Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Experimental Cooking

Every now and then I like to try and cook something 'complicated' that I haven't tried before, or I sometimes have a mental list of food items or recipes I would like to try. This is usually having read some recipe book or another. My collection of recipe books is growing quite well now.

Here are some things I have tried (and the results..)

1) Bagels - I actually quite enjoyed making these.. the kneading the dough part and the resting were quite easy steps in the process, forming them into perfect rings, putting them in boiling water, and ensuring they stayed in for the right amount of time was not so easy... These did taste perfectly bagel-like even if they did not quite look the part !

I would love to try croissants next - if I can get over the idea of how much butter goes into those things!

2) Preserved lemons - One of the wonder ingredients of North African cuisine, they add a certain something extra to tagines and couscous dishes. To make them basically squeeze lemons and lemon juice into a preserving jar. Add the squeezed lemons to the jar, cover the lemons with salt and top up with more lemon juice. Leave to stand for a good 4 weeks, you will see the difference when they are ready to use as the lemons are quite literally cured and the lemon takes on an amazingly soft texture. Chop and add to tagines, casseroles etc.

3) Glace Cherries - I have just been reading a recipe book that tells me that what I made (which I thought were glace cherries) were acually candied cherries... When fruit is candied you leave it in a sugar syrup for several days, boiling it every day and adding more sugar. Finally after 5-7 days the fruit is strained of the syrup and left to dry out, result in lovely candied fruit. The glace-ing process is completely different and less lengthy - which I wish I had known at the time ! Incidentally, the reason I was making these was because I wanted organic glace cherries in my Christmas cakes which I could not find. Despite all this, the resulting cherries were delicious. However, glace cherries is back on my 'to make' list.

4) Sprouted Seeds One of the easiest things to make ! Buy a seed sprouter, add seeds (which you can buy in a special mix from most health stores), rinse the seeds several times and leave on the window sill. Rinse thoroughly every day, after a few days the seeds sprout. I love these in cheeses sandwiches (of all things..), they are also lovely in salads and some people add them to stir fry. (I prefer them cold.)

5) Lemon Curd / Plum Jam/Mincemeat Never have I got so much for so little effort ! I still have jars of the stuff now and I made this years ago !! Having made some sweet preserves I would love to try some savoury chutneys which I haven't made yet.... I would definitely recommend that you get the jars and a pan and get cooking !

6) Simnel Cake I really enjoyed making this. I love the idea that the 12 marzipan balls around the edges represent the 12 disciples. I also loved the marzipan layer that goes through the center of the cake. Basically this is a lovely delicately spiced, light fruit cake with marzipan. Quite delicious.

7) Passion fruit and meringue cake I made this for a friend and her husband when they were over for lunch one day it looked amazing ( it was triple-layered if I recall correctly) and tasted great too.

8) Blackcurrant studded American style pancakes these were great served with maple syrup and bacon. Make a thick, sweet pancake batter add to the skillet in big spoonfuls about 6-8 cm in diameter. Whilst these are cooking, drop a couple of blackcurrants into the uncooked side of the pancake and then flip them over. Once cooked remove to a hot plate and serve at once. Yum !

9) Beans on Toast I love to wind my mother-in-law up by telling her that I am making her beloved Biscuit Boy 'Beans on Toast' to eat. She, of course, is thinking dodgy baked beans in tomato sauce on brown bread .. meal for pauper-like good-for-nothings no ?? (Actually, if I was going to eat anything like this on toast, it would be spaghetti hoops from a can not beans)....

No, my beans on toast is thus: Bread, grilled and rubbed with garlic clove - but only lightly otherwise the raw garlic is too strong. Meanwhile, cook some broad beans (microwave or blanch) and remove them of their tough outer skin. When you have your bowl full of bright green beans add salt and pepper, lime juice, mint and feta cheese, mix and drizzle with olive oil.

Pile onto the 'garlicked' bread, and drizzle with a little more olive oil. EAT and ENJOY. This is totally delicious. My mother-in-law nearly choked when she saw what my 'beans on toast' really was. Bless !

Monday, April 26, 2010

Food Glorious Food

Let me name the ways I adore food.. starting with foods I first experienced in France. I am heavily influenced by my love of France, and the food I first ate in France ten years ago - this is probably my Top 10 meals/dishes - although I may get further than that...

1) - the most authentic, gorgeous couscous, studded with chickpeas and vegetables with lovely, rich brothy spciy meat juices and lamb (bones left on for added flavour)

2) - lush paella .. yellow-heavy with saffron, juicy prawns, mussels, sweet peas, peppers and chorizo.

3) - cassoulet- food of the south - rich toulouse sausages, thick garlicky tomato sauce with soft, yeilding white beans (again, bones left on for added flavour)

4) - chocolate dipped croissants - these sounds revolting but were absolutely awesome ! A whole croissant completely dipped in sweet, dark chocolate and surprisingly non-sickly.

