Friday, 31 August 2012

John Torode's Sweet Chilli Sauce

One of the things that inspired me to start this blog was watching 'Sleb Masterchef last year.  During one task, they were asked to make a chilli dipping sauce from scratch.  It suddenly made me realise that I would have no clue where to start on this so I figured that I should learn.

The notion has been in the back of my head all year and I keep putting it off.  But with just under four weeks to go, I need a mental tick in the box or this year will have been for nought.  I usually buy Blue Dragon sweet chilli sauce with kaffir lime and although it's probably not quite the done thing, I like to eat it with Waitrose vegetable samosas.  Convenience food at its best.

They're not wood shavings, they're vegetable crisps
So today I set about answering the question of is it all worth the effort to make your own.  The ingredient list was simple enough - a deseeded red pepper, two deseeded red chillis, white vinegar, caster sugar and water.  Boil, blend and boil a bit more.  And yes, an hour later I have a small bowl of sweet chilli sauce.  I also have a sticky sauce pan, a sticky blender and a small post for my blog.

Was it worth it?  Probably not.  The taste of the bell pepper is a little overbearing for my liking.  And I like the piquancy that the kaffir lime lends to the Blue Dragon one.  I could have replicated that by putting lime juice in I'm sure, but for once, I don't have a single lime in the house.  Which is rarer than me running out of butter.  Cost wise, it certainly saved me from letting the pepper and chillis rot slowly in my veg drawer, but if you took them at face value, for the amount of gas it took to do the boiling bit, it's probably no cheaper to make your own than buy shop bought.

Of course, it's not chock full of preservatives which is a bonus.  But I'm willing to compromise on that one for not having to wash up my sticky blender in future.

In summary, I now know how to make a sticky chilli sauce should I ever find myself challenged by the Gruesome Twosome.  But I won't be doing it again otherwise.

The original recipe for this sauce was to accompany scallops.  I'd intended to do this last week when I had scallops but Ocado never turned up with my fresh chillis.  I think the tequila scallops that I made were far better than they would've been with this sauce.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Hoppin' John - Bermuda

Ask anyone what they know about Bermuda and they will tell you about one of two things.  The Triangle or shorts.  In honour of this post, I'm writing it whilst listening to Barry Manilow singing Bermuda Triangle.  Yes, it's in my iTunes collection.  Hell, if you've read any other posts on this blog, I've probably told you worse things about me than that I have Bazza's Greatest Hits.  It's all because I love Copacabana.

In fact, I could tell you something worse about my husband.  Some of you may know that we disagree about most things.  It drives me potty when we go out in the same car that he'll change whatever I'm listening to.  I started listening to Radio 5 Live because of him but this summer I've not been allowed to listen to it because he only likes listening to the football commentary and not the news.  He grew up in the eighties, and being a massive eighties fan, I like most of his CD collection - but he won't let me listen to them in the car.  When we went to Scotland in the summer, I swear he chose eight hours of music he knew I'd hate on purpose.  Anyhow, recently, I got into the car with him and pre-emptively switched from the CD and he actually changed it back.  Because the CD had Copacabana on it and apparently he loves it.

Maybe we'll be like the Ballad of Tom Jones, but rather than being saved by Tom, we'll eventually stop fighting like cat and dog and be saved by Bazza's Greatest Hits.

I digress. Bermuda.  I'm supposed to be talking about food and the Olympics.  Right.  Okay.  Well the first thing that surprised me was to find that one of the most popular dishes in Bermuda is fish and chips.  But not a fancy foreign version.  Good old English fish and chips.  I never realised that Bermuda is British territory.  Or that it was quite so far away from the Caribbean - I'd been expecting the cuisine to be more akin to West Indian food.  Every day is a school day.

So after discounting the majority of the dishes listed on Wikipedia, I settled on Hop n' John which is apparently the national dish.  Wikipedia states that it's a dish of rice and peas which I know is common in the West Indies - if you were to ask my half sister what's for tea, she'll tell you she's having 'rice and peas and ding' every day.  But like most simple 'ethnic' dishes, there were a zillion and one recipes for Hoppin' John out there.  Mostly with a creole bent.

In the end, I just made up my own recipe.  About the only thing all the recipes agree on is that you need white rice and black eyed beans.  Or peas.  But I believe the beans and peas to be the same thing.  Then you can add any of the following - red and/or green bell peppers, dried or fresh chilli, herbs (commonly coriander, parsley or thyme), onions - regular and/or spring, tomatoes, bacon, ham, sausage - frequently chorizo, chicken and so on.  I didn't come across a dish that specifically used seafood in it but you never know.  This is definitely my kind of dish and it's now my new favourite storecupboard tea.

Before I give you my version of the recipe, a little about the Olympics.  Despite sending eight competitors to London 2012 to contest in five different disciplines, Bermuda left empty-handed.  They have just one athlete competing in the Paralympics in the 100m, 200m and 400m.  I wish her the best of luck.

Recipe - Serves 4

  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 rashers smoked back bacon, snipped into small pieces
  • 75g chorizo, cubed
  • 1 small red or green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 400g tin black eyed beans, drained
  • 200ml fresh chicken stock
  • Handful of fresh parsley or coriander, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper and garlic granules to season
  • 300g basmati rice (dry weight), cooked according to package instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil over a medium flame in a large frying pan.  Gently fry for 5-10 minutes until caramelised.  Remove from the pan and place to one side.
  2. Fry the bacon and chorizo in the pan for 3 minutes until starting to colour.  Add the celery and pepper and cook for another two minutes.
  3. Pour in the chicken stock and beans and cook for a further five minutes until the beans are tender. and the stock has mostly evaporated.  Return the onion to the pan and heat through.
  4. Season to taste with the salt, pepper and garlic granules then stir through the parsley or coriander.
  5. Divide the rice between four plates, top with the Hoppin' John and garnish with  the spring onion and tomatoes.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Ginger Beer - Sierra Leone

If you've been following the Olympic Food Challenge, you may know that sadly we didn't quite meet the original goal of our illustrious team coach.  Despite sterling gold medal shows from Tonight's Menu, Soup Tuesday, Feast and Glory and Come Dine With Rach, we fell about forty countries short of the final total thanks to our silver and bronze medallists.

Undettered, Ewan has rallied some of the troops to complete his original mission during the Paralympics.  Because some of us were so keen to maintain that post-Olympic haze of glory in our lives, there weren't enough countries for us all to do one meal a day for the whole of the Paralympics but we will hit 204 by 9th of September come hell or high water.

Jamie O's idea of sexy is wildly different to mine
To do my bit, I will be cooking recipes from Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Khazakstan, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and Bermuda.  I'm not quite sure how I managed to be so unlucky as to bag all the rubbish ones, but hey-ho.

So we start tonight in Sierra Leone, a country that is sadly most famous for its child soldiers and blood diamonds.  Located in Western Africa, Sierra Leone has only sent one competitor to the Paralympics in the past, that event being in Atlanta in 1996.  According to that tome of truth otherwise known as Wikipedia, however, they are sending a competitor to London 2012 to attempt the mens 100 and 200m race.

As for its cuisine, there's really not much on the web.  Okay so I had far less time to navel gaze when I should've been prepping my recipes this time round.  But most of the dishes, I already discounted when I did the OFC earlier this year.  And those I would've done, I've already done such is the similarity in recipes in Western Africa.

