Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Keftah with Harissa Hummus - Algeria

Having competed in 11 Summer Olympic Games, Algeria have won just 14 medals and this year have sent 42 athletes to London to compete in 12 disciplines with a hope of extending that tally.  Historically, their best events have been Boxing and Athletics (specifically middle distance running) but Beijing 2008 saw them collect two medals for Judo so who knows what they'll achieve this year.

Located on the northern coast of Africa between Morocco and Tunisia, Algeria is home to 37m people.  Populated since 10,000BC, Islam was introduced into the country in the 7th century with around 90% of inhabitants now being Muslim.

No, it's not burgers and beans with Sainsbury's pita...
The country gained its independence from France in 1962 and this mix of influences is very apparant in the wide range of dishes attributed to Algerian cuisine.  Dishes vary from region to region and make use of seasonal vegetables.  According to Wikipedia, all meals use grains.  Wikipedia is quite obviously wrong because the recipe I cooked tonight didn't come with grains.  It could've done.  But it didn't.

Geography lesson over, tonight I increased the 'meatball tally' of the Olympic Food Challenge by one meal by choosing to make Keftah.  Like so many countries in the Mediterranean, Algerians have a fondness for highly spiced lamb made into either meatballs or kebab shapes.  I much prefer the term Keftah or Kofte (Turkish) to the very American meat ball.  It's like meat loaf.  Stating the obvious but doesn't sound that appetising.  My favourite term for meatballs is the German Frikadeller, although I've never tried real German ones.

The recipe was once again sourced from t'interweb and I was entertained by its lack of precision.  Put roughly this and a bit of that and a pinch of something else together with enough meat to make three smallish meatballs.  Great for a bit of experimenting.  Meatballs are a popular meal in this house, but if you've read some of my other posts on the subject, you'll know that the husband will only eat Waitrose Aberdeen Angus ones cooked in Rachel Allen's pasta sauce with spaghetti.  This is an advance because before this blog, we didn't eat meatballs in this house so it's one extra meal on the menu.  But he's poo-pooed all the homemade versions that I've tried.

When he found out that Miss A and I were having meatballs, he plastered a pout on his face that would rival Posh Spice.  But once he realised they were lamb rather than beef, he was quite happy to sit down to his boring dinner of plain chicken and plain pasta with cheese.  Until I put my plate on the table.

Algerian flag
'But it's meatballs on baked beans.  I'd really really like that' came the plaintive wail.  Revealing that the beans were actually chickpeas shut him up pretty quickly and let me eat my very yummy meal in relative peace.  As the 'hummus' was so spicy, I didn't give Miss A any, serving her meatballs with pasta and fresh tomato sauce.

I did tinker with the recipe a little because I wasn't a fan of the sauce which was basically water with some Harissa stirred in and then reduced.  So I added some chopped tomatoes, sea salt and sugar to the mix and garnished it with fresh coriander.  Much tastier.  The husband eventually stole one of Miss A's meatballs and you could tell from the look on his face that he actually liked it but wasn't willing to admit to it.  He can stick to his manky shop-bought ones until he retracts his scathing opinion which was based purely on sight.

Served with Khubz also known as Dan Lepard's Perfectly Plain Pita (I adore these and won't ever by shop bought again), it has to be my favourite meal so far and I'll definitely make it again.  First gold medal.

Just as an aside, the Keftah recipe has many similarities to the recipe for Lorraine Pascale's Minted Lamb Burgers (third most popular post on this blog) which I then turned into Moroccan Meatballs the following night.  It's a small world...

Recipe -  Serves 4 (Adapted from Shawna's Food and Recipe Blog)

For the Harissa Hummus

  • 1 tbsp Harissa Paste
  • 400g tin chickpeas, drained
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 200ml water
  • pinch of brown sugar
  • pinch of sea salt
For the Keftah
  • 400g lean lamb mince
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • Fresh coriander to garnish

  1. Mix the ingredients for the Keftah together in a mixing bowl until well combined.  Divide into twelve even sized pieces, shape into balls and place on a plate.  Rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  2. Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan over a medium/low heat.  Place the meatballs in the pan and fry until browned and fully cooked through (I popped mine into the oven on 180c fan for ten minutes, wrapped in foil just to make sure they were fully cooked after frying as they're quite large).
  3. While the meatballs are cooking, place the chickpeas in a small saucepan.  Pour in the water, tomatoes, Harissa and simmer over a medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the salt and sugar and simmer for a further ten minutes until the sauce begins to reduce and thicken.
  4. To serve, spoon the hummus onto serving plates and top with three meatballs for each dish.  Garnish with coriander and serve with Khubz (pita) or rice or couscous.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Chicory with Cheese and Ham - Belgium

No faffing around tonight.  A recipe slathered in cheese sauce?  Belgium, you have been awarded the first gold medal of the 366 Recipe Challenge entry into the Olympic Food Challenge.  I salute you.

Based on previous performance, Belgium will surely welcome this medal, averaging just one gold per Olympics over the past few events, but with an impressive 139 medals in total over 24 Olympics - not bad for a relatively small nation. With 124 athletes competing in 16 disciplines, they should surely stand a chance of adding to their current haul of a solitary bronze in the judo.  Cycling is by far the best event with one fifth of their medals won on the road or track.

The linguistically diverse country is home to just shy of 11m people, speaking Flemish, German and Dutch as well as excellent English.  I know because I've been there.  To a Cliff Richard concert*.

Chicory, not chicken.  Honest!
Ask anyone about Belgian cuisine and they are likely to mention Chocolate, Beer, Fries and Waffles.  I missed an opportunity here because the two national dishes are steak-frites (lush) and moule-frites (equally lush).  Sadly, I appear to be allergic to mussels having never successfully held down a portion of moules - I've made several attempts at this.

Instead, I took the opportunity to pick the brains of one of the consultants who is working on one of my  projects at work for advice.  Not only is she Belgian, but she works for a company that sponsors the Olympics so she was the perfect choice to sort out today's recipe.

Despite a desire to dust down my waffle iron and make piles of them, laden with cream and caramel and bananas, I opted for A's favourite dish of chicory with ham and cheese.  She was kind enough to send me links to a series of recipes and her own personal opinions and experiences of them.  This was listed as a childhood favourite so I just had to try it.

I bought some chicory a few months ago to try in a Jamie Oliver meal but never got round to it.  Mostly because I seem to have mislaid the book (this is entirely possible in our house, trust me).  So having wasted one opportunity, I decided I absolutely had to tick it off of the list this time.  A mentioned that her mum used to also make this with leeks for a more subtle, child-friendly flavour.  Having tried the chicory version, I would probably go with leeks in the future for both flavour and cost.  The bitterness is interesting, but I won't say I'm a huge fan of them.

Belgian flag (in case you couldn't work it out!)
My sauce did go a little runny on cooking.  I would recommend using slightly less milk, but this could equally have been because I kept the calories down by using skimmed rather than full fat milk.  It still tasted fantastic though.

The recipe says to serve it with mash, but given the huge calorie overload from the cheese and the vaguely warm temperature from today, I opted for a side-salad instead.  In mid-winter on a bad day, I could fully eat this with a pile of buttered mash and some spinach on the side, just to make me feel a little bit good about such indulgent nursery food.

You can find the recipe I used here.  And thank you A for your help in finding the recipe!

