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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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Jamie Oliver & His Web Of Lies

Jamie Oliver has got a lot of explaining to do. Not content with lying to the public about how long it takes to cook delicious meals that consist of several dishes or courses, he’s now decided to fib about how easy it is to make homemade Scotch eggs. Outrageous! What on earth will he be lying about next?! I know everyone lies, it’s unavoidable and I may have told a white lie or two in the past (usually when The Boyfriend asks me what’s in a dish- “No, there is absolutely, positively no lemongrass/rosemary/sweet potato in there whatsoever, your tastebuds are deceiving you, you poor thing”) but when your job is writing cookbooks that people rely on to cook their family dinners, lying is a big problem. That’s why I love Nigella, she’s upfront about what the recipe will need you to do and she tries to simplify things where possible. But Oliver is a different kettle of fish entirely. It might seem that I’m overreacting but when you’ve been reliably informed that half boiled quails eggs are easy to peel and then find yourself screaming with frustration when yet another egg splits and leaks yolk all over your fingers, you start to hold a grudge. I wanted to make the Wee Scotch Eggs from his Great Britain cookbook, which has in the past been fairly reliable, for The Boyfriends last night in England before jetting of to Beijing for 2 weeks. He does not enjoy eating out in Beijing and laments the fact that out there he can’t seem to find a good duck chow mein or roast pork curry. I know, my heart bleeds too. As foodie as I can be, I do agree that a Chinese takeaway from England beats the authentic food I’m told he has eaten out there. I’m all for authenticity but I’m too fond of a takeaway to think otherwise, and having no real urge to go to China I will probably never know for sure. Suits me. Keeping in mind the fact that he’ll probably be living off plain rice and minibar nuts for 2 weeks I thought it would be nice to cook him something distinctly British for dinner, and everyone loves Scotch eggs, right? Well, I used to but if I ever see another one I may start twitching and showing signs of post traumatic stress. The ones I cooked last night were mini versions that Jamie promised would be easy, even going so far as to say that making 30 eggs takes barely anymore time than the 12 stated in the recipe. Well as I nearly had a mental breakdown by egg six, I’d hate to see what state anyone who attempted more than 12 would be in. After boiling the quails eggs for two minutes I started to peel the shell off the tiny eggs, which Jamie said I would get the hang of after a couple of goes. ‘OK’, I thought after peeling off the entire top half of two eggs, ‘this is fine, after all I bought more eggs than we needed in case something like this happened.’ Now I am not a very dexterous person and I normally avoid doing anything too fiddly in the kitchen, but I really, really, really made an effort to be careful with them and pretty much all of them split or were damaged in some way. Coating the ones that weren’t too monstrous in sausage meat, flour, egg and breadcrumbs, I took my first ever plunge into deep fat frying and let them sizzle away for four minutes until cooked. Once again, I followed the instructions to the letter which is very unlike me, so was expecting a Scotch egg with an oozy yellow yolk when bitten into. Jamie’s lies struck again. They were all hard bloody boiled in the middle, which came as a bitter disappointment to The Boyfriend who is a big fan of a runny yolk. Considering how long it took to make and how it nearly cost me my sanity (which at times is hanging by a thread anyway), it did not taste nearly good enough to justify the time spent on them. Plus I have a saucepan half filled with vegetable oil and breadcrumbs that I don’t know how to dispose of properly. Thank you very much Jamie Oliver. If ever I go to Jamie’s Italian or Fifteen I’m going to have to keep a quails egg ready in my pocket should he happen to turn up doing the rounds, so I can throw it at him whilst shouting “peel that, motherf****r”. It’s war Jamie. My advice if you have this book is simply to go to a nice deli and pick up a decent handmade Scotch egg from there instead. There’s a very good reason why they sell them. Approach this recipe with caution, and please note the photo of my massacred eggs before I hid their injuries under a layer of meat.

After eating his Scotch eggs, The Boyfriend turned to me and said “that sausage meat tasted a bit herby, did you add anything to it?” To which I replied “Of course not darling, I’d never dream of adding paprika and finely chopped rosemary to the meat”. I think I got away with it.

