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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Foodie Penpal Delights

To the lovely lady that came up with the idea of Foodie Penpals, I tip my hat to you. Being food mad and wanting to talk about it all the darn time can be a challenge if you don’t want to bore your friends into a stupor and eventually have them cross the street when they see you or let your calls go to answer phone. Nobody wants to check their voicemail and hear how upset you are with Jamie Oliver for fibbing about the time taken to make a quail scotch egg, or how thrilled you were to discover that actually Sainsbury’s does stock that hard to find Tahitian vanilla paste, phew. Know your audience people. Luckily for me, I have a blog to air my views and can waffle on to my hearts content about cooking and food, and now I have found a way to meet other like minded people – by sending and receiving parcels of food and food related gifts specifically tailored to personal tastes and likes. Genius. Sending to me this month was the lovely @KatieATolastadh who did a fantastic job of tailoring a parcel for me and wrote a rather sweet letter explaining the reasoning behind her choices. So what did I get? Well living as I do in a shell of a house I had to specify that I had no oven and hob so whatever was sent would need to be ‘saving up for a new kitchen’ friendly, and also that I love spicy Asian food. Katie really put a lot of thought into it and sent me some Palestinian Za’atar, Harissa paste, Hebridean sea salt and oatcakes and some damson plum tea. Receiving some genuine Scottish items from the remote islands that she comes from was a real treat and the reasoning behind the salt was that it was a kitchen warming gift to ensure my food would always be full of flavour. Told you she was lovely! Sadly the Harissa paste bottle got shattered by a heavy handed postman which was such a shame as Katie had made a real effort to protect the contents and the glass had shattered into such tiny fragments that try as I might, none could be salvaged. It smelt so good as well and I really love the sharp heat that comes with a spoonful of Harissa on an otherwise plain dish. Moroccan and Middle Eastern food is really having a bit of a moment and ingredients that may have been impossible to find only a couple of years ago are now sprouting out all over the place. It’s absolutely a cuisine I’d like to explore more, particularly as it appeals to the spice fiend within me.

I’ve not yet used much from my parcel but today I cooked some Palestinian Za’atar chicken using the spice mix sent my way. In truth the main reason for chucking this on some chicken was inspired by the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode ‘Palestinian Chicken’. I’m absolutely certain that anyone with the good sense to read my ramblings would also be fans of Larry David and the scrapes he gets into, but if by some cruel twist of fate you haven’t seen it, please please do. It’s inspired and unbelievably funny but also tackles comedy that others might shy away from, such as Jewish people having affairs where no one would see them…. in a chicken restaurant run by Palestinians. But hey, if the chickens good you can do away with the taboo.

I coated my chicken in Za’atar, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and let it marinate overnight before chucking it on the Foreman grill. Unfortunately I don’t think I put quite enough spice on the chicken as it was a little bland as well as over cooked, and I know the Za’atar tastes good as over the weekend I was dunking fresh bread into oil and the spice and it was tasting tickety boo. The good thing is there is absolutely loads of it left so plenty of chances to experiment and find what works. With the chicken I made homemade hummus from a recipe Katie sent me by Yottam Ottolenghi, although I was missing tahini paste which is an essential ingredient which I was convinced I had. It will come as no surprise I’m sure, but as well as a well stocked cookbook shelf, my kitchen cupboards are heaving with spices and exotic ingredients. I only use about 4 of them on a regular basis, but you just don’t know when a pot of mace will come in handy (turns out never, so far). While very garlicky and tasty, it just didn’t feel or taste like hummus so I will have to try again in the future but absolutely with tahini paste next time. Dinner then was too dry and not flavourful enough for me, and hammered home how much I miss having an oven. It’s now a top priority and makes me realise how crazy I am about baking and cooking, with all the therapeutic qualities it contains. I haven’t helped matters by buying another cookbook, The Homesick Texan, which tortures me with its pictures of enchiladas, ribs and baked goods. I’m going to do some serious oven shopping so I can really get back into the swing of things and cook the stress out of me!

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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food

 

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Cajun Chicken and Cherry Cheesecake

I love the Internet. Properly, well and truly in love with it; til death us do part, in sickness and in health kind of love. As much as I cherish my cookbooks, they’re not cut out for ‘renovation cooking’, whereby the basic means to bake, roast, boil and pull a delicious joint of pork out of the oven are cruelly denied. Please, put your violins away, I’m fine, really. Google, Pinterest and many food blogs have stepped in to replace the books and given me some much needed inspiration for my slow cooker and George Foreman limitations. The Internet, what would we do without it eh? Going with my love of American food, and Cajun food in particular, I plucked from the infinite depths of the Internet a recipe for slow cooker Jambalaya. I say depths, what I really mean is the All Recipes UK website, and you can find the link to the recipe here: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/9410/jambalaya-in-a-slow-cooker.aspx . Being the total rebel that I am, I made a few changes while cooking it to suit what I had in the kitchen. Smoked pork sausage was out, pork and red onion sausages from the local farmers market in. Not authentically Cajun but they are delicious sausages and went really well alongside the flavours of the Deep South. I also chucked in some garlic and red chilli because let’s face it, nothing can go wrong when chilli and garlic gatecrash a party. You know it makes sense. Don’t feel you have to follow a recipe slavishly, throw stuff in if you think it will work and go with your tastes and instincts, cookbooks should be a guide and nothing more. I also halved the amount so that I’m not overwhelmed with frozen leftovers for weeks on end. If you’ve never had Jambalaya before, it’s a tomato stew cooked with chicken, sausage (traditionally this would be andouille sausage but it can be tricky to find on this side of the pond), prawns, herbs and rice and is really tasty. The word stew doesn’t really inspire but Jambalaya does and hints at the spicy treat awaiting the diner. I’ve made jambalaya before, from Jamie’s America, which was lovely but knowing I can cook it in the slow cooker makes it so much easier and for me is the better option – much less mess to clean up. Give it a go, its simple but tasty and a great one pot dinner as the rice cooks in the stew.