*Don't ask.  It took enough guts to publicly admit I actually did this.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Jollof Rice - Nigeria

Nigeria have fifty-five competitors competing in eight disciplines at the London 2012 Olympics, hoping to break their 16 year gold-medal drought.  I learn so much about the world from Wikipedia.  Sir Tim Berners-Lee is continuing to help rectify the average secondary education that I had.  For that, and Twitter, I salute you sir.

As for the country, Nigeria is the 7th most populous country in the world and the most populous country in Africa with just over 166m inhabitants but is only the 32nd largest country in the world by land area.  Most importantly, the cuisine is colourful and vibrant with the typical West African spicing.  (Because it says so on Wikipedia, so it must be true).

Jollof is a rice-based dish, and the only reason I picked it was because I was amused by the claim on the website that it's a vegetarian breakfast dish.  I'm assuming that the author considers chicken eaten at breakfast to be quite alright within the confines of a vegetarian diet.

Vegetarian Jollof - with extra chicken
Whilst pondering this post, I Googled other recipes and was interested to see the variance in ingredients.  BBC Good Food has a recipe that adds bell peppers and Okra.  If you ask Wikipedia, it says that Jollof is a rice dish, cooked with tomatoes and spices which you can then add vegetables and meat or fish to.  It's a dish common throughout West Africa, but mine definitely came from a website stating it was the Nigerian version. 

It was a doddle to cook - pretty much like doing a paella but with less faff.  I was intrigued by the addition of Lea & Perrins.  I never would've thought that you could buy something like that in Nigeria - but I am happy to stand corrected.  The best bit was the slightly burnt bits from the bottom of the pan where the sauce 'caught' as the rice had absorbed all of the liquid.

We had it for tea because I couldn't face the idea of a chicken and rice dish for breakfast.  Miss A liked hers, although I'm sure she only ate so much because we bribed her with the promise of a summer pudding cupcake if she finished - we knew she wouldn't.  The husband was intrigued (he had Mary Berry's Chicken Tikka with Dan Lepard's Naans) because it looked just like red rice with Chicken - his Wednesday night staple.  Sadly he spotted it was packed with carrots, peas and French beans.  The closest he gets to a vegetable is when I put his sandwiches in the fridge behind a lettuce.  I enjoyed it and would definitely cook it again as a way of getting veg into the family.  I may just try some other veg like bell peppers in place of carrots and then the husband may just try some.

I think we have our first silver medal on this blog.

You can find the recipe I used here.  Vegetarians, beware!

Lil Ms Squirrel's Summer Pudding Cupcakes

My gorgeous cousin, @BridestockBride is getting married in less than a week.  Not one known for convention, she and her hubby-to-be are having a wedding festival.  In amongst all the excitement, she's planning on having a tea tent with a cake stall and has been buying vintage china like a demon for the last year.
You can just about see the hidden middle...

Any of the guests who are vaguely capable of baking have been asked to bring some cake with them.  I still haven't quite decided what I'm making, but I came up with these cupcakes as a potential option.

Summer pudding is something that we never had when I was growing up because my mum doesn't like the 'soggy bread' outside.  For the same reason, we rarely had trifle as she doesn't like soggy sponge.  But I love summer fruits and figured that you could do a pink-tinged hidden middle cupcake with a dollop of 'cream' on the top.  I Googled about for recipes but couldn't find one so came up with my own.

Yesterday I made a half batch of cakes for a trial run and decided to add it to the blog today - even though it means a double-blog-day with my Olympic Food Challenge meal coming later tonight.

Because I'm not sure what the weather is going to be like come Saturday, I went for a topping of Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMB) because it's firmer than standard English Buttercream and will hopefully stand up to a warm day better.  Having mastered Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB) a few months back for my epic raspberry cake, I decided it was only fair to try IMB as well.  The end product for both SMB and IMB appears to be the same. I don't have any SMB to hand to do a true comparison.  But the cooking method is slightly different.  With SMB, you heat the egg whites over a bain marie with the sugar and then whip them.  IMB requires you to add hot sugar syrup to partially whipped egg whites.  In both cases, you then whip the meringue to within an inch of its life, throw in a huge pile of butter et voila, buttercream.

Girly cakes ahoy!
The recipe I picked for the IMB instructed me to boil my sugar for seven minutes and gave no temperature.  After four, it started to turn caramel in colour so I popped in my Heston thermometer and it told me it was 168c already.  Disaster.  A quick Google revealed that the syrup should be no more than 110c.  The second batch took just over two minutes from initial boil to being ready.

Rather than waste the first batch, I threw in some pink food colouring and made some sugar graffiti just for the fun of it.  I remember seeing Lorraine Pascale do this and I was just interested in how to work with it and how long you have between pouring it and being able to flex it onto things and the moment when it sets hard and will just fragment.

Whilst making up the cakes, I then thought the fragments of sugar would add an extra dimension to the finished cake.  I asked the husband for his opinion.  It wasn't polite (I must confess I was so deflated, I tweeted exactly what he said).  But I'm pleased with them.

Here's how I made them

For the sponge (adapted from a recipe by the Hummingbird Bakery - makes 12-16)

  • 240g plain flour
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 240ml whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp rosewater (optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • red and purple gel food colouring

For the filling

  • 200g frozen summer fruits
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar

For the Italian Meringue Buttercream (makes more than you'll need for the cakes, but you can freeze it for later use)

  • 5 egg whites
  • 215g caster sugar
  • 60ml water
  • 340g butter, left at room temp for about an hour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • Fresh summer fruits and mint leaves to decorate
  • A sugar thermometer
  • Cake cases
  • 2 x 12 cup muffin trays
  • Stand mixer with a whisk and paddle attachment

  1. Preheat the oven to 190c/170c fan/325F.  Line two muffin tins with paper muffin cases.  If you only have one muffin tin, you can always bake in two batches.
  2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter into a bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat on a slow speed until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Mix the eggs, milk and rosewater in a jug.  Pour half of the milk mixture into the flour mixture and beat slowly until combined.  Scrape down the sides, add the rest of the milk mixture and then beat until you have a smooth batter.  Add a little red and purple food colouring to the batter and beat well until you have a dark pinky-purple colour that you're happy with.  It's important to use gel colours as you don't need too much of them to get a good colour and they won't make the cake batter to liquidy.
  4. Divide the mixture between the cake cases, filling them half full.
  5. Bake for 18-20 minutes, then remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
  6. Meanwhile, make the filling by putting the frozen berries and caster sugar in a small pan and heating gently over a medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the berries are in a thick syrup.
  7. For the Italian Meringue Buttercream, put the egg whites into the bowl of the stand mixer and add the whisk attachment.
  8. Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan with the thermometer and heat until boiling.  Just before the temperature reaches 110c, start the mixer going on high to whip the egg whites.  Once they have some volume and the sugar syrup is at 110c, remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the syrup in a stream into the mixer as it whips the eggs.  Once all the sugar syrup has been poured in, continue whipping until the egg whites are cool to the touch.  This can take around ten minutes.  It's essential that they're cool or the buttercream will end up runny.
  9. Once the meringue is thick and cool, start adding the butter in in small lumps.  It will take a while to add all the butter and the mixture may appear to go runny for a while but it will come back together right at the end when the balance of butter and meringue is right.
  10. Finally, turn the mixer down to medium and add the vanilla bean paste, beating for another minute until it's all incorporated.
  11. To assemble the cakes, use a small sharp knife to cut a deep cone shape from the centre of the cake (don't eat it, you'll need it shortly).  Take care to not cut right through the bottom of the sponge.  Add a spoonful of the summer fruit mix then trim the cone of cake to fit as a lid to cover up the fruit.  Pipe a swirl of buttercream over the top of the cake to cover up the cut but still show some of the pink sponge around the edges.  Decorate with the fresh summer fruit and sprigs of mint.

