August 31, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:37 am

Every now and again, when work is slow, I'll read some of the web pages devoted to food photography to see what I can learn. I've been making some progress. Compare my first photos to the ones on this page and you'll see what I mean. Most of these sites talk about colour, lighting, beackground, depth of focus and so on. What most of them don't mention is that there are some foods that really are not photogenic. Nothing will make them look pretty.

The worst culprits for this are large pieces of stewed meat, like the oxtail I had for dinner last night. First I tried some close ups.

braised oxtail 

That didn't really help since oxtail isn't the prettiest meat to look at. Then I tried a some distance shots. This was the best one.

Braised oxtail with barley

But no matter how many bits of greenery I threw at it, the oxtail just wouldn't look pretty. At least in this one you can see how rich and winey the sauce was.

Originally the oxtail was supposed to be served with a pearl barley “risotto” with just carrots and leeks. But after inspecting the 300g of tail, I noticed there wasn't very much meat  so I decided to add some red lentils and bacon to the barley mixture.

I stewed the oxtail in some red wine (Hardy's cab-shiraz which is on a half price offer at Tesco at the time of writing) along with carrot, celeriac, mushrooms onion and parsnip. I added a fair bit of rosemary too. The sauce was really rich and tasty and all the vegetables had taken on the flavours of the wine. The meat needed long slow cooking so I left the hob on its minimum setting and just had the stew steaming ( but not simmering) for a little over 3 hours.  

It was an interesting meal to eat. Oxtail is very fatty, which is probably why it is so nice. I could feel my arteries clogging up with every mouthful. At the same time, the pearl barley and lentil combination was loaded with protein and fibre. It actually tasted like it was really good for you but, unlike bran based food, it tasted good too!

I'm not sure if I'll get oxtail again soon. It was very nice, but you pay a lot for a small amount of meat, even if it is on special offer. I really loved the barley and lentils. I think it would make a fantastic vegetarian meal if the bacon was left out. I'll definitely be using it to accompany other stews.

August 30, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 4:03 pm

Why? Because they're designed specifically for boiling pasta or grilling chips. For anything else, they're a real nuisance. Of course, as every landlord knows, all students only cook pasta and chips so it isn't a problem, right? Grrr!  

I guess those of you who are blessed with a normal gas hob are probably thinking, “Surely it can't be that bad!How different can it be to a normal cooker?” Trust me, it is horrendous! This is why:

  1. It's really difficult to control temperature. The hob plates retain heat, so if you want to turn the heat down on your stew, you can't. You have to take the pan off the heat and wait five minutes while the hob cools. This causes major issues when you're already using all four plates and you have to stand there and hold the saucepans yourself until the plates you're using get to a sensible temperature.
  2. For the same reasons, you need to spend up to five minutes preheating the hob before you start cooking. While you're doing that, you need to make sure daft flatmates know the hob is preheating because…
  3. These things are f*cking dangerous. Unlike gas hobs, you can't see when they're turned on. It's only a matter of time before someone puts their hand on one of the heated plates. Ok, you'll never start a fire with them but you might lose a large amount of skin!
  4. This one bugs me the most. There is no oven as such. There is just a grill with a large temperature range. Have you ever tried cooking a pie under a grill? It really isn't to be recommended.

 Last night I attempted to make a chicken and mushroom pie. I usually have no trouble at all with making pies but the stupid grill/oven thing caught me out properly! I put my pie in the oven at gas mark 5, expecting it to be ready in 20-25 minutes. After 10 I could smell cooked pie crust. Yes, the top of the pie had cooked while the base was just beyond raw.

I turned the heat down and kept the pie in for as long as possible but once the top was as brown as the picture below, I thought it had better come out. The base was ok but I'd have liked it to have been in for longer. On the bright side, the filling was really, really yummy and the puff pastry topping was pretty good. Chicken and Mushroom Pie

And the moral of the story is, only use electric ovens if you really have to. And if you have to use one to make a pie, cook the base first!