5) - chicken baguette - just down the road from the flat we lived in there was a 'take-away' with a difference where you could get a freshly-baked baguette, loaded with chicken that was griddled in herbs and loaded with french-style mayo. Bliss.

6) - L'Entrecote (http://www.relaisdevenise.com/marylebone/) - this was, back in the mid-90s, simply my best meal, this chain of retaurants was not yet in the UK (there is now a branch in Marylebone, London altho.. I haven't managed to get there yet... see the link above). Basically, starter: plain lettuce in a dreamy mustard dressing, peppered with walnuts, main: steak cooked to your choosing in a 'special' sauce (cheesy/herby/buttery) divine sauce with fantastically crispy, skinny french fries. Dessert: profiteroles or chocolate moussse. This is basically the whole menu, there is no other choice... and it is wonderful. I managed to get to the branch in Paris a few years back and was NOT disappointed. I would definitely recommend this one..just check out the photos on the site above to see what I mean - OK ! Moving on...

7) Chinese (French style) - Chinese food in France is quite different to here, my favourite though (which you can also buy in the supermarket in France) is Nems. I have just searched for this on google and learned that these are North Vietnamese spring rolls made with rice paper. They are served with a famous North Vietnamese dipping sauce called Nuoc Mam cham which is basically a sweet and sour yet spicy sauce. 99 % of the time there is grated carrot in this little saucer of sauce. In France the nems you buy in the supermarket even come with the sauce.

I seem to be always, even now, short of cooking supplies in France, back in the day when I was there as a student, we had only 2 electric rings, no microwave or griddle so cooking was pretty basic. Nems was one of the items that was easy to rehead and serve with a salad. I must try and make my own one day.. the rice paper wrapper makes for the lightest, crispiest spring roll. This really is delicious.

8) Rabbit - I'm not a major fan of rabbit, in fact I have never cooked it, but I did eat it once in France in a rich, meaty mustard-tinged sauce cooked by a friend of mine - it was very good.

9) Quick - always a good family joke is how slow Quick (the fast food giant in France) actually is... instead one of the best meals you can get in France will be in the supermarket cafeteria, where you should be able to get a good steak, paella or couscous, dauphinois potatoes, a choice of several vegetables, pizza, a selection of mixed starters, alcohol, a selection of mixed desserts. Need I go on ? And it is usually very popular, backed to the brim with people from midday onwards and reasonably priced.

10) Goat's Cheese Salad - This is one of my very favourite dishes, little rounds of french bread, with little rounds of goats cheese on top, grilled until yieldingly melting.. served with crisp lettuce leaves, juicy ripe tomatoes and a good salad dressing .... does it get any better than this ?

Bon Appetit !

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cupcake's birthday

Cupcake has had her birthday, she is nine today. I remember when I was nine, or two days after my ninth birthday as that was when my baby sister was born. When my sister was nine, and I then eighteen, I left home to go to university leaving her effectively as an only child, my brother having already moved in with his then, and 18 years later still, girlfriend. Nine is a funny age, still young child, but moving rapidly towards not so young child, a real time for testing your feet and getting to grips with your emotions. Cupcake will now come out with some incredible one-liners that are SO funny, she has that quality of hitting the nail bang on the head every time.

Birthday celebrations proper are tomorrow with a bowling party with school pals and then numerous family members over later in the afternoon. We celebrated tonight at our local indian where they know us, and treat us well.
Biscuit Boy joked that on Monday it would be back to 'Double Maths and Broccoli' after these few days of treats and DVD watching, and you know what, even though we did fit in a family swim today, he's not wrong there...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I am ill

Last week whilst on holiday in France, I fell ill. When either Biscuit Boy or I go on holiday it seems that one of us is ill. Last time, it was his turn. This turn it's mine.. although cup cake started it all off by coming down with a sore throat the day we left for our trip.

So, I managed a few healthy, germ-free days, and then I came down with a horrendous sore throat .. followed by runny nose, achey head etc and did I have any meds with me ? No. Well, Nurofen, good for a headache.. but not much else cold-wise. So, I spent the rest of the week feeling OK and then not OK. The sore throat subsided but as me and a million other asthma/chest-problem people will know the illness 'moved south'. So, a sore throat and sniff turned into a lovely cough and wheeze, but I've had worse... So then I start sleeping badly keeping Biscuit Boy awake with my alternate coughing/snoring routine. Just what you need on holiday.

Now we're back, so I'm back on the blog. The car journey back was fine and yesterday was Ok too, I was still coughing and blowing the nose, but I figured I was over the worst and not so wheezy, so I went back to work today. BIG mistake ! Had the awful sick-inside feeling and felt weak 'as a kitten', blurry-eyed. ew... Lasted it out, and after all that, made the doctor's appointment for tomorrow ...