All posts by George

I'm no chef, but I enjoy cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. I first started to cook properly (as opposed to fry-ups and not a lot else) about 10 years ago and it has been a long journey from there to hear. I'm hoping the recipes and tips that I share, will help others to fall in love with cooking the way that I have.

Recipe: Thai Yellow Soup

Hmmm a traditional Thai soup recipe? Hell to the no! This is anything but. I came up with the idea for this recipe after an experiment in making Thai chicken curry. The chilli I used for the curry was a little lacking in the heat department and as a result I ended up with a curry that had almost no heat.

It still made for a fantastic tasting dish, just not what was originally intended. The lack of heat meant that all the other herbs and spices were able to come through in full force. Which led me to thinking about what else I could use similar flavours in because they are so great together.

This is the first of those ideas to make it to the “perfected recipe” stage and it’s a butternut squash and sweet potato soup of sorts but that doesn’t really make for a snappy title so given the inspiration and appearance I’m calling it Thai Yellow Soup.


Thai Yellow Soup garnished with a sprig of basil and a dash of truffle oil
Thai Yellow Soup garnished with a sprig of basil and a dash of truffle oil

Ingredients;

1 x onion, diced
1 x carrot, diced
2 x sticks of celery, diced
2 x cloves of garlic, finely diced
quarter of a chilli, diced
Thumb sized piece of ginger, finely diced or grated
Pinch of ground coriander
Pinch of ground cumin
1 x butternut squash, diced
2 x sweet potatoes, diced
Veg or chicken stock
1 x star anise
1 x handful of fresh coriander
1 x handful of fresh basil
1 x handful of fresh mint


Place a large saucepan over a medium high heat, once it has warmed add a little oil, just enough so that you can slow fry the onion until it is soft, then add the carrot and continue to gently fry until they start to soften.

Next you want to add the celery, garlic, chilli, ginger, ground coriander and ground cumin. stir it all together and continue to fry for about a minute this should be long enough to warm and release the fragrance of the garlic, ginger, coriander and cumin.

Add the butternut squash and the sweet potato to the pot and stir together. Add enough stock to cover all the contents. Drop in the star anise, fresh basil, coriander and mint, then stir and bring it to the boil. Simmer gently for 30 – 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the sweet potato and butternut squash start to break up as you stir remove the soup from the heat and blend until you have a smooth purée.

Return this to a low heat. Then taste and season. If you are happy with the consistency of the soup you can proceed to the eating phase, if not, you could thin it by stirring in boiling water or by adding milk or cream.

I like to serve this soup drizzled with a little truffle oil for added decadence and a crusty bread roll is a great accompaniment to any soup.

Foodie Links for 29/8/2011

I just love the ideas behind this fantastic new Austin, Texas grocery store. Also the name and domain choice are just too geeky not to love :)

This is the very reason that a Pizza Stone is a good investment if you’re gonna make your own Pizza.

As some of you may know I’m always partial to a whole roasted pig, I’ve posted about it before so naturally when I see a post titled “A Beginner’s Guide To Roasting A Whole Pig” I’m gonna give it a click and see what tips I can pick-up.

Giant Exploding Melons!!! well maybe not quite giant but interesting to see what happens when you over do the growth hormones.

David Lebovitz recently published a post called “10 Goofy Foods You’ll Find in a French Supermarket” and I was wondering what would you want to see included in an Irish version?

Recipe: The best baked lasagna

lasagna is a typical Italian dish, it has many variations even in the same regions there can be big differences. I’ve developed my own over the years as I like the northern style with plenty of Béchamel sauce while also liking the simple tomato based meat sauces of the southern regions. This recipe combines the best of both and one or two other influences as well.

While it’s very common to see lasagna not many people realise just how much goes into it, you cook up a meat sauce, then you make the Béchamel sauce and finally you layer it all together and bake it. A 3 part process that can be a little time-consuming but is well worth the effort.

Oh and before anyone says it, I know, a Béchamel sauce with cheese added is a Mornay sauce so this is not a traditional lasagna at all really.

I use a lasagna tray for making this (approx. 32cm x 26cm x 8cm), if you don’t have one of similar size you could use a number of smaller ones, just be aware of the depth, you’ll be surprised how much the layers add up to.


The best baked lasagna
The best baked lasagna

Ingredients;


Meat Sauce
1 x Anchovy fillet
6 x slices of pancetta or bacon, chopped
1 x large sprig of rosemary, picked and finely chopped
2 x bay leaves
1 x large red onion, diced
2 x sticks of celery, diced
1 x carrot, diced
2 x cloves of garlic, crushed
500g Beef mince
500g Pork mince
250ml Red wine
3 x 400g tins of tomatoes, chopped (plus one tin of water)
Salt
Pepper
1 x Star Anise

Béchamel (Mornay) sauce
100g flour
100g butter
1L milk
1/2 onion
6 x cloves
75g x parmesan
3 x mozzarella balls, diced

400g of lasagna sheets
Freshly grated Nutmeg

 

Serves 12 – 15 portions


The meat Sauce

Begin by heating a large saucepan over a medium heat, once it’s up to temperature add a little extra virgin olive oil, then the anchovy and pancetta/bacon, fry them for about a minute and add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary and bay leaves. Cook these together gently for about 20 minutes.

