Rags To Riches: Sweet And Sour Hot Dogs..Cambridge Style?

I always love when frantically scouring cookbooks or recipes online; in dire need of fresh inspiration but with no desire to shop; and I drop the metaphorical pin on a recipe where upon initial browsing, I realise I have every ingredient in stock. This was one such occasion, albeit subject to my usual adaptations and tweaking so I can now paraphrase it as mine own.

My new bootstrap cooking approach has meant that I’m stocking my cupboards with ingredients that range from the merely dowdy, downmarket, to the downright dismal, and trying to find ways to zhuzh them up and give them a chance to dazzle for once. This is definitely based on one of the dismal kind – tinned hot dogs. As in THE cheapest you can get, made from the dreaded pink slime. I know, I know. What have I become? I’m sorry to my vegan friends.

The source recipe for this, bizarrely sold this as ‘Polynesian sweet and sour’. Now I admit I’m not familiar with the cuisine of the Pacific Islands but the original creator might have their geography mixed up or they’re just pushing it a bit far. The flavours present here are distinctly Oriental – in fact, it tasted pretty much like anything offered by local Chinese takeaways and I assure you this is no bad thing.

Anyway, I had a dented can of pineapple rings in the cupboard that needed using, two peppers in the fridge that were just starting to ruche…plus all the other ingredients, including an almost-empty packet of garlic powder that really needed to be used…time to make canned hotdogs chic, or at least edible.

Don’t skip the browning of the hot dogs part – honestly, it’s worth it. And I also recommend stir frying the peppers before adding the pineapple.

The source claimed this served 8…really? It more realistically serves two but then again the hot dogs were pretty small.

Sweet And Sour Hot Dogs

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1 x 432g tin pineapple rings in juice, or chunks (not in syrup though)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed

3 tbsp vinegar (I used distilled malt but any will do)

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tbsp oil

1 x 400g tin hot dogs in brine, drained and sliced on the diagonal into 3 pieces per dog

1 green pepper, cut into cubes

1 orange or red pepper, cubed

2tbsp cornflour, slaked in 2 tbsp water

 

  1. Drain pineapple rings, reserving juice. Chop into chunks.
  2. In a bowl, stir the juice with brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and garlic powder (should you have any MSG or red food colouring in your cupboard..;))
  3. In a frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Fry the hot-dogs for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. I highly recommend this step, especially if you are using the absolute cheapest of cheap ones. Remove from pan to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Place the chopped peppers into the hot pan, add a little more oil if necessary and stir fry for a few minutes, until they lightly catch. Do this as long as you want – the more charring the better. Add the chopped pineapple chunks and the juice mixture.
  5. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking uncovered for about 5-6 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce slightly.
  6. Pour in the slaked cornflour and stir constantly until mixture is thick and bubbling – like from the takeaway, you want a thick coating rather than a runny gravy.
  7. Return the hot dogs to the pan, stir to combine with the coated veg and fruit, and cook for 4-5 minutes until heated through.
  8. Serve over boiled rice, or, if you really want to go to town, egg fried rice.
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Silk Purse From A Sow’s Ear?

I don;t know whether to write this recipe down or not, but I just thought I’d share another example of taking a derided and downmarket food product and elevating it whilst still on a budget.

 

 

Not a bad looking bowl of ramen, is it? Yet the only authentically oriental ingredient in that bowl was the generous splash of soy sauce! This started life as a pack of 20p value noodles (that favourite of students), and yes, I did use the seasoning sachet as the basis for the broth. Also present are frozen peas and canned mackerel, along with some sliced mushrooms.

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All these distinctly British and sneered-at-by-food-elitist store cupboard staples, but yet, made a pretty good impression of proper ramen. I followed Nigella’s method from Simply Nigella and just again, used the instructions as my base – for example in lieu of the 500ml dashi she specifies, I just dissolved the seasoning sachet in 500ml hot water etc, etc. I don’t think a recipe is needed, but just wanted to share this example of taking rubbish ingredients, and, with a bit of thought, turn them into something a lot more promising.

Feel free to badger me if you really want the recipe, but honestly, just look up Nigella’s ramen recipe!

Foul Or Fusion: Pasta alla Sriracha

Firstly, I apologise for this 4.5 month hiatus. I’ve been on a couple of restricted diets and generally just not been hit with any culinary inspiration lately….or if I had, I just never got around to writing it down.

This recipe is hardly the most grandiose comeback, in fact, some might question my sanity for even calling this a ‘recipe’, but in the final pre-payday struggle after a fortnight of indulgence that’s probably completely undone all the dietary restraint of the previous 2-3 months, I was quite pleased with this hastily-cobbled-together lunch (or supper) and felt the need to share.