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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Books, Cooking, Food

 

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Lip Smacking Ribs

This Sunday has felt very much like I’ve been in an episode of Man vs Food. For those who haven’t seen Man vs Food, have you been living under a rock for the last few years? Get yourself in front of the telly and find it (it’s on practically every day), then be amazed as the presenter Adam Richman eats enormous amounts of food in food challenges across America and explores regional specialities in the many restaurants/diners he encounters. It’s totes amazing and if you love American food then prepare to love the show. Watching him attempt these challenges gives me a virtual heart attack but at the same time I can’t watch it without wanting to book the next flight across the pond. America no longer needs a tourist board, just Adam Richman. While I haven’t eaten copious amounts of food today, the food I have eaten has been distinctly American. First up, brunch. The Boyfriend and I got in this morning after staying out overnight for a friends birthday and while I was thoughtfully making the bed, he ate the last of the Crunchy Nut Clusters (best cereal ever by the way). Undeterred by the lack of cereal and the stale bread, I raided the cupboards and realised I had all the ingredients needed to rustle up some pancakes. Crunchy Nut who? Using the only pancake recipe anyone ever needs (from Nigellas HTBADG, naturally), adding some ground cinnamon for that extra reminder of holidays in Florida and some slices of banana to fool myself into thinking brunch was healthy, I felt quite smug looking down at The Boyfriends empty cereal bowl. While not quite as cinnamon-ey as I’d like, the bananas were sticky and caramelised, the pancakes fluffy and drowning in maple syrup. Not too shabby for a breakfast that came about from rummaging through the kitchen cupboards.

For dinner I took inspiration from the Jamie’s America cookbook which I highly recommend you buy. Unlike the lies and deception contained in the pages of his 30 Minute Meals book, this cookbook is much more realistic in its approach to food and is one of my favourite books to just flick through for the fun of it. Yep, I read cookbooks in just the same way I would a fiction book and I’m not ashamed! My only condition is that there’s a bit of waffle from the author, I like knowing where recipes come from, who or what inspired a dish and the like. Nigella is the Queen of this, but Jamie does a good job of telling the story behind a dish too. I made his 5 Star Pork Ribs, with a side dish also from the book called Best Baked Beans, and some homemade fries. It’s safe to say I was being a touch ambitious cooking all of this, and while easy to make everything individually, it took a lot of time, a lot of washing up and a lot of effort to do all of them together. Not that I’m one to give up easily when it comes to satisfying my hunger and greed, they’re motivators that never fail. For the ribs, I had to make a rub, a BBQ sauce, steam the ribs in the oven with apple juice then glaze them in the sauce, all while prepping the beans and making a crumbly topping for them. In short (or more accurately, long) the whole meal took 4 hours to make and needed constant babysitting. Not that I am one to complain because it totally paid off. After slow cooking at a low temperature and basting in glaze, the ribs were stunning. The meat came away from the bone with no effort whatsoever, and the glaze was sweet, sticky, spicy and utterly gorgeous, tasting a little like hoi sin sauce which is never a bad thing. Our cheeks and fingers were covered in the BBQ glaze, a sure sign of deliciousness and there were happy faces all round. The beans were a different story. Smoky from the chipotle chilli and with a crunchy topping made up of breadcrumbs, cheddar and streaky bacon, I really liked them but The Boyfriend was less than impressed. We’ve come to the conclusion that unless beans come in a blue Heinz tin, The Boyfriend ain’t interested, whereas chuck in some smoky heat and cheesy breadcrumbs and I’m interested. There’s no accounting for taste I guess! Looking back, I’ve had this cookbook a few years and whatever I’ve cooked from it has been a success. Favourites include meatballs stuffed with cheese, potato and mackerel latkes, peach ice cream, gumbo and chocolate tart. Regardless of your feelings on Jamie and his slightly irritating cheeky chappy persona, his food is always packed with flavour, easy to recreate and satisfying. You can’t say that about every celebrity chef, and as someone with one or two cookbooks, I feel perfectly entitled to say so. We’ll end today on The Boyfriends concise and simple review of dinner: “great ribs, shit beans”. Goodnight!

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Been around the world and I, I, I….

