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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Hug in a bowl

Dinner tonight felt like it needed to be a little bit comforting. There’s no big stress, no dilemma, nothing awful happening, but sometimes you just need a meal thats acts like a big hug. 6 weeks down and at least 4 more to go until The Boyfriend is back, we’re over the half way mark but it still feels like a lifetime to go! Despite the difficulties of being apart for long stretches at a time, I very much feel that it has been the making of me. All the things I never would have had the balls or time to do had we not been separated: taking up cookery classes, going to the gym 4 times a week, cooking interesting foods, starting a blog, going to a wedding alone, seeing friends and family more, and finally being able to go to sleep when home alone without having the hallway light on! Small things to some, but for me to do these things is pretty impressive. Even if the situation is not what you’d prefer, you have to make the most of it and make it work for you. Going to a wedding alone doesn’t mean you have to be alone, you just make a conscious effort to talk to people more. Whats the point of being given loads of spare time or new opportunities to meet people, and wasting it by being miserable throughout?

Despite all this though, there’s nothing like a big hug when you get home from a long day at work, and as adorable as my cat is, she doesn’t have long enough arms. Hence todays choice of recipe….. Cauliflower Cheese soup. Whoever invented cauliflower cheese must surely be a genius; smothering a bland vegetable with cheese sauce so it actually becomes appealling, even to children. Genius. This recipe comes from In The Mood For Food by Jo Pratt, which is my most used and most reliable cookbook. Plus it was also (alongside Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess) the first cookery book I ever bought, and it definitely increased my interest in food and cooking. The book is split into sections based on what food you’re in the mood for, so you’ve got Healthy (the section I refer to the least, you’ll be surprised to hear), Extravagant, Comfort, Romantic, Eating Alone (not really a mood Jo, but I’ll let this one go), and Naughty (my favourite section by far). It’s a very girly book, but has a great selection of recipes to suit all cooking abilities. I can’t recommend it enough, go out and buy it now. Not convinced yet? Here are some tried and tested recipes from the book that I love: Coconut and Prawn Satay Broth, Rogan Josh, Banana and caramel sponge pudding, mint choc chip ice cream, raspberry and coconut cakes, banana pancakes, and my all time favourite, fish pie. I cooked this once for a mate of ours about 3 years ago, and even now he keeps talking about ‘that fish pie’ with a dreamy, faraway look in his eyes. Buy it, you really wont regret it. Any cookbook whose pages are stuck together with tomatoes/coconut milk/sugar etc… means its a well loved and valued guide.

Anyway, I’ve waffled on for long enough, lets get down to dinner. Whilst flicking through this book I came across this recipe and was surprised that I hadnt seen it there before, and decided to give it a go. Jo Pratt hasn’t let me down yet, why should she now? It’s fairly simple to make, and if you had the time or inclination you could also make some Parmesan croutons too like I did to add more texture and flavour. The soup itself is really good and tastes exactly like cauliflower cheese. It’s thick , smooth and filling and goes really well with the crunchy croutons. Seeing as its dinner, you could excuse yourself for having some thick slices of fresh bread to dunk into the soup too, croutons or no croutons. As for comfort, it’s as close to a hug as food can get, although while eating it I was also watching a programme about prisoners serving life sentences, so the comfort was pretty short lived! Another successful recipe from In The Mood For Food, it’s never let me down.

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Monochrome Cupcakes, Thai Noodles

