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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Meat Free Monday

So the quest to use my neglected cookbooks to prove The Boyfriend wrong, wrong, so very wrong continues. If I can show him that actually I do very much use and value every single one of my lovely cookbooks, then the better chance I have at receiving more cookbooks from him when Christmas rolls around. Forward planning at its very best, I’m in this for the long haul. Using these cookbooks also means that I’ll be trying new and interesting foods that I might not have cooked otherwise, which seems more in the spirit of things than wishing for presents, I guess. But you know why I’m really doing it.

Feeling in the mood for something spicy but fairly healthy, I called upon Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers and her book Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home. Her first cookbook – Mexican Food Made Simple – is a favourite of mine and has seen plenty of kitchen action but the sequel has not been so lucky. I made the banana, chocolate and nut bread last year from it and then that was that. Considering how much I love Mexican food, its surprising that I’ve managed to neglect it so well. I’d like to stress that if you’re tempted to buy this book, don’t expect to find cheesy burritos, fajitas or chilli con carne because a Tex-Mex book this ain’t. Tex -Mex food is delicious without doubt and I’d never turn my nose up at it, but it definitely falls more into Tex cuisine than Mex. I’d imagine most Mexicans wouldn’t recognise a Taco Bell style burrito and certainly wouldn’t classify it as authentic Mexican food. Mexican food is considerably lighter than its Tex counterparts and makes the best use of the fresh ingredients that Mexico is rolling in. They use tortilla wraps, yes, but the fillings are fresh rather than greasy and are often filled without a scrap of meat. I’ve never been to Mexico but Thomasina paints such a fantastic picture with her books and TV series of the country that I feel like I have.

From this book I made spinach and feta tacos and a homemade roast tomato salsa. You know you’re getting old when you look forward to coming home and eating spinach and feta, no sane child or teenager that I know would see this as an acceptable meal. Up until a couple of years ago I would have completely agreed, but judging by this dinner and how much I was looking forward to it, I have now matured, much like a blue cheese or a fine wine. It’s official, I’m old. The roast tomato salsa is made by chucking tomatoes, onions, chilli and garlic in a hot, dry saucepan and cooking until soft and ‘charred’. Basically, you need to burn your food. I was hesitant about this but Thomasina won Masterchef so clearly she knows better than me. I obediently burnt the ingredients and then blitzed then in my mini food processor (best £16 spent, by the way. I’ve made countless curry pastes, dips, hummus and now a salsa and wouldn’t be without it in the kitchen). Despite my reservations it tasted amazing, smoky from all that burning but still spicy, sweet and with a strong taste of roasted garlic. Thomasina recommends pairing the tacos with this salsa and she certainly knows what she’s talking about. The tacos themselves were more like sweetcorn and feta than spinach as after wilting in a hot pan then adding to the sweetcorn mixture the spinach had practically disappeared. I love spinach but its tendency to drastically reduce in size once cooked really ticks me off. I want more of the food I love, not less of it. Still, when served in corn tortillas and topped off with smoky salsa and crumbly feta you barely notice the spinach as there’s so much more going on. I’m not sure just how healthy they are, but with all the vegetables contained within the tortillas, no meat and only cooked in a small amount of oil, they surely can’t be bad for you. While I could never be a vegetarian for any longer than a day before I caved in to a bacon sandwich over here, I imagine living meat free wouldn’t be so much of a chore in Mexico. With chillies, corn, tomatoes, mangoes, pineapples, bananas and citrus fruits growing in abundance over there, as well as being a huge producer of cocoa beans, sugar cane and coffee, I think somehow I’d survive on a meat free diet. Although they do appreciate the humble pig in much the same way us Brits do, so perhaps bacon sandwiches or pulled pork tacos would get the better of me at some point anyway. Ah well, there are some things in life that are just too good to give up.