It takes inspiration from several sources – Mama June from Honey Boo Boo (yes, really); the early-2010s craze for sriracha, Anna Del Conte, Jack Monroe….ah what the hell. This is a council-house take on penne all’arrabbiata that shouldn’t work. But it does. It’s essentially pasta with some sriracha sauce and ketchup, but with some respect kept towards Italian cooking methods (less is more with the sauce, use of the mantecatura) and not drowning in downmarket condiments. In fact I only added ketchup to balance out the garlic-soused pungency of the sriracha. I know cooking with ketchup is considered disreputable, and not the thing, but I’m not prepared to justify myself here.

Can be made with any pasta shape you have on hand – spaghetti would work very well too as it’s a light dressing as opposed to swimming in sauce. And adjust the quantities of sauces if you like more or less heat, or a sweeter taste.

Serves one.

Pasta alla sriracha

 

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125g penne or spaghetti – indeed whatever shape is in your cupboard.

Small knob butter

1 tbsp ketchup

1-1 1/4 tsp sriracha sauce (to taste)

Grated parmesan

  1. Set a pan of water on to boil, salt, and then cook pasta according to package instructions. When pasta is at least al dente, remove from heat (but don’t turn off) and drain, hiving off a small cupful of the starchy water as you do so before returning pasta to the pan.
  2. Reduce heat to very low and add the butter, ketchup and sriracha, and stir to combine and coat the pasta evenly, adding some of the reserved cooking water as you do so. You want lightly, yet well-coated pasta. Think dressed salad, there should be barely any excess sauce.
  3. Serve immediately, top with grated parmesan, black pepper and, if desired, drizzled with more sriracha.

 

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Curry In A Hurry: Lamb And Pea Keema

This is essentially mince curry. You can call it what you like, but that’s what it is.

The mere notion of of ‘mince curry’ conjures up 1960s horrors made with stale curry powder and garnished with hardboiled eggs, but, if you peel off the mask of stubborn ‘authenticity’ for a minute, you’ll realise that this has as good a place at a south Asian table as any – because the term curry simply implies a gravied dish. And this is stewed minced lamb served in a spiced gravy with peas. Admittedly if one was to use beef mince then we’re back in the Sixties, as of course beef isn’t eaten in India (the cow is sacred), but calling it keema satisfies the culture-appropriating food snob within us. But nobody’s going to sue you if you do use minced beef.

This originated from Delicious magazine’s website and I combined it with my own recipe for chicken balti to make it a bit more worthy of talking about. It won’t set the world on fire and it’s certainly not Instagrammable, but it is imperative for the middle of the miserable working week when the extra step of making mash for shepherds’ pie just seems like climbing Everest in the fog.

 

Lamb and Pea Keema

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250g lamb mince

1 tbsp beef dripping

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp garam masala

100g frozen peas

1 tbsp tomato puree, diluted in 200-300ml boiling water

Lemon juice

  1. Heat dripping (or oil) in a saucepan over medium heat. Add diced onion and fry until softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so.
  2. Add lamb mince and turn up heat – fry until browned, and then add all ground spices except the garam masala. Reduce heat back to medium and allow to cook out for 5 minutes.
  3. Toss in the peas and cook just until the frozen look leaves them before pouring in the tomato ‘stock’.
  4. Bring to boil and simmer rapidly for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. You want some left but not much. Think shepherds’ pie base.
  5. Taste for seasoning and then squirt in a good dash of lemon juice and the garam masala and stir through.
  6. Serve with naans, boiled rice and whatever your heart desires.

Cupboard Love: Chorizo and Pea Pilaf

It’s becoming a dangerously repetitive maxim on here, but honestly, its amazing what you can make by just scrabbling around in your fridge, freezer and store cupboard and applying a little knowhow.

I appreciate that this looks like an Eastern Mediterranean zig-zag; we begin in Spain and end up in Persia – this is not me purposely being globetrottingly eclectic in the kitchen, but merely hunting for a fast supper which creatively used some leftover chorizo sausage that was too little to do anything else with. It has some roots in a couple of Nigella’s recipes, but really, most of us will have these things in these days. I didn’t weigh the chorizo but it was the ends of two sausages that I’d bought and used for Nigella’s Chorizo and Chickpea stew and refused to waste.

It’s super easy and fast to make, one pot as well, so it’s perfect for anyone so harried in the middle of the miserable working week when the idea of cooking just makes you want to shriek. These measurements serve one, but you can of course double or quadruple. Just remember it’s one part rice to two parts stock.

