Category Archives: Food & Drink

Sunday Bumper Crop

Somehow I fitted all of this cooking into three hours, which I think might be unprecedented.

Toasted Snow Peas
I got some snow peas as a substitution in my Abel & Cole box for a much more boring alternative (spring onions, I think, of which I already had plenty lurking at the bottom of the fridge). Snow Peas? Much googling later, I now know they can be treated the same as Mange Touts/Sugar Snap Peas, although I’m still none the wiser as to the difference. Mine were a kind of mottled purple,with a hint of green. Could that be it?

Anyway, Epicurious presented me with this Epicurious, which I proceeded to use as more of a general guideline. Can’t be bothered to weigh what I actually have? Check. Decide to use pumpkin seeds as well as flaked almonds? Check. Mincing shallots? What a faff, they can be finely chopped and like it!

The result is rather more almond-heavy than I’d intended, but none the worse for it.

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Caponata
Felicity Cloake’s “How to cook the Perfect…” series of columns in the Guardian is always interesting. She tries out lots of different versions of the same dish, with a view to creating a definitive recipe. I’d never heard of Guardian before, but her description sounded fantastic, so I thought I’d give it a whirl, immediately ignoring the bits of her method I couldn’t or wouldn’t do.

So my version involved a white rather than red onion, a small marrow and a medium aubergine rather than a courgette and a large aubergine, and I’ve got caper purée, rather than capers themselves. Otherwise I stuck rigidly to her instructions. Except I got over-excited when weighing my ingredients, so my green olives had sultanas and grated chocolate dumped on them before I had a chance to quarter them. Oops!

I’m glad I was firm with myself and stuck with deep-frying the aubergine and marrow, because it prevented the sliminess I’m sure would have resulted in shallow-frying. But it did rather prevent me from sticking with one of my Cooking Commandments: thou shalt not create washing up without good reason. What with the extra pan for the frying (although I did re-use the snow peas pan for the tomato base, so I wasn’t entirely profligate), the bowl for putting the newly rinsed veg, the plate for putting newly fried veg (with kitchen towel to de-oil said veg) and the bowl (with more kitchen towel) for trying to remove even more oil (it’s amazing there was any oil left in the pan by the time I’d finished), I was very grateful for the dishwasher by the end!

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I took photos before and after the addition of toasted almonds, having learned my lesson from the snow peas photo – where you barely get to sea a snow pea for the mountain of almond! The caponata does glisten in a way that makes me think a lot of oil got in there anyway. Speaking of which, that was another diversion from the recipe; shallow-frying in my usual groundnut oil and deep-frying in sunflower oil, rather than the olive oil specified.
Apple & Blackberry Tart
At some point in the dim and distant past, I must have wanted to make fudge (a craving which quickly passed, not least because I just bought some), because I have been the proud owner of two tins of condensed milk (one labelled “light”, one which ought to be labelled “diabetic coma” but isn’t) for quite some time. In a fit of organisational mania, I looked at them a week ago and discovered they were rapidly reaching their date. While I’m deeply sceptical of dates on tins (although, full disclosure, I once nearly poisoned a friend by giving them an elderly Diet Coke, and I now respect the power of phosphoric acacid I thought I’d better do something with them before they start corroding my worktop or what have you.

I’ve sort of disposed of the full-fat tin, in a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided attempt to make small portions for adding to smoothies (short version: condensed milk won’t freeze, at least not solid). I refuse to make fudge; the fact that I haven’t thus far clearly means my subconscious really doesn’t want to and therefore something catastrophic will undoubtedly occur. So bring on the Google! The internet really wanted me to make fudge or banoffee pie, the latter I resisted because eating the entire thing and diabetic comas are a likely result without an imminent dinner party. Which there isn’t. But Apple & Blackberry Tart sounds suitably sort-of healthy (particularly with the “light” tin!) and shouldn’t risk dissolving my teeth, don’t you think?