Apparently though, ginger beer is the big thing so I decided to give that a go.  After a little research, I decided to avoid the more traditional recipes when Hugh F-W mentioned that you should use a 2 litre lemonade bottle rather than the fancy glass bottle I'd planned to use because there's a risk of the yeasted beer causing the bottle to explode.

Having performed a risk assessment - dogs that sleep in the kitchen, a toddler, a husband with a short temper - I settled on a Jamie O recipe that basically bungs a lot of stuff in a jug to make a 'sexy' drink.

Jamie, if you think that this drink is sexy then I pity poor Jules.  It's okay.  I'm sure if it was hot and sunny and there was a barbecue going on in my garden then I might have been more appreciative of the drink but as it was peeing down outside, it was also a Wednesday night and I had a random assortment of fridge leftovers for tea, the drink didn't quite have the wow factor for me.  Plus it's a massive waste of decent fresh ginger.  But if you're as rich as Jamie O, you can afford to be extravagant.

You can find the recipe here.  PS: Just like I've said before, the result looks nothing like the lovely professionally-styled picture on the Jamie website.


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Delicious Magazine Red Pesto

Today's recipe is one of those things that's going to end up as something else tomorrow.  I was looking for a recipe for home made chicken nuggets for Miss A.  Not that she's ever eaten a chicken nugget in her life.  Nor that she's ever asked for one.  But reading some other blogs recently about 'fake aways', I thought that I should try some other things out on the family.

We have home made fishfingers (sometimes) and pizza will never come from Dominos again.  Partly because I'm stunned at the expense, but mostly because as someone who hates pizza, I fell in love with Dan Lepard's pizza bases this year and so any future rare pizza treat will most definitely be home made.
Rubbish photo - just proof that I made it really

The chicken nugget recipe I settled on is from Good Food and sees the chicken pieces dipped into red pesto before breadcrumbing. Red pesto is something that's only happened into my fridge once or twice in my life so duly researched a recipe to make my own.  Delicious Magazine had a recipe that I had all the ingredients for - parmesan, pine nuts, fresh parsley, semi-dried tomatoes, garlic and chilli.

The recipe states that it should be chunky rather than completely smooth.  I actually liked that concept because it meant visibility of all the component parts - obvious flecks of parsley, cheese and nuts with cherry red chunks of tomato.  And served for a taste test with pasta tonight, it was really enjoyable and the freshness from the parsley made this a hands down winner over the cloying taste of shop-bought pestos.

It's not very photogenic.  The bowlful of pesto I made looks a bit yucky, but mixed with the pasta, the photo isn't great either so I apologise in advance for this.  However you must try this recipe.  So simple, so fresh, so making it again.

It's not paste-y enough for the chicken nugget enterprise tomorrow so I'll pop it back into the blender with a shade more olive oil.  You can find the recipe here.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Dolly Bakes' "Best of British Apple" Bundt Cake

My overriding childhood food memory (aside from the faddy eating of peanut butter and celery and Bernard Matthew's roasts) is of hanging out in the kitchen on a Sunday morning as my beloved Grandma peeled and cored Bramley after Bramley for apple pie.  She didn't just make apple pie, but that was my favourite - it tasted even better cold the next day.  I had a real thing for the sharp taste of Bramleys and they were even better dipped in sugar to give them a sweet/sour contrast.  My next favourite thing was raw carrots and so she called me her little donkey.

Maple glazed and cooling down
I long to have a warm kitchen filled with smells of roasting beef and the warm, earthy smell of a cinnamon scented apple pie but sadly, family life isn't like that these days.  At least not in my household.  I've requested that I inherit her pie plate that's inscribed with a recipe for blackberry and apple pie but I know it's unlikely ever to see the light of day because I'd be paranoid about it being broken and besides, the husband "doesn't do pie".

Part of this year has been about me educating Miss A in how to eat properly (I've mostly failed here) and I want to recreate some of that warm glow of home cooking for her.  My pastry skills are still rubbish so I knew I had to make a cake.  My cookbooks are very lacking in apple cake recipes so I turned to Google for help. When I hit on Rachel's (aka Dolly Bakes) Best of British Apple Bundt, I just knew I had to make it.

Rachel is a massive fan of bundts and with this being my third, I'm falling in love them too.  They are proper sharing cakes.  None of your namby pamby selfish cupcake-ness.  This cake will feed the masses - and leave them wanting more.  I got my bundt tin on Amazon for about £12 - I didn't spend more because I wasn't sure I'd use it but now, having seen Rachel's beautiful star-shaped tin, I wish I'd bought something a little more extravagant.

I've yet to try a piece of the cake because it's being taken to work tomorrow for my very lucky work colleagues.  However the batter tasted amazing, the smells coming from the oven were to die for.  Although it's a 'British' cake, it's exactly how I'd imagine an American Mom's kitchen would smell.  And as for the maple butter glaze that you brush on to it....  This cake is going to be special!  If there had been any way to sneak a bit of it today, I would have done.  I was tempted to cut a slice out so I could take a decent picture but knew that if I did, I'd have to eat it.  And a bit more.  So it's still intact.  Just!

I'll update the post tomorrow with the verdict from work but I know it will be nothing but rave reviews.  Thanks so much for sharing this one Rachel.

Updated 28th August 2012 @ 20:38 

Well the verdict is in.  I didn't realise I worked with such cake connoisseurs.  After a lot of fussing about who was going to be the one to cut the 'giant doughnut' (nobody wanted to be accused of being the greedy one) and further faffing about the dividing lines on the cake (see the picture) and whether it was rude to cut a large segment in half (and even ruder to take both a narrow and a wide wedge), I got some feedback from my colleagues.

I was going to assign them all aliases but as I was collating feedback and re-read what I'd noted for one of the aliases, I realised there was the chance for unintentional innuendo (it started an afternoon of inappropriate smirking) so we're reduced to persons a through to e.

Person A said it was the second best cake I've ever baked.  He couldn't actually remember which his favourite was but I have a feeling it was Dan Lepard's Dark Banana and Ginger Cake.

Person B diligently listed pretty much everything that went into the cake - he would be amazing on the Masterchef palate test getting the apple, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and additional butter in the glaze.  The only thing that foxed him was the maple syrup which was apparently his first taste of it.  He was one of the double-wedgers and enjoyed every last crumb.

Person C thought it looked like ginger cake or parkin.  It did indeed have a slightly darker crumb than some apple cakes.  When mixing the batter it looks like a fabulous coffee cake.  Another seal of approval.

Person D came back for seconds and thirds, claiming it was for some of our consultants who are working in the 'dungeon'.  Personally I think he just really liked it.

And finally on to Person E.  The person who ably wields the yardstick for all my cakes.  He's a tough man to please, not liking brownies or my favourite viennese whirls (this didn't stop him from eating the bacon brownies, the black and white brownie cheesecake or the cherry viennese whirls).  Plus apple cake is the only ever cake he's made so I knew he'd have the most positive (or damning opinion of all).  With his express permission, here is his verbatim verdict on the cake:

"Good texture, just enough ‘crunch’ on the outside juxtaposed by a nice interior – a balance of lightness & stickiness. Excellent apple flavours coming through with no cloying aftertaste.  9.5/10 :o)"

Rachel - I think we have a winner!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Dan Lepard's Plum Glitter Jam

Had I known about (and watched) Julie and Julia before starting this challenge, I never would've made it past the first post, let alone be just thirty more recipes from The Last Post.  I knew the name of the film and that it was about cooking, but that was all.  It wasn't until I met the lovely Edinburgh Cake Ladies in June that one of them told me about the plot and recommended that I watched it.   A few weeks later, one of the ladies at my cake club also asked if that was why I was doing this.  So I bought it on Amazon and finally settled down to watch it on Friday night.