Italy, Thailand, America, it’s like a round the world plane ticket in miniature, all in my kitchen. But not to worry that I (I, I, I) can’t find ‘my baby’ as he’s back next Saturday, nice and early first thing in the morning on my birthday. What more could I want as a present? I would just like to assure you all that I would never really call The Boyfriend ‘my baby’, I do have some standards when it comes to nick names, but when a song title fits, it fits! So to make the most of what free time I had this weekend, I got my ass in the kitchen and made the most of my last solo weekend for a while. Believe me, I can’t wait for him to be back and am desperate to not wake up alone every morning, but I do enjoy the ability to potter about in the kitchen all day and cook what ever my heart desires on a Sunday. It’s making the best out of a bad situation. So to celebrate my last lonely Sunday morning for a while I took some inspiration from Jamie’s America to knock up breakfast. I’ve said it before about the Americans and how they have the knack for breakfast and I would say it again but I don’t like repeating myself. So I went with the New York section as surely New Yorkers are the Kings Of Breakfast (I’m not sure why I’ve come to this conclusion but it just seems right to me), and made myself Omelette Gordon Bennett, which is a twist on the classic Arnold Bennett omelette which was apparently created by a very fussy customer in a top NY hotel. The twist being that Jamie replaces smoked haddock with smoked mackerel. As twists go, it’s not exactly up there with the polar bear in Lost but its Sunday morning, i’ll let it go. It’s a very simple dish to make and easy enough to halve (recipe gives enough for two, but 5 eggs even for me is a bit much), the only tricky bit is making sure the bottom doesn’t burn while you make sure the egg on top of the omelette is fully cooked. Because of the chunks of fish it’s not advisable to flip the omelette as the weight would collapse it, so you need to keep a close eye on the omelette and adjust the heat accordingly. Incredibly I managed to cook it perfectly and it tasted pretty wonderful. I love smoked mackerel and being advised to top the whole thing off with grated Parmesan at 9 in the morning makes this a winner for a filling breakfast. You probably won’t even need lunch. If you’re a fan of American food then Jamie’s book is great, he covers several different states and a huge variety of food, including Native American recipes. The best sections though are definitely Louisiana and Georgia, with some good old fashioned Southern recipes. Delicious.

On to Italy, and before you ask, no this recipe did not come out of Nigellas new book. Or any book at all actually. I made some focaccia using a recipe given to me by a chef at a cookery course I attended. The course happened to be about French food, but this did not stop us making Italian bread and for that I am very glad. This focaccia recipe is bread perfection and totally and utterly foolproof. As long as you’re prepared to do ten minutes of kneading then this is really easy and after all that kneading all you need is patience while the dough proves. If the kneading sounds like too much work for you, wait until someone has really pissed you off to make it, and then 10 minutes of pretending the dough is that persons face won’t seem long enough. Violence against flour is fine, less so against people. My favourite part of making bread (after eating it of course) is poking the bread once its ready to go in the oven as the feel of it is bouncy, pillowy and lighter than air. Do this once and you’ll completely understand my wish to one day sleep on a bed made entirely of dough. Heaven. When the bread is ready to go in the oven, poke some dimples in the bread and push some ingredients in said dimples. I went for chillies today, but feel free to go with rosemary, olives, sun dried tomatoes…. Whatever takes your fancy really. When this comes out of the oven it will be all but impossible to dive right in as the smell is amazing and it looks so inviting. It says something about the quality of this bread that I can eat it solely on its own without even a smudge of butter on it. (Bread and butter is one of my favourite things to eat. Good bread though). The crust is crunchy with sprinkles of sea salt and the middle is soft, bouncy and utterly divine. It does go stale really quickly, which shows just how many chemicals must be pumped into supermarket bread to keep it fresh as long as it does, but slice it up and pop in the freezer if you won’t use it all up straight away. I’ll post the recipe for this later as any budding bakers should give it a go, and its not a copyrighted recipe so I’m free to share the goods!