Waking up this morning hungover after a great night out, it felt like it was finally time to attempt making dessert in our makeshift kitchen, although with no oven Baking Sunday is clearly out of my reach. So Baking Sunday today became Cheesecake Sunday! I’ve tried my hand in the past at baked cheesecakes and have never been able to really do them justice, which is a huge shame as baked cheesecakes are far superior to chilled and hark back to Jewish tradition and give me that New York feeling. I’d eat baked cheesecake off the floor a la Rachel and Chandler if I had to, they really are so good. Still, a chilled cheesecake is not to be sniffed at and while lacking in fluffiness, it delivers in density. Not needing heat of any kind, I made cherry cheesecake from Nigella Express although in the end I was sorely lacking in cherries. A chilled cheesecake is really quick and easy to make, the only time consuming part is waiting for it to set in the fridge. I could not be bothered to get my electric whisk out and needed to vent some minor irritations and aside from kneading bread which is currently out of the question, whisking cream by hand is one of the best ways to vent. I’m not a confrontational person and its by no means a big issue but being made to feel like I’m putting up with a thoughtless, selfish boyfriend and hearing sarcastic comments from friends when The Boyfriend could not be more lovely and awesome is extremely frustrating. But being a classic girl means having a difficult conversation with someone about practically anything will lead to me crying despite the fact I am neither upset not angry, but just want to clear the air. I’ll go the cowards way out and vent on my blog then: The Boyfriend is not a selfish, thoughtless pig and I’m not a pushover girlfriend who has very low expectations. That may not have been how it was meant to come across but that was the implication and it was quite hurtful. And let that be the end of the matter!
Back to the cheesecake – it was supposed to be topped with a cherry conserve but I mistakenly bought jam, which may not seem like a big difference but conserve is chunky with fruit while jam is a smooth paste which while great on toast would not be so great spread on a cheesecake. It ended up being a plain vanilla cheesecake and while there was nothing particularly wrong with it, it really needed the cherry flavouring to crank things up a notch. It just tasted a bit plain and ‘meh’, nothing special. And there’s still 7 slices of it left, gah! I know everyone’s on a diet at work so I will apologise in advance for bringing in inferior but fattening cheesecake and hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive me!

 

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Slow Cooker Dependency

So we’ve only gone and bloody done it. Not content with central heating, dust free bedrooms and fully functional kitchens, The Boyfriend and I have bitten the bullet and moved out of our rented, cosy flat and into our half finished house. Don’t get me wrong, I love the house and once all the work has been done to it I truly believe it will look beautiful and be our dream home, but right now its a mess and our bedroom is the only room that is practically done. I’m a big girl though and can see the end result, so living in a dust pit will be worth it. There is only one mental hurdle that I have to overcome and that is that right now we have no cooker or hob. And probably won’t for a few more weeks. Yes, that’s right, no baking, no roasting, no grilling, and worst of all, no lasagna. It’s my very worst nightmares all rolled into one and realised. So what’s a cookbook dependent and baking obsessed girl to do? Well after the initial panic and fears of starvation I gradually came to my senses and remembered that I own a slow cooker, a George Foreman grill and a microwave. So you won’t be seeing Lenny Henry putting out an appeal for me on the upcoming Comic Relief night, don’t panic. All this means that I just have to be a bit more creative and resourceful with food and think up new ways of cooking my favourite meals. Last night I made a red Thai curry in the slow cooker instead of on the hob and it tasted absolutely perfect with slow cooked beef that just fell apart the minute I bit into it. I’m hoping my chilli tastes just as good out of the slow cooker as it does cooked in a saucepan, but only time will tell. Obviously a lot of foods are now impossible to cook, such as spaghetti, eggs and big joints of roasting meat, but this just means I have to try more new things and challenge myself to adapt recipes. I’m trying to see this situation as a positive despite not being able to bake. For example, instead of baking cakes and cookies, I can make mousses and chilled cheesecakes, neither of which require an oven. Pinterest has also been an absolute saviour, giving me tonnes of ideas and a possible recipe for slow cooker lasagna. There’s still hope for me yet. Obviously with all of the moving and decorating I’ve not had a lot of time to cook anything experimental or new from the cookbooks but I hope to rectify this in the coming weeks.

In other Neglected Cookbook news, I’ve joined Foodie Penpals which sounds amazing and right up my foodie street. What is Foodie Penpals? I’m so glad you asked! Basically, you sign up to Foodie Penpals (please click the button on the right of the page to go to it) and once a month you’re given the contact details of someone else who has signed up. You contact them and ask what sort of food stuff their into and you then send them a parcel of foodie goodies which they then blog about. Meanwhile, someone else has been allocated you and you tell them what you like and you then get a parcel in the post which you then blog about. I can’t think of anything that is more up my street than that. It should hopefully be a great way to try new foods, read new blogs and chat with like minded people. I’m very conscious of the fact that if you get me talking about food I could be there all day and that’s boring if you’re not as obsessed as me, so I try to reign it in a little, but Foodie Penpals seems like a great outlet for that, and suits my culinary geekiness to the ground. If you want to give it a go make sure you sign up to the right website as
there is a USA one and a European one. The links should all be on the Foodie Penpal button on the toolbar on the right of this blog.
I’m now thinking up ideas for the person I’m sending to, and can’t wait to see what I get sent. Hopefully I should be back soon with some tasty new meals and recipes to blog about.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2013 in Books, Cooking

 

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