I’ve been having difficulty recently with pastry, which relatives tell me is my own fault for buying ready-rolled rather than making from scratch. And they’re probably right. But I have fallen in love with the Sainsburys ready-rolled shortcrust pastry, which is just enough for not only one flan case, but also four little tartlets, which is just dinky. The only downside is that, when baking blind, the pastry keeps sticking to the grease proof paper (oxymoron, anyone?). I thought it might be the fault of the “light” version of the pastry not being greasy enough, so I went full-fat this time and gave the pastry a light coating of oil for completeness’ sake. The ?!#* still stuck. Given that my tartlets, which I – bow down before the efficiency queen! – line with paper which comes wrapped round the pastry, don’t stick at all (in fact, they positively sweat – sorry for the visual!), I’m forced to blame my elderly Waitrose grease proof paper. Can paper go off?

To counteract the all-encompassing sweetness, I bought a Bramley Apple and sliced it with the skin still on (although that was laziness, rather than any thought of taste, texture or vitamins). I rather under-fruited my flan, as the custard quantities completely intimidated me (just think of my smoothies for the next week, loaded up with a dollop of condensed milk and rapidly browning Bramley). Plus the cooking time was nonsense; it needed at least another fifteen minutes for the custard to be anywhere near set. And I still had enough custard for two tartlets. But it’s very pretty, n’est-ce pas?

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Now what to do with two empty tartlets? #ponders

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There’s Something Worse Than Kale

Sorry for the hiatus. Life, whattayagonnado?

Last year, I bought a Nutribullet 900, primarily in an attempt to make a dent in my GLV Mountain (green leafy vegetables -you know, kale, spring greens, that stuff you put in everything that takes forever to chop and you still seem to have as much as you did when you started). As discussed in a recent Guardian article, it is basically a blender for lazy people. And, as one of those, I have really enjoyed using it. Given that it attempts to market itself as something other than a blender, I feel it misses the opportunity to point out how easily it does blending-type jobs. But I cannot deny it has helped me with that aforementioned primary goal; consuming GLVs.

The other day, it occurred to me that it might be able to help with my summertime nemesis: lettuce. My considered opinion of lettuce is that it is pointless and – as if that wasn’t enough – bitter. But,given my Nutribullet could help me consume GLVs without noticing, it had to be worth a go with lettuce. Right? Wrong. Well, semi-wrong.

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Smoothie, and half a head of lettuce for the next one

This smoothie was made up of:

Half a head of Red Lettuce
One Banana
5 Raspberries
Peanut Butter
Low Fat Greek Yogurt
Coconut Water (about an inch-worth in the cup)
Alpro Chocolate Almond Milk (up to the maximum level)
It was ok, but the bitter under-taste of lettuce was in every gulp. Which is unfortunate. I’m not sure what you can add to counter-act it (suggestions please!). I shan’t be buying any more lettuce, though, unless I have a plan for its consumption. Truly, there is something worse than kale.

Banana Bread For The Soul

I had some overripe bananas that were at the point of heading binwards. However I woke up this morning with an enthusiasm for baking, so I dug out my favourite banana bread recipe and got cracking.

The beauty of this recipe is the (not so) secret ingredient: chocolate. Is there anything more divine than the combination of banana and chocolate? There may be, I suppose, but it’s pretty hard to beat. As is my usual habit, I adapt it a bit; ground almonds instead of the faffing about with toasting then grinding hazelnuts, plus my mother is about to visit, so I used gluten-free instead of wheat self-raising flour.

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If I say so myself, this banana bread is pretty hard to beat. It’s almost worth failing to eat your fruit, so you have the excuse.

 

Beetroot? Are you sure?

Here is what I did with the beetroot from my vegbox last week. Borscht, it isn’t!

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These are Forbidden Chocolate Brownies, from Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood. If you enjoy baking – particularly if you enjoy trying something a little different – I do recommend this book. She incorporates vegetables into her cakes (and for any coeliacs out there, her recipes include gluten-free alternatives as standard).

