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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Tastes Like Mojitos

This time last year I rather perversely made an Easter bunny bolognese, which displeased me so much that it went straight into the freezer and there it stayed until we moved and it was chucked away. You’ll be pleased to know that the Easter bunny was spared this year and there was no seasonal symbolic cooking involving cute fluffy rabbits at all. They breed like wildfire, bite, spread vermin and wiped out a lot of native Australian wildlife so I’m not sure why people are so fond of them, but there you have it, we eat lamb but seem horrified at eating those poor baby veal despite the fact they’re killed at the same age sheep are for our Easter roasts. Our eating habits make no sense whatsoever which probably really tickles the French. The only concern I have about veal is that if you eat it it should be British as veal imported from Europe has in general had a pretty horrendous life and spent an awful lot of time in crates. I’m straying a little here seeing as I cooked neither lamb nor veal this weekend, but nevertheless it’s worth knowing.

What with it being a long weekend it felt only right to get stuck in to a bit of baking, using my dads oven. What with it being Easter I had to make something chocolatey, and craving some salted caramel I made Gizzi Erskine’s delicious salted and rosemary caramel millionaires shortbread. I made these last year and fell in love with the odd combination of rosemary and chocolate, yet didn’t quite manage to win anyone else around to them. I took these to a family get together and my cousins twin boys informed me that they would be much better if I used milk chocolate rather than dark. Chocolate is totally wasted on the young! However, I decided this time that maybe I should heed their advice and go for the less intense stuff. Kids, what do they know? While still utterly edible and moreish, these sweet treats need the slight bitterness of dark chocolate to take them from good to great, and being a bit richer its harder to over eat. With milk it’s oh so easy to just have one more. If adding rosemary to millionaires shortbread sounds like one step too far for you, I’d urge you to at least try it. The hint of rosemary stops the caramel from being too sweet and the slight umami taste alongside the chocolate and shortbread really adds something, but I can’t put my finger on what that is exactly.

As well as that, I made a lemon, mint and blueberry loaf cake from the April 2012 edition of Delicious. And Delicious it truly is. You make a simple loaf cake with blueberries, bake and while cooling pour over a mint and lemon sugar syrup and leave to soak up. The key to this cake is using real mint leaves instead of flavouring, and you end up with a soft, fruity cake that has a sharp yet minty crunch on top. Gorgeous, and tastes just like a mojito. In fact, I think this cake would be even better if the blueberries were replaced with raspberries, and the lemon with lime, resulting in what I’d like to call a raspberry mojito cake. Can you imagine anything more tasty than a cocktail turned into a cake? I can’t quite frankly and am now itching to make my own version. The blueberry cake itself is still very good and I love how it looks as though the blueberries exploded within the cake, leaving only a juicy blue stain as a clue that they were there. When you pour the mint syrup over the cake it looks like you’ve poured a delicious bright green sludge over it, but this soon gets absorbed into the sponge, leaving only crunchy sugar behind. Gorgeous.

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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Baking, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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Finally! Proper Pasta!

Aside from chocolate, there is only one other food on the planet above all others that comforts, satisfies and that I find incredibly hard to stop eating. Pasta. Spaghetti, tagliatelle, linguine, lasagna, fusilli, pappardelle (my favourite)…. I love it all and in practically all it’s formats. The one thing I don’t love about it is its inflexibility and refusal to be cooked in anything other than a saucepan full of hot boiling water. A problem when you have no hob. Stood in the pasta aisle the other week carefully studying every pasta packets cooking instructions willing them to be microwaveable, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. How was I going to have my regular fix of lasagna, bolognese, lamb ragu, chilli linguine, meatballs and pasta? In desperation and in need of pasta, I turned to Tesco’s ready meal section which at the time was risky and foolhardy being right in the middle of Horsegate. Pasta addicts will understand that when you need a carby Italian hit you’ll go to any length to get it. Suffice to say, it was an underwhelming experience and just cranked up my proper pasta craving to maximum. Sure, you can go out to a perfectly lovely Italian restaurant and have a delicious plate of cannelloni , but nothing beats a big, diet busting plate of your favourite lasagna in front of the TV on a chilly night. It’s the best kind of comfort food.