August 28, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:38 am

Yet again I'd been caught out by the Sunday trading laws. I wasn't expecting to be staying at my own flat last night, so I hadn't thought about what to cook for dinner. This caused me a few problems at 6pm when I realised I really needed to go shopping. 

The one thing I can be certain of having around my flat is a range of spices suitable for Indian and Sri Lankan curries. It looked like that was going to be the only option for food that night.

In general the stores that are open post 5pm on Sundays are rubbish. You're fine if you're after pot noodle but anything else is a real struggle to find. After fighting my way through the crowds of tourists in the Tesco Metro, I despaired of ever finding anything useful. Luckily, I also passed a small Sainsbury which had much better stuff. I managed to get my hands on some yoghurt and a packet of almonds which enabled me to make a nice creamy pasanda plus a little aubergine to make a side dish. 

The term “Balti” in the title just meant I couldn't be bothered with a long slow simmer to cook the curry. I was using fairly good quality lamb leg steaks so I could get away with sealing and simmering them in sauce for about 10 minutes. The marinading should have taken 3 hours, but I got bored after two. I don't think it made much any difference at all!

 lamb pasanda

I haven't got the hang of presenting curries yet. The grey-ish colour of pasanda doesn't exactly help either. You'll have to trust me when I say the curry was lovely. It was rich and creamy with flavours of cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. There was a little subtle heat from a green chilli. Really, it should have had a peshwari naan to accompany it, but I wasn't about to start baking. Instead I had some pilau style rice flavoured with caraway seed, cardamom pods and turmeric. The aubergine was diced and fried with garam masala and mustard seed. Here’s the lamb balti pasanda recipe. And here is one for caraway and turmeric rice.

August 24, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 4:05 pm

It appears that recently I have been spending a rather large amount of money on food. That combined with the fact I only have 1 month of PhD funding left has made me think I should maybe cut down a little on my spending. I should probably also stop blogging so much and make more of an effort in writing my thesis, but then, I'm only human. One step at a time: I'll just reduce my spending a bit for now. ;)

So in the next week or two I'm going to try and get through all the stuff I've shoved in my freezer. This doesn't mean the blog's going to get boring (at least I hope not) because there are still some interesting things I've yet to use. There is oxtail, quails' eggs, lamb leg steaks and a range of seafood. Unfortunately there are also chicken breasts. It's going to be a struggle to do something exciting with them.

Last night saw me getting rid of a bulk of fresh ingredients from the fridge. I had 3 links of chorizo, a load of random cheese, a variety of fresh herbs and some salad. There was also James' mutant beetroot that he bought at Borough then left at my flat. :roll: I doubt I'm going to get round to using it.

I also have a 3kg bag of penne that I really regret buying. So, in a bid to get rid of at least some of it, I made a pasta bake vaguely based around this. Mine had added marscapone, garlic, onions and rosemary and I topped it with some cheddar.  Yes, I have a LOT of cheese. I served it with a 15p reduced salad from Sainsbury's with a vinegarette dressing.

The Chorizo and Taleggio pasta bake recipe is here now.

Chorizo and Taleggio Pasta Bake with Salad

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:41 am

It seems that smoked haddock and eggs are quite natural partners. In fact, I can't think of the last haddock dish I had which didn't involve eggs.

On my last visit to Borough Market I came across little boxes of quails' eggs in Wyndam House Poultry Store. They looked really cute, and at £1.50 for a dozen, I couldn't say no. The trouble is, they aren't the most useful ingredient, especially if you aren't planning on making canapes or starters. The only idea I could find for a main course involving the eggs was this thing by Delia.

Now, maybe I'm a bit mad, but the idea of buying ready peeled quails eggs from Waitrose seems totally ludicrous to me! The longer you leave boiled eggs, the less nice they become. At least that's true for hens' eggs. These ready peeled eggs cost about twice as much as the Wyndham Poultry eggs.  It's not even particularly fiddly to peel eggs. Even these tiny ones were very easy to deal with. I think it took me about two minutes to do all 11 that had survived the trip home.

