Istrongly believe that, to avoid the consequences of winter ills, the best thing we can all do is boost our immunity through the consumption of good foods. We all need to eat smart this winter and select foods that have high doses of nutrients and herbs.
Think of the basic chicken soup that mum made when we were feeling a little down. It’s one of the best quick-fix meals we can get. I’ve made a Vietnamese version here that contains garlic and ginger – and not just because of their great flavours. Garlic helps reduce the incidence of colds and improves recovery time for those who have the bug. And ginger, apart from its unique flavour, helps fight infection and stimulates blood circulation in our bodies.
If you’re planning to entertain with your winter feast, I’ve included two seafood recipes sure to impress the guests: pasta with steamed mussels and butter-seared scallops with chorizo and braised fennel. I have also included chicken yakitori, a ‘street food favourite’ from Japan. Produced with the inexpensive chicken thigh fillets and basted and grilled in a hot pan and served over cucumber ribbons, this recipe shows us just how good chicken can taste with the simple addition of three ingredients.
I just love making pizzas. The feel of the soft, spongy dough and the smell of the yeast working its magic with the flour is simply heaven. My pet peeve is seeing people using pre-made pizza bases. The recipe here is easy and inexpensive.
Seared scallops with chorizo
These delicious scallops are seared in butter and cooked just past rare. The salty firm chorizo adds a fabulous contrast and they are presented with sautéed fennel spiced up with freshly roasted and ground cumin seeds.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Place the cumin seeds into a small saucepan and heat until they become hot and fragrant. Remove to a mortar and pestle and grind into a fine powder.
Remove the thin skin from the chorizo and cut into 5mm slices. Heat half of the olive oil in a small frypan and add the chorizo and cook until golden and slightly crisp. Remove and allow to drain on kitchen paper.
Add the remaining olive oil to a hot pan and add the ground cumin seeds and sliced fennel. Braise until just tender, and then set aside until required.
Melt the butter in a hot pan and sear the scallops quickly on both sides. Add the chopped parsley to the fennel and place onto plates. Top with three scallops each and the sliced chorizo.
This is a Japanese favourite ‘street food’ item that is moist, tender and truly delicious. For best results, it’s best to use chicken thigh fillets, trimmed from all bone, fat and skin. Soak the bamboo skewers in water overnight to reduce the risk of them burning once they go onto the hot grill.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Trim the fat and skin from the chicken, then cut into 3cm pieces. Boil the mirin, sake and dark soy sauce in a small saucepan until reduced by half. Allow to cool and then add all the chicken pieces and combine well. Place in a refrigerator and marinate overnight.
Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and thread onto the skewers, alternating with 3cm pieces of the spring onion.
Place onto an oiled pre-heated grill plate and cook until just done. Baste the yakitori with the marinade while cooking, then discard any of the left-over liquid. Present the yakitori on the thinly sliced cucumber ribbons.
Vietnamese chicken noodle soup
This is a simple and very fragrant broth that takes no time at all to prepare. It’s one that will warm you up during the colder months of winter and keep you healthy. The chilli is optional, so leave it out if you are intending to serve this dish to children.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Heat the chicken stock to boiling. On another burner, heat a small saucepan over moderate heat and add the olive oil. Gently fry the spring onions, lemon grass, ginger and garlic for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the boiling chicken stock, light soy, palm sugar, fish sauce and tamarind puree.
Add the chicken slices and cook gently until just done. Divide the other ingredients into four bowls, then top with the cooked chicken pieces and the boiling broth.
Salami and goat’s cheese pizza
Making fresh pizzas from scratch is fun and rewarding and it’s a great way to please guests and family. They just choose their own toppings and construct their own pizza. There are fantastic and inexpensive pizza oven machines on the market today. A new one on the market is the Pizza Emporia by Breville that makes great pizzas up to 30cm in diameter.
The basic pizza dough
In a large bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and warm water. Cover with cling film and place in a warm place until bubbles begin to appear. Then add the olive oil, salt and all the flour gently, mixing well and adding more flour if it’s too sticky. Knead on a floured board for five minutes until smooth and elastic.
Place the dough into a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic film and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size. Remove from the bowl and knock down onto a floured board. Divide into 150g portions (200g for larger pizzas) and knead to make a round ball. Roll out and place onto lightly oiled pizza trays and hold until required.
Spread the tomato pasta sauce evenly over the dough, leaving 1cm of the crust exposed. Spread half the grated cheese over the tomato and top with the oregano. Tear the salami into halves and place on the pizza. Place the torn basil leaves and tomato halves on top and scatter over with the goat’s cheese. Finish with a little grated cheese and place into the pre-heated pizza oven.
After one minute, carefully lift the pizza from its tray and place directly onto the pizza stone. When fully cooked, remove to a cutting board or place directly onto a serving plate.
Steamed mussels with garlic and pasta
Mussels are one of our least expensive seafoods on the market, and they cook very quickly. If you’re steaming them, cook them only until they open wide and discard any shells that do not open. One kilogram of fresh mussels will feed four adults well.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Place a large saucepan over moderate heat and add the olive oil. Add in the garlic and chilli and cook for 20 seconds until fragrant. Carefully add the chicken stock and tinned tomato and combine well. Throw the mussels in, stir well and place a lid on the saucepan. Cook for three to four minutes or until the mussels are fully open. You may need to shake the saucepan several times to move the mussels about.
Remove the cooked mussels with a strainer, discard any unopened ones and bring the tomato broth to a boil. Reduce the broth by half, then add the pasta and toss gently. Add the mussels and parsley and serve immediately
Chocolate almond and date torte
This is a very easy dessert that can be made with other nuts and dried fruit and it keeps well for days when kept in an air-tight container. Here it’s presented with raspberries, whipped cream and giant chocolate curls. This can be served with coffee or as a main dessert feature.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Set the oven to 180°C and line two loose-bottom flan tins with baking paper.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and lemon juice and beat well until stiff.
Combine the chocolate, almonds and dates, and then fold into the meringue mixture.
Fill the lined flan tins with the mixture and smooth out neatly. Bake for 45 minutes, then turn the oven off and open the oven door. Leave the mixture in the oven to cool.
Carefully remove from the flan tins, remove the greaseproof paper and place onto a serving plate.
Cover with a layer of whipped cream, top with the second base and finish with the raspberries, large chocolate curls and a light dusting of icing sugar.