The spare buttercream will keep well in the fridge or freezer.  You need to bring it back to room temperature and then whip with the stand mixer for five minutes to return it to its original consistency.  You can find out more about my experience with doing that here.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Avocat aux Crevettes Senegalaises - Senegal

Day Four of the Olympic Food Challenge.  Wasn't the opening ceremony amazing last night?  Not normally my kind of thing but I twisted the husband's arm and I'm so glad I did.  Aside from the obvious things I could mention like Becks in a speedboat, Daniel Craig and her Maj and Cav's eyelashes, it was just brilliantly bonkers and brilliantly British.  The only disappointment was Macca at the end.  Why, why, why does he just plain refuse to sing The Frog Chorus?  Just think what Danny Boy(le) could've done with that!

Straight from Abigail's Party
The slight tedium of the countries pouring in one by one was punctuated by my running commentary of 'I'm cooking that country and I'm making....' which just about made Trevor Nelson's inane wittering bearable.  Big up to Sir Tim Berners-Lee for giving us the joy of the internet so we could all complain about Nelson in union.  As for Huw Edwards...

Anyhow, today's pick was Senegal who held Team GB to a one-all draw in the opening men's football match.  They're fielding 35 athletes across a variety of disciplines, having come a long way since Tokyo in 1964 where they were exclusively involved in athletics. (Thanks to the London 2012 website!)  Located on the coast of West Africa, and with a population of just under 13m, Senegal's cuisine is largely influenced by French, Portugese and North African cooking.

The recipe I selected today is a starter to a menu for dinner for eight.  I wanted something I could make for lunch and I just loved how delightfully Seventies the dish is.  Basically, it's a posher version of prawn cocktail with avocado, eggs, chickpeas, tomatoes and peppers thrown in.  The recipe says that it's a bit complicated.  The most complicated part was dragging all the ingredients from their various locations and then attempting to follow the faffy plating up.  I've admitted before that my presentation was lacking so in some ways it was refreshing having someone instructing me exactly what to do but even then I did my own thing - using three Little Gem leaves rather than a pile of shredded lettuce and adding an extra quarter of egg to keep the 'power of three' layout evenly balanced.

Flag of Senegal
It was so Seventies-tastic, right down to the instruction to garnish with parsley (I had flat leaf and curly to hand but this just screamed for curly!), that I duly Instagrammed it with the 1977 filter.  The first time I've ever used that one.

Taste wise, it was an interesting combination.  The avocado, lemon and yogurt worked well.  The chickpeas were a bit of a curve ball and not something I'd look to do again in a hurry but they bulked it out nicely to make a decent lunch.  I liked the vibrant reds and yellows as prawn cocktail, much as I love it, can often look a bit insipid.

Probably a bronze in the grand scheme of things.  You can find the recipe here.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge - Pan de Yuca - Colombia

This year, Colombia are sending their biggest ever delegation to the Olympic games with a total of 104 athletes.  And for the first time, the number of female competitors outnumber the men in the squad.  Wikipedia has a whole page dedicated to their presence this year so rather than pretending I've done loads of research on it, you can find the information here.

The only thing I knew about Colombia before the challenge was that it's at the top end of South America, and they do a roaring trade in cocaine and excellent coffee.  I have no personal experience of the former but am a huge advocate of the latter.

Pan de Yuca, the English way
So down to business.  I got a little bit over-excited about this recipe.  I began my quest for Colombian food on the internet and was looking for something vegetarian.  I came back with several mushroom based dishes, all of which seemed disappointingly reminiscent of dishes that I'd associate with France.

The one the husband would have liked most was simple garlic mushrooms.  A five minute recipe that suggested it would be nice served with crusty bread.  I duly Googled Columbian bread.  Came back with Pan de Yuca.  Didn't much pay attention to the ingredients list other than the need for Yuca flour (where on earth do you buy that in deepest Wiltshire?) and it was added to the list.

Last night I had a quick pick from the list to see what I could make today without the need for the Ocado delivery and the Pan de Yuca seemed like the best choice.  Google helpfully told me I could replace the Yuca flour with Tapioca or Corn Starch, Rice Flour or All Purpose (Plain) Flour.  I settled for half plain, half rice.  The required Queso Fresco I knew to be similar to Ricotta or Fromage Frais thanks to my love affair with my Thomasina Miers books.  You can also substitute it with Feta but that seemed like too huge a risk to waste my favourite cheese on a recipe from the internet.

It wasn't until I was mixing it up that I realised that it's actually the equivalent of an English scone rather than real bread.  So much for crusty bread to go with my garlic mushrooms!  The recipe uses baking powder for the rise and takes just ten minutes to cook the 'rolls'.  Looking up other recipes whilst it was cooking, I discovered many recipes for it with combinations of mozarella or hard cheeses to give it a really cheesy taste.

Colombian Flag
The resulting rolls had a crackle effect like you'd get on Tiger/Giraffe bread which comes from the use of rice flour.  The bake was soft and light - slightly different in texture to my scones and they have this weird after texture in your mouth that you don't get from a regular wheat-based scone.

They're an excellent idea if your cooking for someone with a gluten intolerance but won't be making an appearance on my bake again list - not even slathered with piles of cherry jam as per the picture or packed full of real cheese.  But if I ever happen across some Yuca flour, I might just be tempted to give it a go to see how a real authentic one tastes.  And they might go down well with some of the aforementioned Colombian coffee - but it's a bit too hot for that today.

The recipe I used can be found here

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Pap and Chakalaka - Lesotho

Landlocked entirely by South Africa, Lesotho (pop 2.06m) has sent five Olympians to London 2012.  Lesotho is one of those countries I've heard of and I knew it was in Africa, but thanks to both GCSE and A-Level Geography being all about Central Business Districts, population distributions, vegetation, and some geology, I couldn't have even guessed whereabouts it was on the continent.

I'm ashamed to say that when I was sitting GCSE Geography, the then seven-year-old @BridestockBride was able to pinpoint more countries on a map than I was.  And this all in spite of my second favourite book being my Readers Digest Atlas of the World (I was only interested in the bit at the front about the planets and volcanoes - also covered at GCSE/A-level).

Not long after I met the husband, one night in a drunken stupor, he decided to buy a map of the world for the hallway.  Unfortunately, having not sat any secondary school exams (he was a rebel and dropped out), he thought he was buying a 60cm wide map which he could frame.  It was actually sixty inches and has dominated the walls in our previous residences - and solved many World Cup related 'discussions' - until it got relegated to the loft so our immense caricature of London could have pride of place on the lounge walls.

But thanks to the joy that is Google, I was able to find out everything I ever wanted to know about Lesotho.  Originally I'd planned on making a banana souffle because I've still managed to avoid souffles this year but then I figured that it didn't seem very African, even though it's a very popular dish in Lesotho.  A little more research led me to Chakalaka and Pap which I just had to make because I fell in love with the names.

Chakalaka is a tomato-based stew and delightfully simple to make.  Just chop up carrots, tomatoes, a chilli, an onion and a red pepper.  Fry.  Job done.  Pap is just as simple.  It's actually plain polenta seasoned with salt and pepper.  And had a double benefit of further reducing the bag of polenta that's been lurking in my cupboard since I bought it to make cornbread for this blog some months back.