Now that The Boyfriend has been gone for 6 weeks, it appears I’ve gotten into a little routine, which I shall call ‘The Fat Hermit Routine’. Now before you start feeling sorry for me and going ‘awwwww’, I’d like to state that I only go into ‘Fat Hermit’ mode on a Sunday, the rest of my week is completely freestyled (apart from Zumba Tuesdays and Booiaka Fridays anyway. OK, so maybe I AM in a but of a routine…) and I save my sad sap days for Sundays. Fat Hermit Sundays basically involve me not leaving the flat and baking something extremely fattening, but equally delicious. Try and get between me and these Sundays with my oven and mixing bowls and you will meet resistance. Today though, I think I totally deserve my Sunday hermitising, if you will, after attending a gorgeous wedding of a childhood friend which was lovely but after 9 hours in heels me and my feet needed a rest! Rest to me apparently means whipping up a batch of cupcakes. These came from the same book I used for the rhubarb cupcakes, The Primrose Bakery book, and again the cupcakes were immensely successful. They were cookies and cream cupcakes, which are basically chocolate cupcakes covered in vanilla buttercream (the recipe asks for marshmallow icing but this looked like too much work, so I stuck with my old favourite vanilla) with crushed Oreo cookies crumbled on top. They are amazing. The cake itself is ridiculously light and fluffy with a deep chocolate taste, as unlike many cake recipes, this contains real chocolate instead of just cocoa powder. Combine this cake heaven with buttercream nirvana and you’ve reached cupcake bliss. Finished off with crunchy Oreos, yum. Luckily for me, they are very sweet so one is most definitely enough. Although I did eat an absolute truckload of leftover cake mix and icing, as you’ve probably worked out by now restraint and self discipline isn’t my strong point. I’m also immensely pleased with how pretty they look in their simple monochrome presentation, and the little specks of cookie dust and rubble strewn atop the icing. Gorgeous. I’ve turned into a bit of a cupcake fiend lately, the sugar highs seem to be helping with missing The Boyfriend. Some Amazon reviews on this book moan about the high sugar content of the cakes. Christ, if you don’t want to eat lots of sugar then don’t eat cupcakes, idiots. Common sense! I just thank God for my gym membership and eat cupcakes regardless of sugar content.

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Moving on from the cupcakes, on Friday after a Booiaka dance lesson (ladies, I highly recommend, you just dance like Beyonce to 90s RnB for an hour. I say like Beyonce, but the mirrors in the studio have shattered any illusions about my dancing ability. I just don’t look in them anymore) I made Pad Thai noodles from Rick Steins book ‘Far Eastern Odyssey’. Now I’m not a huge fan of Stein, but you can’t argue with how good the food from countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam is. All of the recipes in this book look very very edible, but while it’s commendable that Rick encourages authentic cooking, recipes that are either too long winded or include impossible to find ingredients I’m just not going to cook. For a bowl of noodles, I’m not going to make an Asian stock or tamarind water thank you very much. And I don’t live in a huge city with food markets on every corner, so hunting down rare ingredients just isn’t possible unless I spent a fortune online. However, I decided to overlook this Friday night to finally use the book after 2 years of it gathering dust and made the simplest recipe from it. I’ve avoided Pad Thai in the past as it contains peanuts which I hate, but I realise now that once combined with all the other ingredients they are just a background taste. The noodles were very nice, had a good kick from the sweet chilli sauce and it was super quick to prepare. Prawns are a great option here as they take barely any time to cook at all, but I’m sure you could just as easily add strips of chicken or beef if that’s what your heart desired. I’ve decided that even though I’ve never been before, my heart (or at the very least my palette) belongs to Thailand, I’ve not yet met a Thai dish I didn’t like. Better start saving for a plane ticket! Or at the very least book a table at the delicious Thai restaurant in town once The Boyfriend returns next month.

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Ode to cookie dough

Oh cookie dough, I love you so
You taste so sweet, make me complete….