So thank Pasta God (I like to imagine Her as Sofia Loren who once said about her body “everything you see I owe to spaghetti”. My kind of woman) for Pinterest and its glorious search function which led me to a slow cooker pasta dish that sounded right up my street: slow cooker chipotle chicken tortellini. Not very Italian I know, but I jumped at the chance to cook it. All you have to do is poach the chicken in some stock (this takes about 3 hrs in the slow cooker), shred it once cooked then add cream cheese, chipotle paste, broccoli and cumin and cook for another couple of hours. Simple! Chipotle paste is now fairly easy to come across in the more exotic supermarket aisles and is made up of smoked chillies and some other stuff. Not sure what exactly, but it tastes spicy, smoky and makes me think of Mexico and the Deep South of America. I used the most Southern looking tortellini I could find in the, er, Italian aisle and that came to be sausage and ham. It worked damn fine actually. While I’d have preferred the sauce a little thicker, it was still creamy and smooth with a hot kick from the chipotle. The only problem I had was the broccoli was totally inedible from being in the slow cooker for two hours, next time I’d only put it in for about half hour as that’s really all it needs. But still, I’ve finally found a way to cook pasta at home. Now if anyone knows how I can cook spaghetti in a slow cooker please tell me, I’m desperate for a bolognese hit!

PS: Here’s the recipe if you’re interested: http://picky-palate.com/2013/03/04/slow-cooker-creamy-chipotle-chicken-tortellini/

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2013 in Chicken, Italian

 

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Forgiving Jamie Oliver

Regular readers (all three of you) of Neglected Cookbooks might recall a teeny tiny rant I had a couple of months ago about Jamie Oliver and his scotch eggs which ended with me threatening to throw said eggs at Mr Oliver whilst shouting “peel that mother******”. Just thinking about that night of quail egg peeling and the yolk carnage makes me want to vigorously deny what I am about to write, such is the anger that still simmers beneath the surface. However, I’m not a grudge holder and forgive easy, especially when presented with a big hunk of meat and a rich, savoury sauce. Jamie, I think I forgive you, although never darken my door with those quail scotch eggs of yours ever again else I may just to have to follow through on my threat.

Wanting to cook some kind of lamb shank dish, I browsed though my cookbooks and deciding to give Jamie’s Great Britain another chance after the egg fiasco, cooked lamb shanks in a sticky Guinness sauce. Obviously I had to adjust the recipe slightly to suit my slow cooker, and while the sauce was impossible to reduce down in the slow cooker and wasn’t technically sticky, it still tasted handsome. I couldn’t caramelise the onions (which would lend the dish a sweeter, more concentrated onion flavour) but did manage to sear the shanks on the George Foreman to brown the lamb before chucking in the slow cooker. I don’t always do this with meat as cleaning the GF is a massive chore that I’d rather avoid, but seeing as lamb shanks aren’t the cheapest cut and I wanted to pack as much flavour as possible into the dish, it felt wrong not to go that extra mile this time around. This did mean though that I spent the rest of the day smelling like a roast dinner, which actually I kind of liked. My hair just smelt so edible! Another adjustment I made was reducing the amount of stock specified in the recipe as when cooking in a slow cooker the liquid doesn’t evaporate, meaning it takes a lot longer for sauces to thicken or reduce. If at all. Please bear this in mind when adjusting a recipe for your slow cooker. Once it’s all cooked, you blend the sauce so its a smooth gravy, bash up some mint dressing in a pestle & mortar and plonk it all on top of some mashed potato. It feels wrong to go to this effort and then chuck a ready meal mash in the microwave, but with my limited cooking equipment I had very little choice, and it really wasn’t that bad. The dish itself was very tasty and the perfect antidote to this miserable start to Spring. While the sauce was nowhere near sticky, it tasted gorgeous in its liquid form- rich, sweet and herby. If it tasted that good runny, I can’t imagine how much better it is as a thick, reduced sauce clinging to the meat. The lamb itself just fell off the bone and as you’d expect the mint dressing (made easily by bashing up mint leaves, olive oil, sea salt and spring onions) went perfectly with the whole meal. Meat in a rich, deep sauce is one of my favourite things to eat and it bugs me that I’m currently in no position whatsoever to make one. There’s a pub I know that does a gorgeous dish of venison in a red wine, bacon and shallot sauce, which tastes just as good as it sounds, and the sauce coats the meat perfectly. I need to go back. Once I’m in a position to I am definitely going to try and master the art of sauces, they can totally transform an average dish into an amazing one.