The trick is to take a hard boiled quails egg and roll it on your worksurface with just a tiny bit of pressure. This fragments the shell so it comes of  easily. The other “cheats” seemed a bit pointless too. Home made mashed potato is always nicer than pre-made stuff, and there is plenty of time to make a cheese sauce while the potatoes are boiling.

The ready grated cheese takes the biscuit. You only need two tablespoons of it! Surely everyone owns a cheese grater, even if it's just there to make topping for a canned bolognese! The people using the Delia recipe must really hate cooking and have a LOT of money if they're going to this extent to avoid it.

If you discount the crazy cheats, this is actually a very good recipe so I won't offer my own variation. I'll just put up a link to a simple cheese sauce recipe soon. An especially nice touch in this pie is the addition of the capers. I recommend getting the ones in vinegar rather than salt and soaking them for ten minutes before you put them in the pie.

The pie went nicely with some buttered spinach. It is definitely worth trying, probably without the shortcuts. 

smoked haddock and quail egg pie

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:40 am

This is a 'salad' of sauteed chicken livers, rocket and bacon topped with a raspberry vinaigrette and crushed walnuts served alongside some boiled new potatoes. I actually have no idea where the inspiration for this meal came from, but I've been thinking of doing it for a while. The best thing is it turned out to be very cheap, even though it tasted great and was made from fresh, good quality ingredients.

For some bizarre reason, chicken livers are classed as a “speciality meat” by Tesco. That means they're not stored with the other bits of offal but have pride of place next to the Gressingham duck breasts, even though they cost a mere 99p for 400g. This was the first time I cooked them myself and it turned out to be a lot less fiddly than I thought. Two and a half minutes of frying on both sides gave me some nice pink livers that were lovely and soft.

chiciken liver salad

The rocket was also a lot less expensive than I anticipated. It cost 79p for a pack that would easily provide 2 portions.  I managed to find a 2-for-1 offer on some good quality unsmoked bacon too.

The other ingredients I used seemed at expensive at first, but when you realise you only use a tablespoon of them, it's not so bad. A bottle of raspberry vinegar costs about £3 but I only used two tablespoons of it mixed with another two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. It went a long way just drizzled over the livers and rocket.

At about £2 per portion, it's not quite up to the standard of the student budget meals but it isn't far off! I just wish raspberry vinegar came in smaller bottles. I can't think of very many uses for it and I have no idea how I'm going to get through 500ml of the stuff!

Chicken Liver, Walnut and Raspberry Vinegar Salad recipe is up here now.

August 23, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:43 am

Until recently I didn't even know there was such a thing as a farmed rabbit. The idea seemed a bit silly to me. Why farm the buggers when they're all over the countryside and in no danger of becoming extinct any time soon? Also, at £10 each, they are very expensive compared to their £3.50 wild counterparts, even though they are a bit bigger.Still, some people kept telling me that farmed rabbit was far easier to cook because the flesh was so tender. The idea of being able to cook bunny in one hour sounded good compared to the three hour slow-braise I usually have to use.    

So last night I tried out farmed rabbit with a walnut and garlic sauce.

Rabbit with walnut and garlic sauce

This thing apparently came from France and, like the last French rabbit I encountered, still had it's head attached. I still don't understand why they do that. Surely there's no use for rabbit head!?

I didn't have time to have the bunny jointed when I bought it and I know from experience that I'm far too weak to do it myself in any sensible timescale. So I had Sir Millar round for dinner and got him to do it. After all, that rabbit would easily feed 2 people. 

It turned out that Andy had a rather morbid fascination with the rabbit carcass and even took pictures of it. Computer scientists are freaks!  DO NOT LOOK IF YOU'RE AT ALL SQUEAMISH! This is the least worrying one of them. There's another closeup of the rabbits head which is too disturbing to post. Somehow that rabbit is looking coquettishly at the camera!