In case you hadn’t guessed, I have pretty strong feelings for cookie dough. For something that has the same texture and consistency as wet sand, it’s pretty darn delicious. And in a tub of vanilla ice cream, well, let’s just say food don’t get no better. There are only two flaws to cookie dough, and they are that once cooked it never tastes as good as it did raw, and it contains raw egg. I don’t know how pregnant women do it, 9 months without cookie dough??? I think in future I’m going to have to adopt, I just don’t see how I’m going to be able to do it otherwise. Pregnant women, they’re so brave.
So in case you didn’t know, I baked choc chip cookies today from Nigella Kitchen. Yep, she’s back, me and Nigella, you cant tear us apart. Halfway through baking them, I frustratingly remembered that I had actually made them before and really didn’t like them. It was too late to turn back so i half heartedly scooped the cookies out and baked them with a dull sense of disappointment. Well what can I say, there’s something to be said for low expectations, as these were like a completely different recipe. Last year I remember them being dry, chewy and tasting somewhat like dust, but today they were crisp on the outside and soft and gooey in the middle. Cookie perfection some would say, and just goes to show that one bad attempt at a recipe doesn’t necessarily mean the recipe is bad. I must have just overcooked them last year, it would seem the best cookies need to still be soft in the middle when coming out the oven.

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For dinner today I stuck with my Kitchen cookbook. What can I say, when a book is good you go with it. It was tarragon chicken and i must say it was a delightful dinner. The chicken is cooked in wine (always a good way to start a recipe) with spring onions and tarragon, and then once cooked some cream is stirred in and voila. Wine and cream, always a winning combination. The chicken is moist and tender from the wine, and the winey creamy sauce is sublime. I love tarragon, it tastes so good and goes ridiculously well with chicken. It says a lot about a dish when after all the food is gone, you run your fingers over the plate to get all the puddles of sauce left behind. Or maybe it just says a lot about me. Anyway, it’s very nice and being a French dish, gives you a little bit of sophistication on a Sunday night. I served it with jersey royal potatoes and leftover sugar snap peas and baby corn. It made me feel a little less bad about all the cream anyway.

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What must people think of me?!

Well it turns out I have a reputation when it comes to food. And apparently it’s not good. Yes, someone at work dared to write down their opinions on fellow workmates and it wasn’t all flattering! I’ll mention no names but they know who they are. Luckily for her, we are a very good humoured bunch and found it hilarious. My reputation apparently is that I don’t share food, and don’t you dare criticise my cupcakes! Now, this could possibly have to do with the fact that on my 2nd week in the job many years ago (two), I may have gone out for a few drinks with my new workmates and while eating a kebab at the end of the night, shouted out in true Joey Tribiani style “Hayley doesn’t share food”. (That’s me in case you hadn’t twigged). And they have never forgotten it. Despite the fact I regularly bring in cupcakes for all to tuck into. I must confess, I have at times been a little overprotective with my food, even The Boyfriend couldn’t get a look in, but I’ve changed, I’m a new woman! But yeah, she’s spot on with one thing: don’t criticise my cupcakes biatch.

Let’s move on from questionable reputations and discuss dinner. Tonight I delved into my Delicious magazine from May 2010 which is an Italian special and full of pretty gorgeous looking recipes. I really love Italian food, but haven’t experimented much with the country’s cuisine, sticking to fairly safe and reliable dishes. And I’m sorry to say that I’ve done that again today. I needed a quick, easy dish after work and the gym, and this fitted the bill. It’s tagliatelle with prawns, chilli and courgette (catchy title), and takes 15 minutes from start to finish. While the dish was nice and easy, (and courgette free due to a lack of them in Sainsbury’s- I replaced them with a carrot) it was nothing special. Sauce was creamy and smooth, with a hint of garlic and a kick of chilli, while the actual tagliatelle may have been the best thing. I really love eating pasta, I don’t know what it is about it but I find the stuff so comforting even when it’s straight out of salted water, completely plain. Could be the many Saturdays in with the parents as a child watching Gladiators and eating homemade spaghetti bolognese. Food associated with comfort and happiness will always be our go to favourites after all. But I should definitely branch out and try more obscure or unusual pasta dishes, and not stick to the easy, comforting meals.