This much I know, I will be making this dish again when I have a proper oven. Jamie Oliver, its official, consider yourself forgiven.

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Posted by on March 25, 2013 in Books, Cooking, Food

 

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Take Out, Fake Out

I often get asked by friends what it is that I love about cooking so much. It’s a hard one to pin down an answer to, but its mostly a combination of loving food, wanting to try new things and avoid repetition, and partly because it’s a type of therapy for me. It may or may not come as a surprise to people who know me (I have no idea how well I hide it) that I’m an extremely anxious person, to the point that a doctor might class it as a mental health problem. Feeling sick to the stomach about a night out with friends, fretting about any news report with the buzz words ‘North Korea’ or ‘flu epidemic’, and walking around Paris for ages looking for a restaurant that’s not too busy, too empty, too anything that makes me feel uncomfortable (I’m the Goldilocks of picking eateries) can obviously be exhausting at times. Not just for me, but luckily The Boyfriend is very patient and kind. Being on a night out and having to lock yourself in the toilet for half hour so you can calm yourself down and convince yourself that nothing bad is going to happen (other than wasting half an hour in a dirty nightclub toilet) is not the ideal way to spend your down time. Cooking, and baking in particular has helped enormously with the anxiety. When you follow a recipe exactly and out of the oven emerges a cake of such deliciousness, you feel completely in control and know that 9 times of 10 everything will turn out just fine. It’s a good lesson to transfer to life, that not everything will always turn out perfect but if you try hard and stay in control of the situation then it will probably be OK. I’ll probably never feel in full control of the anxiety but I’ve learnt not to let it take over and to relax and let what will be, be. A few Saturdays ago I was queuing in the supermarket a few hours before some friends were due over for a night out in my hometown. Suddenly this overwhelming thought that the night would be a total disaster came into my head, my stomach was in knots and I just knew if we went out something awful would happen. The urge to cancel and stay in on my own was unbelievably strong and a few years ago that’s exactly what I would have done. Instead, I stuck it out and within five minutes of my friends turning up I was having a great time and all the anxiety had melted away. Suffice to say, nothing bad happened other than me being filmed unable to sit up and open my eyes at the same time. Bloody Jaeger bombs. Working in mental health, I see people all the time whose anxiety/depression/agoraphobia has taken over and stopped them living well, and that’s something I’m determined not to let happen to me. Cooking has helped so much with this – being in control in the kitchen has led to being in control elsewhere. Cooking won’t work for everyone, but it works for me.

So anyway, that’s why I love cooking. Tonight I cooked a recipe that I had pinned on my favourite time waster, Pinterest. I could, and have spent hours on Pinterest, mainly finding amazing looking recipes and cakes that I know I will never be able to recreate. Occasionally though a recipe pops up that is achievable, and needing inspiration for my slow cooker I turned to Pinterest and found a recipe for Chinese beef and broccoli. Labelled as a takeout fakeout without the cost, MSG and saturated fat of a takeaway, it came from the food blog Table For Two. I was drawn to this for purely shallow reasons, aka the photo of the dish looked nice. No other reason, although beef is a great meat to chuck in the slow cooker and why not give it a Chinese spin? If you make this recipe yourself, please follow her instructions on using low sodium soy sauce, as the recipe requires a substantial amount and if you were to use the full on salty stuff the dish would be inedible. It’s very simple, but produces a tasty dish with beef that hasn’t fallen apart into mush. The strips of beef had soaked up the beefy, salty cooking liquid and while soft still had a bit of bite, as did the broccoli which goes in for the last half hour of cooking time. There’s not a great deal of complexity, there’s nothing stunning about it, but its still satisfying and stays on the right side of the salty scale. It’s no Chinese takeaway though. Check out the recipe here: http://www.tablefortwoblog.com/2012/09/12/take-out-fake-out-beef-broccoli-crockpot/