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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in American, Books, Cooking, Food, Mexican

 

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Never Judge A Cake By Its Cover

So my Smitten Kitchen cookbook came in the post at the weekend, and as predicted, I want to cook absolutely everything in it. It is gorgeous, easily the prettiest cookbook I own, and everything looks delicious. I may never use another cookbook again, it’s that awesome. It tells you a great deal about my state of mind that I was genuinely fretting over what to cook first, undecided between all the tastiness. The author of this book, Deb Perelman, has been blogging for years about her quest for food perfection and cooking in her tiny New York kitchen. She leaves no stone unturned in her quest to perfect a recipe, takes beautiful photos of her creations and is a wonderful writer. I hate her. Of course, I don’t really hate her, in fact I’m bordering on wanting to move in with her after cooking the (much deliberated over) recipe I chose to break in this beauty of a book. I’m sure her husband and child won’t mind.

So what did I go for? Soured cream and peach pancakes? No (but boy I can’t wait for Sunday morning). Balsamic and beer braised beef ribs with parsnip puree? Not yet (but these are a definite must try very soon). Tiny but intense chocolate cake? No (still trying to work out why not). My heart fluttered a little when I came across Deb’s Gooey Cinnamon Squares and her description of them as something cross between toasted marshmallow, cinnamon French toast and crème brulee. Has there ever been a more tempting description of a cake? That’s when I knew. To the kitchen!

Deb states that these are a combination of two classic American baked goods: the snickerdoodle (a soft cinnamon cookie) and a St Louis gooey butter cake which I have never heard of but presume must be big in St Louis. You make two cake mixtures, one a plain vanilla and the other flavoured with golden syrup, cream and vanilla extract . Spread over the plain mixture in a baking tray, then on top of this spread the syrup mixture and scatter over copious amounts of ground cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 30 minutes and voila, you have an extremely plain looking cake that will excite no one upon looking at it. Do not be fooled by its appearance and do not underestimate it. This is an epic cake, and lurking behind its plain looks is sheer heaven. The base of the cake is very much just a vanilla cake, but through some sort of devilry and witchcraft the golden syrup flavoured layer has turned into a gooey, soft, oozing delight whose texture and taste is very reminiscent of a thoroughly toasted marshmallow. The sugary cinnamon topping has given the top of the cake a bronzed, crackled appearance and on biting into the cake you find that the topping has a similar crunch to a crème brulee. It’s perfect and there is just the right amount of cinnamon in there to whisk you off to wherever cinnamon reminds you of (for me, that would be holidays in Florida) and envelop you in a spicy hug. I’m in love. It’s unlikely you would have had anything like this before (I know I certainly haven’t and I’ve eaten a hell of a lot of cake. I mean, a lot of cake) and I can’t recommend baking this enough. It’s ridiculously good. I took some into my new office yesterday to avoid the otherwise inevitable fate of me having a bit every time I went into my kitchen (you know, to make a cup of coffee, cook dinner, wash up, shove more cake in my mouth, that kind of thing) but no one was there so I’m yet to learn if other people are as delighted by them as I am. No matter, Smitten Kitchen informs me that these last 7 days at room temperature so I’ll find out soon enough.

I really wanted to share the recipe for Gooey Cinnamon Squares with you but being a stickler for copyright rules and it not being one of the recipes on the Smitten Kitchen blog, I had no option but to heavily endorse the book to you. But wait! Pastry chef, blogger and buddy to Smitten Kitchen has kindly reproduced the recipe on his website Living The Sweet Life In Paris and I forcibly encourage you to try it yourself. This cake may look like the Taylor Swift of the cake world (you know, all safe, sweet and nice but you always know what you’re getting), when in actual fact it’s the Beyoncé – utterly fabulous.

Recipe for Gooey Cinnamon Squares can be found here: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2012/11/smitten-kitchen-gooey-cinnamon-cake-recipe/

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2013 in American, Baking, Books, Cooking, Food

 