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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Italian

 

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Tandoori Chicken

I bloody love Indian food, but it is to my utmost dismay that I cannot for the life of me cook it. Many a curry recipe has been tried and tested, but yet I cannot master the art of Indian curries. I know, how can I possibly show my face in civilised, culinary company again? Anyway, my self esteem couldn’t take any more failed curries so I decided to try a new Indian dish, that of Tandoori chicken, from Simon Hopkinson’s book ‘The Good Cook’. I saw the cookery show he did last year and loved it, so naturally I did what any cookbook nut would do and bought the accompanying book. Man was I disappointed. While the lovely meals shown on TV were all there , the rest of the recipes seemed dull, uninspiring and definitely not my cup of tea. That Simon, he’s nothing but a big tease, putting all the goods out on show first thing, and nothing to back it up later on. But he does have a cracking recipe for tandoori chicken, so it’s not all bad. Obviously not having a tandoori oven means its impossible to replicate the authentic taste you’d get in a restaurant, but making it at home means you can’t also have a dhansak, keema rice, Bombay potatoes and popadoms on the side. So it’s much more bikini friendly! It’s very simple, you just marinate some chicken legs in yoghurt and tandoori spices (I used a pot that I brought from Borough Market aeons ago), leave them in the fridge overnight and then chuck them in a hot oven for 20 minutes. Easy! Also, if like me you have a well stocked freezer and cupboards then this recipe is very economical, all I had missing was the yoghurt. Very handy in the week before payday let me tell you. Anyway, the chicken skin is crisp and bright red, the meat nice and juicy thanks to the marinating. I served it with pitta bread (a bit unconventional I know, Indian meat and Greek bread, but like I said, it’s the week before payday and there were no naan breads in my freezer) and some mango chutney and it was very tasty indeed. Chuck some salad on the side and you’ve got a perfect easy meal after a long day at work. Just don’t buy The Good Cook, if you’re anything like me at all, you will be sorely let down. Sorry Simon, I’m out.

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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food, Indian

 

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Pavlova and Pretentiousness

I completely forgot in my last post to mention the delicious strawberry pavlova I made for a friends BBQ on Bank Holiday Monday. It was so good, the meringue was crunchy on the outside and gooey and chewy in the middle, which in my eyes is perfection for meringue. I would like to point out that I’m definitely not sitting here bigging myself up for such wonderful cooking skills, I literally follow the recipe and the end result is 10% down to me and 90% down to the writer of the recipe. Given free reign in the kitchen I come up with disasters, and while there are several things I can cook by heart, without my beloved cookbooks I would be limited to about 5 dishes! The pavlova recipe came from Supper Club by Kerstin Rodgers, which I believe I’ve already told you is a beautiful book with some great food photography (way better than my poor efforts!). The only criticism, and it’s a small one, is that as advised by the book I made a salted caramel to drizzle over the pavlova which could barely be tasted amongst the cream, strawberries and meringues. Pavlova just doesn’t need any fancy drizzles or garnishes, it’s perfect in its purest form, salted caramel needs to find another dish to play with.

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Now onto the pretentiousness. I’ve been watching Great British Menu on BBC One, and while I love it, I have to say that the BBC really should hire me as a fourth judge to give the show some perspective. Some dishes would make me want to throw my plate at the wall and scream “enough of this pretentious shit, bring me some real food in a decent sized portion”. I’d love to see the look on Oliver, Prue and Matthews faces, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be invited back. I’ve nothing at all against fancy Michelin starred food, some of the dishes look amazing and very very tasty. However, I do have a problem with cooking purely to show off, being groundbreaking at the expense of the food, and pointless spherical shapes. I mean, the other week some guy plated up a dish with globules that were bright green, looked like peas, and according to him tasted just like peas as he really wanted to get the essence of peas in to the dish. Call me old fashioned, but may I suggest using actual peas? Instead of going to a huge amount of effort, using chemicals and fancy equipment, just get the best tasting peas you can find. Sure, there’s not a lot of skill in that, but surely the best meals are ones that reflect simple, good ingredients, cooked with passion? Save the skilled work for cooking meat perfectly or making amazing pastry desserts, not making a fake pea. It’s pretentious. And while I’m on the subject, don’t be so stingy with portion size. If I was an Olympic athlete and the BBC were throwing a banquet for me, I’d want to forget the exercise and diet regimen for one day and eat well and plenty. Just a thought. Saying all this, most of the dishes look awesome, and if any of the chefs on Great British Menu are reading, (very unlikely i know) I am more than happy to try your dishes and judge them accordingly!