I was a bit underwhelmed at the idea of borscht and, as my mum (who has coeliac’s) was staying, we thought we’d try our hand at this recipe. For me, I stuck pretty rigidly to the recipe; I added a little black treacle as my mum was not entirely convinced that my light brown soft sugar was the same as the light Muscovado sugar called for in the recipe. I also added a little water to the beetroot when it was refusing to blend. I used ground almond, rather than grinding hazelnuts from scratch, and I was rather heavy-handed with the chopped mixed nuts on the top!

The results? Scrumptious. Very moist in the middle; almost to the point of needing a spoon. We did a quick comparison with another brownie recipe we found online, and the beetroot (and almonds) replace the butter and a lot of the flour, but there is quite a bit more sugar in this recipe. So is it healthier? It depends on your definition of healthy, I suppose, but it makes for a ruddy good brownie!

Quick Snack

I just thought I would share my quick snack with you, as it’s quite pretty.

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These are seasoned poached eggs, with red Leicester and wilted spinach, on a toasted Sainsbury’s cheese and black pepper muffin. Yum!

I’m particularly pleased with myself, as I had not even thought of adding spinach until after I’d started poaching the eggs. But, because I use Poachpods (Lakeland, £4.99 for two), it was dead easy to quickly, roughly chop a few leaves (three, since you ask) and chuck them in the water with a few minutes still to go. Hey presto! My snack is suddenly far healthier, and approaching meal status.

I do recommend Poachpods if you are at all timid about poaching eggs, as it makes the process dead easy. I like my yolks runny, so often err on the side of caution with poaching for five minutes. This usually means the whites are a bit runny too, but if you have a fear of the gloopiness of egg whites (technical term!), a little bit longer on the heat will firm them right up.

The only thing I would have done differently, now I’ve eaten them up, is to add a little sweet chilli sauce on top of the spinach. This is an idea I’ve pinched from one of my favourite places in Brighton to have brunch – Iydea – whose poached eggs come served with avocados and chilli sauce.

Hello Fresh II: The Recipe Box Strikes Back

As you may have gathered from previous posts, I was lukewarm about the role Hello Fresh boxes could perform in my life (see 30 April and 2 May posts). However I was feeling uninspired and lacking in imagination, so thought I should give them another go.

The box arrived on Wednesday and I am afraid to say I ate the free Nakd bar (Cocoa Orange) straight away, and very tasty it was too. I decided to tackle two of the recipes in one day, and here are my thoughts below.

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First up, Rachel’s Oven-Baked Risotto with Summer Vegetables. I have similar qualms to the previous box regarding the ease of following the recipe, although at least this time, I can see what it is trying to achieve. You would want to chop the onion at the beginning, even though you are not working with it straight away. The recipe required the use of a blender or food processor (to liquidise the peas and spinach) – another specialist piece of equipment it would be helpful to have listed with the ingredients – which I decided to forego, as there was only me to comment on the finished product.

A more serious problem with the recipe is that it suggested 10-15 minutes in the oven to boil off the stock; mine was in the oven a full 15 minutes, with no discernible liquid reduction, so I put it back on the hob for a full further 10 minutes’ hard boil. I wonder if this was because, as suggested by the recipe, I transferred the risotto to an ovenproof container rather than risk melting my saucepan handles. Perhaps the cooking time would have reduced a bit if I had put the container in the oven to warm through first.

Finally, a repeat of the portion size issues seen last time. Here’s the risotto a couple of minutes before I served up (and still quite soggy!).

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If you think half of that is a portion for one, then all I can say is “god bless your little tummy!”. However I think I may have figured out the reason behind the portion control disasters I have been experiencing. I have not measured out the ingredients, assuming (I think, reasonably) that the correct amount will have been provided, as the alternative is not only food waste but a direct contradiction of what I believe to be a key benefit of these schemes. However, reviewing the ingredients list after cooking, I note the following:

  • Recipe calls for 4 asparagus stalks; 6 stalks provided
  • Recipe calls for ½ cup of onion; 1 large onion provided
  • Recipe calls for ¾ cup of peas, 2 cups of spinach and 2 tbspns of hard cheese; take a look at the photo above and see what you think has been provided

As a result of using all the food provided, I have been producing more than two portions. I think this could have just about stretched to four portions, but I was feeling hungry so I divided it into three substantial portions instead. Take a look at the picture below; am I just a really mean server, or do you agree that is plenty?

