Discovering Leon

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The first time I ever knew of Leon was when the front cover of the stunningly striking recipe book caught my eye whilst I was queuing up at the express checkout in Waitrose. I had assumed it was a ponsy French cook book, you know the kind: technical cooking requiring a set of scales in every recipe, unashamedly disguised as rustic country living.

How wrong I was! The next time I was to see the book, I was completely taken aback. I had been on Strand at a meeting with a client and we had popped into the corner cafe for a quick bite to eat. The food was fantastic – smugly healthy with enough dressing and flavoursome sauces to make it feel like a treat. As I was leaving thinking about what a great find it was, I walked past an obscurely placed bookshelf and realised where I was.

The concept behind Leon is “If God made fast food”, born from Henry and John’s vision of a nutritious and low GI but FAST restaurant and takeaway.

Leon have two books published, both excellent eye candy on the book shelf and both equally useful. The first is an encyclopaedia of ingredients and how to shop the good stuff. The second, a huge influence on me gastronomically and creatively, is a scrap book from how to stock your pantry to how to make a fabulous cocktail, and is well worth a purchase.

Here is one of their fast food recipes from the owner himself…

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Home Made Pizza – Let Battle Commence

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The last time I was challenged in the kitchen, I lost – it was a pumpkin carving competition and my boyfriend’s disturbingly life-like carving of Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas was, I hate to say, a masterpiece…

I’m happy to admit that my home made pizza skills are far more blog worthy…

My first tip would be to take the extra time to make your own base, I am yet to find a pre-made base which doesn’t taste like cardboard. I was a first timer too but using a simple internet recipe, found this very easy.

Also, be prepared for a bit of mess, especially if there are two of you going for it at the same time! If your base recipe calls for pouring your wet ingredients in to a well in the flour, make sure that well it as tight as you can get it and be patient when rolling: if you’ve made the base right, it will be really elastic and need perseverance.

The best part of the flavour comes through the sauce topping – here’s my version:

1 x garlic clove – crushed
1 x anchovy fillet
5 x cherry tomatoes + 1 x large tomato – chopped small
1 x teaspoon of dried oregano
2 x teaspoon of sun dried tomato paste

Method

Warm some olive oil in a small shallow pan and melt in the anchovy fillet. Add the crushed garlic and when slightly coloured add the fresh tomatoes.

Sprinkle in the oregano and add the sundried tomato paste. The anchovy fillet will provide a salty hit but season to taste.

When you are happy with the shape of your rolled out base, pop in the oven for 5 minutes on 180 degrees to firm up.

Finish by spreading over your topping sauce to your partly baked base, and decorate with any toppings your heart desires!

My choice: anchovy, red onion, black olives, capers, mozzarella, chilli and parsley (add once cooked)
Dom’s choice: chicken, sweet onion marmalade, red onion, chilli, goats cheese, sun dried tomatoes

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Authentic Thai Green Curry

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Although I call it “my” Thai green curry, unfortunately I cannot take all the credit…

My 21st Birthday present from my mum was a trip to Thailand during which my friend Jen and I spent a week in Chiang Mai. This amazing city seems to be the Northern hub of some seriously spicy and fragrant foods‚ not to mention the freshest fruit, and Bird of Paradise flowers growing like weeds! Wanting to soak up as much culture as possible, we checked in to Baan Thai – an evening of cookery school, we thought it would help our culture karma after having sunbathed most of the day!

Marched off to the local market with a small crew of 6 other spice-tolerant tourists, shopping lists in hand, we had already had our “Sawadeeka’s” and had chosen the dishes we wanted to make. I’m sure we all thought we had picked the most interesting and unusual dishes, until we were back on GB soil, headed straight to a Thai restaurant and everything we had made was on Set Meal A!

Of course we had all drooled over the Thai Green Curry (extra hot) and it was certainly top of my list! Back and armed with several baskets of chillies, lemon grass, ginger, coriander, basil and mountains of other fresh goodies that you just don’t get as good anywhere else, we began to cook.

Sat round in what felt a bit like a mediation circle, on the floor with our legs crossed, armed with only a pestle and mortar, we began to master the art of the infamous Green Curry Paste.