Next you want to add your meat, making sure to break it up as much as possible as you’re adding it and keep it moving over a high heat until it browns, then add the wine and simmer for a minute before adding the 3 tins of chopped tomatoes and a tin of water.

Finally add a single star anise, bring the lot to a boil and simmer for 1 hour. Then taste and season before removing the bay leaves and star anise as they can have a very unpleasant texture and it’s only their flavour we’re after anyway.

While the meat sauce is simmering get on with the Béchamel sauce.

Béchamel (Mornay) sauce

Take the half onion and skewer it with the cloves, now place this in a saucepan along with the milk and warm it but do not let it boil.

In another slightly larger saucepan, start melting the butter but do not let it burn, keep the heat as low as possible. Once melted add the flour and quickly stir it in until you have a sandy paste like substance. Now using a wooden spoon or plastic whisk start to slowly add the warmed milk, (but not the onion and cloves) mixing it in as you go, the slower you can add the milk the less likely you are to end up with a lumpy sauce so take your time.

Once all the milk has been added you need to “cook out” the flour, this is done by continuing to bring the sauce slowly up to temperature, stirring regularly and tasting. This can take as little as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. When you taste it, if you can still taste flour then keep going and taste again in another few minutes. Once you’ve “cooked out” the flour you have a Béchamel sauce and this can be used with many dishes or subtly changed by adding things like chopped parsley or dill to create other sauces.

But what we want to do is make a Mornay sauce so we add in about half the diced mozzarella and most of the parmesan cheese, hold back enough to cover the top of the final dish. Stir the sauce until the cheese melts and combines completely with the sauce, if it’s too thick use a little milk to thin it, but don’t go crazy we want it a little thick so it will sit on top of the meat layer rather than combining with it.

Final assembly and baking

Take some kitchen paper dipped in extra virgin olive oil and oil up your lasagna dish. If you have a non stick dish, I prefer to start with a pasta layer as it makes the lasagna a little easier to serve. next you want to add a layer of meat sauce followed by a layer of the Béchamel/Mornay sauce. Then sprinkle at little less than a third of the remaining mozzarella over the Béchamel, sprinkle a little grated nutmeg and repeat the Pasta, meat sauce, Béchamel, mozzarella and nutmeg, layers twice more using all the remaining mozzarella on the top, also sprinkle the top with the remaining parmesan.

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes at 180C until the top is golden and bubbling. You can serve this immediately although it’s best to let it cool a little first as the portions will stay together better.

This also freezes very well just wait for the lasagna to cool completely and portion into freezer suitable bags or boxes. Then when you just have to defrost them and reheat when you want Lasagne.

A moment of thought and planning

So, Thursday saw the end of my series of posts on cooking methods which was microwave cooking and I didn’t publish a recipe to go with it. This wasn’t an oversight on my behalf, if it wasn’t for my morning laziness I would hardly ever use our microwave.

Quality is not quantity.
Image via Wikipedia

So, what’s next for Not Junk Food?

Well, I had mentioned before that I wanted to do some posts on food hygiene and nutrition but I’m not going to launch into those just yet, part of the reason is that I haven’t even started writing those posts yet, what with the job hunting taking up so much of my focus for the last while and because these can be VERY boring topics if not treated well. So rather than rush into it and risk boring my tiny audience to tears I’m going to work on making those posts as easy to read and digest as possible.

When this site started originally I was posting at least 4 times a week, more recently that has dropped to 2-4 posts a week. This gave me a little extra time to improve the quality of what I was writing, by allowing me to do more research and editing, some of those cooking method posts were like chapters of a book on their first draft and that’s just not cricket. People either don’t read longer posts or lose interest halfway through. I really believe that having an understanding of these basic methods has improved my cooking immensely and I wanted to pass those details along to as many people as possible hence the extra effort.

For the future I intend to continue this trend of lower quantity, higher quality. So here’s the plan, I’m going to commit to publishing a recipe and at least one other post every week, for the foreseeable future.

Microwave

The microwave cooks food with energy created by microwave emissions at high frequency, which activate the water molecules in the food and the agitation created produces heat which cooks or reheats food.

Microwave oven
Image via Wikipedia

It can be used to cook food in its entirety, partially, reheat food or even to defrost food. You can save up to three-quarters of the time taken by conventional methods, for his reason it is often called the refuge of the lazy and/or disorganised cook. This is because the microwave does nothing for the flavour of food and in many cases provides a far inferior tasting finished product to a conventional option, but it sure is quick. That said it does cut cooking odours and minimise the shrinkage of meats or fish and it is useful for small quantities of food.

The interior needs to be kept clean at all times. Metal or gilded containers should never be used. Also the door seal should be checked regularly, if it is damaged the microwave should not be used until it is repaired.

I’ll admit that our microwave gets a lot of use in our kitchen for three purposes, the first is for making porridge in the morning and this falls into the lazy/disorganised category as I just can’t be bothered with saucepans and watching when I’m still just waking up myself, mix the porridge in the bowl, bung it in the microwave and ninety seconds later I stir in some mashed banana and eat my breakfast. The second is for heating Elly’s “hotpack” that she uses instead of a hot-water bottle.

The final and most frequent use that our microwave gets is as a bread box, it’s big enough to hold 2 full loaves and it’s an airtight container, you just have to remember to let the oven cool before placing the bread inside and closing the door.