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I’m almost certainly flattering myself, but I’d like to think someone out there may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while (hi mum!). I very much doubt that anyone has missed my ramblings, but I, my friends, have very much missed posting. Unfortunately, as this is a ‘let it all hang out’ blog, I am presented with a dilemma when it comes to things that I’m not yet at liberty to divulge. The last two weeks have been exceptionally busy and, unusually for me, secretive. I’m planning a hen do for one of my bestest friends, which naturally I cannot talk about until after the event and there’s been a couple of other exciting developments that it wouldn’t be overly professional to shout about from the rooftops, no matter how much I may want to. There’s also the small matter of a non-disclosure agreement… Hey ho!

A week like this requires good, healthy and nourishing food. Also, I had to defrost the freezer and I thought I might as well use up some of the odds and sods I had stashed in there. So here’s my not-at-all-authentic take on that Vietnamese staple, Pho. The list of ingredients will make this dish sound complicated, but it really isn’t. It’s mostly a matter of bunging it all in.

Serves: 6

For the broth:

1 chicken carcass / any stock bones you have lying in wait

2 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1 onion, quartered

2 red chillis, snapped in half

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 stick lemongrass, bruised

1 inch ginger, peeled

1 x 400g pack rice noodles

Pop all the ingredients in a casserole. Cover with approx. 2.5 litres water and bring to a simmer. Leave to simmer away for approx 2 hours, then allow to cool, ideally overnight. Skim any fat off the top, then strain. You should be left with a clear, brown liquid. Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the pack (boil for five minutes, in my case), and add to the bottom of a soup bowl. Ladle over the broth and serve with an assortment of fresh herbs and veg, for guests to help themselves. The idea is that diners add the veg and herbs to their broth at the table for maximum freshness and crunch.

To serve at table (a handful per person):

Sliced chestnut mushrooms

Bean sprouts

Bok choi

Chillis, chopped

Coriander

Thai basil (or tarragon if you can’t get any

Spring onions, sliced

Lime wedges

Assemble on a platter, serve at table for guests to help themselves.

For the chicken skewers with oriental pesto:

Chicken breast, chopped into chunks

A handful of Thai basil or tarragon

A handful of coriander (stalks and all)

A couple of mint leaves (don’t bother if you haven’t got a plant to hand)

1 red chilli, stalk and seeds removed

2 garlic cloves

A good glug sesame oil

A good glug nam pla (fish sauce)

Salt and pepper

Half an inch fresh ginger (peeled)

A squeeze of lime

Put everything but the chicken in a food processor. whiz to a paste. Thread the chicken onto wooden skewers (note, it’s an idea to soak these, you’ll note I didn’t bother and therefore burnt the ends), spoon over the pesto and grill for three-five minutes each side (depending how big your chicken chunks are and how tightly packed the skewers).

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tomato shorba soup

When I was on the cusp of teenage-dom, my father lived in Singapore and I used to go and visit him during the school holidays. Food-wise, I was not very adventurous at the time and loathed anything too hot (chilli, not temperature).

Despite this, we frequently ate devilishly hot, chilli-laced grub. One of my dad’s favourites was (and still is, he visits every year) a delightful Indian restaurant called Hasara. I would love to visit now, with my fully developed palate. At the time, I stuck to the tried and tested, and reliably mild. One such dish was the kick-free, but flavoursome, tomato shorba. It rapidly became a firm favourite.

With my freshly-made chicken stock burning a hole in my freezer, I decided it had to be soup for lunch all this week, and tomatoes are cheap as chips right now. Here is my attempt to recreate that delightful dish – I can tell you it has definitely worked: this is exactly how I remember it.