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Skinny Saturday

Every time The Boyfriend goes away I make a decision that at the time feels like a brilliant idea but in the end turns out to be a completely idiotic one. And the decision is always the same one, every time he goes. I know, I’m an idiot. You’d think I would have learnt by now, after all The Boyfriend is regularly working away and has been for two years now. Yet still I think that by spending my first weekend sans Boyfriend all by myself doing solely what I want to do and being completely selfish is the best idea since sliced bread. It isn’t. Oh, it’s all good up until about 7pm on the Saturday, when a quick glance at Facebook reminds me of all the happy couples spending their evening together, or groups of friends getting ready for a night out and makes me go “huh, I probably should have made plans for this weekend”. Obviously, being apart from the person you’re crazy about isn’t tough in the way that cancer is tough, or your house being burnt down is tough, but it still has its challenges that at times make me feel pretty sorry for myself despite the fact that one of the things I dislike most on this Earth are people who feel sorry for themselves. If he’s only back for three weeks like he was very recently, we have an absolute whale of a time. We cram in trips to the cinema, meals out, our favourite foods, catch up with all the friends and family he hasn’t seen for months, have a ridiculous row that we always laugh at a few hours later (the last one of these was fuelled by me drinking a tad too much gin and turning into a huge drama queen), work on the house, plan holidays and spend a lot of time in fits of giggles. In short, it’s awesome. So obviously when he goes away its a pretty spectacular comedown and I think my reasoning behind spending time by myself is that while he’s home I haven’t had any time at all to bake, read, blog, watch Disney films or Sex and the City and I crave some downtime. Maybe next time I’ll just give myself a day of no plans.

My self inflicted misery however has done wonders for this blog though. Every cloud! Not content with just one recipe to try out yesterday, I decided to really test Gizzi’s Skinny Weeks and try three of them: breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m aware I should be using more neglected cookbooks and believe me this week I will be using them, but I wanted to have a virtuous Saturday without denying myself that vital component, flavour, and I knew that Gizzi could deliver. Breakfast consisted of what Gizzi likes to call Elvis toasts, which is a far more heart friendly version of The Kings 2000 calorie mammoth fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Gizzi’s come in at a much more reasonable 284 calories, although as it was Saturday I used normal white sliced bread instead of sourdough rye, and a whole banana instead of half so that must bump up the calories a little. Still, for a healthy breakfast it’s scrumptious and comes with the added bonus of half a square of dark chocolate grated over the banana. Half a square may not seem like a lot but it really does go a long way. Who can argue with a chocolate fix at 9am?

Lunch, which came along pretty late after a Primarni binge, was pancetta, farro and bean soup and like most recipes in this book, was completely delicious. I couldn’t find farro in Sainsburys so had to substitute it with farfalline, which are tiny pasta shapes designed to be added to soups. You might look at the pancetta and think this soup shouldn’t be billed as healthy, but in addition to the pancetta the soup also contains onion, carrot, celery, garlic, tomatoes and cannellini beans so you’re getting a considerate amount of goodness from the hefty amount of veg and beans. I didn’t add quite enough stock so my version turned out more like a stew than a soup but tasted no less divine for it. Pancetta is the star flavour shining through, but you also get the sweetness of the tomatoes and plenty of crunch from the mirepoix. To make this soup even better, you’re allowed to sprinkle a small amount of Parmesan over your bowl of soup and you don’t need me to tell you that this takes the soup to diet perfection. I’m very please that I have three portions to take to work with me for lunch this week.

Last but by absolute no means least, for dinner I went with yoghurt chicken curry bowl. Well, it’s just not the weekend in my book (which this sort of is) unless a curry is included somewhere. Looking at the ingredient list it’s impossible to find an ingredient that’s bad for you (normally an ominous sign in a recipe) and yet this curry was one of the best I’ve ever made. You make a paste out of spices, chillies, onion, ginger and garlic, mix it with fat free yoghurt then marinade the chicken in the spicy yoghurt before baking in the oven. Paired with some brown rice and topped with a zingy mango salsa, this was the perfect dish to lift me out of my lonely blues (self inflicted, I must add). The curry on its own packed in lots of flavour and would have been perfectly acceptable without the salsa, but boy is the salsa immense. Don’t make this curry without it! The pairing of sweet yet sharp mango with mint, alongside onion (I should have used red but only had white), tomato and lime juice is phenomenal and made my tongue do a little jig in my mouth. Gorgeous. I want to put it on everything.