Interestingly, I got tweeted by Dan aka Mr @SoupTuesday (and co-author of the SoupTuesday blog) last night with a comment that he thought that these dishes were South African.  I was a little worried that I was about to be found out as @KasariW (aka Mrs Soup) is from SA but thankfully she concurred that the dish is common to both countries.  I've found this with many Eastern European dishes - and similar in the Caribbean.  There are dishes that are similar save for a slight tweak here and there.

Lesotho Flag
What I fell in love with in Turkey as borek are served in many other countries - Greece and Cyprus to name a couple.  But it can also go by the name of Spanokoptika in Greece when it's formed into one single pie and in Serbia, they have the same dish which, according to my Serbian friend Vukan is called Cheese Pie.  I'm sure it's really got an exotic Serbian name, but I'm happy to go with Cheese Pie.  It does what it says on the tin and his is the best I've ever tasted.  I'm a bit gutted I didn't get Serbia because I've been meaning to try his recipe for years.

Anyhow, this is a really simple, tasty combination that will get me out of a hole in the future when I'm left with a few random veggies in the fridge and the need to cook something for dinner.  I don't think I ever expected something with such a fab name to become a store cupboard staple.

You can find the recipe here.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Toiyo and Paw Paw Salad - Solomon Islands

It's finally here.  Day one of @EwanMitchell's Olympic Food Challenge.  Despite having a good few months of notice that this day was coming, I still got caught napping, thinking that we were starting tomorrow.  So I got my knickers in a bit of a twist for only having enough ingredients to do one dinner, no time to shop on the way home tonight.  The dog ate my homework, Miss!  And all that jazz.

It's paw paw - not carrots.  Honestly!
I do have a list of recipes for my countries, neatly organised into an excel spreadsheet with links to the websites (I never made it to the library to look for books) and notes about accompanying dishes and anecdotes for the blog posts I'll be writing.  But I still haven't put them into an order.  The Ocado man is coming on Friday and I have no clue what to buy still.  Other than our usual staples.  Most of which don't fit in with the countries I've got on my list.

Nor have I solved the problem of where to buy cassava from (I really must check out the fresh section at Morrisons on Friday).  I have a feeling I'm going to have to improvise a lot.  As I did tonight in order to deliver my first dish.

The Solomon Islands are group of over 1,000 islands located to the east of Papua New Guinea.  Despite having heard of Guadalcanal before (in relation to WWII) I never new the islands existed before they popped up on my list.  Their head of state is none other than our own Queen.  Population of approximately 523,0000 (thank you Wikipedia!)  You can find out more about their Olympic progress here.

Despite a largeish population,  I found tracking down recipes online harder than for some of my other listed countries.  There was one really good blog about a lady who lived in the Solomon Islands for a while.  And many of her stories reminded me of a holiday that the husband and I had in St Vincent where my father is from (even though it's half a world a way).

When you're from the 'Western World' it's a whole other ball game in so many ways.  Especially when it comes to food.  When we first booked our trip to St Vincent I was looking forward to feasting on all manner of exotic fruits, fresh from the tree.  Two years previously we'd 'done' Antigua for our honeymoon, staying in the Americanised Sandals compound.  But going 'native' is very different.  My father owns several banana plantations and gave us some fresh-from-the-plant bananas one day.  They tasted bizarre.  But that is how a banana should taste when it's left to ripen on the tree.  Not how they do in the UK where they've been plucked from the tree whilst still green, transported thousands of miles and then artificially ripened in a massive warehouse somewhere.
Solomon Islands Flag

Likewise mangoes.  I love the sweet-sharp taste of a 'decent' mango.  Yet when you eat a ripe sugar-mango straight from the tree, it's the most sickly-sweet fruit I've ever tasted.  I picked one that was green as you'd find them in the supermarket in the UK.  My aunt nearly had a fit.  Yet it had a more familiar taste to me.  I was then shocked to hear that my aunt and uncle who had several enormous mango trees in their garden, bowing down under the sheer weight of their fruit, would just leave most of the fruit to fall and rot.  Such a waste.  I calculated that if I paid £2 for a mango in the UK, the tree probably hand about £500-worth of fruit on it.  But they had so much and no market for it, it just went to waste.  I guess in the same way as you often see people with amazing traditional apple trees, just allowing the fruit to fall and rot.

Of course, the exotic fruit and vegetable import industry in this country dictates the state of ripeness we get our fruit and veg in.  So the recipe I chose from the Stilettos in the Solomons blog was doomed from the start.  It was a slightly tenuous Solomons recipe anyway because it was inspired by a Thai dish eaten in Hawaii, but adapted to use local ingredients.  The key ingredient being green paw paw. So I cheated and used a ripe paw paw instead.  I did manage to source a Kaffir lime which I assume is the same as a Bush Lime (they look the same).  Stupidly I only bought one which I used in the dressing so had to use a regular lime for the garnish.

The recipe suggests substituting red cabbage for the green paw paw, but I wanted to try it with the fruit so just went for regular, ripe papaya.  I've never liked papaya so the dressing made a welcome mask for the bland flavour of the fruit.  Again, I wonder how they'd taste eaten fresh from the tree rather than with after gaining a whole bunch of food miles. In all honesty, I didn't much rate the smokey undertones of the sesame oil.  It was different.  It worked.  But it isn't something I'd do again.

I added a handful of coriander (wilted by the intense sunshine in my back garden) and some mint to give it some colour and additional flavour.  The crunch of peanuts was a welcome contrast to the soft flesh of the paw paw and the rather excellent slab of tuna I'd managed to procure to go with it.

I chose to serve it with a simple piece of griddled tuna (seasoned with salt, pepper and lime juice) as I understand that Toiyo is commonly eaten in the Solomons so hopefully I'm not going to lose too many OFC points for not staying true to the original dish.

All in all, an interesting start to the nineteen days.  Do check out the recipes from my fellow participants.  You can find out more over on the OFC blog.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

BBC Good Food Lemon and Courgette

Today's quick and dirty recipe was a Good Food special.  I've been so busy pondering the Olympic Food Challenge (OFC) and researching my nineteen recipes that I forgot that I had to cook something different today.  And then I forgot that I actually have to blog about it too.  I've heard the rule of thumb for learning to do something is that you have to do it twenty times before it becomes habit.  I've done this 306 times.  You'd think it would be second nature by now.

And whilst I was busy neglecting the regular blog for the OFC, I also failed to note that it starts tomorrow and not on Thursday.  B*gger!  I had what I needed for tomorrow's recipe which was going to be a rhubarb crumble cake and I was going to start on Thursday with a dish from the Solomon Islands.  I've now had to reshuffle things and will be making a souffle tomorrow - cue manic panic because I've been strategically avoiding that one all year.  Tuna and papaya salad on Thursday.  Rhubarb crumble cake?  Well let's just say that I may not be getting good feedback from my boss at my mid-year review now.

Hmmm...it wasn't that yellow in reality... #instagram
Ah well.  So the blog is going to be short and sweet tonight as I go into panic mode.  I picked this recipe up from a chicken recipe book that came with Good Food this month.  It's also been languishing in my binder on the Good Food website for over a year as something to make in an emergency on a hot sunny day.  It ticked all the boxes today.

