Another thing I have learnt through this cooking challenge is that you should always check the size of your equipment (*cough*) before proceeding with recipe. The Boyfriend returned on Monday, so to celebrate this and to welcome him back with some delicious homemade food after 2 months of eating out in fancy restaurants (I know, how awful for him), I cooked him roast dinner (pork, his favourite) and a banana cheesecake from Nigella Kitchen. The roast dinner was delicious, crackling crisp and salty, potatoes crunchy on the outside, fluffy in the middle and veg still with some crunch. I even managed not to screw up the gravy which I am normally appalling at. Even when being lazy and using Bisto granules I somehow screw it up, and making it from scratch will alway, always, always end in disaster with either little lumps of cornflour floating in it as a last resort to help thicken it, or a layer of grease floating on top of the gravy, both of which are most unappetising. The Boyfriend makes cracking gravy, which is a wasted talent as he is never at home to make said gravy! So at least the main event was delicious, as the dessert was not. How does one mess up cheesecake, you ask? Well this is how: by ignoring the advice bestowed on me by the ever reliable Nigella and thinking everything would be OK. It was not OK. After making the cheesecake, I was supposed to place my springform tin containing the cheesecake into a roasting tray and then fill the tray with boiling water to create a water bath. This stops the cheesecake from overcooking and becoming dense and un-fluffy. I didnt have a roasting tray that could accomodate my tin, although this did not stop me from attempting to break the laws of physics by using force and sheer willpower, but after a lot of trying, the tray was just not big enough. So I thought ‘whats the worst that could happen?’ and chucked the cheesecake, sans water bath, into the oven. If you have to ask ‘whats the worst that could happen?’, then you probably shouldnt do it if the answer scares you. This applies to cheesecake making as well as other risky activities such as swimming with sharks (being eaten) or bungee jumping (the cord could break and I could land in crocodile infested waters – true story, but thankfully not experienced by me). Result of this barefaced insolence? Dry, mealy cheesecake that looked more grey than yellow and that’s scary stuff when you want to welcome someone back not make them wish they were still 5000 miles away! It did taste of banana but the texture was not great. It should have been fluffy and light but was nowhere near. I should also have made a toffee sauce to pour over the cheesecake to make it banoffee like in Kitchen but it really would not have been worth the effort. This may be the longest time a cheesecake has sat in my fridge, with only one measly slice eaten. It’s a sad day for cream cheese, I can’t even bring myself to post a photo of the thing! I may have to move on from baked to chilled cheesecake in an effort to get over this defeat. But at least The Boyfriend is back for a few weeks, which made me feel a whole lot better about the failed cheesecake. Now just have to get through two more days at work and then we have a whole week off together, bring on 5pm Friday!
Monthly Archives: April 2012
Pickled beetroot has a lot to answer for. While I quite like it to snack on when the fridge has nothing else in it to keep hunger pangs at bay mid afternoon (this is usually the week before payday when I live off the many, many frozen meals in the freezer), it doesn’t come close to the tastiness of fresh beetroot thats not been dumped in a vat of vinegar. Luckily for me I usually have nicer things to snack on such as chocolate Philly or grapes. To my shame, I didn’t even realise beetroot could come in any other forms until a few years ago when a friend randomly pulled some out of her garden, boiled them up and peeled them, and then we greedily wolfed them down. I had thought this behaviour very weird and expected them to be vile, but it was a revelation to me and may be the only vegetable that I can eat in its purest form – no sauces, no gravy, no salt, no meat to pair it with, as it just doesn’t need it. It’s so good, and its rare that I say that about an ingredient which isn’t a) sugar, or b) chocolate.