 Fortunately I managed to get the head away from Andy and into the bin before any of the girlies in my flat saw it.

Once it was in bits, the rabbit was squeezed into a casserole dish. I had to get rid of the ribcage because it wouln't fit. I then added chopped garlic, rosemary, thyme and parsley and covered it with some left over chenin blanc topped up with chicken stock. I then baked it for 50 minutes at 200 C. 

It turned out that the rabbit flesh was indeed very tender and came off the bone easily. The only problem was it didn't taste like rabbit.It tasted like chicken. The upside to this was that it had taken on the flavour of the wine and herbs very well, but I was a little disappointed that the usual game flavour wasn't there.

Also, this rabbit was a little too big for my purposes (even though it was the smallest in the shop and I got it on discount :) ). A wild rabbit will feed 2 hungry people. A farmed rabbit will feed 3-4. I can't see myself wanting to cook rabbit for more than two people anytime soon so I'd just end up with leftovers.

The verdict: Wild rabbit wins in my opinion.

The idea fot the walnut and garlic sauce came from this website. Unfortunately it seems to go down on a regular basis, and frequently when I want to use it. It chose to break yesterday just before I started cooking, so the sauce was entirely improvised. It actually turned out very good. It was very garlicky and creamy and I put in lots of chopped parsley. The rabbit was served with wild rice and peas. Here is the full recipe for Rabbit with Walnut and Garlic Sauce.

August 21, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:45 am

I always get really stuck when I'm trying to figure out what to do with fillet steak. I like it, but it's not the most exciting thing to cook. It seems to either be used in meat and two veg meals or sliced up thinly in a Thai style marinade.  

In a moment of madness last week, I picked up one of these steaks and by yesterday it had reached its use by date. I wasn't in the mood for Thai food and I couldn't be bothered to do a Wellington so after browsing the web for a bit I found something I hadn't tried before: Steak Balmoral. 

It had been a while since I'd done a typical steak and two veg meal and the idea of a whisky sauce sounded quite appealing. There was one problem. I had no whisky and, since I only drink it once in a blue moon, I didn't really want to buy any. However, I did have half a bottle of this.

  Mendis Old Arrack

For the uninitiated among you, Arrack refers to a variety of alcoholic drinks in South East Asia brewed from things such as cane sugar and palm tree sap. It is most commonly found in Sri Lanka now. This bottle was brought back on my Mum's last trip home.

Arrack can taste like whisky or rum, depending on how it is brewed. This one, which I occasionally enjoy mixed with ginger beer, tastes very much like whisky. I thought it should be an adequate substitute.

The dish I was going to make now needed a new name to reflect its principal ingredient. The only palace I could think of in Sri Lanka was Sigiriya. True, it had been in ruins for a couple of thousand years, but Sri Lanka hasn't had any kind of Royal Family in a while so palaces are difficult to come by. So I called it Fillet Steak Sigiriya and like the palace, I put it on top of a mountain……….. of mashed potato.

OK, so it's not the kind of dish you'd find anywhere near Sigiriya, especially since most of the inhabitants of that region practice Buddhism and Hinduism. 

I had to substitute lamb stock for beef stock as I'd run out. Also I didn't have any course grain mustard so I used a touch of Dijon. The rest of the ingredients in the sauce were the same as for Steak Balmoral. I ended up using a LOT of arrack. This is because it kept bubbling away more quickly than I expected, so I had to top it up a couple of times. I also drank a fair bit. Full Fillet Steak Sigiriya recipe being recovered.

The sauce had a really lovely flavour. I suspect the use of lamb stock was an improvement on beef, although I guess it might not work so well on beef steaks with a fuller flavour than fillet. This was definitely a success. I just wish I'd made more sauce to go with the mash!

August 20, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:12 am

At least supermarkets can't. 

As I was packing my Friday shopping away, I overheard a conversation between the cashier and the customer behind me in the queue. The lady, who was apparently Italian, was asking where she could get ‘rosmarino.'

“Rosmarino. I don't know how you say it in English. It is an ‘erb.”