Glittery jam
For those of you who have never heard of it, it's a real life story about a writer who challenges herself to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Or to put it another way 568 recipes in 365 days.  That's pretty serious commitment.  The rules for my own blog were pretty loose, but some of the highlights in the movie included boiling lobsters, making seven lots of things in aspic (nope, not going there - too much like pet food) and learning to bone a duck.

I was amused by the similarities.  Julie is apparently rubbish at housework and blames it on her ADD.  Her husband tells her she won't see the year out as she loses interest in things quickly.  Her mother doesn't understand why she's doing it when she has a full time job, a husband and a cat to fill her life.  She refers to childish and teary outbursts when it all gets too much.  Her husband calls her a selfish bitch at one point.  I sat there, transfixed, mentally ticking off each of these things in my own life.  Swap the cat for a toddler and two dogs and set the scene in Wiltshire and I am Julie.

Actually, I the 'selfish bitch' thing only came out on Friday.  I went up to bed and bumped into the husband (we generally only inhabit the same room at the same time when there's dinner on the table).  He asked if I'd enjoyed the film (I'm rarely allowed the luxury of the tellybox to myself in the evening). I started raving on about how spooky it was that it was just like the last eleven months of my life (the lobster episode is coming next weekend) and I said that the only differences were that a) my husband wouldn't rescue me from an exploding pot of boiling lobsters and b) he hadn't (yet) called me selfish.

"Oh yes," said the husband "you have been really selfish.  In fact I'd go so far as to call you a selfish bitch."  I missed the point there by excitedly replying "Yes, that's exactly what her husband called her" rather than taking the insult at the face value that it was said with.  In case you've not read any other posts, we have a few "issues" with each other.

Anyhow, here I am, counting down the days and realising that there are still so many things on my foodie bucket list that I won't tick off in thirty days.  To be honest, the doing something every day got boring about six months ago, but I'm determined to prove to the husband that I can actually see something through - especially if it means I can ignore the mounting housework.  So I'm looking forward to just doing something new once in a while and writing a slightly different blog.

Plus, I still have a small number of hurdles to get over before this year is out.  And when my grandad offered me 3lb of Victoria plums and a pile of Bramleys earlier this week, I couldn't refuse and didn't want to make plum and apple crumble so picked a couple of new recipes to try with them instead.

First up was the jam.  I had originally Googled recipes for Dan Lepard recipes for cakes using plums and Bramleys (I didn't have Short and Sweet to hand) but when the glittery jam recipe came back, I knew I had to do that.

Two years ago, I made my very first batch of jam and at the time had a glass thermometer which was housed in a test-tube style contraption (also glass).  As it neared setting point, the outer tube burst into my pan of jam, meaning I had to throw the whole lot away.  This time, with my trusty Heston Precision Thermometer, and a Dan recipe in my armoury, I knew it would work.

Some of the harvest from Grandad's garden
It's such a simple recipe - although I guess most jam is.  What I liked was not having to faff around with the 'wrinkle test' and to keep freezing tea plates, testing bits and then finding out it didn't wrinkle and starting again.  If you're going to do this kind of thing, I would definitely recommend investing in a decent thermometer.

And the glitter just makes the jam look that bit more special.  I used up the rest of the gold stars I had left from my Jubilee Bundt Cake.  I didn't realise, but not all edible glitter is actually really edible.  I've got several pots as free gifts from various places, all of which say that it's just for decoration.  Erm, what's the point of that?  You dust your cupcakes with it and then can't actually eat the frosting?  I guess it's good for people who are on a diet...

Having burnt my tongue licking the spoon just after putting the jam into jars, I then had to toast a piece of yesterday's eight strand plaited loaf just for jam testing purposes.  Perfect.  Just the right amount of cheek tingling sharpness.

I will definitely be doing some more glittery jam in preparation for Christmas.  The non-fruiting ornamental cherry tree we bought from B&Q when we first moved here also grows greengages (I swear it will be like The Faraway Tree in a hundred year's time) so when they're ripe, I will be harvesting them and using this recipe to start prepping for my festive hampers.

You can find Dan's recipe online here.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Paul Hollywood's Eight Strand Plaited Loaf

This wasn't so much about trying out a new recipe as trying out a new technique.  I've had a plaited loaf on my mental 'to-do-list' for the past year but just never gotten round to doing so.  I'd intended to make Challah which is a similarly complex plait but with a slightly sweeter bread.  But I gave up on the 'Bread of the Week' idea in about week two and have just never gotten round to it.

I picked the recipe for a number of reasons.  One because it was the technical challenge on the Great British Bake Off this week, two because I've just been given a pile of plums and apples which I intend to turn into Dan Lepard's Plum Glitter Jam tomorrow (and the bread will be great to test the jam on) and three because....dammit, I'm sure there was a third reason and my mind has gone totally blank save for random Three Letter Acronyms from the Prince2 course I've just completed.

Anyhoo, I was reading an article by The Silver Fox this week where he confirmed my previous assertions that there are just six basic baking recipes and everything else is a variation on a theme.  If you look at sponge sandwiches, they all use the same sugar/butter/flour/egg ratio, the only variation is the tweaks in flavouring and the quantities depending on the size of your baking pan.  Likewise with bread.  It is flour, yeast, salt and water.  Yes you can add loads of stuff to it; shape it differently; cook it differently; but at the end of the day, you still start out with the same basic ingredients and are ruled by the science of baking as to whether or not you get the perfect product.


And so it was that I attempted the eight strand loaf this morning.  It's a basic white bread dough but with double the yeast.  This meant that within 45 minutes, my lovely pillowy dough was making a break from the confines of its bowl for the work surface.  I knocked it back, tried to roll out my 'sausages' but it was just so stretchy and full of air that it kept shrinking back on itself.  In fact, it would've made for an amazing pizza base.

I had been surprised at the advice to use flour for kneading.  Hollywood normally recommends oil as he says extra flour on the board or your hands can change the consistency of a loaf.  In order to work with this very 'wet' dough though the flour was definitely needed.  I eventually ended up with eight springy and rather uneven dough sausages and it was time to commence with the plaiting.

Actually, it wasn't that hard to do.  Yes, the instructions could've been better laid out.  But if you can count to eight, it really isn't that hard.  Sadly my uneven sausages made for an uneven plait.  I've never been any good at rolling sausage shapes.  Even back in the days of doing it with playdough as a child, mine were always mishapen and not perfectly smooth and wrinkle free like my peers were making.

I also think my very soft dough conspired against me with the loaf ending up quite flat in shape after its second rise.  I do have problems with my free-form loaves seemingly expanding more sideways than upwards.  I could do with a tip or two from Sir Paul of Hollywood as to why this happens but I guess I'll probably have to end up asking Google.

So I've done it.  It baked okay and made an average loaf.  Nothing to write home about.  At the end of the day, it's a bog-standard white bread and I think my Giraffe/Tiger bread is more impressive than this.  But next time I'm making a bog-standard white loaf, I may just give it another go if I can find out if it was because my dough was too soft.

You can find the recipe/instructions here.

Looking ropey

Friday, 24 August 2012

Pan Seared Scallops with Lime

I don't drink much but there is always an open bottle of tequila in my cupboard.  It's been the subject of choice between myself and a friend for a while so when Ocado scuppered my plans for sweet chilli scallops for tea tonight, tequila was the first thing I thought of as I quickly Googled a new recipe.