Todays recipe made the most of the flavour of beetroot. It was beetroot and apple borscht with sour cream and feta from Delicious March 2010 and while the flavour was indeed delicious, the colour of it was easily the best thing about it. It’s a soup made for Barbie dolls and princesses but don’t let that put you off butch men and non-royal ladies. Borchst is typically a soup from the Ukraine, and in this recipe is paired with soft, salty feta cheese from Greece so if you wanted to sound posh and cultural you could call this fusion food. I call it beetroot soup, as I am neither posh nor cultural, despite my best efforts. While making this I had to don some sandwich bags on my hands (rubber gloves were ruined by the rabbit bolognese) to prevent some serious staining as I’m sure you know that everything beetroot touches it stains bright pink. My wooden chopping board now has a nice pink hue, but so long as it’s not on my clothes or hands I can live with this. The soup is really easy to make, it just involves chopping beetroot, apple, carrot, celery, onion and garlic, chucking it in a saucepan and then adding vegetable stock. Cook for 45 mins, blitz in a blender, dollop on some sour cream and feta cubes and you’re done. Easy peasy. The mellow, earthy taste of the beetroot goes really well with the feta and the sour cream balances everything so nothing is too sweet or too salty. On a miserable rainy day like today, this vibrant soup brings a bit of sunshine into the kitchen and is comforting, tasty and healthy too. What more could you ask from a soup? I love as well how when you dollop the sour cream into the soup, the pinky purple soup inks into the cream and looks (in my food obsessed eyes anyway) beautiful and like something you’d see in a posh restaurant. But my plating skills aren’t up to scratch so the illusion fades pretty quickly. In the blender the soup also looks suspiciously like raspberry coulis, but don’t be fooled. Great soup, showcasing the fabulous flavour of beetroot. Don’t let the picked stuff put you off, give it a go and I’m sure you’ll be delighted.
Only 3 months into this blogging challenge and the recipes have already made me rethink my prejudice towards salads. I’ve never been a fan of salad, being forced to eat bland salad as child which consisted of soggy lettuce, cucumber (which I hate) and raw tomatoes (which I also hate) has left me with a dislike for them that until very very recently seemed like it would be impossible to ever change. Well hell hath frozen over it would seem! The sticky chicken and mango salad had started to win me round to the way of the salad and after the salad I made the other day, I am now truly a convert. But only if the ingredients are fresh and zingy with plenty of flavour otherwise it may as well be the soggy salad of my childhood. I cooked this recipe a few days ago, and it’s American-style seared chicken salad from Ainsleys Friends and Family Cookbook and is a variation on the classic Caesar salad. I know you may be thinking “Ainsley Harriott, really?” but do not judge his cookery skills on the fact that he may be the cheesiest chef, nay, man on television. The recipes in this book are really very good and cover a wide scope of good home cooked meals and everything I’ve cooked from it has been lovely. My aunty had this cookbook and after flicking through it last year I decided I needed a copy too, otherwise had I not seen it I too would never have thought about an Ainsley book.
He is still cheesy though. I’ll prove it:
And don’t even get me
See what I mean? Me and The Boyfriend (who could be back next weekend!) can’t help but laugh when he’s on TV as he is so OTT, and the way he grinds salt and pepper is exceptionally flamboyant. Next time you watch him now you won’t be able to concentrate on anything else I guarantee it! But he is a good cook and in my book that forgives many sins, and watching him does cheer me up. Another cheesy cook who is forever smiling is Bill Granger, but this makes him so ridiculously adorable I just want to give him a hug and move him in so he can cook for me. But don’t tell The Boyfriend that.
But lets get back to the salad. The chicken was moist and full of flavour after being marinated in olive oil, paprika and parsley, and the baby gem lettuce was crunchy and coated in a salty and spicy dressing. Add some crunchy croutons and a bit (ok a lot) of grated parmesan and this is one tasty salad which I would definitely make again. In fact I am making it again, albeit with no cheese and no croutons so I’ve got a tasty and healthy lunch at work tomorrow. I need to be healthy after a weekend of serious indulgence while visiting my fab family. Chilli, Indian curry, ham and cheese sandwiches, trifle, lemon cake, millionaires shortbread, roast pork with lots of crackling, wine…. phew! Its going to be a week of fruit, veg, chicken and fish to make up for the delicious sins of the weekend. Thankfully I now have salads to add my very small list of healthy recipes, thank you Ainsley!