Some of the reviews weren't great so based on advice, I added some garlic to the courgettes while they were cooking and with the lemon and lots of seasoning, I could've just eaten a massive pile of them as they were.  That would actually work really well as a low carb alternative to spaghetti if you grated them lengthways (as I did) rather than across the round end.  Sprinkle on a few parmesan shavings and you'd have an ace, low-fat, low carb meal.

With a pile of well seasoned couscous and a well seasoned chicken breast, this made a quick, simple tasty meal that I will definitely make time and again.  I even got Miss A eating chicken today by telling her it might just turn her into a butterfly (yes I do own a copy of Great Lies to Tell Small Kids although that's not in the book).  Couscous wasn't proffered because even the dogs are rubbish at cleaning that off the floor and I wasn't in the mood to clean up.  Hubby doesn't like couscous so this is definitely one for me and me alone but I'm happy I have something healthy and low fat that I can quickly cook alongside other meals.

You can find the recipe here.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Wahaca Mexican Winter Salad

Yes, that's right.  It's the hottest day of the year so far and I made a Mexican Winter Salad.  Not only that but I've been cuddled up to a hot water bottle all day.  If you think I'm probably starting to lose the plot, you're wrong.  I lost it years ago.

These three events (hot day, excruciating back and leg pain, winter salad) weren't planned to coincide.  I picked the recipe mostly because I seriously couldn't understand why anybody would want to eat salad in the middle of winter.  Soup - definitely.  Salad?  Why.  But then the average temperature in Cancun is 23C in January (thanks Google).  Slightly different to the average 4C we can expect in the UK.  Which I guess kind of explains it.

So with the temperature at a toast 27, I guess today was as close as I'll get to eating like a real Mexican for a very long time.  The month started with J and ended in y too.  Tenuous but I feel I'm justified.

Why do my salads never look artfully tossed?
As I mentioned in a previous post, the standard Ingram family salad was just a bigger version of a pub side salad - lettuce, cucumber and tomato.  No dressing.  So to have a salad that contained none of those ingredients was a real departure.  In fact, my mother would have a fit if I served her this.  She doesn't like radishes and can't stand sweet things (oranges and pomegranates in this case) with meat.

I have to admit that I'd made up my mind before eating this salad that I probably wasn't going to like it. I don't like licorice and so the smell of the fennel  put me right off.   But having never tried fennel before, it's something else I can tick off my list of things to try before I finish this blog. I've also never been a fan of pomegranates - they seem a lot of effort for very little benefit in my opinion.  Plus the juice stains magnolia paint like you wouldn't believe (unless you used to own two African grey parrots who were obsessed with eating pomegranates and would flick the seeds up the wall).

But this salad - like all the other Miers dishes that I've been a little apprehensive of - just worked.  The balance of flavours was spot on.  I especially loved the spiky sea salt and sharp feta with the sweet oranges.  Served with a plain grilled chicken breast it was a delight and looked so very pretty.  I didn't include the Totopos - deep fried slivers of corn tortilla - purely because I'd've eaten way too many of them and having been put back on the 'running bench' whilst I get over my latest 'episode' I have to watch what I'm eating even more than normal.  I'm sure it would only make the salad even better.

Another fine recipe from Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home.  Really must start looking in some of my other books again!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Rachel Khoo's Terrine Forestiere

One of the questions I get asked most about this blog is how much has it cost me since day one.  Part of me wishes I'd kept track.  But like when we got married, I just engaged advanced ostrich mode and pretended that it didn't matter.

I'm very lucky to earn a decent salary that allows me to do this although with things rapidly heading south for us financially, it's a good thing that there are only two months left because otherwise I'd be writing about the different ways to serve beans on toast.  Okay, that's a little flippant because I know you can eat really well on a budget if you shop wisely.  And maybe that's what I should try to do over the course of my next blog.  But pretty much with the exception of cooking with expensive seafood (I really wanted to do lobster, scallops and oysters but continue to be put off by the cost), I've not really considered too much about what I've spent.

The most expensive things are fresh herbs which I never would've bought previously.  They really make a difference to so many dishes.  I know I could grow my own - I used to have two huge herb pots when I was a kid and loved the smell of the basil on a hot summer's day - but I've not had any success with growing them at our current house.  Other more expensive items have mostly been meat-related.

So today, I gave some consideration to the cost of this meal.  The recipe is basically a baked mushroom omelette using wild mushrooms.  It's the wrong time to forage and I'd probably end up making myself ill anyway.  I know that our local Morrisons has a good selection of fresh wild mushrooms but last time I bought 100g they cost me a fiver and this recipe called for 450g.  I'm not that stupid - not even for a special occasion.

Low fat and great value
In the end, I made half of the recipe and used 250g of chestnut mushrooms (£1) plus a handful of dried mushrooms (quarter of a £1.99 pack).  The eggs were about 20p each (2 of), half a 90p tub of creme fraiche, quarter of a 60p pack of parsley (15p), three spring onions because I didn't want to buy a huge bag of shallots I won't use (so about 25p-worth).  And some salt, pepper and garlic which don't really count in the budget but probably about 15p worth.  So around £2.75 for the recipe.  Which cuts into about eight small slices if you're using it for an appetiser and would serve four with salad.  I've already road-tested it for a snack and will have another serving for tea.  It will go in my lunchbox tomorrow and I'll probably snack on the rest at some point over the next two days.

At 70p per portion, that's not too bad.  But if you were making it with wild mushrooms, it's ridiculously expensive.

But it's very tasty.  The herbs absolutely make a difference.  And I like the way it was baked in a loaf tin, making it easy to slice and transport rather than faffing around with trying to fry and then grill a round frittata to get it to set.

The only thing I will recommend is using full fat creme fraiche as mine was a bit watery. I used low-fat to keep the calories down.   Or maybe I should've dried my mushrooms in kitchen paper after frying them off.  

And if you're on a carb-free diet, it's a really filling and tasty option.

You can find the recipe on page 130 of Little Paris Kitchen.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Fi Harvey's Courgette and Goat's Cheese Bread

I've been meaning to blog about my holiday for a while now but I've never gotten round to it.  We spent the first week in North Berwick, a seaside town on the Firth of Forth.  We've visited for odd days before to view the famous Bass Rock which is one of the seven great natural wonders of the world, but this year, I decided we'd base ourselves there for a week.

The finished bread - won't last much longer!
Hubby is a keen twitcher (he hates that term) and passionate wildlife photographer so being close to the Bass and with the endless sandy beaches that South East Scotland and North East England have to offer, it seemed like the perfect family holiday.

But what made it even more special was being invited to a gathering of some of the Edinburgh Cake Ladies.  Months ago, I discovered that the lovely @Allison_Patrick who I randomly followed on Twitter lives in North Berwick. She mentioned that she'd organise a gathering but I thought no more of it.  A day or two before we arrived, she asked where we were staying and it turned out she knew the owners of the cottage.  Not only that but she manages a beautiful B&B right next door to where we were staying.

On arrival, I did my usual tour of the cottage, rapidly assessing it for both for how good it looked before we unpacked and how much potential there was for Miss A to break something valuable.  I swiftly removed the bottle of wine that had been left to welcome us from the lounge table and moved onto the kitchen.  At which point I got excited that they'd also left us fresh bread, bacon, eggs and milk from the local farm.  Better than the last place we stayed at in Norfolk where we got a packet of Happy Shopper bourbons.