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Next up, Strolling Rigatoni with Cherry Tomatoes and Goat’s Cheese. Here are the ingredients, before I got cracking.

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As before, the ingredients were provided in more, ahem – “generous” amounts than the recipe called for. The recipe called for a small onion; I picked the smallest from the box, but it isn’t my idea of small. And as for the cheese; the recipe called for “half a roll” of goat’s cheese. This is hardly a scientific category, but as the cheese came packaged as what looks to me like a roll, I presume I was supposed to only use half of it. Had it not been cheese, I would have said “what a waste!”, but in my house, cheese never goes uneaten. Given how difficult it was to persuade the cheese to “crumble”, as required by the recipe, I am going to feel no shame at popping the whole lot in. Plus I would like to see the person for whom a handful of cherry tomatoes constitutes a punnet.

Here’s the result (or rather half of it).

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It was good to be challenged to prepare pasta without a sauce, for a change, as I believe the absence of sauce verges on heresy. Taste-wise, I could have done with a larger number of olives, but I liked preparing the cherry tomatoes and pepper in the oven first; something my energy-conscious self resisted. I still think that’s one heck of a lot of pasta for one meal though.

So there you have it. I may well put spinach in risotto again, but I’m not won over by the oven-cooking method, and I’m underwhelmed by a pretty basic pasta recipe. But I’m quite interested in the third recipe – Chickpea and Sweetcorn Fritters with Onion Marmalade – which I saved until last as it looks quite fiddly. I’ll keep you posted.

Hello Fresh – recipe two review

So, time for Hello Fresh box, recipe number two. This time a pimped-up macaroni cheese with broccoli. Here are the ingredients.

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Those of you who read my review of the first recipe out of this box, this will feel a bit like déjà vu. This recipe was particularly badly written. The stand-out part for me was “boil the pasta for two minutes less than it takes to become al dente”. There was then an explanation of what al dente means, but – again – if you aren’t aware what al dente means, how are you supposed to know how long it takes to cook it to that texture? And, if the instructions had been “cook until al dente”, then fair enough, as the cook can try the pasta, although a timing guide might still be helpful. But two minutes less? I just dug out some pasta already in my cupboard, and used that as a guide, but it’s a concern having a recipe that can’t stand alone.

The instructions were also confusing; it took me a couple of reads to understand I was boiling two pans of water – one for macaroni, one for broccoli, as the instructions told me to set up two pans, and then boil another (which I think was supposed to be one of the original two). As this already had me confused, I completely missed the step I now notice involves adding the broccoli to the pasta for another couple of minutes.

The instructions for the roux talked throughout about stirring, but the illustrations contained a whisk (which for a novice would be much more foolproof). Plus the instructions regarding heat would have had me stirring that roux until doomsday, and it still would not have thickened. The ovenproof dish illustrated was far too small to contain the portions provided, which meant I was hunting through my cupboard at an inopportune moment.

Finally, the portion size was far too large. If I had eaten half of what I cooked, I would have had a Mr Creosote-style moment. The recipe card said this was 737 calories per portion. In fairness, I had added half a courgette to the broccoli (to finish it up), but I got what I would consider to be four medium portions out of what I cooked, so this recipe was certainly for three portions rather than two. I wonder if Hello Fresh had provided rather more broccoli than originally envisaged. Look at the picture; the recipe describes this as “small handful broccoli”. Does that seem “as described”, or do I have insanely small hands? Actually I do, but not enough to make a difference.

Those gripes aside, the result was certainly tasty. I shall be adding tomato puree to my roux occasionally in future, as it gives it a nice additional flavour, and I often forget to put a sliced tomato on the top. In this recipe (sorry I forgot to take a photo, as it looked beautiful – as all macaroni cheese does!), the tomato covered the top and – while I would have put the breadcrumbs and cheese on top of the tomato rather than the other way around as instructed – certainly added to the vitamins content!