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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Southwestern Sunrise

I know that us Brits are very proud of our breakfast legacy what with the fry up known around the world as an English breakfast and most people being partial to a bacon sandwich at the weekend, but I’ve got to be controversial and say the Americans do breakfast better. You can get your fried goods there, sure, but on top of that they can also offer pancakes, waffles, muffins, hash, Florida orange juice, fruit platters, smoothies, proper coffee, granola, bagels, and a ridiculous amount of options for the humble egg. Even the cheap places to grab breakfast avoid instant coffee, such is the culture there for a decent, strong cup of Jo. They know what they’re doing when it comes to the most important meal of the day, that much is clear. I had planned on having today’s recipe for breakfast, but by the time I’d cleaned the house and gone to the gym it was early afternoon, so we’ll call it lunch. My lunch then was from USA by Sheila Lukins and is called Southwestern Sunrise and is one of the many options for eggs in the book. It’s definitely the tastiest thing I’ve eaten that only takes 2 mins to prepare and also packs a pretty healthy punch. You just chop up some red pepper and avocado, pop them into a ramekin, top with a raw egg and grated cheese then pop in the oven until the egg is cooked. Dollop with some sour cream, sprinkle on some coriander and you’re done. Totally delicious and extremely simple. The only tricky bit is getting the egg cooked to the point where the whites are cooked through but the yolk is still runny, a point that I missed and ended up with solid yolks. It still tasted good though, and I’d rather that than runny egg whites which have the same consistency as snot. The flavours of this make me summon up an image of New Mexico and the name of the dish really does have me thinking about a beautiful orange sunrise over the water starved landscape of the Southwest. I’ve never been mind, but I’ve seen enough movies and read enough books set in the USA to get those images. And Man vs Food has shown me that this is the sort of food you’d find in this part of America, although my portion was certainly a lot smaller than the ones Adam Richman gets served! The recipe called for Monterey Jack cheese but cheese is something the Brits really do do better, so I stuck with cheddar. All this recipe needs to make it perfection would be the addition of salsa to give it a spicy kick to really get your morning going with a bang.

The other night for dinner I delved into my new book The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo. If you saw her on TV a few months ago, then you’ll know that as well as being a cracking cook, she’s also adorable, has lovely shiny hair and knows how to pull off a pretty tea dress. Fine qualities in a woman! For my first attempt from this book, I made meatballs in spicy sauce with Alsatian pasta, which sounds much more like a French dish when you replace the word meatballs with boulettes de viande. According to adorable Rachel, the Alsace region of France is well known for its pasta, hence this suspiciously Italian looking recipe. Luckily, the spicy sauce is very French, what with it containing red wine and a bouquet garni, as well as cornichons, which are really just tiny pickled gherkins. The meal was really flavoursome with plenty of crunch from the gherkins, and the sauce had a deep wine flavour that went well with the meatballs which were made from beef mince and sausage meat. I think this book is going to quickly become a favourite of mine, the pictures of the food are beautiful and I love that she cooks these gorgeous looking creations in her teeny tiny kitchen in her teeny tiny Parisian flat. If she can create culinary delights in a kitchen the size of a broom cupboard, then what excuse do I have for not trying with my nice spacious kitchen? French food is looking to be the way forward for me.

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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Books, Breakfast, Cooking, Food, French, Lunch

 

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French Fancy & Nigella Naughtiness