I’ve also been cooking some Thai food after the success earlier in the week with Rick Steins book Far Eastern Odyssey, so tried yellow stir fry curry with prawns from the same book. This version is a bit different from the other Thai curries I’ve had as it contains no coconut milk and uses stock instead. It is ferociously hot and this was without the dried Kashmiri chilli that I could not find in the shops, so I was actually quite relieved I only included some regular red chillies in the paste. I’m not entirely sure I would make it again as while spicy which I like, it didn’t have anything else much going for it. I’m not one of those people who eats spicy food purely for the sake of it, spicy food has to have more flavours to it than just pure hot chilli heat. Not that it isn’t funny watching someone sweat when they order the hottest curry on the menu in front of their mates, because it really is. Still, despite being blindingly hot, I managed to finish it without an audience so I suppose I’m no better than the show offs, sweating without the congratulatory pats on the back from the men on the table.

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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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Salad for Summer days

Right, enough pussy footing around it weather, just give me, and the whole of sun starved Britain, some summer already. In a futile attempt to feel more summery and kick start the pitiful British summer (massively overestimating my abilities to change the weather), I cooked a summery salad of salmon and new potatoes from Jamie’s Great Britain. It’s getting plenty of use at the moment, I could lie and say I’m feeling really patriotic because of the upcoming Olympics, but actually this book is full of some good looking recipes which I’m more than happy to dive right into! But sure, bring on the Olympics too, I guess.

This salad is perfect for me because it’s pretty much as far removed from a salad one can be while still technically being a salad. No soggy lettuce, no shredded veg and no raw tomatoes (I hate raw tomatoes), just salmon, potatoes and a herby yoghurt dressing. Plus I L.O.V.E salmon, so extra bonus points for Mr Oliver. Now, I’m going to go off on a bit of a foodie rant here, I’ll apologise in advance for it, but if I can’t get a foodie rant out on my own food blog then where the hell can I? Basically, people who say they don’t like fish get right on my nerves. I’m sorry, I know plenty of mates who say this, and I love you all, but come on! You’ve ruled out an entire food source, and I’m willing to bet lots of money that they are basing this dislike either on a childhood hatred that they’ve never bothered to overcome as a grown up, or have tried one type of fish that they didn’t like and have assumed all fish taste very similar. Ridiculous. It’s like disliking cucumbers (which really are disgusting) and therefore deciding you hate all vegetables. So maybe salmon wasn’t your bag, fine, how about haddock/seabass/trout/bream/tuna/sole/eel/mackerel etc… Plenty of fish in the sea, as they say. Move on from your childhood dislikes,man up and try something new. If you try it and don’t like it, fine, but at least give it a go before ruling it out completely. It’s healthy, plentiful, light, tasty and apart from some farmed fish, you couldn’t get more free range, they’ve got the whole ocean! OK, rant over, although don’t even get me started on people who eat fish fingers but not actual fish.

Let’s get back to the salmon salad shall we? It was light and tasty, which is all you can ever ask from a salad, and for the first time in my entire life I managed to not over cook the salmon. This is a breakthrough, I finally took it out of the oven in time despite believing it needed another 5 minutes, and lo and behold, it was perfect. I should probably start taking on board the advice bestowed upon me in these books by professional chefs, rather than ignoring them and then wondering why the salmon is dry and tasteless. The yoghurt dressing added a good punch of mint and dill tang to the dish and complemented the salmon very well. Only problem now is that an hour after eating it, I still feel pretty hungry. Must. Resist. Chocolate.

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PS: Best way to learn to love fish is to do this: get on a boat tour off the coast of Portugal on a sunny day, with a tour guide who, while you’re swimming in the sea a mile off the coast, will cook sardines caught that morning on a BBQ, ready for you to eat once you’re done swimming. If this doesn’t convince you that fish is amazing, then I’m afraid there’s no hope for you as it doesn’t get better than that. It certainly worked for me as a fussy 10 year old, and I still remember it 16 years on.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Fish, Food

 