I've not much more to say on the subject other than this sauce is the best sauce ever (the one that I poured over the scallops, not the neat tequila).  I was surprised the recipe used parsley rather than coriander given the Mexican overtones, but the freshness worked really well with the piquant flavours of the tequila and lime. I could easily imagine making this again with many kinds of fish or perhaps chicken to go with a summer salad.

Some alcohol-based recipes are just a waste of really good alcohol, but this definitely isn't.  As I'm now making inroads on the rest of the bottle (well I have a margerita by my side as I type), I will finish this post here before I post something really dumb :)

You can find the recipe here.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Angela Nilsen's Twice Baked Cheese Souffles

Having been lulled into a false sense of souffle-making-knack-security when I made Kerstin Losch's Mousse di Limao for the Olympic Food Challenge, I figured that I was expert enough to pull off these twice baked souffles.

First bake....
I first happened across the recipe in Good Food Magazine a few months back and filed it away in the 'to do list' as a tick in the 'learn to souffle' box.  It also had the added bonus of being cheesy and low in calories so it was definitely a must-make.

Because the recipe is done in two stages, it allowed me to start it off on Sunday and then finish it today for dinner, thus claiming the recipe for today (my blog, my rules!).  With a full day of Prince2, including the practitioner exam late in the afternoon, I knew I'd be pushing it.  Any other Thursday, I'd've probably given into the hubby's demands for a chippy tea, but now he's on this health kick, chippy trips are banned (by him, not me for once).  But it forced me to not give up on this madcap challenge at the last fence.

Things started well on Sunday with the really cheesy sauce.  The roux is made from olive oil with just a touch of butter.  I'm not sure if the oil makes a difference but for once, I didn't have to battle to beat lumps from the sauce.  The addition of parmesan, Philly, chives and mustard made an amazing tasting cheese sauce.  I carefully folded in the whipped eggs as instructed and set them in the oven to bake in a bain marie.

....second bake....Disaster!
They rose well.  I timed them.  They looked cooked.  I left them to cool, and then ejected them from their pots.  Not good.  All three broke coming out of the mould - it looked like they weren't actually cooked enough in the first place.  Trouble was, even though it said how long to cook them for, there was nothing saying how to check that they'd reached the desired consistency in the middle.  Undeterred, I carefully transferred them to a tupperware box, wrapped as best I could and froze them.

But of course, once they hit the oven, they just spread into a huge, cheesy mess.  And to be honest, they went from tasty to bland - perhaps after the addition of the egg whites to the cheese sauce?  To say I was disappointed to have no tea after such a bad day would've been an understatement.  However now I'm all Prince2'd up, I saw the risk on Sunday and made sure I had some bread in to make toast for my tea instead.  I believe that's a Fallback Plan to use the correct terminology.  Or what mere mortals would refer to as Plan B.  Shame my risk budget didn't extend to lobster and champagne to celebrate surviving the exam with my sanity (just about intact).

So it's a thumbs down to this recipe for me.  But don't let me put you off trying it.  Just make sure you have a risk mitigation plan in place first!  You can find it here.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Simon Rimmer's Turkish Poached Eggs

Yes, okay, I can't leave the Olympic Food Challenge thing alone.  I'm now impatiently sitting on my thumbs in anticipation of Ewan Mitchell releasing the remaining OFC countries to the hungry masses for the Paralympic Food Challenge.  In the meantime, with a course (requiring nightly homework of 2+ hours) and two exams to complete I'm still doing the quick breakfast, quick blog thing.

The recipe is again courtesy of some weekend Googling as the scant offering of breakfast recipes in my collection of cookbooks only yielded things that are a) ridiculously high in calories (sausage, bacon and egg muffin anyone?) or b) time consuming (skinny blueberry, apple and muesli muffin anyone?)

Watery spinach and nary a breadcrumb in sight
Poached eggs are my favourite ever breakfast.  With a pile of maple cured bacon on the side.  No sausages (unless you absolutely insist).  Just some crisp buttered sourdough toast underneath.  So this breakfast was a slight departure for me having to pour a garlic yogurt sauce over the top and with spinach underneath (my own addition to the recipe).

Only point of note on the food styling front is that it's essential to double dry your spinach.  In between drying mine and getting the eggs on the top, the spinach had managed to leak its residual moisture all over the plate.

It was an interesting recipe.  I might do it again if I was cooking breakfast for someone else.  Like my friend who's an utterly committed vegetarian unless someone would like to cook bacon and eggs for her.  Whilst I sit there and eat my own bacon and eggs.  Mean?  Me.  Absolutely :)

You can find the recipe here.

One more thing on the C4 food stylist's work.  Wondering why on earth they've sprinkled those lurid orange scotch-egg breadcrumbs over the top of theirs....??

And yes, here's the Turkish flag.  I couldn't resist.



Tuesday, 21 August 2012

River Cottage Swiss Style Muesli


Yet again I have to take umbrage with the Channel 4 food stylists. Take a look at the picture from their website below. I know it's not a close up, but I fail to see any sign of dried fruits, nuts and seeds being added to this mix. And unless HF-W uses the world's tiniest apples, I don't get how his muesli looks like a bowl of orange juice-soaked oats with a few seeds and a dollop of yogurt and yet mine is a vibrant, jewel-like bowlful?

What I like about this recipe is that you are told to pick your own mix of fruit, nuts and seeds. Whilst I know that as a grown up I'm fully entitled to exercise my right to adapt a recipe I like that HF-W isn't so presumptuous as to believe that everyone in the world likes hazelnuts and raisins in their muesli. I certainly don't. It also gives you the opportunity to use up all those end-of-packet odds and sods that so often clutter up the back of the cupboard.
Poor lighting + Instagram ruined the colours...

My mix ended up containing apricots, cherries, dates, apple and a few token sultanas (I am not a fan of dried grapes if they are not in a cake but I like to push my own boundaries just a smidgen every now and again). To this I added chopped almonds, pecans and pumpkin seeds, which I roasted for ten minutes, and a handful of pre-toasted coconut flakes.

I followed the serving method, grating in a Pink Lady into the bowl and add some fresh orange juice before giving it a stir and leaving it for ten minutes. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this bit. I'm not a fan of soggy cereal. I've been known to throw a bowl of cornflakes away after just two bites as they've gone to soggy from the milk. I'd much rather eat cereal straight from the box (a habit I'm no longer able to indulge now I'm married) or at a push I'll eat granola with yogurt. Which is how I'll eat the rest of this batch of rather tasty muesli.

Here's the recipe link

Monday, 20 August 2012

Protein Bars

Yuck.  Just yuck!

Yesterday I wrote about how I'd gone to the effort of making homemade peanut butter in order to then deliver some low cost protein bars for the husband and I.  Wish I'd not bothered.

Budget sludge on the left, yummy expensiveness on the right
If you buy protein bars from a shop, they cost anywhere between £1.40 and £3 each.  My budget option was intended to save me heaps of money - when you get through 10 a week between the two of you, it gets expensive.  Instead, I'm about to either chuck £4 worth of food away or spend the next eleven days choking down my home made attempt.

Despite the oatmeal and homemade peanut butter, the bars are sadly ruined by the taste of aspartame from the addition of chocolate whey protein powder.  It's really all you can taste.  When you make it up as a drink with milk and stick a banana in it, it's pretty palatable.  Mixed into a stodgy batter, it's frankly quite disgusting.