Serves: 6-8

8-10 vine tomatoes, peeled and chopped into quarters

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 onion, cut into quarters

3 cloves garlic

Half a red chilli, halved and seeds removed

1 inch ginger peeled and grated

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp mustard seeds

2 tsp garam masala

2 curry leaves

1 small bunch coriander, chopped

olive oil

chicken stock (approx 1 litre)

1 tbsp tomato purée

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 190C. Drizzle oil on a baking tray and throw on the seeds, onion, chilli, garlic and ginger, then pop in the oven to roast for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the chicken stock into a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the tomatoes, garam masala, tomato purée, carrot and curry leaves and simmer gently for 15 minutes. When the onions etc are nicely caramelised, and the spices toasted, add them to the soup base and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes.

When the tomatoes and carrots have softened, season the soup to taste and whizz with a hand-held blender until smooth. Throw in the coriander and yoghurt and stir well – give another little whizz with the blender if necessary.

chicken stock

Making your own stock really couldn’t be easier yet curiously I’ve never done it before. It’s a combination of time (or lack thereof), combined with the fact that I only have one casserole – and whenever I have some blissfully uninterrupted time in the kitchen I’m usually cooking up a vat of food for the week ahead.

When you work full-time, especially ‘London’ full-time, which tends to be a 12-hour stint out of the house, it’s hard to carve out a five-hour slot in the kitchen. I should really invest in a slowcooker, but the budget and distinct lack of available storage space in our flat has prevented me from doing so, thus far. Still, ever since I started this project, I’ve been freezing bones and carcasses for this very purpose and it has finally paid off.

1 chicken carcass, stripped

1 carrot, cut into three

1 onion, quartered

Any odds and ends of herbs (I used half a bunch of parsley on the wane, plus sage, rosemary and thyme from the garden)

A handful of chopped celery from the freezer

Bung all the ingredients into a large casserole, cover with boiling water then simmer for four-five hours. Strain, then freeze the liquid in portions to use in soups, stews and sauces.

Note: I’ve had to change the title of this piece in view of our FIRST GOLD MEDAL!!!!!! Go Team GB!

Recipe for Mexican black bean soup The frugal kitchen

Mexican black bean soup

Serves: 4 generously

2 x 400g tins of black beans in spring water

1 small tin (200g) refried beans

Oil for frying (I used a drizzle of chilli oil in a non-stick pan)

I red onion finely chopped

3 sticks of celery finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

A quarter of a red pepper finely chopped

A quarter of a green pepper finely chopped

2 tbsp tomato purée

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp chilli powder

Salt and pepper

Up to 500ml of chicken or vegetable stock

Stalks from a bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

A handful of coriander leaves, chopped spring onions and sour cream to garnish (just leave these out if you don’t have them)

Fry the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and pepper on a medium heat until soft. Add one entire tin of black beans, water and all. Slowly add the stock, but be careful not to leave the mixture too runny, if in doubt, reserve some for later.

Bring to the boil, add the spices, tomato purée and coriander stalks and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Add the refried beans then, using a hand-held blender, blend the broth until smooth. Add the remaining stock if it becomes too thick. Drain the remaining tin of black beans and add to the broth and simmer for a further five minutes.

Garnish with coriander, spring onions and sour cream and serve with tortilla chips.

Serves: 5

Cooking time: 20-30 minutes

Ingredients:

Four spring onions finely chopped

Half a shallot finely chopped

One green pepper finely chopped

Half an inch of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

Three cloves of garlic finely chopped

350g red lentils

100g frozen spinach

Sunflower oil

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp garam masala

Quarter of a bunch of coriander (stalks and all), chopped

1 vegetable stock cube

Defrost the spinach (microwave on defrost setting for 10 minutes should do the trick).

In a large saucepan, fry the ginger, garlic, pepper, shallot and onions in a little oil on a medium heat until soft and golden.

Stir in the lentils and cover with boiling water – top up until about an inch above the lentils. Crumble in the stock cube and simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the lentils are soft. Add more boiling water if necessary.

Stir in the spinach, coriander and spices and simmer for a further five minutes. Season to taste.

To store: allow to cool, divide into individual portions and keep in the fridge or freezer – I usually use a jam jar or takeaway tub.

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