Right, well I’ve definitely taste tested these beauties thoroughly and the only conclusion I can come to is that they are amazing. It’s Millionaires shortbread with rosemary infused salted caramel and while it sounds completely bizarre it is actually a revelation. It’s from Gizzi Erskines’ book Kitchen Magic which is fast becoming my favourite cookbook. I absolutely adore them, but I can see that these may very easily divide opinion, much like Marmite. If you don’t like rosemary then stick to the original, but otherwise you should at the very least try. In my opinion, I think they are stunning and while the flavour in the caramel is so obviously rosemary, it doesn’t taste at odds with the sweet chocolate, crumbly shortbread and gooey caramel, more enhances it. I normally find millionaires shortbread too sickly, but the rosemary and salt cuts through the sickly sweetness and makes it dangerously edible and addictive. Salted caramel has been a favourite of mine for a while and even just hearing the words makes me want to devour the nearest batch. Rosemary infused salted caramel is a really difficult flavour to describe, so you really should just try it. Obviously you don’t chop up the rosemary into the caramel, because that would be vile and chewy, but while cooking the caramel you chuck two sprigs of rosemary in and then remove once the caramel is cooked. Just don’t stir too vigorously otherwise you’ll end up doing as I did, spending 10 minutes picking out individual rosemary leaves that had been whisked off. Like I said, not everyone will like this, but if you’re one of the people that do you will find that this may be your favourite sweet recipe ever. Give rosemary a new partner besides lamb! Now, time for a coffee and a a slice straight out of the fridge (this absolutely makes up for not having any Easter eggs over the weekend).
Look away now if you’re a fan of rabbits or have them as pets, as this post probably isn’t for you. Some may say it’s cruel, even perverse to cook up a rabbit dish on a bank holiday weekend which has for its mascot a giant Easter egg delivering rabbit. Well, I had rabbits as pets when I was younger and they bit me a lot, leaving me with very little sympathy towards the creatures, so consider this revenge PJ, Funny Bunny and the er, one whose name I can’t remember! Plus, the Easter bunny brought me no eggs this year, apparently I’m “too old” or something so its fair to say I’m not a fan. So todays dish was rabbit bolognese from Jamies Great Britain (which I’m now renaming Easter Bunny bolognese) and had me up at 7am on Easter Monday to put it in the oven, because this bad boy takes 12 hours to cook. Yes, 12, I know. But after 20 minutes prep which involved browning some bacon and then chucking in a whole rabbit, veg, herbs, tinned tomatoes and beer I wisely went back to bed to enjoy the last day of the long weekend. Which meant waking up at 10 to the flat filled with this amazing aroma that made me wish it could have been cooked in half the time, as the cereal I had for breakfast really didn’t suppress the appetite this smell was creating. After 12 hours, Jamie instructed me to let it cool for a little while and then to don a pair of rubber gloves and start scrunching all the veg and the meat so that it turned into mush (the onions and veg were all put in whole at the start), and also to remove all the bones from the rabbit. This was tricky, as even after cooling down for half hour it was still very hot, and no matter how much you look, you will find small bits of bone while you’re eating the bolognese. I could have left it to cool for a little while longer, but by this time it was 7:30 and I was very hungry. Heat won’t stop me when my tummy’s rumbling! The verdict? Well it really wasn’t too impressive considering it took so long to cook and nearly burnt through the rubber gloves to my poor hands. While I do like Jamie Olivers recipes in general, sometimes I think he forgets that people aren’t chefs and don’t always have time/inclination/money to cook his long winded recipes. I don’t know about everyone else, but if I’m going to have to smell deliciousness for 12 hours and then nearly burn my hands, I’m going to want the taste to be just as good as the smell. At the end of the day he’s a chef and you can tell this when comparing his recipes to home cooks like Nigella. Nigellas’ recipes keep working, busy people fully in mind, whereas I feel Jamie gets so caught up in his own passion for food that he forgets not everyone is so enthusiastic, or if they are, they still aren’t chefs and want things to be simple and tasty. Don’t even get me started on Jamies 30 Minute Meals book, I could be here all day. I’ll save that for another post though, possibly when I cook from that very book. At the end of the day, I’ve made much better bolognese sauces or ragus from scratch in the past and it didn’t take as long and tasted a great deal nicer. There is absolutely loads of this left as well, which I’m a bit gutted about as I don’t have any desire to eat it again, but will not throw away. It’ll probably end up in the freezer for several years now, shame.
