Nicky Cahill prepares for Valentine’s Day, Pancake Day and Chinese New Year

There are many things about February I love. The frosty night skies filled with millions of twinkling stars. Snowdrops cover the ground with gentle white blossoms. Daffodils and crocus push through. Colour is returning to the earth, and the evenings light is drawn out by moments each evening.

Then there is the food! February really is paradise for anyone who wants to eat. Pancake Day, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year all fall within a few days of each other.


I am dividing this month’s column into three to reflect these three great foodie events.
I want to share with you a delicious dessert of Coconut rice pudding topped luscious ruby red rhubarb compote with for a warm and snuggling valentine, the perfect recipe for fluffy pancakes, and to help you celebrate Chinese New Year, the recipe my family and I will eat on the 19th January my Vietnamese sister in law’s recipe for Pork Chops.

I love recipes that work hard. By that I mean, recipes which can be served more than one way. This Coconut rice pudding can be served warm after a light dinner or cool for breakfast. Or straight out of the fridge with a spoon, did I really say that, oh yes I did.

The Rhubarb and Blood Orange Compote is a sharp sauce which cuts beautiful through the rich creamy sticky rice pudding. But it can also be used as the basis of a fruit crumble, served cold over porridge or warm with pancakes.

On Valentine’s I don’t want to eat out, or spend hours slaving in the kitchen but I do want to eat well. Enjoying food that is full of love, comforting, but not too heavy, last year I recommended this Pear and Cranberry salad as a perfect main course, its light and delicious, allowing pudding to be silky and decadent just like my sticky coconut rice pudding, topped with slightly tart pink fruit.

(null)Coconut Rice Pudding

(makes about 4 cups)
• 1 cup pudding rice
• 4 cups coconut milk
• ¾ cup light brown sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla extract or (1/2 vanilla pod with seeds scrapped into the rice)
• A little warm water or more coconut milk
1. Wash the rice and place in a pot (with a tightly fitting lid)
2. Add the sugar, vanilla and coconut milk to the rice
3. Bring to a simmer on a medium flame, stirring frequently
4. Turn the heat down to low and continue stirring regularly to ensure the rice does not stick or burn, cook for about 30-35 minutes until the rice is tender, with just a hint of a bite in the middle. If you think the rice looks too dry, but still needs to cook a little longer, add some more water/coconut milk and continue stirring
5. When its cooked this rice pudding should ooze rather than look stodgy
6. Serve with Winter Rhubarb and blood orange compote

Winter Rhubarb and Blood Orange compote
• 3 sticks winter rhubarb sliced to approx 1cm pieces
• Knuckle sized piece of ginger peeled
• 2 blood oranges, juice, and rind
• Seeds of 1 pomegranate
• ½ cup white sugar

1. Place rhubarb, ginger, blood orange juice and rind, sugar in a pot, then stir, and place over a low flame
2. Cook slowly about 15 – 20 minutes stirring occasionally until the rhubarb has softened and the sugar dissolved.
3. When it is cooked, remove the lump of ginger, and add the pomegranate seeds serve warm on the top of the rice pudding, or with some Greek yogurt or in your porridge. This keeps tightly sealed in the fridge for three days.

Gong Hei Fat Choi! – Happy Chinese New Year, wishing you happiness, joy and wealth.

Chinese New Year festivities start on the first day of the lunar month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. New Year also known as the Spring festival because it celebrates the start of new life and a season of sowing and ploughing starts on 19 February 2015 , is the most important celebration in the Chinese calendar.

According to the Chinese Zodiac this year is the year of the Sheep or Goat, people born in the year of Sheep or goat are tender, polite, filial, clever, and kind-hearted. This is your Chinese Zodiac if you were born in 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003 and, now, 2015.

The recipe I am sharing with you for Chinese New Year was created by my talented Vietnamese sister in law, Sy Phan.

Fish is traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year and it is said to encourage an abundance of good luck. Sy Phan has also shared this recipe for Vietnamese Whole fish with ginger and scallions.

Wholeness is important during Chinese New Year so fish is served whole, with the head on. This is symbolic of the New Year being a whole year, without missing its head or tail.
The recipe I am sharing with you today is an authentic and very morish recipe for Vietnamese Pork Chops Thịt nướng
Thịt nướng is a traditional dish from the south of Vietnam where Sy Phan is from. The meat after it is marinaded is often cooked on the street in meat BBQ cages. This recipe is one you can eat all year round, and is as delicious cooked on the BBQ as it is done inside.

Sy Phan brings huge bowls of these chops to BBQ’s and they disappear the moment, they are cooked; however, you can also cook them on a griddle or frying pan in your kitchen. If you are making them for a party triple or even quadruple the recipe as you can trust me when I say these pork chops will be the first thing to be eaten from your table.

Traditionally these chops are served cut into finger length pieces, and placed in slices of fresh French baguette with a topping of mint, coriander, peanuts and red chilli.

I suggest you eat them family style at the table with little bowls of fresh mint, coriander, red chilli, toasted peanuts, slices of cucumber, fried onion and scallions to layer over boiled rice with the slices of succulent pork.

Sy Phan ‘s marinade is made from a heady aromatic mix of spring onions, garlic, black pepper, and oyster sauce. Thin slices of pork chop are left overnight in the marinade to allow it to soak into the meat – do try to marinade your meat for as long as you can, as this is absolutely crucial to getting a real depth of flavour from the chops.

