Emergency Chocolate Mousse

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Trust me, you need this emergency chocolate mousse. All I’ve been hearing about lately is people suffering from baking disasters: collapsed choux buns, sunken cakes, curdled custards and burnt biscuits. We must be in the midst of an epidemic.

The symptoms of this peculiar affliction begin slowly; caused by a slightly dodgy oven or a slapdash approach to measurement. Sometimes it’s a missing ingredient and you decide to ‘wing it,’ sometimes you’re too busy looking at other people’s bakes on Instagram and have a lapse in attention. It escalates quickly and, before you know it, you are in the throes of disaster, crying into your charred creation, angrily throwing it into the sink or, in extreme cases, sitting in the corner of the kitchen, covered in flour, rocking back and forth muttering about how Mary Berry made it look so easy on television.

I succumb to this on a regular basis. Even for those of us for whom cooking is a hobby, it can still be a massively stressful experience as, now more than ever, we are expected to share our food with others and, even more frighteningly, on social media. The worst bout of disaster for me came when I tried, and spectacularly failed, to make a tray of gin and tonic jellies for a Band of Bakers event. I came home before the event to collect them and they were still liquid, even after 14 hours in the fridge. I had ignored the symptoms, you see: I have a terrible track record with gelatine and booze is notoriously difficult to work with. I threw the whole lot down the sink and needed a remedy.

It was not the first time that the emergency chocolate mousse has been my saviour, it has managed to cure me of dessert-related meltdowns on several occasions in the past. Of course, if you balls up your planned dessert royally, you can just go to the shop and buy one, and I thoroughly advocate this; unless, of course, you write a food blog and run a baking club, in which case you had better turn out something homemade or your credibility will plummet. Or so my inner fears go at these moments.

The best thing about this mousse is that it takes hardly any time to make. The second best thing is that you can buy most of the ingredients from the corner shop which if, like me, you’re a bit of a way from a supermarket and don’t have a car, is a godsend. After my failed gin and tonic jellies were so unceremoniously dumped, I managed to get to the corner shop, buy ingredients, make the mousse and chill it, all within an hour. It also tastes pretty good and, more importantly, homemade. If you have a posh corner shop, or at least one that sells more than booze and crisps, you can get creative with what you serve with the mousse. I spooned mine into little individual cups and served half with some fresh strawberries they had in that day, and the other half with sweets from the pick and mix stand.

Of course, you may be one of those lucky individuals for whom nothing goes wrong, but if you’re susceptible to the odd bout of baking disasters, I would bookmark this page and make a note of your local shop’s opening hours. At least until they discover a vaccine.

Emergency Chocolate Mousse

Note: if you don’t have these exact ingredients to hand, don’t worry about it. 300g of any chocolate will suffice, and if you don’t have brandy you can sub it out with any other whisky or liqueurs you have in the booze cupboard – or leave it out all together.

150g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
50g white chocolate
3 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp brandy
250ml whipped cream

Break all of the chocolate into small pieces into a glass bowl and place it over a pan of simmering water. Stir the chocolate until it melts and then set aside to cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until thick and pale, then fold in the cooled chocolate, being careful not to knock too much air out of the eggs. Gently fold in the brandy and whipped cream.

Either divide into individual serving dishes, or serve from the large bowl.

Serves four. Adapted from a recipe by Gino D’Acampo.

Vietnamese Prawn Noodle Salad

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It’s the same old story, or at least it is for me: I come home from a holiday, all sun-tanned, rested and full of good intentions, and declare that I only want to eat the cuisine of the country I just arrived home from. If you go right to the back of my food cupboards, you could probably find enough evidence to guess everywhere I’ve been on holiday in the past five years.

Cooking these dishes at home is easy enough, especially when you live in London and have access to speciality food shops for almost every country in the world, but eating out is a little trickier. Mainly it requires research: if you’ve just arrived home from a holiday exploring the ruins of Chichen Itza, walking into the first Mexican restaurant you find back home is unlikely to recreate your holiday gastronomic experience, because, let’s face it, a lot of restaurants in the UK offering ‘foreign’ cuisines are crap. That being said, if you do your homework, the more authentic places can easily be found (incidentally usually away from the tourist spots.) When I came home from a trip to Vietnam in 2009, I went straight to the Kingsland Road in, what was then a far shabbier, Hoxton to find the best place to satisfy my new-found love for Vietnamese food. Almost everybody I know has a favourite restaurant on the Kingsland Road, and most are fiercely loyal to theirs. I actually have three that I always go to: Mien Tay for pho, Song Que for grilled meats and the Tay Do Café for their tofu with chilli and lemongrass, which is, hands down, the best tofu dish in London.

If south-east Asian food is your thing, it is easy to be satisfied in London; with noodle bars and bahn mi stands in most neighbourhoods. Most are cheap and authentic, and many let you bring your own booze. The one thing that I have to say here, though, and my only real sticking point: the salads are never hot enough.

South-east Asian salads are typically shredded vegetables, and occasionally green mangoes, with a soy-lime-fish sauce dressing, some roasted nuts and a lot of chilli. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that they are completely innocuous, for they look like nothing, but they often pack more of a punch than most of the stir fries and noodle dishes. Once, I watched open-mouthed as a street food vendor threw a handful of chopped red birds-eye chillies into my comparatively small salad, seeds and all. In UK restaurants, the salads are far, far tamer. All of the elements are present and correct, but they will add considerably fewer chillies, presumably to better suit a western palate. I mean, they’re not wrong, for I have many friends who start panting on eating the tiniest bit of sriracha; but I do find myself underwhelmed by most of the salads I’ve had in London. The best one, for me, was the pomelo salad at Smoking Goat on Denmark Street, which was probably the closest to anything I ate in Asia.

This recipe is one that I developed some time ago. The vermicelli noodles makes it part south-east Asian salad and part summer roll filling, but I’ve come to like it very much. The dressing follows the main principle of south-east Asian food: balancing the sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavours. I almost typed ‘perfectly’ on to the end of that sentence and then realised that the perfection in this balance is found in your own personal taste. As you will have already gathered, I like a lot of heat in my salads, so have added five birds-eye chillies: two in the dressing and three in the salad . Do scale this down if the mere thought of it is making steam come out of your ears. Similarly, if you are a braver person than I (or you’re cooking dinner for my husband,) then add in one more. I tend to remove the seeds but, again, do keep them in if you wish. If you don’t like prawns, sub in any other leftover cooked fish or meats, or leave it out altogether.

My inlaws came to visit recently and we had this as a side dish alongside some bream baked with ginger and spring onion. And a lot of sriracha.

Vietnamese Prawn Noodle Salad

For the dressing:
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
90ml lime juice
2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely grated

250g fresh vermicelli noodles
75g beansprouts
1 large carrot, cut into thin batons
1 cucumber, deseeded and cut into thin batons
3 birds-eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
300g cooked small prawns
2 tbsp basil, finely chopped
2 tbsp mint, finely chopped
2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a bowl, whisk to dissolve the sugar and set aside.

Stir fry the noodles according to packet instructions, along with the beansprouts, and transfer to a large bowl. Add the carrot, cucumber, chillies, prawns, basil, mint and coriander. Pour over the dressing and toss to combine.

Serves two as a main, or four as a side dish.