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Empire Chicken, round two

After yesterdays little excursion to France, our feet are now firmly back on British soil, eating British food. All that French food, it’s very rich after all! I delved into the cookbook Jamie’s Great Britain, and chose to give Empire Chicken another go after the last disastrous time. For my very first blog post all those months ago (so young, so naive) I chose this recipe, but after marinating the chicken overnight it turned out our oven was broken and by the time it was fixed the poor chicken had been ungraciously chucked in the bin. I promised myself and my future readers that I would return to this tasty looking dish again, so not wanting to break a promise, here it is. Jamie Oliver came up with this recipe to combine the two favourites of Brits across the country: roast chicken and curry. Correct on both counts, at least for me anyway. The smell of roast chicken on a Sunday makes my mouth water and I become extremely impatient for Sunday lunch. Ditto with curry, I’m so impatient to eat it when at a restaurant that I devour it in record time. Usain Bolt would not be able to keep up. And god forbid you get in the way of me, popadoms and chutney. You marinate the chicken overnight in a mixture of yoghurt, spices and chillies (your fridge will smell amazing every time you grab the milk while this is in it), then cook in the oven alongside some crispy Bombay potatoes and an Indian gravy. While cooking these three smell fantastic, although don’t do what I did and decide to wash and dry your bedding on the same day, as they now smell like curry. I’m all for curry, but not in my bed. I’m very pleased to say that this meal was perfect and worth coming back to. The chicken skin was crispy and spicy, meat soft and with a subtle taste of curry and lemon (you have to chuck a boiled lemon inside the chicken, which is quite a squeeze I can tell you). I LOVED the Bombay potatoes, they were so much better than your takeaway versions as these are flavourful and crispy, adding an element of the good old roast potato into the mix. The only downside is the gravy, which is cooked in the oven under the chicken, catching all the juices. That isn’t the problem, as it tastes great, but there was so little of it that I struggled to get enough for just me. If you make this dish, I recommend at the very least doubling the amount. I’m being picky though, as it tasted great, like a mild curry. Naturally, cooking for one means I’ve got a lot of chicken leftover, meaning chicken sandwiches for lunch and then a chicken and mango Thai salad for dinner tomorrow. Got to see the advantages of being alone!

After yesterday’s slightly disappointing macarons, I felt like I needed something more satisfying, sweet and most importantly, soft. Sticking with Jamie’s Great Britain, I made Coconut and Jam Sponge, which most people will remember from school dinners of the past. Whether this is fondly or not depends on how your school dinners were. Mine were forgettable aside from the puddings. Jam and coconut sponge was definitely a favourite of mine along with chocolate toothpaste, which no one outside of the county I grew up in seems to have heard of. It was just chocolate goo on top of pastry really, but ah, what delightful goo it was. The coconut sponge I made today was again delicious, and tasted just like I remembered. There’s no real skill to this cake, it’s just a plain vanilla sponge smothered in blackberry jam and desiccated coconut. I could have made the jam from scratch but that’s not my bag, so a Hartley’s jar sufficed. The only mistake I made was taking the cake out of the oven a bit too early so that when I cut it into slices, the centre was still liquid and collapsed. Luckily the majority of the cake was cooked so I still got plenty of slices out of it to take to work tomorrow. Raw cake mix really doesn’t bother me, I scooped loads of it onto my plate as cake mix is always better than the finished article, but I can’t imagine it would have been too nice tomorrow lunchtime in the office.
I’ve been impressed by this book today, we got off to a bad start with the rabbit bolognese, but Jamie’s redeemed himself with the chicken and the sponge. British food may not have the elegance of French cuisine, but it has the taste and the comfort factor, which is far more important. This book definitely reminds people that as a country we have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to our food.

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Rogue Red Hot Chilli Pepper

Phew, excuse me a moment while I grab some ice and cool myself down. Today’s dinner definitely knocked my socks off, but along the way it also managed to strip my tongue of a layer of skin and several taste buds. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Let me explain…

