Thursday, 18 November 2010

Kitchen Challenges: New York to Bangkok

What a difference a week and a bit makes.  Not only has this blog moved to a new host (for the last time, I promise) but my week of cooking challenges, which seemed so simple beforehand, hit a few stumbling blocks.  It was such an enlightening week, I've realised I need to break it down into several posts. Here begins my week of experimentation. Read on, mon amis. Read on......

MONDAY: Lunch  

For Monday lunch I tried to put a spin on what to some is the most boring of all the salads; the Waldorf Salad. Personally, I've always loved the way the rich, slight bitterness of the walnuts perfectly contrasts the fresh crunch of the celery and the sweetness of the apple. But then, I tend to automatically gravitate towards anything which hails from New York. It's a disease for which I refuse rehab.

I decided to be clever and put a Waldorf Salad inside a tortilla wrap. A Waldorf burrito, if you will. Hey! It could work. Except it didn't. Firstly, in my haste to throw it all together in the morning before work, I executed some hideously lazy fruit and veg chopping. I had already ignored my vow to be super-organised and prepare my lunches the night before, so it was no surprise that when I went to chow down on my wrap at 12:30, half the filling flew across my desk.

I glumly reached across the desk to rescue the escaped chunks of cheddar, apple, walnuts and cel.......WAIT! There's no celery in this Waldorf Salad! I was mortified. My closest companions pretended not to know me. Imagine the shame of making a Waldorf Salad without celery. I wouldn't blame you if you stopped reading now and never returned. In case you decided to stay though, I ate the wrap but I wasn't happy. My mood was brought down even further by the fact that my young, handsome, Tesco food-picker-boy (that's how I like to think of him) had selected a punnet of blueberries so sharp my jaw muscles retracted in disdain. Having said that, I'd definitely do it again, but maybe with a little more fine-dice finesse. And celery. 


Tea was more successful. On Sunday I had made myself one of Nigella's Praised Chickens as mentioned in this post. With nobody to share my leftover broth and chicken with (insert crocodile tears at your will) I went about making Nigella Lawson's Thai Chicken Noodle Soup. I promise this blog isn't just a homage to Nigella. She just happens to be on my telly a lot at the moment. My inappropriate love tends to ebb and flow. I will mention other cooks soon. Maybe.

A few weeks ago I had watched Nigella stumble home through her front door in gorgeous heels, slightly worse for wear after a night out with the gals. On television, obviously. I don't wait outside her home, pressing myself into her living room window, hoping the neighbours don't spot me as I pull the same faces I imagine Tiny Tim made coveting rich folk's Christmas turkey. Well, not often. Most of us fall into the kitchen after an evening of tipsiness and grab maybe a leftover corned beef sandwich we didn't have time to finish before heading out. Not our girl. She crashed around that kitchen the TV crew make look like her own and, as if by magic, produced the perfect Thai Chicken Noodle Soup. And as she alluded to herself, this soup is more a case of assembling bits and heating things through rather than full-on cooking.

I had been itching to try this recipe for weeks, so armed with the perfect softly gelatinous stock and shredded chicken from the day before, I went about trying to create some evening alchemy. I wasn't disappointed. I often make a Thai Green Chicken Curry. It's one of those meals I know I can always make and people will love. It takes a while though. It requires time and TLC to get it exactly where I want it to be. Not so with this soup. It's the express train straight into the middle of Bangkok.

It simply involves heating the stock and lobbing in the cooked chicken, coconut milk, fish sauce, fresh ginger, red chilli, turmeric, brown sugar and lime juice. I omitted the tamarind paste. I'm always a little heavy-handed with it and end up turning what should be a hint of sourness into something akin to those blueberries I mentioned earlier. Once the chicken is hot it's just a case of throwing in some thin rice noodles (mine were conveniently pre-cooked) and adding whichever stir-fry veg you've got lying around. I used some tender stem broccoli and some julienned courgette. From here all you've got left is the act of ladling the soup into a warm bowl, sprinkling with coriander, slurping it up and making a generous collection of Mmmmmmm noises. 

Please try this meal. It's amazingly quick, a brilliant way of using up leftovers and it tastes absolutely delicious.

So this was my Monday.  My expedition across the the rocky plains of Build-a-Repertoire got off to a troublesome start, but improved as I hiked into the sunset. The rest of the week, however, had even bigger challenges than a simple case of procrastination. We'll get to those on another day though. Let's pitch our tents for the night and get some rest. 

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