Also this weekend I cooked chicken, coconut and cashew nut curry from the book Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros. This book includes recipes from countries her relatives came from and of places she’s been, so it includes food from Cyprus, Scandinavian countries, South Africa, Greece, etc… Its a very pretty book with something for everyone, but I’ve rarely cooked from it which is a shame. This curry recipe hasn’t been given a country of origin, but I’m guessing from somewhere in India by looking at the ingredients. It’s not too bad, some mouthfuls seemed to be really flavoursome and others not so much, unsure why that is. I wouldn’t cook it again as its pretty unexciting, and I had doubled the spice quantities as I like flavour to smack my tastebuds, not gently stroke them. Still wasn’t enough to spice this curry up though. Like I’ve said before, Indian curries seem to be completely beyond my capability, I should leave it to the pros.
I’ve also cooked millionaires shortbread with rosemary infused salted caramel, but these are still setting in the fridge so will just have to wait to see what they taste like. I’m intrigued by the combination of caramel and rosemary…
Todays recipe could be described as perfect hangover food, were it not for the excessive amount of kitchen equipment needed to make them. The recipe is choc chip drop scones with caramelised pears, and to make them I needed: 2 saucepans, a frying pan, chopping board, 2 bowls, an electric whisk, a sieve and plenty of cutlery. A tad excessive for pancakes, but these recipes aren’t going to cook themselves and like I said, this is the perfect hangover food so needs must! After finally getting out of bed at 3pm today and faffing around for several hours in a post-vodka inebriated state, I decided to scrap having a normal dinner and cook up these pancakes. I wouldn’t normally go to this much effort for just me, but I bought all the ingredients for this when I cooked hunters chicken pie last week for a friend, but she then brought along a lovely cheesecake and after the pie we had no room for any kind of dessert anyway. And the buttermilk needed for them goes out of date in a few days so not wanting to let anything go to waste I had these for dinner. Nigella would certainly approve, although these came from Delicious Magazines April 2010 edition, and not one of her books for once.
These choc chip drop scones (but lets call them pancakes as that is what they are), were very very delicious and brought me back to Earth. Fluffy, with gooey chips of melted chocolate drops and covered with sweet, sticky caramelised pears, heaven. If you ever decide to make caramel please do be careful. Molten hot melted sugar is an absolute bastard if you get any on your skin as it will burn, and on the pain scale is up there with touching your eye just after chopping chillies. I speak as someone who has had the misfortune of doing both so just take my word for it. I’m ashamed to say I’ve put my eyes through chilli pain at least twice. The first time I did it I’d put a ridiculous amount of eye make up on and while running my eye under the cold tap in the bath for 20 minutes to relieve the stinging I then got mascara gunk under my eyelid which only added to the pain. My cheek also swelled up and went bright red for the afternoon, so I looked ravishing! All for a bowl of chilli linguine that just tasted of foolish mistakes once I finally got round to eating it, and that the boyfriend didn’t really like. I’m fairly sure I’ve also done permanent damage to my right eye, it will randomly start tearing up at random moments, and it’s not hay fever or a scratched retina. Still, I do love cooking with chillies and they apparently boost your metabolism so it’s a risk worth taking if it helps burn more calories.
This recipe also calls for a chocolate sauce, but quite frankly there was no way I was going to get another saucepan out, and because of all the caramel I think the chocolate sauce would be overkill. And when I tell you the chocolate sauce would be overkill, you’d better believe it.
Welllll maybe by Nigella Lawson actually, but when the recipe is called Green Eggs And Ham you have to hand it to Dr Seuss. His books were favourites of mine as a child, right up there with Roald Dahl, but apparently few of my friends have ever heard of his books which I find shocking! To me, thats like never having seen a Disney film as a child (and I happen to know people who didn’t, and also another person who believes there are sinister hidden messages in films like Dumbo. Lord knows what.), or being deprived of chocolate throughout PMT. Unthinkable. So as a fan of the his books, how could I not cook green eggs and ham from Nigella Express? Exactly, so I did. Its not often I get to eat luminescent green food that also doesn’t have chemicals or intoxicating amounts of sugar in it and I must say it certainly brightened up dinner time! The green eggs of the title are actually pesto pancakes which are ridiculously simple to make. You just whisk together flour, an egg, some pesto and milk and then fry it in a lightly oiled pan and you’re done. Pile them up on a plate, pop slices of ham on each pancake and fold, and you’ve got yourselves a very unique and colourful dinner which also happens to be exceptionally easy. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but I also fried an egg to go on top of my pancakes to add some yolky goodness and a bit of moisture to the meal. Very tasty. I love pesto, and I’d definitely advise getting a good fresh pesto from the chilled section of the supermarket as it has a stronger taste which can stand to being diluted down by all the pancake ingredients. The bottled, unfresh pesto is still really tasty but better with pasta as a quick and easy meal. I couldn’t eat all of the pancakes in the end, but I was unable to halve the recipe due to it only requiring one egg in the pancake mix. I did my utmost but in the end I was defeated, five little pancakes are deceptively filling! Its supposed to be a breakfast meal, but in the mornings I really can’t face much more than either cereal or boiled eggs and have no cooking mojo whatsoever in the early hours. Making it an express evening meal makes much more sense to me and is filling, tasty, and above all, vividly green!