The real strength of these recipes is that regardless of trying to lose weight or not, I would cook them all again. And not just for myself either, I see no reason why these dishes couldn’t be served to guests, they are that good. Healthy food has long had a reputation for being dull, uninspiring and bland but Gizzi has completely turned that upside down and filled a cookbook with mouthwatering food that just so happens to be good for you. I’ve barely ventured into the naughty side of the book, and for a woman who likes a good pig out, that’s no small feat.

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Rest Your Meat, Fool

It took eighteen months of blogging, dozens of posts, excessive amounts of cooking and even more excessive eating, but it looks like I’ve finally lived up to the entire ethos of this blog. Not only did I actually use a cookbook today that has been brutally neglected for years, I also stopped myself from buying loads more cookbooks and the new edition of Delicious magazine by repeating the phrase ‘no, you have loads of unused cookbooks at home that are desperate to be used’ in my head. So I only bought one cookbook instead. This, my friends, is progress.
I’ve been reading the Smitten Kitchen food blog pretty religiously lately and while the recipes look amazing, there’s only so much cooking I’m willing to do following a recipe from my iPad. Oily fingers and raw meat do not go so well with the lovely smooth, shiny surface of an Apple gadget. So you can surely understand why I absolutely needed to purchase the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, right? With recipes such as peach pancakes, gazpacho salsa and tiny but intense chocolate cake, how could I refuse? It took a lot of self restraint but I stopped myself from buying several others, including last years Masterchef winner Shelina Permaloo’s new book which is filled with the sort of food I very much enjoy eating. Talk about willpower.

Before The Boyfriend left for Ukraine, we had to clear out our cupboard under the stairs to make room for our new boiler. This is where I’d been keeping all of my cookbooks and in between the many trips upstairs to relocate my precious books The Boyfriend pondered over why I had so many cookbooks when all I ever cook from are the same Nigella and Gizzi faithfuls. I don’t like to admit it but he had a point. So, in the childish spirit of wanting to prove him wrong I vowed to mix things up a little and actually use my neglected cookbooks, before he sets fire to them in the garden. I probably wouldn’t even notice them go missing. Step forward, Gordon Ramsay and his book Fast Food. Gordon, once upon a very long time ago, was my weird crush for a while until it looked like he had an affair and became a little bit too prominent on TV. Infidelity and overkill, big passion killers. The Boyfriend, being the understanding soul that he is, surprised me with an Amazon parcel in the post with this very cookbook contained within its cardboard corners. I’m sure there were no ulterior motives in play when he committed this selfless act of love. Of that I am certain. It shames me to say that I’ve never really used this book up until today, and I feel that I’ve missed a trick here. As the title suggests, Gordon gives many suggestions for speedy dinners that don’t involve dialling for a pizza. Trying to lessen my carb intake over dinner but not wanting to completely deprive myself of decent food, I went for lamb steak with a green bean, red onion and pecorino salad which does what it says on the tin really. The Boyfriend tried to trick me into thinking cheese was a carb but research tells me cheese is actually a protein, so now I know what all my carb free dinners will contain from this day forward. Cheese rules. Particularly in this recipe, it turns a pretty simple salad into something much more complex, with salty, earthy cheese taking away the sting of the raw onion and boosting the flavour of the green beans. The lamb itself was cooked exactly how I like it with a little touch of pink in the middle although it was a touch chewy. The key to this is resting the meat for 5-10 minutes after you’ve taken it out of the pan so that the meat relaxes, making it softer to eat, and the residual heat contained in the meat ensures there are no completely raw bits. 2-3 minutes per side on a high heat should get you halfway there, but for the love of god please rest your meat before eating. It’s key to how your dinner turns out. Apologies for the lack of photo, but my phone had taken leave of its senses and just would not work before my dinner turned cold.

So, delving back into my unloved cookbooks has turned out well for me today, and has shown that I might just be able to wean myself off the Nigella addiction. I’ll prove that boy wrong, don’t you worry. Cookbook Neglector 1, The Boyfriend 0.

