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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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Chicken skewers with spicy peanut sauce and summer rolls

Chicken skewers with spicy peanut sauce and summer rolls

With my market bounty still lingering in the fridge, a further Asian-inspired dish is on the menu this week. You’re probably thinking that I have a weird obsession with coriander (cilantro) by this point. You would be right—but I promise I do branch out.

While I try to only post original recipes on this blog, I have to confess that the peanut sauce recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s excellent 30-Minute Meals.

The summer rolls are all mine; the husband and I enjoyed some incredible summer rolls at The Mango Rooms in Hoi An, Vietnam in February—this is my attempt to recreate those babies. They are probably not all that faithful to the originals (that’s because the cocktails at the Mango Rooms are as good as the food) but a girl’s gotta improvise; I didn’t have any Thai basil, so I used European. If you aren’t on a tight budget and are within striking distance of an Asian supermarket, I suggest you splash out—it has a unique flavour that’s hard to recreate and utterly delicious. I like my summer rolls to be chunky, like a sushi hand-roll—and even if I didn’t, I haven’t got the hand-eye co-ordination to make dainty, neat little things. If you have, use smaller rice-paper wrappers and roll tight.

You can add king prawns (shrimp) to make these summer rolls into a standalone starter (appetizer). This oriental salad dressing makes a great dipping sauce; no need to strain this time and you could chuck in a bit of chopped lemongrass for added zing.

Chicken skewers with spicy peanut sauce and summer rolls

Chicken skewers and spicy peanut sauce

Serves: 2

2 chicken breasts, cut into cubes

4 wooden skewers

Spicy peanut sauce:

3 tbsp peanut butter (I used smooth as it’s all I have in the cupboard)

Half a bunch of coriander, stalks and all

1 clove of garlic

1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled

1 red chilli, seeds removed

A splash of soy sauce

A dash of cold water

A splash of fish sauce

A splash of rice vinegar

1 tbsp crushed peanuts to garnish

Summer rolls

Summer rolls

Summer rolls

Serves: 2

4 rice paper spring roll wrappers (22cm)

One mango, cut into thin slices

A handful of crisp iceberg or little gem lettuce (I used rocket, because it needed to be used up)

The other half of that bunch of coriander, woody stalks removed

A small bunch of Thai basil, leaves only

Two spring onions, cut lengthways into fine slices

One carrot, grated

Four radishes, finely sliced

Soak the wooden skewers in cold water (this is so they don’t burn under the grill). Pop all the ingredients for the peanut sauce into a blender and whizz to a smooth paste. Decant half into a bowl to use as a dipping sauce.

Once the skewers are wet-through, thread on the chicken pieces, taking care not to bunch them up too tightly (or they won’t cook through) and coat with the remaining peanut sauce.

Pop the chicken skewers under a hot grill for 7-8 minutes each side, be careful not to burn the chicken or the skewers!

Meanwhile, soak the rice paper sheets in cold water, according to the instructions (do this one-at-a-time unless you like gloopy, sticky messes). Once soft, carefully place flat on a board and layer the filling in a straight line down the centre of the top half—lettuce first, then coriander, basil, onion, carrot, radish and mango. Fold the bottom half up, over the filling and top half, then wrap the corners around the filling as neatly as you can (don’t worry, it will still taste good whatever it looks like).

Summer rolls

A souvenir from Vietnam: rice-paper spring roll wrappers

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