I wondered how long it would take before the checkout guy guessed she was after rosemary and sent her in the right direction. It seemed to be taking a while. Then one of the senior staff turned up to help. He looked equally blank at the lady's descriptions.

As amusing as it was to sit and watch the confusion, I eventually interjected. “I think she's after rosemary”

“Yes, that is it, rosemary” she replied looking quite relieved. The cashier and his colleague looked at me blankly.

“Rosemary. You know? The herb.”

The guy who'd just arrived looked confused. “It's a herb? How did you know that?” I love stupid questions.

“I use it a lot. I'm guessing she's after the fresh version.” More blank stares.

“There are fresh herbs here?”

I really, really hoped this guy was new. â€Yeah, they're in the fruit and veg section, near the fruit with the chillies and ginger and stuff.” At least he seemed to recognise this and trundled off in vaguely the right direction with the customer following. I couldn't help but ask the cashier, “So he's new to this store, right?”

“No, think he's been around a year or so. Usually we get asked for normal stuff.”

So much for Britain becoming more foodie. The staff at Tesco think rosemary is an exotic ingredient!

Maybe these particular staff would have been more familiar with the kind of thing I had for dinner that night. A bog standard chicken biryani.

chicken biryani 

I ate it with some saag daal I had sitting in the freezer from the last curry I had. Biryani  is one of the things my mum was good at. Mine needed a touch more spice in my opinion but it's nearly there. I won't put up a recipe until I've got it totally right.

As a rough guide, fry finely diced onion  in ghee with  ground cardamom seeds, cloves cinnamon, coriander and cumin, a couple of whole cloves and cardamoms, a bit of cinnamon stick and crushed ginger and garlic. Add some bite sized chicken pieces (preferably dark meat as it doesn't dry out) and turn up the heat to seal them. Add washed and soaked basmati rice. Fry these together for a few minutes. Add a glass of milk with a large pinch of saffron dissolved in it plus enough water so the rice should just cook without leaving any liquid. Simmer until the rice is cooked.

The red colour comes from more basmati rice simply cooked with red food dye. It's not necessary at all, but I think it makes it look pretty.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:44 am

 croc and chorizo skewers

I finally got round to getting myself some crocodile fillet at Borough last weekend. My crazy diet is going to bankrupt me soon!

I had tried this meat once before at Archipelago, a great restaurant near Tottenham Court Road. I think they'd served it with some yellow bean dressing and called it “Cayman Islands.” It tasted good, despite the daft name.

That happened about 2 years ago so I couldn't quite remember what the meat was like. Most internet sites describe it as a cross between chicken and fish. I guess that makes sense since crocs eat fish and are closely related to birds. Since I had more of that fantastic Brindisa chorizo in my fridge, I thought that a variation on the ever popular chicken and chorizo skewers would work well.

Some people say crocodile has a delicate flavour. Others call it bland. I thought the latter was a more accurate description. It's not as bad as chicken and there is a slight hint of fishiness to it but I wouldn't buy it for its flavour alone. The texture, on the other hand, was great. It's a bit like monkfish, but more meaty. I suppose it's similar to lobster too.

Some of my crocodile chunks picked up the chorizo oils and tasted like that. The others just tasted subtley of the paprika I'd dusted them with. Either way, the skewers were good and went well with the roasted red pepper sauce I made.

I served them with a pearl barley salad, an idea I shamelessly nicked from What We’re Eating (link on the sidebar). I also had courgette, panfried in a mint butter.

This was the first time I tried pearl barley outside of soup. It took ages to cook but was very nice. I don't think it's really a carbohydrate but it's a good enough substitute! I mixed it up with some olives, mushrooms and sundried tomatoes and made a lemon and basil oil dressing. I managed to over-lemon the salad slightly but it was balanced well by the red pepper sauce, so it was ok.

Here is the recipe for crocodile and chorizo skewers with red pepper dipping sauce.

croc and chorizo skewer, courgettes, barley

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