Thanks very much weather. I had some lovely plans today to do a bit of foodie exploring in London and check out a pickled shark at the Tate (for art, not food. The Chinese craze for shark fin soup makes me sick to my stomach) but the miserable rainy weather put paid to that idea. Not that I can complain too much as it just gave me a rainy day opportunity to try out my new French cookbooks and do a bit of baking. Over the last year I’ve fallen hard for French food and I’m starting to come to the conclusion that deep down I’m actually French. After all, I adore the smell of garlic, eat a lot of cheese and bread, and most importantly, have complete and utter contempt for the general public. But then Saturday mornings in Tesco will do that to a person. I make exceptions of course, but only really for Beyonce, Nigella and the entire cast of New Girl, although it may be a bit of a stretch calling those guys ‘the general public’. So you see, clearly I must have some French ancestors somewhere in my family tree,explaining my love for all things French right now. Lunch today then was that classic, quintessential French recipe, French onion soup from my new cookbook French Brasserie by Daniel Galmiche which is a gorgeous book full of recipes that are easy to cook at home. The ingredients for this soup consist mainly of onions, wine, cheese and baguette, so you couldn’t get more Gallic if you tried. It takes a little while to cook as you have to sweat down the onions to make them soft, golden and release all their flavour but despite this it’s really simple as the most it requires you to do is chop and stir. I have to say, I wasn’t all that won over by this soup which is a real shame as I loved it when I ate some in Paris. However, Daniel does advise getting the best quality onions, preferably the Provence variety, which I must admit I couldn’t be bothered to hunt around for so just bought bog standard onions from the supermarket. Not very Parisian of me I know. Perhaps a better quality onion would have given the soup more taste and taken away the blandness. The one saving grace of this soup is that you top it with cheesy slices of baguette which add some texture and the deep taste of a mature cheddar. The recipe recommended using Comte cheese but the last block was taken right in front of my eyes by some sodding member of the general public (see why I feel such contempt?) so I stuck with some tangy mature cheddar, which always tastes good. I’d definitely like to try this recipe again but not until I’ve sought out some decent onions from a farmers market. I should have known they wouldn’t taste that strong, I didn’t cry once while cutting them into slices. A sure sign of dud onions that is, still having perfect mascara.

It’s been a little while since I cooked a Nigella recipe, but today she is back, and with a bang I must say. I read this article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/19/nigella-lawson-confessions) the other day and it was as if this woman was me. Nigella has inspired so many people to get in the kitchen and she is such a fantastic writer that you feel you know her through reading her books. It’s not just women she’s enchanted either, I know men who love her books too, although how much of this is owed to her womanly figure and food double entendres rather than her recipes, I wouldn’t like to say. I too fantasise about owning her red chilli fairy lights and stunning Kitchen Aid mixer, but unless I win the lottery it’s unlikely I’ll have £600 spare to buy one. Anyway, the author of the above article references the snow flecked brownies recipe from Feast, and kindly includes the recipe for those without the book, so naturally I had to cook them. This has to be the definitive brownie recipe, because they are an absolute knock out. If a murderous alien race came down to Earth and asked for one good reason not to destroy the entire human race, these brownies are what I’d present them with. You’re welcome Earth. Rich, chocolatey, gooey, soft, warm…. In a word, heaven. I’ve got no problem whatsoever with brownies filled with nuts, cherries etc but the simplicity of these and the sole filling of white choc chips (the snow of the recipe title) is all that is necessary. I used Maldon salt flakes in this recipe, which I highly recommend you do too instead of the salt in your grinder, as the subtle saltiness you get from these flakes cuts right though the richness of the goo and stops it being too sickly sweet. I wish I could describe better the taste of salt in a brownie, but please just take my word for it that its really good. I would not lie to you guys. So once again Nigella justifies her place at the top of the pedestal, and she came along when I needed her most. This week has been an absolute bitch, what with The Boyfriend going and the highs of the last month coming to an end, but at least with a chocolate brownie the world starts to seem right again and with the current weather October really doesn’t seem so far away. The power of The Lawson!

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Spice up your life… or at least your salmon

So the healthy eating continues. Its been three days now and there’s been no let up in my attempt to eat more wisely and get back to exercising. You may think “three days, is that it?” but for me, three days of avoiding junk and snacks is an achievement. In case you failed to notice, I love food, and my favourite foods are the ones that do my arteries and muffin top no good. Friends keep telling me to leave the bad food, walk away before I get hurt, but like any toxic relationship, this ones tough to give up. Not that I’m seriously comparing my love of food to a bad relationship, because that would be crazy (right?), but things that are bad for us are the hardest to abstain from. Luckily for me though, I’m allowing myself some indulgence at the weekend, because total abstinence would drive me nuts, and harsh, punishing dieting programmes are hard to keep up and hey, you only live once. I read a great article by Jay Rayner in the Observer Food Monthly yesterday, where he observes that all his favourite foods (sausages,bacon, BBQ food) are likely to give him all sorts of cancers. However, food is his only vice and what is the point of prolonging your life to the age of 120 if you’ve been miserable and not enjoyed the foods that you salivate over? Now neither of us are saying go out and binge on processed meats and sticky ribs, but I frankly would feel that I’d wasted a large portion of my life if I constantly denied myself delicious food, and all I had to show for it was a few extra years in a care home. I don’t smoke, or drink heavily, I exercise regularly and I try to eat sensibly most of the time. Therefore, if I want to eat a huge curry or bake brownies then I bloody well will. I realise that this little rant has completely ruined the moral of todays blog which is ‘eat healthily guys!’, but life is too short. Enjoy yourself.