On the plus side, they kept me so full up to lunchtime and beyond that I wasn't tempted by any of the free biscuits on offer at my course during breaktimes nor did I really want my lunch (my belly thought I'd eaten a lump of putty).  It did save me from snorfing the bag of crisps, flapjack and orange juice accompanying the free sandwich, that pushed the lunch well beyond the 1,000 cal limit.

I seriously need to revisit the healthy, protein packed breakfast issue during the course of my new blog. There has to be something I can eat easily at work that will keep me full til lunch and isn't messy.  Answers on a postcard please.

If you're interested, this is the recipe I used.  Word of warning, trying to clean up afterwards is akin to trying to scrape dried concrete out of a cement mixer.  You won't go far wrong with a hammer and chisel.  Goodness knows what it's done to my innards!



MagicPunt's MRBs (Meal Replacement Bars):

Combine in large mixing bowl:

3 Cups Oatmeal
1/2 Cup Natural Peanut butter
1 cup Skim Milk
4 Scoops Protein Powder
dash of cinnamon

Mix until a sticky batter is formed (may take a few minutes)

use a large spoon to spread out the mix into the bottom of a Pam-sprayed glass or metal cooking tray (spread until even)

put in the fridge overnight and cut into 8 equal bars that yield:

11g fat (good monounsaturated fats)
26g carbs
21g protein

285 calories


Sunday, 19 August 2012

Natural Peanut Butter

With a course coming up this week, I'm going to be really tight for time in achieving my blog target.  Luckily, I've been banned from running for at least two weeks to I will just have enough time spare each morning to do the recipe thing.

A pale imitation of the 'real' stuff
My usual breakfast on days when I'm in the office is a protein bar.  One of my colleagues swears by them and after a lot of subtle hints persuaded me to try them.  I must say that whilst breaking my preferred ethos of knowing exactly where my food has come from, I'm actually addicted to a specific brand of chocolate and peanut butter ones and would happily eat them all day, every day.


Most of the bars are ridiculously chewy and you can spend a good half hour masticating and ruminating like a cud-chewing Friesian.  This is probably why they keep you full up to lunchtime and beyond (perfect when your work life is so manic that your boss has to remind you to go get lunch).  But I can work with the Supreme Protein ones.  They've saved me from ending up with a jaw as square as Arnie's*.

Of course, there are downsides to extended satiety.  Firstly the expense.  Secondly the contents.  Dealing with these issues in turn, you can expect to pay between £2 and £3 per bar if you buy them singly.  They're cheaper by the boxful on the internet but I still shell out £13 per 9 bars.  And as the husband eats two a day, this is causing a bigger dent in my finances than his previous red-wine habit.

The ingredients list includes things like Niacinamide, Vitamin A Palmiate, Ferric Orthophosphate and Pyridoxine Hydrocloride.  All of which I'm sure you can't buy from Ocado.  So I decided to look for a recipe to make my own.

The recipe I settled on (see tomorrow's blog) seemed pretty simple.  Whizz up some oatmeal, whey protein, natural peanut butter and a cup of milk.  First problem.  Exactly what is natural peanut butter?  Time to make my own.

Further research revealed it to just be peanuts whizzed in a blender with some oil and optionally salt mixed in at the end.  Or you can buy premade stuff.  Which is good because I already buy Whole Earth PB and this fits into the natural category.  I've always loved PB since I was a child and had a fad where I only ate crunchy peanut butter packed into the groove on celery sticks for months on end (much to my mother's eternal despair as she likes neither of these things).  As an adult, I eschewed the plastic Sunpat of my youth (the equivalent of Skippy for my international readers) in favour of the sugar-free Whole Earth brand.

Perhaps a waste of good peanuts?
I now eat the organic smooth variety as Miss A thinks the crunchy one is dirty (they blend the skins in to it for colour but in the crunchy version, it's mottled with red flecks - hence it being dirty).  But with a blog to write, I thought I'd give homemade a go as I've read several other foodies blogs on the subject.

This was supposed to be the simplest recipe I've made so far with just three ingredients.  Take some peanuts, blend, stir in some oil and salt.  Voila, home made peanut butter.  Research told me that it was better to do this in a blender rather than a food processor.  Those people obviously don't own a cheap old Kenwood Prospero.  Ten minutes of blending and scraping and blending some more and all I had was chopped up peanuts.  Should've gone for the food processor in the first place to save on having to wash both bits.

I then realised that if I wanted crunchy, I should've blended part of it til it was totally smooth and kept some back to make the crunchy bits.  So the texture was a bit choppy - like badly blended hummus.  But the taste was okay.

As for the expense, it cost me £1.44 to buy 250g Waitrose unsalted roasted peanuts plus a tablespoon of sunflower oil and a pinch of sea salt.  Let's call it £1.50 for 250g vs £2.68 for a 340g jar of Whole Earth.  So homemade is 60p/100g and shop bought is 78p/100g.  Makes you think, doesn't it?  But for the enjoyment factor and the ease of not having to wash my blender up, I will probably stick to shop-bought.  If I had the time and the space to store loads of jars and access to humungous bags of peanuts then things might be different.  But when I offered Miss A the choice of the two crackers in the picture, she went for the one on the left.  That made my mind up once and for all!

*As it used to be back in the eighties when he was Mr Universe.  I can probably rival his current more jowly look.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Banana, Maple Syrup and Pistachio Bread

With my mind on the idea of having a picnic, I totally disregarded the local weather forecast's doomsaying that it was going to be at best cloudy in Wiltshire today.  I have mentioned my love of picnics before.  It's another one of those family-oriented activities that the husband can't stand.  He gets twitchy the moment I mention the idea and I'm sure he prays for the weather to turn before we make it out the door.

Completely unfazed by all the potential pitfalls, I chose to have a go at Jamie's Banana Bread.  I should've stopped when I read the name 'Jamie Oliver'.  I have had zero success with his recipes this year (aside from Mulled Cider, which doesn't really count).  I should also have re-read my Mulled Cider post about how pictures of his recipes on the web look nothing like they do in reality - even factoring in the fact that I don't cook for a living.

Tin-bound
I came across the recipe when researching breakfast recipes for this week.  I'm on a pretty intensive course and have been warned by my boss that it's going to be a tough week and if I don't do well and have spent the week responding to work email, tweeting and blogging then I won't be very popular on my return to work.  So I have decided to go with breakfast recipes to get things over and done early in the day, short posts like I did on holiday and blind panic that I'm going to fail and it will all go horribly wrong.

Anyhow, this recipe looked like the perfect picnic food.  Soft banana bread, studded with nuts and glazed with honey.  Not being a honey fan, I replaced it with maple syrup and used pistachios instead of almonds for the lovely green colour.

If you look at the picture on the website, the bread actually looks like one of those soft mini bread rolls that you might buy from M&S or Waitrose.  The husband likes really soft bread and I was slightly ignorant of the fact that basic bread doesn't bake into a finished product like that.  To do soft rolls properly, you need to use something like Dan Lepard's Soft White Baps

My finished bread was slightly grey inside (understandable with the banana content, but not at all visible in Jamie's picture) and soft, but not all spongy like the picture seems to indicate.  I also have issue with the size of the bread in the picture.  Jamie says to use his basic white bread recipe and divide it into ten balls.  I used half of the bread recipe and managed eight gigantic rolls.  With his cheeky chappie 'bish, bash, bosh' approach to writing, he also neglects to mention what size and shape tin to put them into.  I put my eight into my 9" springform tin and they filled it nicely.

