Monday, October 26, 2015

Crunchy Chicken Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing

Crunchy Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing 1

Like many of you I'm sure, I like to travel.  That said, I don't think I'm much of a tourist.  I usually don't have too much interest in popular tourist attractions, preferring instead (wherever I maybe) to search out the local food markets and making interesting food discoveries.  Returning from an overseas trip you are more likely to find my suitcase weighed down with jars of olive oil, tins of anchovies, or slabs of nougat, than bulging at the seams with souvenirs and clothes.  Case in point, I recently returned from a trip to Bali with blocks of peanut sate sauce and 50 beautiful vanilla beans.   Whilst on my stay in Bali I did a couple of great cooking classes (my other favourite thing to do when I'm travelling anywhere), and whilst we learnt how to make the delicious peanut sauce that you frequently finding accompany sate sticks or used in Gado Gado (an Indonesian salad of assorted steamed vegetables, often served with tofu and eggs, and liberally doused in peanut sauce), it turns out that most of the locals don't actually bother making their own peanut sauce, but use the concentrated blocks of it.  It keeps really well, is easy to use - simply break off a large chunk and dissolve in boiling water - and tastes every bit as good as making your own.

So now I have a stash of peanut sauce blocks, and I've been looking for different and interesting ways to use it.  Inspiration this week came from Erin at The Spiffy Cookie.  Erin's blog was my Secret Recipe Club assignment this month and her Crunchy Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing was the perfect dish to not only use up some leftover roast chicken, but to also provide a home for some of my peanut sauce.

But before I move onto the recipe, let me tell you a little bit more about Erin and the Secret Recipe Club.   The club has over a hundred members, divided into four groups, and each month one member is assigned (in secret) to another member from their group.  That person then selects a recipe (or more) to make, photograph, and prepare a blog post - all in secret.  Then everyone in the group posts their recipe on the same day, and of course the secret is then out.  It's always a thrill to find out who has posted something from your own blog, and is a great way to meet and discover some new blogs.   If you are a food blogger and interested in joining the Secret Recipe Club, be sure to check out the Join SRC page.   As I mentioned this month I was assigned to The Spiffy Cookie, hosted by Erin, who has a PhD in Microbiology - yep, this girl is really smart - and loves to cook and bake for her family and friends.  She tries to stick to the healthier side of things foodwise, but admits that her favourite "food group" is dessert.  Erin also likes to keep herself fit with a regular work out regime, and to get crafty painting on canvas as well as ceramics.  She is a very prolific blogger, and so offered literally hundreds of recipes to choose from, and I've bookmarked a few to try at a later date:  Peanut Butter & Chocolate French Toast (yes, really!), Dark Cherry Chocolate Almond Granola Bars (what better way to start the day?), Gnocchetti with Asparagus & Garlic-Gorgonzola Sauce (it being asparagus season here, this one was a serious front runner), but it was the Crunchy Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing that ticked all the boxes for me.

I varied some of the ingredients in the salad a little simply to suit what I had on hand or was readily available - for example, Erin used radicchio in her salad which was not available, so I added some baby spinach leaves in with the lettuce, and used some purple carrots for the colour.  I also subbed in some rocket leaves (arugula) for the coriander (cilantro) which I couldn't get, and replaced peanuts with cashew nuts because that's what I had on hand.  I'm also giving you here Erin's recipe for the peanut dressing, though I did (as I mentioned) sub in some of my Balinese peanut sauce.  In terms of the actual salad ingredients here, I don't think you need to be too fussy with quantities here - use what you have in whatever proportions you like and depending on how many people you need to feed.

Crunchy Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing 2

Crunchy Chicken Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing
Adapted slightly from this recipe
at The Spiffy Cookie

cos lettuce
baby spinach leaves
orange carrot, very finely julienned
purple carrot, very finely julienned
red pepper, very finely sliced
cooked chicken, shredded
rocket leaves, roughly torn
roasted, unsalted cashew nuts
crispy noodles

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
1/8 teaspoon sriracha or hot sauce
hot water

Begin by making the dressing.  Whisk together peanut butter, honey, soy sauce, lime juice and sriracha in a medium bowl.  Slowly whisk in hot water until you reach the consistency you want.  Set aside.

