Wed 23 Oct 2013
Food brings people together, and there’s no better evidence of this than the daily lunchtime meal at my office. I’m very lucky to work at a company that provides its employees tasty, inexpensive and healthy food for lunch every day, prepared for us by a staff of dedicated chefs. There is a different menu every day, each featuring a hot main course (always with a vegetarian alternative) and side dishes as well as a daily salad bar with plenty of variety.
Last week the Q Café at Kellogg’s featured some very special menus, one that I had a hand in creating. It was the much-anticipated Come Dine With Me competition: a representative from each department was chosen to create a full meal menu (starter, main course, dessert) with recipes, which the canteen cooks would make for the entire staff at our Kellogg’s European headquarters. I was putting my best recipe skills forward on behalf of the Marketing department. No pressure, right?
Of course there was a kicker to the normal CDWM rules: We were each given a star ingredient that we had to feature in our main dish, and I – ever the unlucky one – drew FISH. I say unlucky because, in my experience, a lot of Irish people don’t like fish unless it’s battered and fried, and our kitchen doesn’t use a deep fat fryer. The others received relatively tame main-dish ingredients: Jenny (Nutrition) got chicken; Joe (Sales/Procurement) got beef; Diarmuid (Supply Chain) got ham/bacon and Ruanne (HR) had to feature pork in her main course.
We had the better part of a month to create and deliver our recipes to the kitchen staff, and they had a week to mull over our entries and prepare their execution strategies. After I tried Monday’s lunch, I knew I was in for some tough competition. Jenny’s fabulous meal – goat cheese & beetroot salad with pinenuts; chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms and wrapped in parma ham with dauphinoise potatoes; summer fruit brulee – was excellent. Everyone who ate received a ratings form, which was then dropped into a locked ballot box.
The week played out like a delicious reality-show-style cookery competition with lots of unexpected surprises (Joe, ever the sales guy, made sure to represent every nationality in his department in his lunchtime offering) and a wealth of incredible food. Ruanne’s roasted pork belly and apple crumble really knocked it out of the park for me; after I tried it I knew she was the one to beat. The advantage of being last to go is the benefit of seeing everyone’s reaction to my competitors’ food, but the disadvantage was the build-up of anxiety after hearing all the praise for my competition.
When Friday finally came around, I was ready. I stepped into the Q Café kitchen at 9 am to discuss the game plan with Denise, our fearless Q Café head chef (who, by the way, used to work at Chapter One, so she knows a thing or two about cooking!). We tasted and talked & salted and strategized until we were both happy with the final dishes. At noon I donned my special CDWM/Q Café apron and helped dish out my offerings.
The feedback was immediate and, thankfully, positive. My starter of Asian nachos seemed to be the biggest hit; the crunchy tortilla chips topped with warm, minced beef in soy sauce with garlic, ginger and lime topped with cheese, fresh coriander and tomato got rave reviews, particularly from the guys. The main course, a Thai-curry fish burger topped with ginger-lime mayo and a crunchy Asian slaw on a soft bun, also seemed to go down well – even with those who wouldn’t typically like fish. And the dessert, a Crunchy Nut baklava served with a lemon custard, seemed to hit the spot for a good few as well.
When all was said and done, I came in second place. And to be honest, I couldn’t be happier even if I’d won the top slot (which went to Diarmuid, whose Coca-Cola ham with mustard mash went down a treat!). We were all given the feedback written in the “comments” section of the ballots, and the notes about my food were all so positive and encouraging that it really made my week to read them. Working with Denise and the incredible staff of the café was a real treat as well; they worked incredibly hard and dedicated themselves to getting the dishes right, despite my somewhat laborious recipe instructions.
Looking forward to next year’s competition!
Asian Nachos (serves 3-4 people)
40 tortilla chips
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/3 lb. minced beef or turkey or Quorn
½ medium white onion minced finely
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 1/3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
Juice of one lime
Lots of freshly ground pepper to taste
To top: Handful of diced tomato, green onions, fresh chopped corriander and grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese
Heat up olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add in the onion, ginger and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the onions start to become translucent. Add in the ground meat and cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Add in the soy sauce, lime juice and black pepper.
Arrange tortilla chips on a platter and top with the meat mixture – then sprinkle the cheese while the meat mixture is still hot so that it melts a bit on the chips. Then top with diced tomato, corriander & sliced green onions.
Thai-style fish burgers topped with Asian Cole Slaw and Ginger Mayo (recipes makes 6 burgers)
Asian Cole Slaw:
1 tbl dark soy sauce
½ teas sesame oil
Juice of a whole lime or ½ of a lemon
1 teas sweet chili sauce
½ teas freshly finely grated ginger
1 carrot grated
¼ of a head of red cabbage, grated or sliced thinly
1 green onion, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
½ teaspoon of salt
Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, lime or lemon juice, sweet chilli sauce and ginger into a large bowl until combined. Add in the carrot, cabbage and green onion and sesame seeds and season with a bit of salt. Toss together in the dressing and let sit for at least one hour and up to four hours.
2 tbl low-fat mayo
Juice from ¼ lime
1/3 teaspoon of grated ginger
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.
1.5 lbs. of mixed fish – hake, salmon, etc., skin and bones removed
65 grams of breadcrumbs (would prefer using leftover bread vs. orange-y packaged bread crumbs) soaked in a bit of milk.
1 tablespoon red or green curry paste
2 green onions, sliced
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced finely
1 tbl dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
In a food processor, whizz up the fish so it’s a paste but still a bit chunky. In a large bowl, add in the milky breadcrumbs and combine, and then add in the curry paste, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil and green onions until combined. Form into patties (I weighed each of mine at about 125 grams raw but it’s totally up to you depending on what you consider a normal portion size), brush the tops with a bit of oil and bake at 170C fan assisted oven for 15-17 minutes or until just cooked.
To serve: Place fish burger on bun, top with a dollop of mayo and a couple of spoonfuls of the Asian cole slaw. Serve immediately.
400 ml water
225 grams of caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
200 grams unsalted butter, melted
½ packet of filo pastry
400 grams almonds, chopped or food processed finely
2 cups of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes (original)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Your favourite custard (or ice cream) to serve!
To make the syrup: Combine the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the sugar is completely dissolved and the consistency is that of a thin syrup.
To make the baklava: Preheat oven to 170C. Liberally butter a 30 cm x 20cm baking dish. Remove the filo sheets and cut to fit the baking dish, allow an extra centimeter for each sheet because it shrinks during the baking process.
Lightly pulse the Crunchy Nut in a food processor – don’t make it into a powder, but into small bits, and then mix with the almonds. To build the baklava: Brush the first sheet of filo pastry with with melted butter and place at the bottom of the baking dish – repeat five times so you have five layers of filo pastry/butter. Spoon about 1/3 of the Crunchy Nut/almond mix over the pastry and repeat the whole process until all the Crunchy Nut/almond mixture is used up. Place a final three layers of pastry/butter on top, and carefully cut through the top layer to make 16 squares – this makes it much easier to cut after baking.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, and then increase the temp to 200 and bake an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately pour the syrup on top – let cool for one hour before serving. Top with custard or ice cream!