Today, 2nd September is my son’s birthday. I find it very difficult to believe that 20 years ago, Felix was born and I became a mum. Where does the time go, it honestly seems like only yesterday that I was struggling with breast feeding and then later, cooking ‘Annabel Karmel’ weaning recipes! Now he is off at university – or rather should be if Covid doesn’t intervene again (who would have dreamt 20 years ago that this pandemic would be affecting all of our lives?!). Anyway for this reason I have been reminiscing, I have been going through old photos and even a few videos, musing over how young we all look! One thing that hit me when looking at these photos is how many are taken around food, and how I can still remember the flavours of some of those meals; food is something that feeds not only our tummies but also our senses, triggering memories.
It is human nature to celebrate special occasions with food, they go hand in hand, so naturally I have been thinking this week of recipes to cook to spoil our birthday boy! This of course means that I will be sharing them with you…
Felix, like a lot of teenagers, loves sweet and salty flavours, he is also a huge meat eater, so the first dish accommodates both these preferences – Thai Steak Salad with Ginger, which despite being a salad is a very substantial and fulfilling midweek meal. The second recipe is Spaghetti with Monkfish and Tomato Sauce, although Felix is not particularly keen on fish, he loves this pasta dish with meaty monkfish. When I first made it for him, he gave me one of the best compliments by comparing it to the food of our favourite fish restaurant in Italy; ‘This could be on the menu at Ottone!’, he exclaimed, so I instantly knew it was a winner!
Finally, a showpiece dessert, but an extremely easy one to make – a Pavlova. I make my Pavlova in the shape of a wreath, having followed a Mary Berry Christmas recipe years ago, and I must admit it really does have a ‘wow’ factor whatever the season – and that’s before anyone’s even tasted it!
You don’t need to be celebrating to enjoy these recipes – both the Thai Steak Salad and the Monkfish Pasta are great midweek dinners, whilst the Pavlova is a welcome weekend treat, and I think we all need one of those…!
Thai Steak Salad with Ginger (Serves 4)
This salad has a lot of ingredients but is very simple to make and ready in 10 minutes! It is a recipe I found in the cookbook ‘Tom Aikens Cooking’, a book which I bought many years ago when he had his Michelin starred restaurant, ‘Tom Aikens’. Nick and I were lucky to eat there a few times and I must admit that the food was outstanding. The cookbook, as you can imagine from a chef of this calibre, has quite a few complicated recipes however amongst them it is possible to find a couple which are easy to cook on a midweek evening, such as this steak salad. The flavours of this salad are great; fresh and light, with a sweet ginger taste rather than a hot firery one! If you are gluten free use gluten free soy sauce and oyster sauce.
3 – 4 sirloin steaks (depending on how hungry you are)
Sea salt and black pepper
1 red onion, thinly sliced
150g mixed salad leaves
For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons of bottled stem ginger in syrup, chopped
6g piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped
2 fresh red chilles, finely chopped (or less according to your taste)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small bunch fresh mint, leaves picked
1 small bunch fresh Thai basil or regular basil, leaves picked
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2½ tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon caster sugar
50ml sesame oil
- For the sauce, grind together the gingers, the chilli, the garlic and half of the mint and basil leaves. Mix in the remaining sauce ingredients including the remaining whole herb leaves.
- Brush the steaks with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a griddle pan (or frying pan) until very hot and cook each steak for 1½-2 minutes on each side.
- Remove the steaks from the pan and whilst they are resting put the red onion in the pan to cook for a few minutes until caramelised.
- Slice the steaks into to thin slices, trimming them of any excess fat.
- Finally toss the meat, onions, salad leaves and sauce together in a large bowl and serve straightaway.
Spaghetti with Monkfish and Cherry Tomato Sauce (Serves 4)
Often nicknamed ‘poor man’s lobster’, monkfish is a lovely meaty fish making this dish totally satisfying. It is best to have all the ingredients prepared before cooking as the sauce cooks quickly. It is a very special yet quick and simple pasta dish…
400g monkfish fillet, sliced into 1cm slices
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 red chilli, chopped (or less according to your taste)
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
350g ripe cherry on the vine tomatoes, halved
4 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons of capers
1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Season the monkfish ad place in the pan, allow to colour, stirring. Then add the dried and fresh chilli, and the garlic, cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and wine to the pan followed by the capers, cook over a high heat for a couple of minutes.
- Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions until al dente.
- Drain the spaghetti and add it to the pan with the sauce along with the parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice (to taste). Toss everything together and serve. Easy!
A Wreath Pavlova with Summer Berries
I make this pavlova in the shape of wreath, having seen the recipe by Mary Berry for a Christmas pavlova in this wreath shape some years back. I find that this shape is not only stunning to look at but also easier to slice. I use a mixture of summer berries, but most fruits work well, so you can use whatever you have to hand. You will need to draw out the shape of the wreath on baking parchment – I find that at large plate and a saucer are about the right size – see photo above.
For the Pavlova:
6 large egg whites
350g caster sugar
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon cornflour
For the Filling:
600ml double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
50g icing sugar, sifted
300g strawberries, hulled and quartered
A few mint leaves to decorate (optional)
Icing sugar to dust
- Preheat the oven to 140’c.
- First place a large piece of baking parchment on a baking sheet and draw 30cm circle (you could use a large dinner plate) and inside this circle an inner circle of 15cm (you could use a saucer) – thus creating a wreath shape.
- Put the egg whites in a mixing bowl and with an electric whisk, whisk until soft peaks form. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar a little at a time until the whites are stiff and glossy. Mix the cornflour and vinegar together in a small cup and then whisk into the whites.
- Spoon the meringue mixture onto the ring drawn on the parchment. Using a spoon to make a shallow trench in the meringue for the cream to sit in – see photo above.
- Place in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 120’c. Bake for 1 hour- 1 hour 15 minutes until the outside is hard but still white. Turn off the oven and leave the pavlova inside for at least an hour or overnight to cool and dry (don’t forget it’s in the oven!)
- To assemble, whip the cream, vanilla paste and icing sugar together until stiff peaks form. Spoon the cream in the trench of the pavlova and top with the berries and decorate with the mint leaves (if using). Finally sprinkle with icing sugar. Delicious!!