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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Chicken, Chinese, Cooking, Food

 

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Baking Up A Taste Of The Tropics

This weekend I finally got the opportunity to get in touch with my inner domestic goddess after a month of slumming it in the slow cooker and microwave. The urge to bake just got too strong so I was lucky to be able to pop out and borrow someone’s oven to scratch the itch and get something warm and comforting on the kitchen counter. There’s nothing like a bit of baking to counteract the stress of a busy week and to take your mind off of missing someone, which was the excuse I gave myself when I decided to bake two treats instead of one. Sometimes, you’ve just got to let yourself go. In truth, I have been working out hard most mornings and walked three miles yesterday while waiting for the car to be MOT’ed, so my greed has been well earned. Before I get to the joy of baking though I feel I must tell you about last nights dinner, mellow meatballs from Nigella Express. You’ve more than likely already got this book as it sold by the truckload when it was released a few years ago, and if you haven’t I strongly suggest you pick up a copy as it is quite simply indispensable. In my kitchen anyway. My copy is looking pretty sorry for itself, covered in food splats, its pages stuck together and spine close to falling apart – all signs of a much loved and reliable cookbook. Some of my favourite recipes from this include chicken schnitzel, flourless brownies, Mexican scrambled eggs, ragu and yesterday’s dinner. I adapted the recipe slightly to suit cooking in the slow cooker, so if you do the same then only put half the amount of stock specified so that you don’t end up with a watery dinner. The meatballs are cooked in a sauce made up of red curry paste, coconut milk, tomatoes and spices, alongside some chickpeas, sweet potatoes and butternut squash. It’s delicious. Spicy but not overly so, sweet, thick and with the goodness of sweet potato, squash and chickpeas. You needn’t make your own meatballs it you don’t have the time or inclination, but as I’ve said before (and it bears saying again what with the recent horse meat scandal) please buy the best meat you can afford so you know what you’re eating. I went for Tesco Finest Aberdeen Angus meatballs which might sound poncy but I only ate a quarter of the meatballs last night and the rest is in the freezer, so I’ve got 3 good quality dinners for the price of one pack of meat. So long as you are happy with the quality of what you’re eating, that’s all that matters. I know this photo doesn’t show the meatballs all that flatteringly, but take my word for it, they’re tasty.