The taste was okay even if the texture was a little disappointing based on the picture on the website.  But it was chewy, they are nice warm, Miss A loved them and I think they'd work well in the winter with a big mug of hot chocolate.

I like the concept and will try adapting the recipe further in the future - but from now on, I'll stick to Dan's baking recipes.  As pretty much everyone I know who has tried a recipe from Short and Sweet or his Guardian recipes will tell you - quite simply they do what they say on the (baking) tin.  Stick to real food Jamie and leave the baking recipes to the experts.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Lil Ms Squirrel's Chimichurri Tostadas

It's okay, I'm not going to do 'the singing thing' today, I promise!  But as I still had a huge bundle of parsley in the fridge and I wanted to experiment a bit with the premise of chimichurri sauce, I decided to have a little experiment for today's lunch.

Chimichurri is just like pesto without the cheese and nuts.  Or a green herb sauce if you will.  Salsa verde.  Back to that theme that actually, there are only so many recipes in the world and  the rest are just variations on a theme.

Pretty colours
So starting out with half a huge bunch of parsley, about finely chopped shallot and two fat cloves of garlic, I added 3 tbsp of Waitrose chilli olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, some Maldon salt and a finely diced tomato (you need a decently flavoured one here - none of your tasteless supermarket salad toms thank you very much).

The chilli oil gives a more even heat to the sauce than chilli flakes would which is a good idea if you're not going to blend.  I found the flakes a bit spiky last night.  But then again, sometimes a burst of flavour can be preferable to each mouthful being the same.  Your choice.

Next for the tostadas.  I've been meaning to make these forever since I first laid my hands on my copy of Thomasina Miers' Mexican Food Made Simple.  But 11 months have passed and despite trying a new recipe every day, I've still almost failed to get round to it.  Even in my adult life, I am metaphorically doing my homework on the bus on the way to school*.

Making round ones is a little bit wasteful but they look good on the plate if you have guests and I believe that the traditional shape is round.  I'm sure real South Americans/Mexicans make them from scratch and so can make them small and round straight away.  I chose the lazy way and started with a big shop-bought flour tortilla and cut circles with a pastry cutter.  In my humble opinion it would be a waste to go to the effort of making lovely soft tortillas and then toast them.  Tried this once, not again.

Miers deep fries her tostadas.  I wish I could do that and still be as slim as she is!  So I adopted my favourite alternative to fried bread-based things.  A squirt of olive Fry-Light and into the oven on 200c (fan) until they go brown and crispy.

A word of warning to dog owners.  Always replace the caps on spray bottles left in the kitchen.  I very nearly had tostadas flavoured with the stuff we use to stop the dogs biting the woodwork as the bottles look the same when you're as blind as a bat and someone (naming no names) has left both of them next to the cooker with the lids off.

Once the tostadas were baked, I topped each one with a spoon of the chimichurri, sprinkled on some feta (closest you'll get to Queso Fresco in deepest Wiltshire) and hey presto.  Lunch.

*I was actually a girly swot at school and always did my homework after tea the night I got it.  How things change.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Sings tunelessly ♪ ♫ "Chim chim-eny, chim chim-eny, chimichurri"♪ ♫ 

I really only chose today's recipe just so I could include a reference to my favourite film ever.  Mary Poppins for the uninitiated.  I have watched it approximately eleventy-million and one times in my life.  I know it word-perfect.  I want to be Julie Andrews in that dress when they jump into the chalk picture. Still.  


More sauce than steak
If Sir Jimmy Savile (RIP) was to pop up and ask me to name my price, I would without a doubt eschew the chance to have enough plastic surgery to deal with my wobbly belly, wobbly thighs, squirrel flaps and sagging boobs; a massive lottery win (although that would also deliver the Poppins-dream); and the chance to snog any of my guilty crushes (although there is one I'd possibly pick over the Poppins-dream) in order to wear that dress and dance with Dick van Dyke (as he was then, not as he is now).

Last week I had a bit of a win on the dinner front in that I managed to get both Miss A and the husband eating steak.  So Thursday's was declared as steak night and with that in mind, I decided to whip up some chimichurri sauce after reading all about it on Tonight's Menu during the Olympic Food Challenge.  And it gave me an excuse to open the blog with the Chimichurri pun.  

It's dead simple - a lot of parsley, a pile of garlic, some onion, lemon juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and chilli flakes.  Mix it up, dollop onto steak.  Perfect for a Thursday night tea.  And my colleagues will be eternally grateful that I'm working from home tomorrow because boy, did the raw garlic have a kick to it.  Although I'm wondering if all the parsley negated that? 

It made the steak more enjoyable than my usual staple when I'm dieting which is just simply pan fried with salt and pepper.  Although it had oil in it, the green bits at least made me feel I was being a bit healthy.  And having chosen a portion of angel hair pasta on the side, it became clear that the spare sauce would make a good raw pesto.

I chopped all my ingredients by hand because I couldn't be faffed with cleaning out the food processor. Looking at different recipes, they mostly agree on the basic recipe for the sauce with variations on the herbs but some advocate the herbs being hand chopped and the garlic and onion only going in the food processor while others process the lot.

Whatever.  If you have really fresh parsley - I had a mahoosive bunch from the Morrisons Market then it's definitely worth a make.


And it means I get to post the Argentinian flag on my blog tonight.  Huzzah!

Even better, I've volunteered to help complete the sweep up for the Olympic Food Challenge during the Paralympics so watch out for more foreign dishes (and flags!) heading to this blog shortly.  Happy days!


Argentina - previously colonised by Ewan from Tonight's Menu



Wednesday, 15 August 2012

BBC Good Food Asian Steamed Fish with Shiitake Mushrooms and Noodles

There is definitely no such thing as a free lunch.  Where I work, the pork pies are one of the favourite features of a working lunch.  I'm really fussy when it comes to pork pies and will only eat them if they don't have jelly in them.  In some ways that's good because it stops me from eating them too often.  I only really like the pastry bit but when in polite company, it's not really the done thing to hoick out the pink (or more often grey) nugget of 'pork'* and scrape out the jelly bit.  But the work pork pies are pretty good.  Pink meat*.  Crusty-ish pastry.  No jelly.

So of course I had one.  Or a half anyway.  My boss kindly showed his chivalrous side and let me have the only diet Coke to make up for a less than healthy lunch.  But even that did little to negate the impact of my poor lunch options and my need for a consolatory Flake in the late afternoon.  Hence why I ended up with a super-healthy fish dinner tonight.

I wrote yesterday that I'm still having trouble letting go of the Olympic Food Challenge.  Three days on, and I was really tempted to do another foreign recipe, but I ended up saving the Chimmichurri Steak (inspired by our esteemed OFC Coach Ewan**) for tomorrow night and cooking a country-agnostic fish dish instead.
Overdid the veg - the fish and noodles are in there somewhere!

Having not quite managed to let go completely, this allowed me to make a second use of the steamer I bought to make Nepalese Chicken Momos for the OFC.  I need to embrace my steamer and make good use of it before it manages to disappear into the black hole that my tupperware dishes have fallen into.***

The dish is pretty simple in that you just pop everything into the steamer for ten minutes, and hey presto healthy, tasty, low fat dinner for one.  The downside is that it is a pretty expensive dish what with the mushrooms, ginger, chillis etc which you can generally only buy in multiples and not in quantities for one - so something that you would possibly only afford once in a while.  It does use Pollack however which is pretty cheap in the fish stakes (no pun intended!).