I really should get back to the food and away from the lecturing. Last night I cooked harissa salmon with couscous and vegatables from the same magazine I used for the fennel salad. (Delicious, August 2012). The magazine had a section devoted to 2012 recipes, eg, 20 recipes that took 12 minutes to cook. Nothing at all to do with the London 2012 Olympics but everyone else has been cashing in on The Games so why not food magazines? Unlike Mr Oliver and his ridiculous 30 minute expectations, this 12 minute dinner genuinely only took that amount of time and was fairly tasty. Nothing surprising about it really though, the salmon tasted like salmon but with a bit more kick from the harissa paste, which I believe is from the Middle East and widely available in the shops. Couscous tasted like lemon and coriander which is funny, because I added lemon and coriander to the mix. The recipe didnt call for any vegetables but I felt it needed to be a bit more nutritious, so while cooking the salmon I chucked in some red pepper and red onion with the fish. It was filling and healthy and had a nice spicy edge to it, which for a mid week dinner is a pretty good result. Expect me to fall off the wagon hard at the weekend though, I’m just itching to get baking. I also had another mini Amazon binge this week thanks to payday, so I’m currently awaiting the arrival of 3 books, all about French cooking or eating in Paris. The low fat French cookbook I had clearly wasn’t cutting the mustard, so I’m now waiting for The Little Paris Kitchen, French Brasserie, and Lunch in Paris. It’s safe to say I have been thoroughly inspired by my recent trip to Paris and am dying to try to cook some amazing French meals. Hurry up please postman!

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Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Cooking, Fish, Food, French

 

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Mmmmmm, squeaky cheese

Foolish is the woman who goes on a healthy eating kick the same time that Masterchef and Great British Bake Off are back on TV. And very foolish is one who watches Bake Off at the same time as eating today’s recipe, so one can only assume that the fool is indeed me. After nearly a month of no exercise and eating pretty much whatever I want while The Boyfriend was home, it’s now time to get sensible again and eat healthily. Most days anyway, I need my baking Sunday’s now more than ever seeing as he’s flown away again. I was pretty darn determined to not eat dull, boring meals as part of my healthier lifestyle so I have torn through my cookery magazines to find plenty of delicious recipes to keep me going and to keep me interested in eating well. Today’s recipe has absolutely achieved that. I made fennel and halloumi salad from the August 2012 Delicious magazine and it really surprised me. I’ve not eaten a lot of fennel or halloumi before so had no idea how this would turn out, especially with the addition of dried cranberries which I wouldn’t automatically pair with any of the other ingredients. But what do I know, we’ve already established my foolishness after all, and in the end it was a nifty little salad with a tonne of flavour that was also super speedy to make. The only cooking involved was frying the halloumi so it browned and went a little bit squishy. Before today I was a halloumi virgin, and I have to ask why I left it so long as i loved it. The warm and soft halloumi went really well with the aniseedy crunch of the fennel, while the cranberries added a sour note which made the salad really interesting. It’s not often people say that about salad is it? I put a small portion on my plate thinking it would never fill my (slightly larger than a month ago) stomach but the cheese makes it deceptively filling. Ahhh squeaky cheese, what can’t you do?

As well as feeling virtuous by eating a tiny and healthy dinner, I also felt that I was doing my bit to spare an innocent chicken or salmon by declaring my day Meat Free Monday. This is despite the fact that I have a big bag of chicken breasts in the freezer and that my insignificant and completely insincere protest will make not a jot of difference to any chicken whatsoever. And I’m having salmon tomorrow. But it made me feel good, so high five for me! Anyway, it’s good to know that should you seek out salads that are a little more unusual, you will be rewarded with a great tasting dinner that leaves you feeling full and opens your taste buds up to some new flavour combinations.