To end this post, here’s a snippet from the completely non-sensical but fantastic Green Eggs And Ham:
I like green eggs and ham!
I do!! I like them, Sam-I-am!
And I would eat them in a boat!
And I would eat them with a goat…
And I will eat them in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good so good you see!
So I will eat them in a box.
And I will eat them with a fox.
And I will eat them in a house.
And I will eat them with a mouse.
And I will eat them here and there.
Say! I will eat them ANYWHERE!
I do so like
green eggs and ham!
I like to think of myself as a competent cook, someone who knows their way round a kitchen and can get to grips with a variety of foods and techniques. But, this does not mean that foolish errors won’t still be made. In fact, perhaps the confidence you gain with becoming a good cook means you’re more likely to get complacent and forget the basics. Such as reading the instructions BEFORE starting to cook instead of halfway through. Basic yes but very easily forgotten! So this was the mistake I made yesterday, with yesterdays recipe being chicken and smoked sausage gumbo from Louisiana Real and Rustic by Emeril Lagasse. Emeril is apparently a big deal in America but I’ve never heard of him, I only picked this book up because I wanted a book on New Orleans food and this happened to be in a second hand book store. Never used it since. Anyway, after spending most of yesterday either asleep or watching TV (a productive day), I finally decided to get off my arse and cook dinner at 7pm. Halfway through chopping peppers, celery and onions I looked halfway down the instructions and saw I needed to simmer it for one hour before adding the meat. Alright, I thought, thats fine, dinner will be a little later than normal but I can live with that. Reading further down I then saw that once the meat is in, it needs another 2 hours simmering. What the?! So this gumbo would not be ready until 10pm? I’m in bed at 10 on a Sunday night, I’m that lame. Nothing could be done about this unfortunate turn of events though, the meat was defrosted (I’d swapped the chicken for duck randomly, so definitely wouldn’t be throwing away the more expensive meat), vegetables chopped and the base sauce of the dish already bubbling away. Too far gone to give up now! Like a trooper I laboured on, and in the time needed to cook everything I managed to dye my hair and clean the fridge, so it ended up being very productive. It’s a shame the dish wasn’t worth the amount of time I had to spend on it. I’ve never had an authentic gumbo, having never been to Louisiana thats not exactly difficult, but I made one before from Jamies’ America cookbook and I have to say that was a lot better. The chef from Essex cooks a better Louisiana gumbo than the chef from Louisiana, what a pity. If you don’t know what gumbo is, it’s a traditional Cajun stew which can include pretty much any meat or seafood, depending what you have on you, as well as a variety of vegetables, but always with a base of celery, peppers and onions. That parts non-negotiable. It’s a really thick dish and can be spicy, but this recipe wasn’t and I think it really should be as good Cajun food tends to have a lot of spice in it. I have absolutely loads of this leftover, and I halved the recipe to serve 2 instead of 4, so it looks like I’ll be having mediocre gumbo for lunch all week. Lucky me. This recipe just makes me want to fly out to New Orleans to experience authentic gumbo rather than go to the effort of cooking it again, so far not too impressed with this cookbook. As you can see, it doesn’t look very appetising either:
Still, cooking it kept me from tearing my hair out from excessive boredom. I know I spent the last blog entry raving about having some time to myself, but by 3pm Sunday I’d had enough of me, so won’t be doing that again in a hurry if I can help it.