I still have my head very firmly buried in the sand about just how much I've spent in this past year buying food I wouldn't normally buy just to complete this 'challenge'.

That point has actually given me some inspiration for my future ramblings over on my new blog which will be coming online in October.  I'll also be doing a bit of guest blogging elsewhere - more on that shortly.  In the meantime, I'm thinking about how to best let go of this blog.  I'd like to do so with some input from the lovely people who've taken the time to read my blog.  At the moment, I've had just over 35,000 page views since started.  This has blown me away and so I feel I should draw a definite line at the end of the year and celebrate the finish.  So I'd like to invite anyone who has read this to ask me a question about the blog.  If you visit 'The Last Post' page and leave a comment then I'll do one final post after 26th September (day 366) where I'll answer them all.

PS In lieu of me posting a flag today, I'll leave you with this cartoon I pilfered from FaceAche on the subject of Tupperware.  This sums up my relationship with plastic boxes perfectly.


PPS: The recipe for the fish can be found here


*factory floor sweepings in most cases
**I stole the asterisk thing from Ewan as I use to many bracketed comments in my stream of nonsense (it's not quite a stream of conscience)
***the husband sneaks things he deems to be clutter into the bin when he thinks I've not used them recently and I might not notice they are missing.  I then end up buying new boxes to replace them.  He then throws them away so I buy more....you get the vicious circle...

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Lil Ms Squirrel's Cheat's Blinis

There have been accusations in the past that I am rubbish of letting go of things.  Whilst I like to protest that this is untrue, the last couple of days has made me realise that it's time to face up to my denial and admit that I am unable to let go of the Olympic Food Challenge.

It was just nineteen short days in length and yet, here I am two days after, still mourning its passing.  I must adopt a 'Feel the Fear...' approach to this and do some kind of ritual with candles and consign the OFC to a happy chapter in my past.  But for now, there's still a smidgen of caviar in my fridge and it would be a shame to let it go to waste, which is why I found myself troughing on blinis this past lunchtime.

A blini to the uninitiated is a Russian drop scone, made using buckwheat flour and yeast and served with caviar.  You also see it commonly served with prawns and smoked salmon too.  As I had the leftovers from Sunday's Danish open sandwiches to play with, it seemed like the obvious choice for a fast, tasty and posh working-from-home lunch.

Having run out of yeast at the weekend though, I faced the dilemma of whether or not the recipe would work without the extra lift.  Then I remembered an oft-used trick for pancake recipes that require a little extra bubble in them.  Fizzy water.  Or as Miss A calls it 'Funny Water'.  With some baking powder and whipped egg white, this worked a treat giving me soft, light pancakes which were perfect topped with some Philly and the aforementioned caviar and prawns.

And because they originate from Russia, I will plaster a Russian flag on the post because I can.  It's all part of the letting go.  Now I just need to come up with a non-country-specific recipe tomorrow to break the flag-waving habit.  And if I'm struggling to let go of the OFC, how on earth am I going to let go of my own blog in just 43 days time???

This is how I made them.

Makes six blinis (based on a Mary Berry recipe)

  • 35g plain flour
  • 35g wholemeal flour (use buckwheat if you can get it for the nutty flavour)
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 medium egg, separated
  • 55ml skimmed milk, warmed
  • 25ml fizzy water
  • pinch of table salt
  • Flag addict alert! Russia
  • spray oil
  • caviar, prawns, lemon wedges (I forgot this in the pic!) and cream cheese or sour cream to serve
  1. Whisk the egg yolk, water and milk together then combine with the flours, salt and baking powder to a smooth batter.
  2. Whip the egg white until it forms stiff peaks.  Fold into the batter carefully.  Decant into a measuring jug.
  3. Spray a frying pan with the spray oil and heat over a medium heat.  Pour the batter into 2-3 inch diameter circles, spaced 1-2 inches apart.  Cook for two minutes until the bottom is set and and bubbles start to form on the surface.  Carefully flip over and cook for a further minute.  Slide onto a warmed plate and continue cooking until all the batter is used.
  4. Serve with the accompaniments.


Monday, 13 August 2012

Dan Lepard's Saffron Peach Cake

There's a rumour going around that I'm writing a cake blog.  This is not true.  I'm writing a blog where I try and cook something new every day for 366 days.  The original idea was to attempt to broaden my family's food horizons.  I thought I was doing pretty well, having clocked up 322 different recipes on consecutive days.  In fact, sometimes I've made more than one new recipe each day, but they haven't always made it to the blog.  I've survived two weeks on holiday, Christmas with my fussy family, various bugs and so on and every day made something new and written about it.  And yet, everyone still thinks I'm writing a cake blog.

Summer in a cake
Admittedly, these opinions have come from two sources.  My best friend who has discovered the delights of baking and whom I have gone from talking geek-speak to, to discussing the merits of Willie's 100% Cacao and the joys of owning a bundt tin.  The other source of the rumour is from my work colleagues who have been the (lucky) recipients of the majority of the cakes I've made over the past (nearly) year.

This is probably because it's where my 'knack' (I hesitate to call it talent) and passion lie.  In baking.  I enjoy cooking from scratch but when you live with someone who has to eat a dish that tastes exactly the same every time you make it, the joy can be taken out of cooking when you fear the reaction if you happen to have run out of xyz and replaced it with abc just this once.  With cake, most people are polite/complimentary about it.  I can't remember ever giving anyone (apart from the husband) a bit of cake and them not at least saying thank you, but more likely they provide very positive feedback.

The one thing I've gotten from this year of cooking and blogging is the confidence to be a little more creative and experimental in the baking department although I still have much to learn.  The fabulous Great British Bake Off is back on our screens tomorrow night.  It was watching that this time last year that inspired me to do this rather strange challenge to myself.  The only way to progress in something is to practice and evolve.  I have learnt so much this year about cooking and baking and flavours and little twists that I feel I'm in a better place than I was a year ago.  I will be watching avidly this year to see what other gaps in my knowledge I should consider plugging once I get underway with my new blog.

Top of the learning list is that when you use something up, remember to put it straight into the Ocado shopping app so when you have the urge to bake, you don't wind up having to adapt and cut corners on certain recipes.  Or if you happen to be going to the shops for one ingredient, double check the cupboards before you go to make sure you've got everything you need.  Which is why I ended up making an almost almondless almond cake.

I still can't let go of the Olympic Food Challenge
I always always always have two or three bags of ground almonds in my cupboard plus a big jar that I pour all the ends of packets into.  Usually because I forget I've got some and then buy another bag when I'm baking something so build up a stock.  So when I picked this cake, it was with some confidence that all I needed to buy was saffron.  Not so I discovered when I turned all the cupboards out to find every permutation of nut (Brazils, macadamias, walnuts, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios...) but nary a bag of ground almonds to be found.  I'd put them all in my mum's chocolate and coconut birthday cake the other day and not replaced them.  Oops.

So I ended up flavouring the sponge purely with almond essence and replacing the almonds weight-for-weight with more flour.  It seemed to work okay although the little slice I tried was quite crumbly.  I'm sure the almonds would've made the sponge much moister.

But this is a fabulously cheery cake with it's sunny saffron hue and topped with sliced peaches.  The perfect antithesis for a miserable August day.  You can find the recipe in Short and Sweet or on the Guardian website.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge - Smörgåsbord Open Sandwiches on Black Bread with Pickled Cucumber - Denmark

It's all over.  This is my final Olympic Food Challenge Post.  The last medal has been contested and the UK won a silver.  I never thought I'd be sad to see the end of the Olympics, but it's been an amazing nineteen days that has bought most of the country together and encouraged me to learn more about the world and have fun whilst doing it.