The fridge also appeared to be dominated by a rather large package of silver foil.  Strange.  But perched on top of it was a note from Allison, welcoming us to North Berwick and saying that the parcel contained a coconut meringue roulade filled with raspberries and marscapone cream.  I was overawed by such generosity from someone I'd never even met.  And it tasted amazing too.

Allison's roulade which didn't last long either!
Not only that but she convened a special meeting of the Cake Ladies where I finally got to meet @HungrySquirrels and @HarbourHussy as well as @Edincakeladies, @MadeByFi, @LouLouElla, @21UrbHousewife and @ShellyLovesTea.  An amazing group of ladies and it made me finally realise that my husband's crackpot plan to move to Scotland might not be so bad after all.  I've been sworn to secrecy not to reveal what went on that night, but I will say that the Buckfast was bought out at one point.  Other than that, what happens at cake club, stays at cake club.

This of course meant that I had a whole bunch of new people to tweet with when I got home - one being Fi Harvey (@MadeByFi) who last week blogged about this amazing summery looking loaf that I just had to try. I had thought about doing it for my Mum's birthday barbecue but that falls right in the middle of the Olympic Challenge and I felt that this bread needed eating and this post needed writing outside of that madness so I made it this morning.

Ready for the oven.
It was a doddle to do and would be really amazing for a picnic or barbecue.  The flavours were so fresh and the bread was so soft.  I will definitely make this time and again.  I'd never thought about tear-and-share bread, but I loved rolling the filling up inside.  There are endless possibilities for that.

For once, I didn't have enough bread flour in for the recipe, so I used half 00 grade pasta flour and I also substituted mint for the basil which made it taste a lot like Borek.  I was a little worried when I sliced the loaf as the filling was desperate to escape but once the dough started to puff in the oven, it was nicely contained.

One small mistake was baking the bread when I was waiting to go for a run.  Having had a liquid-only breakfast (I can't run after eating anything), it came out of the oven and sat wafting its gorgeous summery smell all round the house making me want to scoff the lot.  Luckily it also motivated me through the four miles and made a fab breakfast.

Top marks to Fi for this recipe which you can find published online at the Broughton Spurtle.  Now I just have to try and persuade the hubby to visit North Berwick again next summer.  Usually, it's the other way around!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Wahaca: Mollettes

Never let it be said that I don't like themes and patterns.  This week has mostly been about Stuff-on-Toast.  And today is no exception.  I guess it's a reflection of my current mood because I'm a) looking for something a bit comforting - toast being the cure to everything in my world in preference to a nice cup of tea - and b) because I'm feeling a little fragile healthwise and so I'm not up for big food.

Slightly over-zealous salsa application
Stuff-on-Toast started on Wednesday when I picked up some English muffins from Waitrose on my way home from seeing the Quack.  I'd intended to have them as a snack with Miss A but then quickly got swayed by Rachel Khoo's Stuff-on-Toast recipe - or to give it it's proper name "Tartines Sucrées et Salées".  Yesterday's tea was scrambled eggs and Tommy-K on muffins, washed down with a mouthful of my disasterous Pimms jelly.  Breakfast this morning after an hour of BodyCombat was peanut butter and banana on a toasted muffin and lunch has been the most recent encounter with Stuff-on-Toast in the guise of Mollettes.

I was torn about trying this recipe as it seemed to be quite similar in theme to Miers' Queso Fundido which is basically refried beans smothered in cheese and grilled.  It's probably the one bug bear I have with some recipe books where they're by the same chef.  You often get the same - or minor variations on - other recipes from their previous books.  Miers' Tortilla Soup appears in both Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home and Mexican Cooking Made Easy as do variations on Queso Fundido, Caesar Salad and Mexican Hot Chocolate (just a few off the top of my head).  I own two books by Gordon Ramsay where around 50% of the recipes appear in both books.  The original Hummingbird Bakery and Cake Days have a couple of crossover recipes too.  I appreciate that maybe it's my fault for buying more than one book by the same person.  

Anyhow, I was pleasantly surprised with this recipe.  It is a doddle and I was really tempted to make it with all storecupboard ingredients but did half and half, using Discovery refried beans in place of Miers' own recipe (which I really must get around to trying) but making the fresh tomato salsa myself - rather than using some shop-bought that I had in the fridge for using in sandwiches.

If one thing has changed in my cooking this past year it's that I'm more likely to have fresh herbs and tomatoes to hand.  This time last year, I probably hadn't bought a fresh tomato for about five years.  But today, I was able to root some from the back of the crisper, safe in the knowledge that the Ocado man will bring some more this evening.  As for the herbs, my staple is now to have a growing pot of coriander in the garden.  I really wanted to plant my own but I've never successfully grown herbs since we've had a male dog.  When he was a puppy, he took a fancy to chewing them.  I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions to what he does to them now.  I've tried growing them in a wall trough but they just died so now just pop a store-bought pot on my patio table instead.

Making the fresh salsa was a revelation.  Miers uses a combination of tomatoes, chilli, red onion, lime juice, sugar and salt.  I initially thought that the sugar would make it too sweet but it works brilliantly with the slightly salty cheese and beans and the taste combination of all the Stuff-on-Toast(ed muffin) together was amazing.  And despite the cheese and beans, the zingy salsa makes this perfect for a little summer snackage.

It actually comes from the breakfast section of the book.  Much as I love my post-workout peanut butter and banana munch when I've got the time to make it, I am so thinking of swapping it for this once in a while.  New favourite recipe.  Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home - highly recommended

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Pimms Jelly

One of the most common questions I get asked about this 'odyssey' that I'm on is 'What do you do when you just want a pizza for tea?'  Well the simple answer is that I don't actually like pizza so it's not a problem.  I'll admit that I enjoyed making Dan Lepard's pizzas a while back, but still, I never crave pizza because historically I've not liked it so I can live without it.

It was actually set at this point...
Of course, pizza is just one of many things that could be substituted into that question.  I'm just being a bit pedantic.  If pizza was replaced by toast/poached eggs/spaghetti bolognaise/sausages and mash etc etc then the more accurate answer as regular readers will know is that I make cake.  Or a dessert.  Which I guess is a bit cheaty in the grand scheme of things.  But I made the rules so I can bend them to suit.  I've still tried - and blogged about - a new recipe every single day for the last 300 days.

Sometimes I've tried two new recipes in one day.  Sometimes I've written about them both.  More often than not, I've actually only written about the more worthy recipe.  I've not documented some of the failures I've had - like the time I tried to make Lorraine Pascale's Totally Naughty Mini Toad in the Holes for Miss A's tea.  They ended up looking nothing like in the book - God knows how she got the sausages to stand to attention (*snigger*) - and Miss A refused point blank to eat them - despite being on an exclusively sausage-and-fruit diet at the time.  The picture was just so rubbish that I ended up writing about the lovely Chilli Chocolate Cookies I'd also made courtesy of a recipe from Jaim's Kitchen.

Thursday is normally the day I crack.  If I was dealing with a more adventurous family, I'd probably be more inclined to make an effort.  But Thursdays and I have never seen eye-to-eye.  Once upon a time it was free paper delivery day - not fun if you're a 15st 15-year-old lugging 200-odd free papers plus assorted leaflets from door to door.  Then Thursdays became working-late-night-opening-at-Debenhams night.  A brief respite appeared in my mid-twenties when it was go-to-the-nearest-bar-after-work-and-get-hammered-on-one-glass-of-wine.  And now, in my mid-thirties it's the day of the week when the fridge is bare and my patience is low.  Couple that with a husband who rolls his eyes at anything I ever suggest for tea unless it's takeaway and you start to understand why I struggle with recipes on Thursday nights.  