Dinner today was steamed Thai style sea bass from Cook by Jamie Oliver. I hadn’t cooked fish for ages and feeling like I’ve overdone it on the chicken lately, thought I’d give this delicious sounding meal a go. You know how I feel about Thai food (love it), and making it healthier with sea bass fillets seemed like the right and proper thing to do. Plus I really like Cook as its packed with great recipes and guides for things like shopping for meat and fish, and was one of the earlier additions to the cook book collection so it holds a special place in my heart! It also has a great ethos to it, which is ‘if you’re going to eat 3 meals a day for the rest of your life, you might as well enjoy them’.Here here, now there’s a sentence I can relate to. Cooking this meal is really simple, you cook some rice, coat it in a Thai paste, then chuck the fish fillets and some sugar snap peas on top and pop in the oven for 15 minutes. If only eating it was so simple… To be fair, the OTT spiciness is really nothing to do with Jamie Oliver or the recipe, and I can only attribute it to my complacency towards chillies. Taste wise anyway, I definitely wasn’t getting complacent about them when it comes to my eyes and chilli fingers. Word of warning from someone who’s been there and got the damaged retinas: wash hands thoroughly after cutting chillies. Getting back to the sea bass dish, my mistake was not de seeding the chillies for the paste, and then thinking it a good idea to garnish the meal with slices of (again, not de seeded) chilli. The result was an exceptionally hot first mouthful which left me thinking that my mouth had actually been set on fire by those bastard chillies. Quickly picking out all the slices of chilli garnish, I carried on eating hoping to eat away the pain. This tactic didn’t work, every mouthful felt like salt on a very sore wound so I eventually had to stop to let the pain go away. I’m really not a wimp when it comes to chillies and hot food, I’ve chucked slices of chilli on loads of meals in the past and never has it been that outrageously hot. I can eat hot curries and have polished off some seriously hot Mexican prawns in a restaurant which no one else could bear, but this chilli was something else. I foolishly underestimated the red chilli, thinking I had conquered it and made it my bitch to do as I please to my food, but the red chilli well and truly hustled me. But what of the rest of the meal, what did that taste like? I only wish I could tell you, once the pain had gone I carried on eating, but taste was still beyond me so I can only guess that the rice tasted like a green curry, and the fish delicate and fresh. It certainly isn’t the end of my relationship with spicy food, but I will definitely proceed with caution before chucking in chillies willy-nilly.

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Photo taken while blissfully unaware of the perils ahead!

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Thai

 

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30 Minute Meals… Hmmmm

If someone, say, oh I don’t know, a celebrity chef well known for food crusades, tells you that you, yes you can cook a 3 course meal in no more than 30 minutes, it is indeed too good to be true. Jamie Oliver I’m talking about you. In case you hadn’t guessed, todays recipe comes from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals book, and while there are many lovely looking recipes within its pages, they are quite frankly unachievable in such a short space of time. I’m not just saying this after trying one recipe that took ages, I’m saying this as someone who’s cooked many meals from here that have taken a lot longer than half hour. I’ve even teamed up with The Boyfriend in the past to lighten the load and speed things up, but this still took 90 minutes. Why the rush anyway to cook dinner? If I want a quick meal when in a rush I take some leftover chilli out the freezer or pop a pizza in the oven. If I’m not in a rush, that’s what all the cookbooks are for. At the end of the day, cooking should be enjoyable and if I rush around in the kitchen I get stressed, overheated and am likely to accidentally stab someone while flapping about in a panic. Just take your time.

Saying all this, all the recipes I’ve tried from this book have been delicious and if you can forget Jamie’s false promises and just cook at your own pace then you’ll have a lovely dinner. Today I cooked Pregnant Jools Pasta, which I’m guessing from the name means his wife ate this a lot while preggers. I am not pregnant, but agree with Jools that its a tasty pasta dish. Now, the whole meal plan in the book also includes a salad and then some little frangipane tarts but I just wanted the pasta, which meant for the first time ever a dish from this book really only did take half hour. The pasta sauce is made with veg, herbs, spices and sausages that have been de-cased and mashed up so you have something resembling a bolognese sauce. It has a nice aniseed flavour from the fennel seeds as well as some strong balsamic notes. I used low fat pork sausages with a high meat content from Waitrose which made me feel a little bit more virtuous until I grated tons of Parmesan cheese over it. I’m guessing the taste of the dish would vary depending on what sausage you use, but these went very well with all the other ingredients so I recommend.

Other great recipes in this book include Satay Chicken Skewers (very addictive), cheesy grilled mushrooms (part of the steak sandwich meal plan, but this is a very rare occasion where the vegetable is more desirable than the meat) and piri piri chicken. Despite my reservations over the time frame, it’s a decent cook book, but don’t put yourself under any pressure to get the whole meal done in 30 minutes. You’re human, not Superman/Jamie Oliver after all.