I suppose you can also add chopped dried apricots (or indeed ANY dried fruit) to ramp up the Scheherezade exoticism of this dish but it’s perfectly good as is. Indeed you could also add saffron to the stock…..

Chorizo And Pea Pilaf

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approx 80g chorizo, cut into small chunks

80g frozen peas

100g basmati rice

200ml chicken stock

Splash (1tbsp) dry sherry

 

  1. In an oilless pan over medium heat, fry the chorizo pieces until the orange oil runs out.
  2. Remove from heat and add sherry, it will sizzle a bit.
  3. Add peas and cook until frozen look leaves them.
  4. Add rice and stir until slicked in the orange-tinted oil and sherry remnants.
  5. Pour over stock and bring to a bubble.
  6. Clamp on a lid and reduce heat to very low. Simmer for 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  7. Once the rice is cooked, stir briefly (with a fork) and don’t panic if there’s any crispy bits – in Persian cooking this is very desirable and known as the tahdig. Serve immediately into a waiting bowl.

Hot And Sour: Southeast Asian Chicken and Kale Salad

Firstly let me just own up: I have never been to any country in South East Asia. But I do know that their cuisine – huge on flavour yet low on calories/guilt – is often the first port of call to any foodie who has to exercise a modicum of dietary restraint. I am a bit of a greedy pig, which I know is not news (and certainly not fake news), but even I have to reel in my desires. My low-carb diet took a hiatus to accommodate Easter, and lately I’ve decided to relax it more at weekends (especially if copious alcohol consumption is planned).

I don’t know whether to call this a salad or not as the kale is steamed, but isn’t served hot. It was yet another result of a fridge raid today when I needed a low carb but filling lunch and some cooked chicken breast to use up. It is a mutation of Nigella Lawson’s gingery hot duck salad from Bites, which in turn was a spin off from Cambodian beef salad so, I guess you can call this recipe the next stage. This is the beauty of cooking – evolution.

I am not naturally a salad person so if I do make one, it has to deliver on taste and not feel like a punishment. My salads usually have heat in there somewhere, maybe fruit, herbs, and certainly something sharp and pickled. Vinegar or citrus juices tend to be my choice of dressing, I loathe those claggy bottled ones.

Kale I genuinely enjoy eating (don’t convince me a kale smoothie does not taste absolutely vile though. Just cook it and eat it as a veg, stop inflicting such horror on your soul) as it is beefy and meaty for a leafy green and still fairly cheap to buy and is always grown in the UK all year round, and I had half a bag to use up and no salad leaves in the fridge.

I nearly always have a bought roast chicken in the fridge (because sadly I don’t roast birds nearly as often as I would like to these days which is madness as it would work out SO much cheaper) but I tend to prefer the dark meat (think a drumstick torn off the bird like an island savage when post-work hunger pangs hit) whereas my ex partner/good friend favours the breast. But on those occasions when I do have cooked chicken breast laying about, I have to anoint it with some seriously spiky, punchy flavouring.  But I do tend to leave the skin on as it’s a small sacrifice of virtue in order to up the flavour stakes.

The dressing is hot, salty, sour and even a little sweet – if the idea of sugar appalls you, then just use granulated sweetener or agave syrup instead. You do need balance here. I have done it with half lime, half sweet orange before, but this time I wanted the full acerbic hit of the lime. The ginger is to taste, don’t get your ruler out. In truth, I find it easier to just grate the whole root and go by eye. And I don’t bother to peel because I’m lazy.

This is a fiercely hot salad, not for the faint hearted (and if, as I often do, you go for full geographical authenticity and use those fiendish Thai birds-eye chillies or go EVEN hotter up the Scoville scale, then it’s strictly professionals only time)  but if you do like the food that bites back, it’s an easy summer lunch or light supper. If you’re as much of a heat junkie as I am, you will love it.

Serves 1 but can be doubled.

Southeast Asian Chicken and Kale Salad

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125-150g (about half a 250g bag) curly kale, tough stems removed

1 cold cooked chicken breast, skin on  (either from a leftover roast, bought packet or rotisserie chicken)

2 tbsp fish sauce

Juice of 1 and a half limes

1 tsp sugar or any sweetener you desire

Few drops toasted sesame oil

1-2cm piece ginger, grated.