Even Instagram couldn't save these
I've been thinking about trying a Pimm's jelly recipe since the weather was last bright and sunny.  Having waited endless weeks to do it, I was motivated into action after buying some cute jelly moulds for Miss A the other day.  I was determined that rather than just buying packet jelly, I'd make my own from scratch so I know exactly what's going into it.  So used the Pimms jelly recipe as an excuse for a bit of pre-production testing before the weekend when I plan to make fresh fruit jellies from scratch.  Plus it meant I could have a 'dirty' tea of scrambled eggs with tomato sauce and didn't have to worry about making something exotic like Thomasina Miers' Huevos a la Mexicana.  Good old runny 'eggy-scrambles' with a big splodge of Heinz 57 on a toasted English muffin.  Bliss.

I had a can of pre-mixed Pimms that has been lurking in the fridge for the last six weeks (I rarely drink) so it seemed like a simple task.  Melt gelatine, mix with Pimms, bung in fruit, chill, eat.  I was rather relieved that it set, although a little disappointed that the fruit floated to the top.  I removed it from the fridge for it's pic.  Left it on the side whilst we ate tea.  Went to eat it an hour later and discovered that I now had a glass of flat Pimms with very soggy fruit in it.  Major disappointment.  I'm guessing it has to be eaten pretty much straight from the fridge.

Plus, the fizz had gone from the lemonade so I'm not quite sure why all the recipes advocate using lemonade.  I would've expected it to have a mildly carbonated fizz to the jelly but not a hint.  All in all a waste of a damned good glass of Pimms and somes strawberries.  Even though I don't drink often, I still felt saddened at this lost opportunity.  I'm really glad I didn't crack open the bottle of Prosecco that Ocado kindly gave me for being such a loyal customer and waste that on Jamie O's jelly recipe.  It's definitely going in a glass for drinking and nothing more.

Pimms and cake, however, works really well together.  My Pimms cupcakes got great reviews from my work colleagues a while back and I'm thinking of making a Pimms bundt for the Afternoon Tea Tent at Bridestock which is now only two and a bit weeks away!  But because Bridestock falls in the middle of the Olympic Food Challenge, I'm going to have another few days of double-recipe trying.  Oh well, at least it means I can eat a lot of toast for tea!

The recipe I used for the Pimms jelly can be found here.  Don't take my word for it that it doesn't work.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Rachel Khoo's Tartines Sucrées et Salées

Or 'Sweet and Savoury Open-Faced Sandwiches' to give it it's very unsexy English name.  If we're being really pedantic here, it's actually 'Different Stuff on Toast'.  But it sounds so much nicer en Français.

Today's recipe choice comes from Rachel Khoo's Little Paris Kitchen which I accidentally bought earlier this week when the Book People were peddling their wares at work.  I picked it because for once I actually managed to get home in time to collect Miss A from nursery.  A very rare event these days.  And it was only because I had an unavoidable medical appointment just before the end of the nursery day.

I'm still trying to get my head around being the breadwinner of the family and reconciling that with being a mum too.  In my pre-baby head, the two things never went hand-in-hand.  I'd either have a career or a family.  Not both.  But life is rarely as planned.  I'm getting used to it as my skin has finally started to thicken against the barrage of outright criticism and snide comments from people who have no right to comment on my life and the thoughtless mouth-engaged-before-brain comments from some of my nearest and dearest.

Yes, that's butter, not cheese under the radishes!
The most cutting comments often come from the mouths of babes.  And Miss A has put me firmly in my place this week.  When she's angry with me she tells me 'I don't like Mummy any more' and that 'Mummy should go back to work in Bristol'.  When she's talking about her favourite people, she tells me that Emma is her 'Daytime Mummy' or her 'Other Mummy'.  As lovely as Emma is, she's only Miss A's nursery teacher from when she was in the baby room.  Miss A only spends two days a week at nursery - the rest of the time she's with the husband.  I'm now known as 'Real Mummy'.  It's nice she makes the distinction but it still makes me a tad jealous.

So of course, when I do spend time with her, I have this massive need to make up to her for the fact that I'm out trying to keep a roof over her head and keep her in stickers.  Normally, her after school snack is malt loaf or a gingerbread butterfly (all home made just in case Mrs Sconegate is still lurking - yes, I still can't let that go!) but today, I wanted to make something we could share together.

The tartines seemed ideal.  Basically, Khoo gives you a set of ideas of things to pop on toast.  Ordinarily we'd have jam or peanut butter and chocolate Philly but I love all of these different  ideas.  Toast is probably my favourite food ever.  I've mentioned previously that if I was stranded on a desert island, my luxury item would be a toaster (I forgot to say solar-powered last time).  So I was really excited to try some of the recipes out.  And the remains of Dan Lepard's Zopako from the weekend made the perfect base.

Miss A had chocolate Philly and sliced strawberries on hers (not in the book).  I plumped for Radish and Salted Butter; Feta and Nectarine (inspired by Khoo's Peaches and Brie of which I had neither in the fridge) and Strawberry and Creme Fraiche.  I knew the fruity ones would go down well but I was intrigued by the radish one as I've only recently started to eat radishes.  Except someone had other ideas and swiped it.

I was amused because I am still battling with Miss A over whether or not she'll eat veggies and had assumed if she picked anything, she'd go for the strawberry one.  Never mind.  She prodded her fingers into the thick layer of butter, spread some chocolate onto one end, ate a mouthful with a radish, added a strawberry, offered me a bite and then immediately snatched it away.  So I can only imagine how it tasted, but if she enjoyed it then I'm sure I would.

I'll definitely try out some of the other ideas - especially looking forward to Avocado and Grapefruit; and Chocolate and Olive Oil.  I guess it's all about getting out of a creativity rut and not just defaulting to jam or cheese when it's toast time.  I can see my diet going out of the window some time very soon with this book.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Wahaca: Green Rice Salad

One of my overriding childhood food memories is the annual family barbecue to celebrate my mum's birthday on August 3rd.  You could guarantee a pound to a penny that it would rain and my mum would end up barbecuing in the rain while the rest of us sat inside and watched her.

An Ingram family barbecue always consists of the same things.  To this day.  Sausages and burgers must come from the local butcher.  The only other thing we're ever allowed is chicken.  The salad contains cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, spring onions and eggs.  Nothing else.  And most definitely no dressing.  Mayonnaise not salad cream.  My grandmother's homemade coleslaw and my mother's rice salad.  And that's it.  Them's the rules.

It's like Christmas day.  We have rules.  God forbid you consider breaking them and trying something new.  And my family always say I'm the unadventurous, fussy one!  In fact, when I hosted Christmas at my house last year, I was so terrified of doing something different from the norm that I very nearly didn't post anything that day.  In a moment of rebellion, I then plumped for Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta but also made regular sprouts for everyone else lest I got in trouble.  I was the only one who ate the 'weird' sprouts.  And very nice they were too.

There are a few green bits in there.  Somewhere.
Mum's birthday barbecue is fast approaching and I'm desperate to get my family to try the Wahaca Three Tomato Salad, an amazing looking Courgette and Goats Cheese Bread by the lovely Fiona Harvey who I met on my recent soujourn to Scotland.  And I want them to try today's rice salad recipe. But I know I'll wimp out and just end up making the birthday cake which I've always been allowed free reign with since I was about eight.