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Puddings

 

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Bittersweet Rhubarb Cupcakes

In honour of the Queens Diamond Jubilee this weekend, I decided to put an English spin on the classic American cupcake. Oh alright then, I actually bought a new cookbook last week and was dying to try this recipe. Congrats and all that Lizzie, but my real inspiration was The Primrose Bakery Book by Martha Smith and Lisa Thomas, and what a delightful book it is. I haven’t actually broken the news yet to The Boyfriend that I’ve bought another one (if you’re reading Boyfriend, I’ve got a new cook book. And er, have pre-ordered another one on Amazon) because the normal reaction is something along the lines of ‘oh for gods sake, not another one, I thought we had this under control now’. Like me buying cook books on a regular basis is up there with a drug addict fresh out of The Priory going to their dealer and picking up some crack. Well as Whitney Houston once said, crack is whack, and I’ve not yet seen or heard of a scientific study looking into the damaging effects of cookbooks on lungs. Please do enlighten me if you hear of one.
So as addictions go, I’m playing it safe while he works abroad for weeks on end.
Back to the cookbook: it’s ace. Full of beautiful pictures of cupcakes, layer cakes, breakfast treats and biscuits, it just makes me want to cook everything from it. I managed to settle on the rhubarb cupcakes as this isn’t something you generally see in a cupcake and I love rhubarb and feel it deserves a bit more variety than alway being plonked into a crumble (delicious as it is). The rhubarb is cut into small chunks and is stewed in water, sugar and vanilla until its falling apart, then put into a plain cake mix. The recipe states that it makes 12 cupcakes, but you could easily make about 6 more with the mixture if you wanted to as there is a lot of mix leftover. This is definitely not a criticism, as complaints go its up there with ‘I can’t close my wallet for all the £50 notes in there’. With the excess cake mix I just made bigger cupcakes and then had a grand time licking the bowl afterwards (easily the best bit about baking). Once the cupcakes were cooked and cooled, I iced them with an icing made with rhubarb juice left over from stewing the rhubarb earlier. The juice was a vibrant, pretty pink and once mixed with sugar and butter, was diluted down to the palest baby pink – gorgeous. The verdict? I love ’em. Soft cake with threads of sweet but slightly sour rhubarb, topped with a sticky, rich icing that is almost too sweet until the tang of rhubarb juice comes in, keeping the icing within very acceptable sweetness levels. Loved. Them. And they look absolutely divine, pretty and very girly.

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I also cooked today a scrumptious dinner incorporating 2 recipes from Mexican Food Made Easy by Thomasina Miers. It was grilled chicken with green rice and homemade guacamole, and even though it sounds like a ‘meh’ dish, its actually seriously tasty. I left the chicken plain and decided to let the sides do the talking. The green rice is just so good, I’ve made it a few times before and it tastes so vibrant,but with coriander, onion, garlic and good vegetable stock in it, it would be more surprising if it wasn’t tasty. I could eat this by the bucketload, but I did manage to reign myself in and just have a plateful (I couldn’t find a bucket). The guacamole was also amazing. I know you can get ready made guacamole in the shops, but that wouldn’t jazz up a plain chicken breast like homemade would. Avocados aren’t exactly cheap either, but It’s worth buying them to make this recipe. The guacamole is tangy and spicy and when combined with the rice and chicken really brings the whole thing together to make a ridiculously tasty and fairly healthy dinner. Chicken and rice need never be boring again. It also looks as pretty as the pink cupcakes with the vibrant green of the rice and guacamole, although I don’t think the picture shows this very well. All in all, a very successful day of cooking with some delicious flavours.

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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Baking, Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food

 

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