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On to the baking! Flicking through Saved By Cake by Marian Keyes, my eyes were caught on the word ‘orgasmic’, as I’m sure yours would be too. Marian claims that her coconut milk cake elicited texts from friends raving about what an orgasmic tasting cake this is, so with such an appealing description what sort of woman would I be to not bake it? Word of advice for you though if you intend on making this cake or for that matter anything with coconut milk in it. Please do not buy coconut milk from the aisle in the supermarket where you’ll find all the big brand names for world foods, such as Blue Dragon, Old El Paso, Dolmio and the like. Buy it from this aisle and you’ll pay almost £2 for a 400ml can. Buy it from the aisle with all the Polish/Jamaican/Indian products that are typically covered in a foreign language and you’ll pay at the most 99p for the same size tin. There’s often an offer of two for £1 on these tins too. I don’t know what kinda swiz Blue Dragon and Amoy are trying to pull, the swines, but two quid for a tin of milky white liquid is excessive and if you need several tins for the week then its cheaper to get a Thai takeaway than it is to cook a simple curry. It might seem like a big rant over a saving of £1 but the big brands know most people don’t walk down the ‘ethnic’ aisle and charge double for the exact same product. And it really is the exact same product, there is no difference in quality or taste whatsoever. Don’t give them the satisfaction, go down the next aisle along and pick up a tin from a smaller producer that charges fairly. Look for Island Sun (green & white tins) or Dunns River (orange tin) and stick the middle finger up at the big brands. If you don’t shop at Tesco much then you’ll probably struggle finding these tins anywhere else other than Oriental supermarkets, but maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. Waitrose naturally don’t stock them at all you’ll be surprised to hear. Anyway, that’s the pain dealt with, lets move onto pleasure. The cake doesn’t look like anything special to be honest, its very modest looking with its plain vanilla appearance. But vanilla can be surprisingly decadent and naughty, plus we all know not to judge anything on its appearance. The cooked cake is poked several times then is covered with the warmed, sugary coconut milk and left to soak up the milk overnight. Upon eating, the cake is very heavy from all the liquid but exceptionally moist. I’ve a feeling if you squeezed it the cake would ooze syrup from being completely saturated. While not entirely orgasmic, it is a very very good cake, filled to the brim with coconut which reminded me of a holiday in Cuba, and in the end leaving the eater very satisfied. I tried very hard to avoid any sexual innuendo with the write up of this orgasmic cake but to be honest it was just too easy. Sorry.

I also made a rather large batch of cookies from a much neglected cookbook, The Golden Book Of Chocolate. The Boyfriend bought me this several years ago from a fabulous shop we found in Notting Hill called Books For Cooks. Well you know me, I wasn’t going to walk right past that shop! If you are ever in the area and in the market for a new cookbook, don’t log on to Amazon and go here instead, it’s a great shop. I only wish I lived a little nearer London, purely so I could hang out in this shop on a regular basis. The cookbook itself has not seen any kitchen action for a long time which probably comes as a shock considering my love for chocolate and baking, but there are a lot of typos and ingredients missing which is a big mistake to make when it comes to publishing a cookbook. It’s a massive book though and covers a wide spectrum of chocolate based foods, even covering savoury dishes which I’ve not been brave enough to tackle. And it’s pages are gold. What more could you possibly want from a cookbook aside from accuracy and the correct list of ingredients? I mock, but in actual fact the chocolate and banana chip cookies I made from this book were sublime and not a typo in sight on the page. They were a cinch to make, and the banana flavour came from a mashed up banana and some dried banana chips. I buy bananas every week and come the end of the week I’ve maybe eaten one and the rest are all black and mushy. I know this will be the case and yet every week I can’t help but put another bunch of bananas in my trolley, convinced that this week I will eat all of them. Never mind, there are plenty of recipes that begin with ‘take one overripe banana…’
I hadn’t realised when I started making them that I would be left with 36 cookies but that indeed was the case. Unfortunately for me these cookies are right up my street, with melted choc chips, the crunch of banana chips and a super soft, almost cake like texture that makes them very easy to eat. I hate really crunchy cookies and usually this is what I end up baking, so to have a perfect cookie emerge from the oven was a dream come true. It also takes me straight across the pond to my favourite holidays in Florida with each bite, making them even more desirable. Luckily, The Boyfriend and I have a new baby niece, and if there’s one thing new parents need its sugar, right? I will be handing these over to someone who surely needs them more than I do, before I give myself full on diabetes by the time the week is out. I’m not a fan of peanut butter myself, but I can imagine this could be incorporated into the recipe somewhere somehow if you are suitably nuts about the stuff. The raw cookie dough would also make for a perfect home made cookie dough ice cream, I can see this stuff going beautifully with either vanilla, chocolate or banana ice cream. But it really is just perfect as a cookie, and something I will be whipping up as soon as possible for The Boyfriend once he’s home.

