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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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Always Read The Instructions

I like to think of myself as a competent cook, someone who knows their way round a kitchen and can get to grips with a variety of foods and techniques. But, this does not mean that foolish errors won’t still be made. In fact, perhaps the confidence you gain with becoming a good cook means you’re more likely to get complacent and forget the basics. Such as reading the instructions BEFORE starting to cook instead of halfway through. Basic yes but very easily forgotten! So this was the mistake I made yesterday, with yesterdays recipe being chicken and smoked sausage gumbo from Louisiana Real and Rustic by Emeril Lagasse. Emeril is apparently a big deal in America but I’ve never heard of him, I only picked this book up because I wanted a book on New Orleans food and this happened to be in a second hand book store. Never used it since. Anyway, after spending most of yesterday either asleep or watching TV (a productive day), I finally decided to get off my arse and cook dinner at 7pm. Halfway through chopping peppers, celery and onions I looked halfway down the instructions and saw I needed to simmer it for one hour before adding the meat. Alright, I thought, thats fine, dinner will be a little later than normal but I can live with that. Reading further down I then saw that once the meat is in, it needs another 2 hours simmering. What the?! So this gumbo would not be ready until 10pm? I’m in bed at 10 on a Sunday night, I’m that lame. Nothing could be done about this unfortunate turn of events though, the meat was defrosted (I’d swapped the chicken for duck randomly, so definitely wouldn’t be throwing away the more expensive meat), vegetables chopped and the base sauce of the dish already bubbling away. Too far gone to give up now! Like a trooper I laboured on, and in the time needed to cook everything I managed to dye my hair and clean the fridge, so it ended up being very productive. It’s a shame the dish wasn’t worth the amount of time I had to spend on it. I’ve never had an authentic gumbo, having never been to Louisiana thats not exactly difficult, but I made one before from Jamies’ America cookbook and I have to say that was a lot better. The chef from Essex cooks a better Louisiana gumbo than the chef from Louisiana, what a pity. If you don’t know what gumbo is, it’s a traditional Cajun stew which can include pretty much any meat or seafood, depending what you have on you, as well as a variety of vegetables, but always with a base of  celery, peppers and onions. That parts non-negotiable. It’s a really thick dish and can be spicy, but this recipe wasn’t and I think it really should be as good Cajun food tends to have a lot of spice in it. I have absolutely loads of this leftover, and I halved the recipe to serve 2 instead of 4, so it looks like I’ll be having mediocre gumbo for lunch all week. Lucky me. This recipe just makes me want to fly out to New Orleans to experience authentic gumbo rather than go to the effort of cooking it again, so far not too impressed with this cookbook. As you can see, it doesn’t look very appetising either:

Still, cooking it kept me from tearing my hair out from excessive boredom. I know I spent the last blog entry raving about having some time to myself, but by 3pm Sunday I’d had enough of me, so won’t be doing that again in a hurry if I can help it.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Books, Cooking

 

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Rainy Day Cooking

If you don’t think ice cream is the best thing mankind has ever invented, then I hate to break it to you, but you are wrong, wrong, wrong. Sure, the wheel has been pretty useful, and I guess penicillin has had its moments, but neither match the genius of ice cream. Days out at the beach = ice cream. First date at the cinema =ice cream. Broken heart = ice cream. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Making ice cream can be quite time consuming, so considering today has been cold and rainy I decided to dedicate a bit of time to making peach ice cream from Jamies’ America. However, making it is not for the faint hearted, so if you love ice cream but have even the slightest bit of heart problems, stop right there and go get yourselves some Ben and Jerrys instead (or maybe some heart medication). I however, like to live life on the edge and take risks! But seriously, trying not to scramble the custard base and then having to stir the ice cream every hour once it’s in the freezer is a pain in the arse so only do this if you want to dedicate a whole day to it. I know there are ice cream machines that could make perfect ice cream in an hour, but I also know this: if I had the wherewithal to make perfect ice cream that quickly, I can guarantee it wouldn’t take long for me to reach the point where if I needed to leave the house, it would only be achievable by crane. That’s why I don’t have an ice cream machine. That’s why I do it the hard way, so I only do it very occasionally.

This peach ice cream turned out pretty good in the end. Before I put it in the freezer I couldn’t resist having a taste and it was absolutely divine. Frozen it is still just as good, although the recipe calls for chunks of peach and when these are frozen in the ice cream they slightly ruin the effect of a smooth ice cream. Jamie should really have chosen to puree the peaches instead of keeping them chunky, the fool. However, the smooth, vanilla ice cream with a hint of peach is so good and really creamy. although it is no match for Ben and Jerrys cookie dough ice cream. But really, what is?

 

I also cooked another meal from my list today, one pot chicken and bacon stew from Delicious Magazine (September 2010). Yes, I’ve included my food magazines as well in this challenge, if I’m going to do this, then I’m going to do it right. And that too was very nice, really meaty and with a tasty sauce. Plus it was all in one pot so not a lot of washing up, and enough to freeze for another night.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Books, Chicken, Cooking, Puddings

 

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Trouble already…

Today was going to be the day I started my challenge. Unfortunately today was also the day my oven bulb decided to blow. So instead of a nice hot oven to cook in, I ended up with a vaguely lukewarm oven – great! I’d spent the earlier part of the week going through all 45 of my cookbooks, making a lovely list (i love lists, you’re probably going to see a lot of those over the coming months), typing it up, getting excited at the idea of testing myself and finally putting all those books to good use.

Maybe it was a ‘sign’, fates way of telling me that the first recipe I’d chosen to cook for my Neglected Cookbook challenge (keyword here is ‘neglected’) was not the right one, not getting into the spirit of the challenge and so on. Because for my first recipe I’d chosen my brand new cookbook, Jamies Great Britain, which couldn’t be further from neglected as I am absolutely itching to cook everything in it! There is nothing like a brand new cookbook that you’ve wanted for ages (in my little world anyway), and every time I get one I promise myself that i will make the most of this one, not use it a few times in the honeymoon period and then mug it off a month in. However, promises were made to be broken, and thats why I have a lot of cookbooks that have been used and then abused. I thought my first recipe for this challenge would be from a dusty book that time  – and myself –  forgot. But no, it’s from the new one, and it is Empire Chicken, with Bombay roast spuds and Indian gravy. And no way could that be cooked in a pitifully warm oven. I saw Jamie cook this on his programme last year and it looked bloody delicious, so fingers crossed it lives up to Mr Olivers hype, when we finally get round to cooking it.

Or maybe the bulb went because this week has been the week Lightbulbs Conspired Against Us. The bathroom and hallway spotlights all went, both the headlights on the car, and then the indicator light. It was inevitable that the oven bulb would go, all I’m waiting for now is fridge light to go and then we’ve had a full set!

So me and the boyfriend had to resort to chicken kebabs from a takeaway, not exactly the great start to this that I imagined, but when life hands you lemons, f**k ’em. The challenge will now officially start tomorrow, luckily for me my chicken, potatoes and gravy are all prepped and just need chucking in the oven when we get in from work tomorrow.

Speaking of the list, I’ve chosen 3 or 4 recipes from each book that I’ve never cooked before and plan to tick maybe 3 off each week. There’s some amazing looking recipes that I can’t wait to try, and some unusual ones that I’m a little intimidated by but curious enough to overcome these trifling feelings! Be prepared for a fair few cheesecakes popping up, I love them and see this as a perfect opportunity to buy up England’s supply of Philly cheese.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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