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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Salads

 

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A touch of Masterchef… well, sort of

Time today for a much neglected cookbook to be put to work, and also for some actual cooking to take place in my very neglected kitchen. My pots and pans will be pleased to know I’m getting back in the kitchen like a 1950s housewife whose husband works faaaar too late. The cookbook in question is the Masterchef cookbook which, as a big fan of the show and it’s hosts, seemed only right to buy so that I could turn into the next big Masterchef winner wowing John and Gregg. Well, as it turned out I looked at all the pretty pictures and then had a peek at the ingredients and instructions and got rather intimidated. This book isn’t for beginners, and even for someone comfortable in the kitchen spatchcocking a chicken or proving some fresh bread, it can be a little overwhelming. This isn’t a criticism of the book at all, I watch Masterchef religiously, know what’s involved and that the recipes are complex and difficult, but seeing it all in print makes it very clear how much effort the contestants put in. Just in case seeing them getting shouted at by professional chefs and sweating in a Thai kitchen didn’t give it away! But if the Olympic athletes have taught me anything, its that if you want to be the best, you’ve got to push yourself and make life a little harder, so on Sunday I finally gave the book a go and cooked a lovely little meal for The Boyfriend, making the starter from this book. I chose crispy lime and ginger prawns which admittedly is one of the easier recipes from the book but every Masterchef has to start somewhere! Word of warning about prawns by the way. I love them, but since learning about deveining prawns, I’m much more picky about them. Next time you’re about to eat a king prawn, take a look for the black line running down its back. Word up, that’s its digestive tract, so essentially that is prawn faeces. Get a knife, run it down the back of the prawn and remove it,because while it’s probably harmless, you really don’t want to eat that shit. I’m not sure all restaurants remove it as it is quite fiddly work, but now I know what that black line is I won’t touch a non deveined one. So now you know, sorry if I’ve ruined prawns for you, but an educated foodie is one that doesn’t eat crap.
My (deveined) prawns were marinated in some lime juice and spice then coated in flour, egg and breadcrumbs flavoured with lime zest and coriander. Smelt amazing. Then I fried them in hot oil until crispy and dished up with some sweet chilli dipping sauce. They were full of zingy Thai tastes, with a little bit of crunch, although I did mess the coating up by coating the prawns all in one go rather than doing them one at a time. The crunchy coating clumped up and a lot was left in the frying pan. The difference that taking a bit more time would have made shows the huge gap between a home cook and a Masterchef, a lesson I have definitely learnt from and will improve upon next time. And there will be a next time, because they were gorgeous even with a clumpy coating, and The Boyfriend is obsessed with prawns in pretty much any guise. Plus, what can I say about the beauty of sweet chilli dipping sauce that hasn’t already been said by a million dippers around the world?

Last night I also cooked Cypriot stuffed chicken from Jamie Oliver’s (can’t be cooked in) 30 Minute Meals. This was also very yummy, with moist chicken and a tangy stuffing made from herbs, sun dried tomatoes and feta. I served it with The Boyfriends legendary dauphinoise potatoes and some asparagus and tomatoes, which with the exception of the tomatoes which I don’t particularly care for, was lovely. While not perfect (not sure how well sharp sun dried tomatoes and feta really go with creamy dauphinoise) it was still very pleasing and didn’t leave either of us feeling bloated, heavy or guilty. While altogether the meal wasn’t too fiddly or time consuming, it does use quite a lot of kitchen utensils. Not a problem for me as the highlight of spending time cooking a good meal means I don’t have to wash up. Suddenly my passion for cooking becomes a lot clearer to those puzzled by my enthusiasm! My mission to become an amazing cook continues, I will try to push myself a bit more in the kitchen and not always take the easy route. I predict a few disasters, but just because you stumble, doesn’t mean you have to fall. Blame London 2012 for all these motivational cliches.

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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food, French, Thai

 

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Tastes of Paris

Bonjour mes amis! I’ve been neglectful of the blog for a little while, but can you blame me, I’ve been in Paris? Whisked away by The Boyfriend upon his return home, we’ve been eating our way through Frances food repertoire and working it off by a lot of walking around The City Of Lights. And I did this all for your reading pleasure, selflessly taking the calorie hit so you, dear reader, don’t have to. The things I do for my “craft”. So clearly I haven’t been doing a lot of cooking, but what is the point of travelling and eating good food if you can’t brag about it upon your return to patient (but ultimately bored) friends?

