together. Add the cold water. As a rule I always make sure that the water is about 1/3 of your smallest finger above the rice. Stir and then let the rice come to the boil which will take a couple of minutes.

4. Once it has come to the boil, turn the heat down and place the lid on the pan. Let the rice gently cook and steam away for 8 minutes. By this time small holes will have appeared in the top of the rice. Turn the heat off and leave the lid on the rice so that it can steam for a further 10 minutes.

5. In a small frying pan dry roast the blanched almonds or cashew nuts for a couple of minutes so that they begin to bronze.

6. Place the saffron milk and rose water over the rice and then gently fluff it up with a fork.

7. Scatter over a platter with the nuts over the top.

Serve with any Indian dal, vegetable, meat or fish curry. It also works really well with Middle Eastern meat or fish dishes.

 

 

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Hearty Venison Casserole with Star Anise, Nutmeg and Pink Peppercorns

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Our desire for comfort food begins to kick in around Autumn. For me this is a time to start cooking stews and casseroles – meals that are warming after a long walk in the fresh air. The game season is upon us so it is easy to pick up grouse, partridge, pheasant, snipe, rabbit and also venison. Game is extremely lean and surprising good value, so there tends not to be a week that goes by when my family do not eat some form of game over the Autumn/Winter months.  I’ll be putting up some more game recipes with a spiced twist over the coming weeks to give you some ideas on how to cook it.

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Unlike other game, venison doesn’t actually taste particularly ‘gamey’ and approximates beef. It is however far leaner and has more protein than any other red meat and is packed full of vitamin B’s.  So from a health perspective, it’s a great red meat to include in your diet. Now is the time to buy wild venison as they are are in good shape from their summer feeding, however, farmed venison is available year round.

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This recipe is a homegrown and has a delicious taste to it resonating from the star anise, nutmeg and pink peppercorns that work so well with the venison, mushrooms and red wine gravy. It’s different for sure but surprisingly works really well, so it has become a household staple recipe for us. Eaten warm,with crusty bread and a glass of red wine by a roaring fire, ok maybe I’m getting carried away but you get the picture, and you too will feel a warm happy glow as it nourishes your body. So try it and let me now what you think. If you have never tried venison before give it a go, you will be very pleasantly surprised by how good and lean it is. Just get those Bambi thoughts out of your head!

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Hearty Venison Casserole with Star Anise, Nutmeg and Pink Peppercorns

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

3 star anise

2 onions, finely chopped

1kg venison, diced

3 carrots, chopped into 1 inch pieces

3 turnips, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1tsp heaped pink peppercorns and a few extra to garnish

175ml red wine (1 small glass)

175ml vegetable stock

200g mushrooms, quartered

crusty loaf, to serve

1. Place the olive oil and butter in a casserole pot. When it is hot add the star anise and after 20 seconds add the onions and lower the heat slightly so they do not burn.

2. When the onions have softened add the venison, carrots, turnips* nutmeg and pink peppercorns and give a good stir. Leave to brown for a few 5 minutes, stirring and turning the meat over at intervals.

3. Add the red wine and vegetable stock and turn the heat up for 10 minutes, before reducing the heat to a simmer for a further 40 minutes or until the carrots have softened and the venison is cooked. In the last ten minutes add the mushrooms and stir into the casserole.

4. Serve warm in bowls with an extra scattering of pink peppercorns, crusty bread on the side and a glass of red wine.

-The reason for adding 1 tbsp of butter is to help keep the venison moist. As it is such a lean meat without a little help from fat it will dry out!

*I have added turnip since I have made this version and I find it works really well. 

-You can also add potatoes to the pot if you want to avoid crusty bread.

-Best to avoid eating the thistle!


Vietnamese Pho Bo – Beef Noodle Soup and finding the perfect cooking course in Hoi An

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Vietnamese cuisine is to put it simply, ‘heavenly’. After my first bite of a Banh Mi, from Banh Min 11, back in London, not that long ago, I knew that it was going to be a culinary love affair. Since arriving in the motherland it has not disappointed. Each meal we have eaten has been a multitude of delicate, fragrant flavours – spices that sing to you and dance on your tongue.

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Herbs feature heavily in most dishes and add real fragrant lift. I was sufficiently enthused that I am going to attempt to grow some of them back in London – for example Vietnamese mint (which I should have no problems growing!), Vietnamese basil, saw tooth coriander, Vietnamese lemon balm, garlic chives. There is a great explanation of Vietnamese herbs here.

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I was keen to attend a cooking course in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An and so set about researching a course that best suited my needs. I was given a few recommendations, however, I decided that a course run by the very affable Van, who runs ‘Green Bamboo Cooking School’ suited my needs perfectly.

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The course run by Van offered a detailed tour of the fresh food markets, where we picked up our ingredients; convivial fellow pupils; personal touches by Van who runs the course in her own home; unhurried tutoring over seven hours; a generous range of recipes manifesting itself in a memorable group lunch and a souvenir goodie bag to take home. Throw in door to door service as Van kindly ferried us to and from our hotels, and it is no surprise that Trip Advisor has over 210 positive comments for this class with no dissenters.