Assemble all your salad ingredients, except the cashew nuts and noodles, in a large bowl.  Toss together well, then arrange on a serving platter, or in individual bowls.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad liberally, and top with the nuts and noodles.

Serve immediately.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did, and visit the links below to check out all the other great dishes my Secret Recipe Club friends made.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pasta with Asparagus & Pistachio Pesto

Pasta with Asparagus & Pistachio Pesto 1

This week at I Heart Cooking Clubs sees the introduction of a new event - our monthly "featured chef" event, where each month we will be given the opportunity to celebrate the recipes of one of our previous IHCC celebrity chefs.  In keeping with this being the inaugural celebration, our featured chef this month is Nigella Lawson who was our very first IHCC chef.

Unfortunately, I didn't know about the group way back when they were cooking with Nigella until it was almost too late - I actually discovered the group just as they were saying farewell on their last week of their culinary journey with Nigella.  I came to the party with these Chocolate Caramel Crispy Cakes, which is still one of my go-to treats when I need a crowd or kiddy pleaser, and which actually consistently ranks in the top 10 of my most viewed posts of all time.

Chocolate Caramel Crispy Cakes 3

Looking for inspiration for this week's dish, I decided to break my copy of Nigellissima down from the bookshelf.  I have to admit that although I've had this one in my collection for quite a while, I actually haven't used it very much - no particular reason (it's actually a great book), but there just seems to often be other books I turned to first.

I found my inspiration in Nigella's Green Beans with Pistachio Pesto.  It's asparagus season here right now, and I just can't get enough of it, so I knew I was going to sub asparagus in for the beans.  I made a couple of other changes too, replacing basil in the pesto with some watercress and spinach (because that's what I had on hand, and because basil is not really readily available here yet), and adding pasta to turn this into a main meal instead of a side dish.

If I'm honest, much as I love the flavour of basil, I often find that as a flavour base for pesto it can seem a little overpowering.  Here I loved the more delicate flavour of the cress and spinach in this pesto, which really enabled the flavour of the pistachios to shine through.  This pesto is beautiful for dressing any green vegetable or pasta, would be a great addition to an antipasto platter, or delicious condiment in sandwiches or wraps.  I think this is bound to become a real summer staple in my house.

Note:  This will actually make more pesto than is required for the quantity of pasta and asparagus given, but some leftover pesto ready to dollop on some eggs, alongside some fish, or spread in a sandwich can never be a bad thing.  Pesto also freezes really well so you can enjoy it all year round - it's great to freeze in ice cube trays or small zip lock bag portions - great for using in soups and casseroles.

Pasta with Asparagus & Pistachio Pesto 2

Pasta with Asparagus & Pistachio Pesto
Serves two
Inspired by recipe from Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson

250g penne pasta
8-10 fresh asparagus spears

for the pesto
large bunch watercress
2x large handfuls baby spinach leaves
1x clove garlic, roughly chopped
generous pinch flaky sea salt
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup parmesan, freshly grated
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

to serve
freshly ground black pepper
extra parmesan

Begin by making the pesto.  Put watercress, spinach leaves, garlic and sea salt into a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped.  Add pistachios and parmesan, and pulse again until the nuts have been roughly chopped.  Now with the motor running, add olive oil one tablespoon at a time until everything is chopped to a fine paste and fully amalgamated.  Remove from food processor and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt the water liberally, and add pasta to the boiling water.  Remove the woody ends from the asparagus, and cut asparagus into pieces about the same length as the pasta.  Once the pasta is halfway through the recommended cooking time, remove and retain one cup of the pasta water, and add asparagus pieces to the boiling water.  Continue cooking until the pasta is cooked but still al dente.