Now, in four days we obviously weren’t going to get a chance to try every famous French meal, but we absolutely gave it our best shot. Frogs legs, snails, horse meat, all missed opportunities, although I really will draw the line at eating snails. I’ve heard they are delicious, but I can’t get my head round the idea of eating the slimy things so am happy to leave the snail eating to others. I’d much rather try horse meat. I know that might be a bit controversial over here, but I have as much emotional attachment to horses as I do cows and chickens, which is nil. They may have been one of my mums favourite animals, but she also loved ducks and I have eaten a lot of that so if she would ever have disowned me it would have been on that fateful day I had a Chinese crispy duck pancake for the first time. Hooked. Some animals just taste too good. Speaking of delicious animals, one of the highlights of my Parisian meals was the steak frite meal we had at Relais Les Entrecôte on a street just off the Champs Elysees. The Champs Elysee isn’t known for good food, generally being full of tourist traps serving average food, but venture off it and you’ll find this gem. The guide book described it as possibly serving the best steak frites in town, which i think may be pushing it and gives you unreasonably high expectations, but it certainly was delicious. If you go, arrive early as its a badly kept secret and we queued to get a table (they don’t take reservations) but I felt its worth it. They don’t give you a menu, they only serve steak frites, and give you a pretty tasty little salad and sourdough bread while you wait for your main. Its a bustling restaurant and if you like your space this isn’t the restaurant for you as the tables are claustrophobically close together. The steak itself was perfectly cooked, pink in the middle and super soft, covered in a delicious sauce.The recipe for this is apparently a closely guarded secret, but between us we could detect some curry powder, mustard, cream and er, that was about it! Definitely not the best food detectives around, but who cares, it tasted good and was a good dunking vehicle for the french fries. They were also pretty good. Best thing about this restaurant though is that once you’ve cleared your plate, the waitresses come round with trays of steak and chips and pile your plate up again with seconds. Forget stuffy restaurants with teeny portions and over inflated prices, this is the sort of French food that totally satisfies. Even though we had seconds, we found space for pudding (unlike the mains, their dessert menu is extensive!), The Boyfriend had raspberry sorbet and I had profiteroles, which were filled with vanilla ice cream and covered in a gooey, rich and utterly gorgeous chocolate sauce. Total chocoholic heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other French foodie highlights include eating more ice cream under the Eiffel Tower (we both pigged out and had 3 scoops in a cone – mint chic chip, banana fudge and my old favourite, pistachio), crepes while sat in cafe on Place des Vosges (mine banana and rum, The Boyfriends filled with Nutella), French onion soup, and mussels in  a creamy parsley sauce. The French onion soup was seriously good, but should have been renamed cheese soup for the sheer scale of the amount of cheese contained underneath the croutons. I’m not complaining, it was flavoursome, filled with caramelised onions and gooey, stringy, melted cheese, and topped with crispy, cheese covered croutons. How can one complain about that? There were some disappointing foods, mainly the croissants I had for breakfast in the cafes which blatantly just came out of a packet. For the life of me I could not find a bakery near our hotel that sold croissants freshly baked which is really annoying when you’re very aware that the city is full of good bakeries but you can’t sniff them out. Plus, if you don’t like anything heavy for breakfast good luck finding somewhere that doesn’t force feed you baguette and croissant as soon as you sit down. The breakfast menu at this cafe said that it did eggs/bacon/omelettes, but when The Boyfriend asked for this he was told ‘non’ and subsequently given croissants (which he dislikes) and baguette, no sign of fried eggs and bacon. It was no use arguing, this waiter had it in for us tourists and decided to go all Dictator on our breakfast and pretended to not speak English, which was unfortunate as our French is pretty appalling. Very good reason to learn French if you’re planning a holiday to France, to get one up on the rude waiters (of which there are a lot of in Paris, it’s as much a part of Paris as the Eiffel Tower and the Seine) and get the breakfast you want, nay, deserve!

 

Lastly, how could I got to Paris and not try my cooking nemesis, the macaron? Unsure of what they should taste like and what their texture should be, I finally got to see what these tricky little devils should be like. Surprisingly, I’ve not actually been that far off when making them myself, which is a bit of an ego boost for me – I’m not as bad at making them as I thought, wahoo! Of course, I could never make such picture perfect macarons and the flavour combinations on offer at Pierre Herme were a million miles more ambitious than I could ever attempt, but I’m taking this as a victory over the tricky French meringues. Well, you take your victories where you can. I’ve not tried all the flavours I bought, I don’t want to wolf them down too soon as they were not cheap, but when they look like such perfect works of art you can see why they are such a delicacy. I went for salted caramel, chocolate and passion fruit, mint, pistachio,peach with apricot and saffron, and finally, lemon. So far, so delicious, I just need to take my time with these babies and savour the moment instead of just shoving them in my mouth like cheap toffee. Paris is absolutely a destination for food lovers, and while it’s tricky to avoid the tourist traps and disappointing food, there are still treasures in every district and, in the wise words of Chef Gusteau in the fabulous cartoon Ratatouille, “good food will always come to those who love to cook”. He sure knows his stuff!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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