My mum's rice salad contains damp long grain rice, frozen prawns which always seem to have retained a bit too much water, peas, carrots and diced red pepper.  Colourful maybe, but despite the addition of a little vinaigrette, it's so bland.

Whereas the Wahaca salad is brightly coloured and packed with a different taste sensation in every mouthful.  Salty feta, sweet courgettes and corn, spicy chilli and the subtle seasoning of coriander and mint.  I had this for my lunch today and it was really quick to prepare and very filling.  It would go perfectly with barbecued meat but I'm not sure I'm man enough to make it for the big day.

Miers mentions that the original recipe contained leftovers from her green rice recipe but that she now just makes it with plain basmati rice for speed.  I definitely want to make the green version at a later date but the idea of putting green rice in front of my family is definitely a step too far.

If you want to try this recipe yourself, you can find it in Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Dan Lepard's Dark Banana Ginger Cake

I first came across this recipe a couple of months ago when I was looking to make a banana cake for my then mentor at work.  Dan had published a pair of bare banana cake recipes in his weekly column for the Guardian.  Last time I went for the first recipe.  Today it's the second recipe from the column.

183 cals of yumminess
At the time the recipes were published, I was trying to convince my mother that Dan is a bit of a baking deity.  She wasn't convinced despite me raving about all the recipes of his I've baked during this journey.  The weekend the column was published was the first time she'd had a chance to taste one of my Lepard bakes when I made his Cinnamon Cake with Blackberries.  She'd raved so much to her work colleagues about it that they asked for pictures and they then insisted that she try one of his recipes and bring it in for them to test.

In a bout of spooky coincidence, we both made banana cakes on the same day although she made both, I only made the Melted Butter Banana Cake.  Given that it was a week when I was pretending to diet, I didn't actually try my own cake but that weekend, she bought me a small sample of both of hers to try.

Her taste testers, like mine, had wolfed down the Melted Butter one, but were less enthusiastic about the Dark Banana Ginger Cake.  I tried both and had to agree with them.  The dark cake was lacking in something but I wasn't quite sure what.

Queen Abigail, chief banana masher
Until I made the cake myself that is.  Although the husband is on a diet (as am I), he decided that he quite fancied a banana cake.  I used to have a diabetic-friendly recipe that I found on the BBC Food (not Good Food) website from Diabetes UK, but no amount of Googling could turn up the original one and I know my handwritten notes got lost when we moved house.  But Dan's recipe ticked a lot of the boxes.  It uses oil rather than butter and is made from wholemeal rather than plain flour.  Two ticks in the 'vaguely healthy cake' box.

At the outset, I figured the 'healthy' bit was why this cake was less successful in my mum's taste test than the buttery one.  But I have a feeling she possibly tampered with the recipe.  Unlike her own mother, my mother doesn't like ginger.  My grandma adored the stuff.  For me, it's one of those things that I suddenly started liking when just after my grandma passed away.  It was really spooky.  I'd never liked smoked salmon or ginger before then.  And yet around that sad time, I became addicted to those things.

So I think mum omitted the ginger and this recipe absolutely needs it.  I bet if I ask her she'll probably deny it and say she stuck religiously to the recipe.  Maybe she did, but I don't remember chunks of ginger in the sponge.  Plus I cheated and modified the recipe a little myself, adding a teaspoon of ground ginger and a half teaspoon of salt to the batter to bring out the flavour.  And I used stem ginger rather than glace ginger so I poured in the last spoonful of ginger syrup for good measure (the rest having been used in the triple ginger butterflies from Saturday afternoon).

Lots of cake!
If you've read any of my other posts, you'll know I've labelled my husband as having a 'discerning palate'.  When it comes to cake, he's my harshest critic (see some of his other feedback here).  And his scathing Ramsay-esque criticism is no longer exclusively reserved for me.  He recently ate some cheesecake (I won't say where it came from but it wasn't mine) and declared that it was vile and he could make something ten times better.  I'm still waiting to see evidence of his culinary genius - personally, I thought it was one of the nicest homemade cheesecakes I've had in ages, but I'm willing to be dazzled by the husband's cheesecake prowess.

Anyhow, he declared this to be the best banana cake he's ever eaten and that he wants to eat it every day forever.  High praise indeed.  And it comes in at just 183 cals per piece - made in a 20cm square tin and cut into 16 pieces.

Verdict from work colleagues to follow tomorrow.

The original recipe can be found here (it's the second one down)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Dan Lepard's Zopako

Early yesterday morning, I had a yearn for freshly made bread and was delighted to see Dan Lepard tweet his recipe for Zopako - a Basque Soup Bread - and Castilian Garlic and Bread Soup.  Perfect.  Despite the fact that my fridge was rammed solid with things purchased for other recipes, this seemed like just the ticket for today.

It has to be about the simplest loaf recipe ever.  Chuck everything in a bowl, give it a quick knead (10 seconds), leave overnight, shape, rise and bake.  Job done.  Lovely and crusty rustic loaf with minimal effort.

I duly made the dough last night.  It only requires a 1/4 tsp of fast action yeast for the rise as you leave it out overnight.  This morning it had doubled in size nicely.  I shaped it as instructed.  Did the rising part.  Popped it in the oven.  It all seemed to be going too well.  Within two minutes, I could smell freshly baking bread.  I thought that was a bit odd given that it had literally only been two minutes.  But never thought to go and investigate.  As a rather seasoned - if not good - baker, I know that you don't check things until they're at least halfway through their baking time otherwise you can expect disaster.

Toasted loaf!
The instructions were to bake for 20 mins at 220c and then reduce the temperature for the last 15 minutes.  But still that baking smell pervaded the air.  At around fifteen minutes, it started to have a 'burnt toast' kind of smell.  But I resisted for another four minutes.  Which was when I realised that having made toast for Miss A, I'd upped the temperature for the bread bake but had forgotten to switch from grill to oven mode.  So I'd literally grilled my loaf.  And the burnt smell was the flour dusted on the top singeing.  Oops.

Slightly panicked, I removed it from the oven, setting off the smoke detectors whilst I did it (and rousing a less than amused husband from his slumber at 9am).  Because we live in a modern townhouse, the smoke detectors are linked so if one goes, all three (one on each floor) go in unison.  Of course, that set Miss A crying and the dogs howling.  I'm now about another fifty places down the husband's scale of things he likes (my last ranking was #483).

The loaf was left to cool while Miss A and I escaped for our regular swim, and babyccino with Sainsbury's Cheese Scone (see Sconegate).  I assumed that when I returned, I'd end up chucking it away.  But actually, it's turned out to be a really nice loaf with a beautiful crumb and the slightly charred crust only lends to the rustic flavour.  I think I was saved by the tray of boiling water used to help create a steamy atmosphere in the oven.

Will definitely be making again as it's so very easy (if you remember to set your oven correctly) and I want to have a go at making the garlic soup one day - when I won't be in polite company.  I the bread it for lunch with the 'soup' I made from last night's leftover sauce and the hubby and Miss A had ploughmans.  I'm now planning to have it for tea too, alongside some more of the lovely Three Tomato Salad that I made on Friday.  All I need now is some early evening sunshine and a bottle of Chablis and I could pretend I was somewhere a little more exotic than North Wiltshire.

Recipe can be found here.
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