One such lovely blog is Belleau Kitchen in which Dom talks about his life and his food in beautiful Lincolnshire. A year ago, he had the wonderful idea to host a Random Recipe Challenge, with, as I talked about in my last post, the fantastic idea of using one of those many, many, cookbooks to cook a random recipe. I knew instantly I wanted in; to my shame, out of my hundreds of cookbooks, a figure-too-embarassing-to-say have never been used. On our trip to Dunedin last year, University capital of NZ, we stumbled on a Dickens-esque dusty second hand bookshop days before it was closing down - everything was being sold off for mere cents, and I bought out pretty much its entire range of cookbooks in two fell swoops (couldn't carry everything at once; had to come back the next day). I tell you this not as the exception for me, but the rule.
So with my trusty assistant Andy fully prepped and primed as to his duties, I turned my back, closed my eyes, waited for half a minute or so, and yelled stop. And boy, did I pick a goodie. Can I take any pride in that random selection? Please say yes, I'll take it where I can get it these days. bills sydney food is one of those books that shamefully glowers at me every time I cook an easy old favourite. Very appropriately, it was bought for me as a Christmas present in 2009 by Andy, after we'd eaten at bills in Sydney when we stayed there with my brother and his wife. Even more appropriately, Andy and I first met in Sydney, both of us on a solo round-the-world trip, both of us going in opposite directions, but we met, and that was that. Done deal. We were the backpacking holiday romance that stuck. Although, I will just say this one time about the book and the restaurant - the punctuation KILLS me. But, it is what it is, and what it is is bills. The flavours look lovely and fresh, the very best of antipodean life, and even on a rainy day elsewhere, I imagine they could transport you to a sunny, cosmopolitan city far, far away where life is good, beer is cold, and people are happy.
The recipe picked at random was absolutely right up my culinary street. Chicken Noodle Soup with Lemon. Bill Granger describes it as Vietnamese pho meets Jewish chicken soup. Right there, right in the title and the description, are all my favourite things in food. What could be more wonderful, soothing and jolting at the same time, as a chicken soup with Asian flavours? And yet, and yet. I was mildly disappointed in this soup, and felt that the depth of flavour that is usually there with a lovingly-made chicken stock, was missing. The recipe had me make a chicken stock to start, but the only aromatics were 4 slices of ginger, 2 spring onions, and black peppercorns. The spring onions weren't oomphy enough - in the future I would use regular brown onions, and probably some garlic as well, which would give more flavour without clashing with the other tones in the dish. Before serving, you put lemon juice (technically 3 teaspoons, but who will measure that out? I used half a lemon), the same of fish sauce, and a sliced red chilli in a bowl, before adding the stock, shredded chicken, and fresh lasagne, cut up in place of noodles. It was these flavours that dominated and, though they definitely improved the soup and made it fresher, they were all top-notes and no depth. All mouth and no trousers.
You know when I would make this soup again, actually? When I have a cold. When your taste buds are dulled and deadened, so those top notes would sing their way through the murk, and we all know the famously healing properties of chicken soup. Then, it would be perfect, and I predict that I'll be all over this soup in June and July (still strange to me that those months are winter, I'm such a Brit), but in the summer, not so much. The other change I would make is to replace the fresh lasagne with regular noodles; I didn't feel it added anything to the dish other than expense.
Still, not a bad way at all for me to dip my new girl toes into the water, and I know Andy was very relieved that we didn't get anything involving offal or tomatoes. I'm looking forward to next month already.
Chicken Noodle Soup with Lemon
From bills sydney food
1 1.5kg chicken
4 slices fresh ginger
2 spring onions, cut into 10cm lengths
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
9 ears baby corn, sliced in half lengthways
1.5 cups bok choi
3 sheets fresh lasagne, torn into 5cm squares
3 teaspoons lemon juice
3 teaspoons fish sauce
1 red chilli, sliced
12 mint leaves
.75 cup of coriander leaves
thin slices of lemon
Make the chicken stock by putting the chicken, ginger, spring onions and peppercorns in a large pan with lots of water to cover - the book suggests 4 litres, my pan couldn't take that much so I used 3 litres instead. Bring to a boil, skim off the scum that gathers on the top, and reduce to a simmer for 3 hours.
Cook the squares of lasagne in salted water until cooked, which with fresh pasta takes, what, 2 minutes? Drain well, and put in a large serving bowl along with the lemon juice, fish sauce, and chillies.
Put the chicken stock in a pan over a high heat, add the shredded chicken, corn and bok choi, and cook for another minute or so, until the vegetables are only just tender. Add this to the serving bowl, and serve, with a scattering of mint, coriander, and fresh lemon slices on the top (the eagle-eyed amongst you might notice the lack of coriander; I try to grow it but realised minutes before I made this recipe that it had succumbed to the lurgy so our soup was coriander-less).