PS: if it looks like I had a lot of pasta on my plate, well that’s because I did. Hunger struck!

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food

 

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The Easter Bunny meets its match

Look away now if you’re a fan of rabbits or have them as pets, as this post probably isn’t for you. Some may say it’s cruel, even perverse to cook up a rabbit dish on a bank holiday weekend which has for its mascot a giant Easter egg delivering rabbit. Well, I had rabbits as pets when I was younger and they bit me a lot, leaving me with very little sympathy towards the creatures, so consider this revenge PJ, Funny Bunny and the er, one whose name I can’t remember! Plus, the Easter bunny brought me no eggs this year, apparently I’m “too old” or something so its fair to say I’m not a fan. So todays dish was rabbit bolognese from Jamies Great Britain (which I’m now renaming Easter Bunny bolognese) and had me up at 7am on Easter Monday to put it in the oven, because this bad boy takes 12 hours to cook. Yes, 12, I know. But after 20 minutes prep which involved browning some bacon and then chucking in a whole rabbit, veg, herbs, tinned tomatoes and beer I wisely went back to bed to enjoy the last day of the long weekend. Which meant waking up at 10 to the flat filled with this amazing aroma that made me wish it could have been cooked in half the time, as the cereal I had for breakfast really didn’t suppress the appetite this smell was creating. After 12 hours, Jamie instructed me to let it cool for a little while and then to don a pair of rubber gloves and start scrunching all the veg and the meat so that it turned into mush (the onions and veg were all put in whole at the start), and also to remove all the bones from the rabbit. This was tricky, as even after cooling down for half hour it was still very hot, and no matter how much you look, you will find small bits of bone while you’re eating the bolognese. I could have left it to cool for a little while longer, but by this time it was 7:30 and I was very hungry. Heat won’t stop me when my tummy’s rumbling! The verdict? Well it really wasn’t too impressive considering it took so long to cook and nearly burnt through the rubber gloves to my poor hands. While I do like Jamie Olivers recipes in general, sometimes I think he forgets that people aren’t chefs and don’t always have time/inclination/money to cook his long winded recipes. I don’t know about everyone else, but if I’m going to have to smell deliciousness for 12 hours and then nearly burn my hands, I’m going to want the taste to be just as good as the smell. At the end of the day he’s a chef and you can tell this when comparing his recipes to home cooks like Nigella. Nigellas’ recipes keep working, busy people fully in mind, whereas I feel Jamie gets so caught up in his own passion for food that he forgets not everyone is so enthusiastic, or if they are, they still aren’t chefs and want things to be simple and tasty. Don’t even get me started on Jamies 30 Minute Meals book, I could be here all day. I’ll save that for another post though, possibly when I cook from that very book. At the end of the day, I’ve made much better bolognese sauces or ragus from scratch in the past and it didn’t take as long and tasted a great deal nicer. There is absolutely loads of this left as well, which I’m a bit gutted about as I don’t have any desire to eat it again, but will not throw away. It’ll probably end up in the freezer for several years now, shame.

Also this weekend I cooked chicken, coconut and cashew nut curry from the book Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros. This book includes recipes from countries her relatives came from and of places she’s been, so it includes food from Cyprus, Scandinavian countries, South Africa, Greece, etc… Its a very pretty book with something for everyone, but I’ve rarely cooked from it which is a shame. This curry recipe hasn’t been given a country of origin, but I’m guessing from somewhere in India by looking at the ingredients. It’s not too bad, some mouthfuls seemed to be really flavoursome and others not so much, unsure why that is. I wouldn’t cook it again as its pretty unexciting, and I had doubled the spice quantities as I like flavour to smack my tastebuds, not gently stroke them. Still wasn’t enough to spice this curry up though. Like I’ve said before, Indian curries seem to be completely beyond my capability, I should leave it to the pros.

I’ve also cooked millionaires shortbread with rosemary infused salted caramel, but these are still setting in the fridge so will just have to wait to see what they taste like. I’m intrigued by the combination of caramel and rosemary…

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Baking, Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food

 

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