1 green chilli, chopped (de-seed if you’re of a more timorous bent, or use 1-2 birds-eyes if you think you’re hard enough)

 

  1. Place kale in a steamer, either electric or one set over boiling water, sprinkle with salt and steam until tender. Alternatively you can boil in salted water.
  2. Slice chicken breast on the diagonal, going for that 80s Chinese takeaway fan-style carving but if some of the meat crumbles, spoiling the perfect slices, don’t get het up. Please leave on the skin. You’ll thank me.
  3. In a bowl, mix together fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, chopped chilli and grated ginger before tumbling in the sliced chicken. Stir to coat thoroughly. Think of this as a quasi-marinade as well as a dressing.
  4. This can be served with the kale hot or at room temperature,  so don’t fret about timing – when kale is tender, (and drained if you boiled it), decant it onto a plate before topping with the chicken, making sure to scrape out any remnants of the dressing with a spatula and dive in.

 

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Mellow Yellow: Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto is classic comfort food in my eyes. It contains all the necessary items that bring solace and protection from life: carbs (yes the C word) and fat. Like a savoury rice pudding without the divisive tarpaulin of skin, this classic staple of Italian cooking is one of those foods you can feel hugging you from within.

It comes in many different forms, but surely there is no finer take on this most sinful of rice dishes than the Milanese version: Lit up with the deep gold bleeding from strands of that most magical of spices, saffron, risotto alla milanese is resplendent in its simplicity. Like many classic dishes, it is steeped in the mythology that there is this one great authentic recipe that all cooks must obey, but this simply isn’t the case….as Nigella Lawson once quipped, cooking is alive, like language…so I don’t proclaim this to be an authentic take on the perfect accompaniment to osso bucco veal, but merely my version of it.

I have no time for snobbery in the kitchen and I used whatever was to hand, including rosé wine (it was dregs of some trashy Gallo White Grenache left in the fridge and needed using up) and stock from a cube (because the most pretentious foodies of course deem any stock not home made as disreputable and not the thing), as well as grated cheddar instead of parmesan. Not that I’m going out of my way to be rebellious here; I just used what was in the fridge and on the shelf. By all means use parmesan and white wine as well as homemade chicken stock if you have them.  If you’re opening a bottle of wine especially for this, obviously drink the rest with the meal! Vermouth would also be good here if you can’t justify buying a bottle of wine just for this.

I will be bossy about one thing – you MUST use saffron otherwise this isn’t Milanese risotto! It’s better value to buy saffron online than the little jars from the supermarket, and you get more for your money. It keeps for ages so do invest. No turmeric please. The flavour is quite different and would be invasive here.

You could even use cheap long grain rice if you wanted if that’s all you have/budget is tight, but you won’t get the same creamy texture – risotto rice is short grain and can absorb more liquid, but I used to make risotto using long grain from my old student cookbook years ago and it does work  in a similar fashion – ris = rice after all, so I can vouch for that as a commendable alternative. Just don’t serve it to a discerning Italian.

This recipe serves one happily, but can easily be doubled for two.

Risotto alla Milanese per uno

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60g butter (go by eye if that’s easier)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 stick celery, finely chopped

150g short-grain/risotto rice – I used arborio but if you can find Vialone Nano rice, please use that.

125ml (small glass) rosé or white wine

500ml chicken or vegetable stock – I recommend Knorr chicken cubes as it helps with the yellow colour

Grated parmesan (or cheddar if you haven’t got any parmesan) to serve

Generous pinch saffron threads

  1. Mix saffron into the stock and pour into a small saucepan set over a medium heat. It is important to keep the stock hot.
  2.  Over a medium heat, melt half the butter along with the olive oil and tumble in the finely chopped vegetables. Cook for about 5 minutes, sprinkling with salt to stop colouring, until soft.
  3. Tip in the flat pearls of rice and stir until they are shiny and slick with onion-celery oil – this is known as tostatura in Italian.
  4. Pour over wine and stir, allowing the rice grains to absorb it.
  5. Once the wine is absorbed, ladle in the stock one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and not adding the next ladleful until the previous has been fully absorbed by the rice. Keep going until all the stock is used up and the rice is al dente…it should have some bite but be creamy and tender; this should take around 20 minutes.

  6. Don’t leave the stove during this. It’s hard to be precise as different bags of the same rice can differ in their thirst, so you may not need all the stock, or you may need to add extra water from the kettle.
  7. Once the rice is ready (do taste and check the texture) get ready to make the mantecatura; the all important finishing touch. Dot the risotto with the remaining butter, along with the grated cheese (Use roughly 2 tbsp but it’s to taste), and, should you have some on standby, a little cream (no more than 1 tbsp otherwise you risk muting the brilliant summery yellow of the risotto) and stir until melted in and creamy – the Venetians call this all’onda which means ‘with a wave to it’. You don’t want a rock-solid mass.
  8. Serve immediately.

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