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I am pleased to say that course surpassed even my high expectations. Van was charming, spoke excellent English and a was a natural teacher. She also converted me to Vietnamese coffee – the condensed milk being the key.

My fellow students were a really lovely bunch of enthusiastic foodies – three Australians, two Norwegians and two Swiss and all of us had huge grins on our faces all day, clearly revelling in the fact that we had chosen such a perfect course. Here are few photos of the day. Scroll down.

I elected to cook the unofficial national dish of Vietnam – pho bo, beef noodle soup (pronounced ‘fur’). You can find pho stalls on most streets in Vietnam, but to cook it well is the tricky part. I was keen to understand how to cook it from scratch and to make that perfect pho broth. First stop was the market to buy the beef, which was as fresh as it gets as the cow had been slaughtered that very morning. We bought the beef fillet and 1kg of beef bones. Normally Van would have bought the spine, but there had been a run on spine bones that morning from a hotel restaurant, which had bought the lot. So instead we had a range of other beef bones and some shin to add to the flavour.

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Back at Van’s house the first trick I learnt was to gently char the skin of some ginger, shallots and garlic over a flame as this would give the broth a deep smokey flavour.

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It takes no more than a couple of minutes on each side.

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I then removed most of the skin of the ginger, using that back of a teaspoon and also the skin from the shallots and garlic, which is very easy at this stage as they virtually pop out.

After properly cleaning the beef bones, place them in a large pan of boiling water so as to get rid of any scum from the bones before cooking. Submerge them in boiling water for under a minute and then place them into a second large saucepan, which has also has boiling water in it. Discard the water from the first saucepan. You then need to add the charred ginger, garlic and shallots

Continue to add the following ingredients to the pan: 2 chillies, stick of cinnamon, 1 large white onion, 5 star anise, 5 Chinese apples. I had not come across Chinese apples before, but they tasted delicious. As they may be difficult to source for some people, dates work equally well. Add some sugar and salt and if you fancy, some beef stock as well (I decided to omit the beef stock, to see how it would taste in its natural state).

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Place a lid on the top and leave to boil away gently for a further 2 to 3 hours. Add more seasoning to taste and beef stock if necessary.

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Meanwhile, very finely slice the beef fillet and leave in the fridge until ready to use.

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Before serving have individual bowls of bean sprouts and fresh pho noodles/rice noodles, (the noodles you have submerged into boiling water for 30 seconds and drained) at the ready. In a large ladle add a little of the raw beef and submerge it into the pho broth so that the broth fills the ladle. Using a fork or chop sticks, move the beef around in the boiling stock in your ladle for 30 seconds (that magic number) so that it cooks through and ladle it over one of the bowls of noodles that you have prepared.

Add a generous amount of fresh herbs, including Asian basil, coriander, spring onions along with a quarter of a lime and chilli sauce to taste. You can also have a small bowl of soy sauce on the side, should you wish to add a little, as well as some sliced green papaya and fresh sliced chilli.

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I was delighted by the results and despite having eaten a ridiculous amount of the tastiest Vietnamese food, cooked by my fellow foodies, I managed to see off a bowl of my pho bo.

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Eight happy and well fed people were then deposited back to their hotels, along with a goodie bag provided by Van.

I hope that you too will try this tasty version of pho. Watch this space for more Vietnamese recipes over the coming months.

Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup)

Adapted from Van’s recipe, who runs Green Bamboo Cooking School

Serves at least 8

500g fresh pho noodles/rice noodles

300g beef fillet

1 kg beef bones – ideally spine bones or shin

5 litres boiling water

1 tbsp beef stock

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5 star anise

1 large stick of cinnamon

1 roasted fresh ginger

5 roasted shallots

1 large roasted bulb of garlic

5 dried Chinese apples/dates

1 whole white onion, peeled

2 red chillies, left whole or chopped in two

2 tsp salt and pepper

1 tbsp raw sugar

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50g fresh bean sprouts

50g fresh Asian basil

50g fresh coriander

50g spring onion, finely sliced

2 limes, cut into quarters

green papaya, finely sliced

chilli paste to taste

soy sauce, to taste (optional)

2 fresh chillies, sliced (optional)

1. Wash the beef bones under a tap and then place to one side. Meanwhile bring two large pans of water to the boil. In the first add the beef bones and submerge them for just under a minute and then transfer them to the second saucepan. Discard the water from the first saucepan.

2. Over a gas flame place the garlic, shallots and ginger on a metal grill directly above the flame, allowing them to char/roast. After a couple of minutes turn them over so that both sides are equally charred. Using the back of a teaspoon, peel off a little of the skin of the ginger.

3. Add them to the bones and boiling water, along with the onion, chillies, dried Chinese apples/dates, cinnamon stick and star anise. Add the salt, sugar, pepper and beef stock it you wish and place a lid on the pan and let  it boil gently for 2-3 hours.