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Texan Pulled Pork Tacos

You don’t need to have been to the Longhorn state of Texas to know that Texans like it big, they like it meaty and above all they like it spicy. I am of course talking about their food. Tex Mex is big business over here in chilly Blighty, starting off in the 70’s with the hugely popular chilli con carne and now taking over our ‘world food’ aisle in the supermarkets. You can’t move in Tesco for people with a fajita kit, some guacamole or taco shells and most people I know now rely on fajitas for a speedy weeknight meal. We’ve taken it to our hearts, and who can blame us for wanting a bit of Texan warmth in our kitchens when the clouds are grey and the rain eternal. But with ease and familiarity comes boredom. Tex Mex will surely go the way of spaghetti bolognese, a tasty and satisfying dinner but nothing to get excited about and eaten with little fuss or fireworks. Something needed doing, and gosh darn it, I’ve done it, and got myself all excited over Tex Mex again. Having bought a book stuffed full of delicious looking Texan food and being unable to cook practically anything in it, I desperately turned to Google in the hope I would find something to sate my increasing appetite for authentic Tex Mex. What I found may well be the tastiest recipe on the Internet and easily the nicest recipe I’ve ever made using my slow cooker. Texan BBQ pulled pork. It’s unbelievably simple to make, all it requires of the cook is to chuck a few ingredients in the slow cooker and then leave all day so that the pork falls to pieces at the mere mention of a fork into the smoky BBQ sauce. It really is very good. The author of the recipe suggests stuffing the pulled pork into hamburger buns,which I’m sure is delicious but craving some Tex Mex I couldn’t think of a better way to show off the pork than with taco shells with all the trimmings. It’s a feast, for sure, but living alone for a few weeks doesn’t mean I have to resign myself to ready meals or jacket potatoes. My options are limited as it is with no oven, and the horrific stereotype of sad ‘Bridget Jones’ women eating their lonely ready meal for one really grinds my gears (as the Texans would say). Eating dinner alone needn’t be a dreaded event, and there are times when I really look forward to being alone at the end of a busy day or week and just taking time for myself to eat what I want and watch what I want on the telly. I don’t like being apart from The Boyfriend for so long and there have been some pretty tough times, but there have equally been plenty of amazing times with friends, family and just myself. Without the dark we can’t truly appreciate the light, and realising you can still have a happy, fulfilling time while missing someone like crazy is eye opening and makes you more independent and comfortable in your own company. In short, make the best of a tough situation and don’t neglect yourself.
With the pulled pork and tacos I also had sour cream, cheddar, salsa and homemade guacamole, possibly the only recipe from my new cookbook that I could actually make in my kitchen. Again, it’s very easy and just involves mashing up an avocado with some of my favourite ever ingredients, lime juice, coriander, garlic and chilli. How can you go wrong with a dish when its got those babies in it? The Homesick Texan, by Lisa Fain is all about a Texan who moves to New York and struggles to find the authentic foods she grew up on and loved. To overcome this she took to perfecting the recipes herself and started a blog which was so successful that this book now graces my shelves. I find it hard to believe anyone would struggle finding Tex Mex in the most restaurant crazy city in the world, but what do I know, I’ve never lived there?

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how outstandingly good the pulled pork tacos were, the photo tells you everything you really need to know, but I’ll say it anyway: they were epic. The strong BBQ flavour of the pork stands up really well to the salsa and guacamole, while the sour cream cools the mouth and prevents the BBQ from being sickly sweet. Add in the crunch from the tacos and you’ve got a perfect meal to end the weekend with. I highly recommend you make this. Be prepared though for messy fingers and cheeks covered in salsa and sauce, this ain’t first date food! I’m absolutely making this for The Boyfriend when he comes back, after nearly 10 years together we can handle seeing each others hands and face covered in food. If you make this meal and find you don’t like it, then I don’t think we could ever be friends. You can find the recipe here, http://allrecipes.com/recipe/slow-cooker-texas-pulled-pork/ and I urge you to try it to combat the familiarity of fajitas and nachos. Do it for the Tex Mex reputation!

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Posted by on March 3, 2013 in Books, Cooking, Food

 

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