Having tried and tested many a curry paste, homemade and bought, I have concluded that the best available is by far the Thai Taste Keow Wan pastes. The ingredients list is as fresh and natural as that of the market we visited, and it keeps in the fridge forever! (actual time 1-2 months).

Then the rest is up to you – add chicken, prawns or beef and any veg combo your heart desires. Play around with the flavours but stick to the KEY RULE of Thai cooking: sweet, sour, hot and salty.

Here is my take on the Thai classic, lovingly evolved over the last 7 years.

Ingredients

2 large dollops of Thai Taste Keow Wan green curry paste
1 tin of coconut milk (use low fat at your peril, it will dry out the curry and dilute the flavour)
2 x chicken fillets – cut into strips
1 x packet of fresh baby Sweetcorn – line them up and chop into 3 pieces
1 x small tin water chestnuts, halved
2 x baby aubergine (or 1/2 a normal aubergine) cut into chunks and soaked in cold water
1 soup spoon of Nam Pla (fish sauce)
3 teaspoons of sugar
1 x large torn up handful of basil – the bigger the leaves the better. I find Sainsbury’s the best for this
1 x cup of Thai fragrant or Jasmine rice
A gulp of olive oil
1 x fresh red chilli (optional)

Method (as simple as I can get it)

Get your gulp of olive oil as hot as you can, then stand back as you add 2 large dollops of curry paste – it will spit so don’t try and cook this wearing anything you care about!

Break up the paste and get it all warmed up and fragrant. Add a splash (about 1/4 of a can) of your coconut milk, just to loosen the paste a little. Then get your chicken strips in an cook these until the outside of the meat is all sealed.

Leave this on a low heat for a couple of minutes so the chicken soaks up all the lovely flavour, and you can get the kettle boiling for the rice.

Put your rice in a saucepan and cover with boiling water – get the heat to a gentle boil and give it a good swirl around so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Stand back, take a breath and get all utensils you’re finished with cleared away.

Next, drop in your baby corn, water chestnuts and aubergine. This is going to really pad out your curry and these vegetables especially are fantastic for soaking up all the flavour of the sauce.

Give the curry a stir, and stir your rice again while you’re at it!

Now it is time to enhance the flavour, start by adding the basics: fish sauce, sugar and half the torn up basil. Stir in and let this simmer for 1 minute, then taste it with a teaspoon.

For tips on how to season and balance out thai flavours see <a title=”How to Balance Thai Flavours” href=”http://www.squeezeoflemon.com/2012/01/08/how-to-balance-thai-flavours/” target=”_blank”>How to Balance Thai Flavours</a>

Simmer away until you have cooked, drained and rinsed your rice with boiling water to remove the starch and make it nice and fluffy…

Dish up and enjoy.

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My Summer Staple

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I was introduced to this simple classic pasta dish in 2007. My friend and I were soaking up the sun on the terrace of her parent’s Trullo in Puglia, southern Italy. After a mid-morning trip to the Supermercato, she rustled this up for our lunch in approximately 11 minutes flat!…

It is one of the simplest, most versatile and tastiest things I have ever cooked and eaten. It’s a cheap way to entertain a group of dinner guests, and equally as easy to cook for one, so a great alternative to a ready meal if you live alone. Serve with some crisp salad leaves, tossed with olive oil, white wine vinegar and a big Squeeze of Lemon!

To feed two, you will need:

1 x punnet of cherry tomatoes
Enough spaghetti for 2 – in my book this is a 3rd of a packet roughly
2 x cloves garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
LARGE handful of good basil

Method

Chop your tomatoes in half and put the pasta on to boil
Heat your olive oil in a large pan
Crush in your garlic and add the tomatoes
Season generously
Stir the tomatoes and squish them in the pan until the juices have leaked out and formed a sauce, then throw in the basil
Drain the spaghetti and add to the tomato pan and mix thoroughly
Serve & enjoy

If you’re feeling adventurous, try adding chillies, tuna, black olives or some low fat creme fraiche to mix it up a bit!

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