4. Meanwhile, very finely slice the beef fillet and return it to the fridge.

5. Before serving, warm the noodles by placing them on a slotted spoon and submerging them in boling water for 30 seconds. Drain and place in individual bowls. Add the bean sprouts to each of the bowls.

6. In a large ladle add a little of the thinly sliced beef fillet and submerge into the pho broth so that the ladle is completely full and the beef is submerged. With a fork or chop sticks move the beef around in the ladle so that it ‘cooks’ through properly.  Pour over the noodles. Please note the pho broth needs to be boiling/bubbling away at this stage so that the beef fillet is cooked properly. 

7. Add the fresh herbs, lime, spring onions, green papaya and chilli paste/soy sauce/fresh chillies to taste.

8. Serve immediately and enjoy piping hot.


Mountain Air and Chinese Marbled Tea Eggs

Mr B and I have just returned from one of those magical long weekends when you literally have to pinch yourself that what you are experiencing and seeing is actually real. We were attending a friend’s wedding in South Tyrol in Northern Italy, but due to logistics we decided to fly into Munich, a city we hold dear and one that we visited last December. Driving through Germany, Austria and into northern Italy may sound like a bit of an epic journey but the truth of the matter is that it only takes 3.5 hours and we thought a scenic drive through the  Brenner pass would be rather pleasant.

Our destination was the stunning eco spa hotel, Vigilius mountain resort, which was lovingly designed by architect Matteo Thun. The hotel blends into the natural environment seemlessly due to the use of materials from renewable resources. All the water used in hotel – from the pool, shower, baths and drinking comes from the Vigiljoch spring water.  To reach the hotel you need to take a cable car for about 15 minutes and upon arrival you really do feel a world away from the stresses and interruptions of day to day living. There is no Wifi or TV in the hotel, which allows you to really switch off and enjoy the natural environment that you find yourself in.

The wedding itself allowed us to explore the mountain side, not least because we had to take a single chairlift a further 15 minutes higher up the mountain and then a 15 minute walk to the church. It was one of those experiences that we will remember and cherish forever, not least because of the surreal nature of taking a chairlift dressed in wedding attire.

The smell of the pine forests and the wood burning in the chimneys conjured up happy memories of times in the mountains when the snow was thick and heavy. It was refreshing though seeing the mountains covered with grass and wild flowers and the cows with bells around their necks.

During the church service itself, the cow bells could be heard just outside the church entrance, to the extent we would not have been surprised had they ambled in to take a look at what was going on.

On Sunday, after all the wedding festivities were drawing to a close, Mr B and I returned to the top of the mountain and had a good amble around the wooded paths that are carved into the mountain. We came across characterful chocolate box houses similar to the ones that we all draw as children. I loved the green shutters and the window boxes filled with bright red flowers matching perfectly with the red gingham curtains.

We returned, one last time, to the church where we had spent some precious moments the previous day.

It was hard to drag ourselves away from such a picturesque spot, with beautiful blue skies and wonderful green mountains.

Returning to London I was convinced that the good weather must surely have arrived to our shores – I was clearly delusional after all that mountain sun and fresh air – as the rain persists and people’s moods continue to fray.

As activities with Big A and Little Z are housebound with the continuous downfall, we decided to make some Chinese marbled tea eggs. In China, the eggs are a common snack that are adored by school children and adults alike. The marbled effect, that is created through gently cracking of the hard boiled eggs, is attractive and unique, in that no two eggs will look the same. The girls love to see the different effects that are created each time we finally break open the shells.

I have loved hard boiled eggs for as long as I can remember, to the extent that no picnic is complete without them. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, Chinese marbled tea eggs also taste really delicious with the subtle flavours of tea, soy and aniseed gently resonating from the egg. So why not try making these next time you plan on having a picnic when the sun shines or, for that matter, when it rains and you decide to have it inside instead.

Chinese Marbled Tea Eggs

Sourced from Balance and Harmony Asian Food by Neil Perry – p193

6 free range or organic eggs

3 tbs Jasmine tea leaves (or black tea leaves)

2 cinnamon bark sticks

3 star anise

half tsp sea salt

100 ml dark soy sauce

1. Place the eggs in a pan of cold water so that they are completely covered and gently bring the water to the boil. Simmer gently for 6 minutes.

2. Gently transfer the eggs to a bowl full of ice and then cover with cold water. Place the pan of boiled water to one side as you will use this later.

3. Once they are cooled tap the eggs gently so that the shell cracks but does not break off. You want to have the effect of lots of small cracks.

4. Place the eggs in the pan of boiled water and add the tea, cinnamon bark, star anise, salt and soy sauce.

5. Simmer for a further hour and then remove from the heat and leave to cool completely. The longer you leave them the more flavour is drawn into the eggs and the more marbled the eggs become. Those above were left in the fridge overnight.

6. To serve remove the eggs from the stock and carefully remove the shell to reveal the unique marbled effect.