Remove from heat, drain, and immediately return the pasta and asparagus to the pan.  Add a couple of generous dollops of the pesto, and stir through enough of the reserved pasta water to loosen the pesto and make a sauce.  Keep stirring until everything is well coated with the pesto, then serve immediately.  Finish with freshly ground black pepper to your liking and a sprinkling of extra grated parmesan.

If you would like to get to know Nigella Lawson a little better, and to see all the wonderful dishes my friends have come up with, then do go visit I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links.

I'm also sharing this post at Cook Your Books, hosted by the lovely Joyce at Kitchen Flavours.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Green Smoothie Bowls

Green Smoothie Bowl 4

I don't know if this happens to any of you, but I completely lose my cooking mojo over the cold winter months.  Whilst I know many of you relish those hearty comfort food dishes that we turn to so often once the weather turns chilly ... soups, stews, casserole, substantial puddings, and so on ... I personally could hardly give a "thank you" for them.  Sure, I don't mind those things occasionally (as in maybe once or twice a year), but I have no interest in any of it as regular fare.

As soon as the days begin to get longer and warmer, however, and the first asparagus spears appear at the market, my enthusiasm for cooking returns and sends me rushing to the kitchen with renewed creative spark.

I haven't cooked with my lovely friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs for a few months.  This week, however, they're beginning a new six month culinary journey with guest chef Ellie Krieger.  Ellie is a nutritionist, with a number of cookbooks and regular magazine features to her credit, and if you're a fan of Food TV you will almost certainly have come across her show featuring her unique blend of healthy meets delicious fare ... just my kind of food.

This week is a potluck challenge to choose a dish to welcome Ellie to the IHCC stable of celebrity chefs.   Scrolling through some of Ellie's contributions to the Washington Post, I came across her article and suggestions for smoothie bowls.  As Ellie says, the best reason to put your smoothie in a bowl is of course the toppings, and she served up a gorgeous looking cherry and banana smoothie, topped with fresh berries, flaked almonds, chia seeds and toasted coconut - gorgeous.

Green Smoothie Bowl 2

I've been on a major smoothie kick lately, and I'm always looking for new inspiration, so this idea was right up my alley.  But then I got to thinking - what if I gave this a savoury twist ... a delicately flavoured avocado and cucumber smoothie, given a little bit of a kick with peppery watercress, and spiked with lemon and mint.  And the toppings?  Some toasted pumpkin seeds, crispy, crumbled chorizo, and a sprinkling of wasabi peas for a bit of heat and extra crunch, and finished off with crisp shards of sourdough crackers.  Of course, if you want to keep this vegetarian - skip the chorizo.

This was deliciously light and refreshing, and the toppings added enough interest and substance to make this feel like a delicious and healthy lunch.  Thanks for the inspiration, Ellie - I think this could become a bit of a lunchtime staple over the summer months.

Green Smoothie Bowl 5

Green Smoothie Bowls Recipe
with inspiration from Ellie Krieger
Makes one generous serving
Vegetarian (if you leave out the chorizo)

for the smoothie
1x small avocado, cut into rough chunks
1/2 a telegraph cucumber, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
2x cups ice
half a dozen mint leaves, roughly torn
two large handfuls watercress leaves
zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 to 1/2 cup almond milk
generous pinch flaky sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

for the toppings
toasted pumpkin seeds
1/2 a chorizo sausage, thinly sliced, fried until crisp, then very finely chopped
wasabi peas
sourdough crackers
anything else savoury and crunchy that you can think of

Place all of the smoothie ingredients in a blender and blitz until completely smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning or lemon juice to your liking.

Pour the smoothie into a bowl, and sprinkle toppings liberally over the top.

Dig in and enjoy!!

If you would like to get to know Ellie Krieger a little better, and to see all the wonderful "Welcome Ellie" dishes my friends have come up with, then do go visit I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links.