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Friday 25 March 2016

HelloFresh Revisited: Double Peanut Satay Stir Fry with Thai Holy Basil & Bok Choy

Clearly I haven't been doing a great deal of cooking recently, but I've been off work for most of this week - by choice, this time, rather than through illness - and my girlfriend and I had been discussing for quite some time that this would provide the ideal opportunity for her to take a break from slaving over the hot stove, and for me to get in some more practice over that same hot stove.

Since my last couple of stints of cooking dinner were both sets of three dishes (one from Gousto, the other from HelloFresh), I figured I'd start by looking over their recipe cards, and my eyes naturally fell on my biggest failure from that batch of experiments. I always say that one learns more from a single failure than from any number of successes, but I've yet to put that properly into practice in the kitchen. The first change I made was obvious - using products I already had in stock, or were bought at the supermarket - basically things that didn't have to be wrestled out of weird 'portion-sized' packets and things that I'd gone and got for myself based on the ingredients list.

My biggest gripes about HelloFresh generally were the imprecise and illogical measures they used for some items, and the wonky order of events presented by the instructions. Having cocked it up once, I had a better idea of how and where to start, so I began by mixing the Satay sauce - 2 large tablespoons of peanut butter straight out of my kitchen cupboards, 1 tablespoon of the sweet chilli sauce lurking in my fridge, and a tablespoon of soy sauce (light or dark is not actually specified in the recipe, but the first bottle I picked up was light, so I used that) all stirred together in a small bowl. This was an interesting step, because the peanut butter in my cupboard had separated when I last used it, and stirring it thoroughly still left it roughly "the consistency of runny honey", which description was the source of just one of the issues I had the first time round. Adding the two sauces thinned it out further, but then I left the sauce aside... and while I worked on the other steps, it thickened up considerably. By the time I was doing the noodles, I really did need to add some of the boiling noodle water, but the recipe's estimate of "a couple of tbsp" wasn't entirely sufficient to correct the consistency - I ended up using four or five, and could probably have used a couple more without overly diluting the resultant sauce.

Next up came the chopping of the veg - which, as usual, took far longer than it should have done because I'm still terrible at chopping veg. I did save some time and effort by grating the ginger rather than chopping it finely, because attempting to chop things finely still really pisses me off. I put the grated ginger and the discs of the white parts of the spring onions into one small bowl since they're added together, then the red peppers (sliced not quite to half centimetre matchsticks, but close enough) and the sugar snap peas into a second bowl since they're also added together. Next up, I sliced the bok choy (or 'pak choi', as Morrisons call it) and set that aside in another bowl, then chopped up the green parts of the spring onions and put them an a small bowl of their own.

Finally, in this pageant of proper preparedness, primed to prevent a plural of poor performances, I poured a handful of dry roasted peanuts into the mortar I barely use and lightly crushed them with the pestle I rarely touch. Hey, they look nice in my kitchen, OK?

Then and only then did I start on the noodles. My girlfriend has shown me a neat trick where you boil your water in a kettle before putting it in the saucepan, and that does seem to cut down the cooking time simply because a kettle boils water far quicker than a gas hob, so the noodles could be added sooner, so their four minutes were up sooner. Again, I followed the advice of HelloFresh and put the cooked noodles into a pan of cold water to keep them ready (and loose) till they were needed.

The actual cooking part is very quick - part of the problem I had the first time round was that the fourth step of the recipe, the stir-fry, takes only a little over five minutes, but everything has to be ready and to hand so that things actually happen in the necessary quick succession.

When it came time to add the Satay sauce, I still managed to fluff things up a little: it looked at first as if there still wasn't enough (hence the impression that I could have added more of the noodle water) and by the time it was bubbling, some of it had already stuck to the bottom of my wok. Still, it mixed in nicely enough and everything seemed to get a decent coating of the sauce, so things were looking positive. I had, of course, singularly failed to tear up some basil (the normal kind, as the Thai variety was nowhere to be found in the supermarket or my local grocers), but that was soon enough accomplished. The final steps were sprinkling over the crushed nuts and the green bits of the spring onion. Still no prayers to the gods of Thai cooking, but equally no colourful oaths muttered under my breath... and my girlfriend was pleased to find I wasn't utterly losing my rag over dinner this time.

Oh, and it tasted fantastic... Much, I suspect, as it is intended...

I was especially pleased with the sauce, as I really could taste the note of ginger and the sweetness of the chilli sauce in the Satay - even the shredded basil wasn't utterly overwhelmed by the large quantity of peanut butter. The red peppers and sugar snap peas had retained some bite and the noodles were nice and soft without being gooey or gummy. It may have taken me most of a year, but I feel that I've managed to turn what I very generously considered "a kind of success" in retrospect, into the success it deserved to be, without half the stress I'd expected considering how long it's been since I last cooked. It all proceeded far more smoothly than the first time, I felt calmer, more confident and in control all the way through... the only downside was the mess left over in the wok... but most of that will come off through soaking.

This is definitely a recipe that I'd like to try again sometime, making a few subtle changes: the ginger was possibly grated a little too finely, almost to a paste, and I'll probably add a bit more water to the Satay sauce as I cook the noodles... maybe even use different veg.

My biggest regret with this second attempt at the recipe is that, yet again, I didn't take any photos. To be honest, though, what I served up wasn't as tidy-looking as the photo on the recipe card, so it still wouldn't have looked half as good as it tasted.

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