Nom! is all I have to say about this
Denmark have had an okay games.  With 113 athletes competing in 17 disciplines, they will be heading home tomorrow with two golds, four silvers and three bronzes for their troubles.  And they even managed to swipe a gold medal in the track cycling which is pretty impressive given how well Team GB dominated that domain.

As for the foodie side of things, Denmark is the only place on my list of countries that I've actually been to.  I was about ten and my mother took me to Legoland.  My overriding food memory was of this really posh woman with an awful, horsey voice who used to spend all her time whinnying on about how 'Daddy has a private jet' and 'Daddy has a 40ft yacht' and how 'Tarquin and Ophelia are privately educated, don't you know'.  And yet every day, whilst everyone else stumped up the two Danish Kroner for a packed lunch, she used to save herself a few bob by taking enough food from the Smörgåsbord breakfast table and slipping it into a carrier bag to be consumed later in the day.  She even emptied bowls of rice krispies into bags.  I guess this is why I'm not rich.

Other than that, I remember eating a lovely, red spicy dish with frankfurters in it, potato salad and drinking Apfelsaft which bemused me because it was orange juice and not apple.  We may or may not have had Danish pastries.  We might have had bacon.  But there is nothing that I could put my finger on that I ate that I wanted to make again (25 years does a lot to dull the memory).

Not quite black, but close enough
So, having already tried making Danish pastries on this blog several times (cherry Danish, quick apricot Danish, disaster Danish and Dan Lepard's Amazing Danish), I wanted to try something else.  Before I picked Apple Cake for my Romanian offering, I really wanted to make Aebleskiver which are little apple dough balls from Denmark.  Trouble is, you need the proper pan or you don't get to make them as they come out in little spheres.  A bit of Googling told me there's not much else you can make in the special pan other than Aebleskiver and having already bought a bamboo steamer, I decided to try and keep on the husband's good side and not buy yet more things to clutter up the cupboard with.



Further Googling led me back to Smörgåsbord and a picture of Danish Open sandwiches.  Bingo.  I could get through today by trying a new recipe to satisfy my own blog criteria (however loose they are and how ever much I bend the rules to get through the 366 recipes!) and by making something remotely Danish looking, I'd tick the box on the OFC too.

I chose Dan Lepard's Black Bread recipe as I'd already done his Black Pepper Rye.  I know Scandinavians eat lots of rye bread.  Whether or not Dan's recipe is anywhere near what you'd find in Denmark, I have no idea, but I knew it would work and I'd most likely enjoy it.  And it did.  But I didn't go much on it sliced and buttered as I'd do with normal bread.  However, topped with cream cheese, pickled cucumber, prawns and caviar, the bread really came into its own and the liquorice flavour from the fennel seeds really complimented all the other flavours.
Labelled Elsinore but made in Sweden

I am seriously not a fan of licorice and only went with fennel seeds because I couldn't find my cumin seeds (hubby has been 'tidying' again).  If I make it again, I'll definitely go with the cumin seeds and replace the treacle with honey (as suggested by Dan).

And my new addiction is pickled cucumber.  This was a last minute addition as I suddenly got a bit panicked about what to put on the sandwich.  I already had the caviar and prawns but wondered if I could do two different types.  T'interweb suggested pickled cucumber and pickled herrings.  I found a recipe and made my own cucumber - simple, addictive, making more once this blog is posted.  Sadly(!), Sainzlebobs were all out of pickled herrings.  I was devastated.

So we go out on a high with me having tried some more new stuff, and enjoyed it.  I would like to thank Ewan Mitchell for hosting this challenge and encouraging us to experiment (although I draw the line at SoupTuesday's Deep Fried Duck Tongues).  Do go and read all the other amazing posts too.  You can find links on the Olympic Food Challenge blog.

Bread recipe can be found here (and also in Short and Sweet) and the one for the cucumber is here.


Saturday, 11 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge - Chicken Momos - Nepal

So here we are on the penultimate day of the Olympic Food Challenge and, for that matter, the penultimate day of the Olympic Games.  Team GB have just clocked up another amazing win from Mo Farah in the 5,000m.  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to view this feat on my phone whilst perched on the toilet seat in the bathroom as Miss A had her bath.

Sadly for Nepal, their athletes (five competitors, three disciplines) will be returning empty handed.  But thanks to their presence at the games, I got to make one of my favourite recipes from this challenge.  More on that shortly.

They are actually dumplings.  Not garlic bulbs!
As for a bit about Nepal, well this is where I've really failed.  Some years ago, one of my most lovely friends decided that he and I needed to take a trip to Nepal.  I have no idea why he chose this location.  I'm sure he must've said at the time but I was too busy nursing a broken heart after being dumped by my first serious boyfriend.  I think it was something that F had always wanted to do and thought that dragging me along for the ride would be entertaining.  I duly went out and bought a guide book to Nepal, scared myself silly as it was totally not my kind of holiday but thanks to Fate, F got a shiny new job, the moment passed and all I have to tell for the tale is that guide book.

Lord knows where it is.  I'm sure it's probably still in one of the packing boxes from when I finally moved out from the house I shared with the ex (I stayed on for a year after that).  I've moved twice since then and have boxes scattered at my current house, my mother's house, my grandfather's house and there are still a couple at the ex's house that he keeps trying to convince me to take.


Rather than boring you with details you can find on Wikipedia, I will tell you what I know off the top of my head.  It's somewhere in Asia.  It's landlocked.  It's where Everest is.  Those three points alone put me off of wanting to do the trip 12 years ago (although F is an amazing mate and I would have gone despite my misgivings).

Had I made it, I hopefully would've gotten to try Momos.  They're basically a dumpling like Chinese dim-sum but filled with a curry-based mixture of either meat or vegetables.  For real authenticity, I bought a Chinese bamboo steamer (much to the husband's dismay - it's another piece of kitchenware that will eventually end up in my massive box of rarely used utensils in the garage).  I also went so far as to make my own wrappers - mostly because I wouldn't have a clue where to buy them in provincial Wiltshire.

Best flag of the challenge
It was all surprisingly easy.  Chop up some meat and veg finely.  Stick in a shed-load of spices and leave to marinate for at least an hour.  The wrappers are just a flour and water dough, kneaded for ten minutes and then shaped into small balls and rolled out to 3 inches in diameter.  You fill, twist the tops and then steam them for 10-15 minutes.  This also scared the husband because he has a thing about fire and got all twitchy when I put a bamboo steamer over a naked flame.  How he missed the whacking great pot of water sandwiched between the two is beyond me.  I swear he was one digit away from dialling 999.

The filling was tasty.  Kind of like a Chinese-y curry rather than an Indian one.  All the taste but none of the heat (despite me going overboard with the chilli).  It would make a good spring roll filling too and I intend to do this with the rest of the mixture and some filo pastry tomorrow night.  The wrappers came out well too.  I was worried they'd be a little doughy, but they were kind of like a soft pasta.  I must admit, I'd run out of regular plain flour so used 00 pasta flour which may or may not have made a slight difference to the texture.

A gold for this one and I'll definitely be playing with the steamer again.  I can see us investing in a fire extinguisher for the kitchen very shortly though.

You can find the recipe here.  I made a fifth of it and it was enough to make 12 dumplings.  There are also tons of other tasty momo recipes to try on that page (which I'll be doing soon!)
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