Thịt nướng Vietnamese Pork Chop Recipe

Serves 4


▪ 6 pork chops
▪ One bunch of Spring onions finely chopped
▪ 7 cloves of garlic finely minced or crushed
▪ ½ tablespoon black pepper
▪ 2-3 cups Oyster sauce (enough to cover the chops)
▪ 2 onions finely chopped
▪ ½ cup of light soy sauce
▪ ½ cup dark soy sauce
▪ 4 tablespoons of brown sugar (or honey)
▪ 2 tablespoon of fish sauce
▪ 2 tablespoons of vegetable, sunflower or sesame oil.
Accompaniment to be set on the table in small bowls

▪ 1 French Baguette cut into sandwich pieces
▪ 1 large bunch mint chopped
▪ 1 large bunch coriander chopped
▪ 3 red chilli’s finely sliced
▪ 4 tbsp peanuts dry fried for two minutes over a high heat, then chopped
▪ 1 cucumber finely sliced
▪ 1 bunch of scallions finely chopped
▪ Fish Sauce
▪ Soy Sauce
▪ 4 limes cut into wedges
▪ Boiled Rice


1. Place all ingredients except the chops in a large bowl, mix well
2. Add the pork chops massage the meat into the marinade so it is evenly distributed and coats every slice of meat
3. Leave for 24-48 hours covered in the fridge (you can cook marinade for 30-60 minutes if you are in a hurry but the flavour won’t be as intense)
4. Heat a griddle pan over a high heat until it smokes, then turn the heat down to medium (or cook them on a BBQ)
5. Place the pork chops into the pan and cook for a few moments each side until they are cooked through, and seared with the marks of the griddle
6. Add the onions towards the end of the chops cooking, they are served seared but crunchy
7. Cut the chops into little fingers and serve on a platter

Note – These chops are outstanding, and Sy Phan very kindly adopted the recipe, to omit fish/oyster sauce if you are making these for people with allergies to fish. To make the chops in this method, add 4 cups of dark soy sauce instead of oyster sauce, and omit the fish sauce.

Gong Hei Fat Choi!



Pancake Day has always been one of my favourite days of the year. Shrove Tuesday
or what has become commonly known as Pancake Day is the last day before Lent. But let’s not think about giving up things for Lent just yet, let’s enjoy a feast of pancakes.

This is my perfect pancake recipe – the buttermilk is the secret for the best pancakes in the world. Light fluffy and thick. It’s based on an old recipe of my Gran’s for Scotch pancakes, and it can easily be doubled or tripled, or used for waffles. If you are making these for children I suggest cooking them about the size of a small child’s palm, there is something about tiny pancakes that is ultra cute, and children just love. They also can be packed into lunch boxes or served for afternoon tea.

Perfect Pancakes


▪ 4oz self raising flour or self-raising wholemeal flour
▪ 1/2 tsp baking powder
▪ 1/2 pint buttermilk
▪ 3oz golden fair trade caster sugar
▪ 1 large egg
▪ butter/oil to grease

1. Using this pan or another thin lipped frying pan over a medium heat or lift the Aga simmering lid grease with butter at least one and a half hours before cooking
2. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in the middle
3. Crack in the egg, and beat into the flour with an electric handwhisk, the mixture will get bitty quickly, have the buttermilk on hand to pour in as you hold the beaters in the other hand
4. You may not need all the Buttermilk, sometimes I use less than 2/3s of the amount stated, the beaters should leave a thick trail in the mixture
5. Mix on high for 2minutes until the batter is smooth and all ingredients well incorporated
6. If possible leave the batter to sit covered overnight in the fridge, otherwise leave it for as long as you can before cooking
7. Cover a wire rack with a tea towel, and set beside the cooker
8. Using a large spoon ladle one pancake onto the middle of the griddle/pan – I cook them one at a time because I like quite large pancakes usually 9″ in diameter, although if you are cooking for children, make them the size of the diameter of a small glass.
9. Let the pancake cook until the bubbles that have formed all begin to burst
10. Using a palate knife quickly slice under the pancake and flip over, cook for about 30 sec to one minute, flip again, both sides should be golden, and the pancake all puffed up and if ready, place onto the wire rack, and cover with the tea towel
11. Serve with lemon and sugar, and fresh pineapple and mixed berries, tossed together with the juice of a lime

You might like to try this recipe for Maple candied bacon, which is a little bit of heaven right on your plate.

Happy Happy Happy Pancake Day

In February I am

EATING – Crispy Aromatic Duck to celebrate Chinese New Year, at Macau Chinese Restaurant on the Ormeau Road – the mix of heady aromatics, Chinese Five Spice, Hoi Sin Sauce, and succulent crumbly meat, wrapped in little pancakes with slithers of spring onion and cucumber is a combination which is very difficult to beat.. There is doubt in my mind that this is the best Chinese in Belfast. Macau Chinese Restaurant 271 Ormeau Road, Belfast, BT7 3GG, 02890 69 1800
DRINKINGThe Honorable Reisling an American wine available from Marks and Spencer.
READINGDeliciously Ella , by Ella Woodward published by Yellow Kite. It is the latest in a range of plant based cookbooks, and one that has really made me smile. Not only is this a beautiful book to look at, hold and read, it is compellingly filled with recipes that actually work and taste delicious. I find myself reading it again and again, thinking about what I will cook next. Importantly the 100 or so recipes are accessible and not full of demands for expensive ingredients and complicated cooking techniques. Ella’s writing is positive, upbeat and inspiring, far removed from the preachy, self-righteousness that has invaded the world of ‘eating clean’. I highly recommend her sweet potato brownies.

If anyone has any food related questions or ideas for products they’d like Nicky to try, do get in touch.

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Post Author: Belfast Times

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