 

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And Fried Chicken, Could Be Fricken

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American food holds a special place in my heart. Regular readers are most likely very aware of this and probably sick of me declaring my undying love for the countries gastronomic goodies, but I just can’t help going back for more. Childhood holidays to Florida and more recent, fun filled trips with The Boyfriend to The States have given me very fond memories of the food eaten out there. Plus, it helps that as a greedy cow the portion sizes are right up my street. If I lived out there I’d be super sized in no time so its a blessed relief that I live in England where the food is smaller and the service less than delightful the majority of the time. Anyway, craving some American comfort and wanting to keep The Boyfriend on side, I stuck with a classic recipe that he would welcome with open arms into his heart (somewhat literally upon looking at the butter content of this meal). Fried chicken, biscuits, gravy and corn on the cob. When I’ve mentioned this combination before to friends I tend to be given a disgusted look and asked why I can’t just be content with fries. Us Brits are so used to being served soggy, flaccid fries alongside our chicken and yet we deserve better. Biscuits are the future. We discovered them in KFC after a long flight to Orlando and whilst we must have appeared completely gormless to the staff behind the counter trying to work out why we couldn’t have fries, the discovery of biscuits made looking idiotic worthwhile. If you’ve never had them before they’re similar to scones only more savoury, fluffy and light. They’re perfect, and while your brainwashed-into-liking-fries-mind might recoil at the idea they are amazing smothered in sausage gravy and served with fried chicken. I once thought like you too but I have seen the light and it tastes like biscuits.

I have several recipe books with recipes for proper American biscuits in them but I decided to be safe and stick with one of my favourite authors, Gizzi Erskine, and her book Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts. It doesn’t take a genius to work out which side of the book this lot falls on. The whole meal plan is fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, sausage gravy, corn in honey chilli butter and chard, but wanting to maintain my sanity I chose to only make the biscuits, gravy and corn. I’ve made fried chicken at home before and all it left me with was greasy hair, an oily kitchen, a smell that stubbornly refused to leave the flat and a deep feeling of guilt and shame. I’d happily tolerate all of the above if it tasted as good as or better than the stuff you can buy at that place with the smiling Colonel, but sadly it does not. I realised I could get all of the above results but without the intensive labour that leaves you with spitting oil burns all up your arm by just going out and picking up some chicken from KFC. I’m a dirty cheat but when it tastes as good as it does, who cares? The Colonel provides the chicken. I realise eating KFC goes against all my morals but I can’t help myself, it tastes so good yet makes me feel so dirty.

Anyway, I sent The Boyfriend out to pick up some fried chicken and hot wings while I got on with making the biscuits and gravy. I must say, this is the first time a Gizzi recipe has let me down. While the gravy turned out a treat, all thick and unctuous with meaty chunks of sausage, the biscuits were a total let down. I followed the measurements for the ingredients exactly, and yet when it was time to turn the dough out and knead it, instead of having a firm dough I had a liquid batter. It would have been like trying to knead cake mix, impossible. Having never been let down by Gizzi before I blindly gave it a shot, but there was no way the gloopy concoction was going to result in light, fluffy biscuits. I can only assume there must be a typo in the book and that in actual fact it needs at least double the amount of flour stated in the recipe, as this is what I had to add to get it to a knead-able consistency. Despite this, the biscuits emerged from the oven un-risen and distinctly un-fluffy and heavy. Disappointing. Smothered in gravy they weren’t inedible and tasted OK but they were nothing on a true American biscuit. That’ll teach me for ignoring all my American cookbooks by authentic American cooks and being too lazy to convert the American measurements into metric measurements. Lesson learnt. I’ll be having another stab at biscuits in the near future but not from Gizzi’s book. She’s still awesome, but her winning streak with me had to come to an end at some point and sadly it was with biscuits.

Next time you’re in KFC and lamenting the patheticness of their fries (which really are truly awful), think how good the Americans have it and demand more from your local KFC. I mean, us Brits invented the word biscuit surely, so shouldn’t we be reaping the rewards from our friends over the ponds version? Also, feel free to demand better care for the birds that go into their meals, they deserve better too. I’m impatient to get to New York in October now so I can check out some fried chicken restaurants that perhaps have more morals than both myself and KFC. I’ve heard good things about the fried chicken scene in New York, a scene I am more than willing to dive head first into.

 
 

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