Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Tip of the day!

Get ready for beach season
Is swimsuit anxiety kicking in for anyone else yet?
Eat most of your carbs in the morning, and end the day with a light dinner.
Walk more.

Yeah.. that's it.
I don't try hard enough.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Gnocchi with veal ragu.

Gnocchi, in my opinion, is the best pasta ever. That's probably because I can take or leave spaghetti, orecchiette and farfalle but, hey - these little potato dumplings are fantastic. I adore the way they obediently float to the surface of the water when they're ready.

Usually we would just buy gnocchi ready-made, just like normal pasta, but also just like normal pasta it is very enjoyable to make from scratch.
In my madness, I didn't leave nearly enough time to make these properly and calmly, which is why they look exceptionally lumpen and misshapen. However, it matters not - a blanket of veal ragu and parmesan masked most of the dumpling's 'hunchback of Notre Dame' ugliness.

Gnocchi, of course, would be very easy to convert into a vegetarian meal. You could have them with a simple tomato sauce, or pan-fry in butter until crisp and melt over some mozzarella along with some basil and tiny fragrant tomatoes.

Tip of the day!

Go vegetarian
It makes sense to forget the meat just once or twice every week -
you'll save money and it's a lot better for the environment.
(Check out the ever-growing veggie category on the right.)

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Thanks for encouraging my obsession :)

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Toffee meringues, blackberries & cream.

There was a small cupful of egg whites in the freezer, and upon finding that there was nothing else interesting to bake with in the cupboards, decided to try my hand at something new.

Meringue, fruit and cream isn't an original combination by any stretch of the imagination, but I really had forgotten just what a good one it is.
I called these 'toffee' meringues because the muscavado sugar gives them a gorgeous buff colour and toffee-like taste. I was going to christen them 'burnt sugar meringues' but decided that sounded a bit too pretentious! So toffee it is.
If we must get technical about it, these are actually mini pavlovas - the addition of cornflour and vinegar makes them so. But, hey, does it really matter? They taste bloody brilliant.

5 egg whites
200g brown granulated sugar
150g light or dark muscavado
2 tsp cornflour
splash of vanilla
1 tsp vinegar

How to do it:
Preheat oven to gas 4/180°C
1. Whisk the egg whites until they hold firm peaks.
2. Add the sugar slowly, spoonful by spoonful, beating after each addition.
3. Once the mix is thick and glossy, fold in the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla. Spoon onto a paper-lined baking sheet.
4. Stick in the oven, close the door and immediately turn the heat down to gas 2/150°C.
5. Bake for about 20 minutes, then switch off the oven, leaving the meringues in there for about half an hour.
6. Sandwich with whipped cream and serve with a tumble of fruit alongside (blackberries for preference).

The home oven is completely unreliable, so I go by eye for everything which is not a great idea for something as exacting as meringues! But I didn't find them too scary - as long as they're baked at a low-ish temperature, you'll be fine. I started off at roughly gas 4, immediately went down lower, thought they weren't cooking so whacked the heat up a bit more, and then switched it off completely. They turned out lovely though! And as you can see, I had no greaseproof paper so used foil instead. It was absolutely fine, you just have to peel them off rather nimbly.
I also foolishly did this recipe by hand. Suffice to say, my arm just about dropped off.
Also, I think my mix wasn't quite stiff enough - I didn't even contemplate doing the bowl over head test! So it's probably best doing it in a machine.

If you're in the UK, look out for 'king' blackberries. I think they may be exclusive to M&S. They are absolutely stunning fruit. The normal variety are delicious, but these, these are something else.

I honestly haven't enjoyed a dessert as much as I enjoyed this - the meringues were crisp and chewy, the cream soft and thick, the berries slightly tart and staining everything a gorgeous purple.
My little heart is all aflutter with joy after the first attempt at these worked!

Impromptu seafood.

Scallops with runner beans and watercress sauce.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Basil, minestrone & veg box fury.

Mother is on the verge of cancelling the organic veg box we get every Wednesday.
I would believe her but for the fact she has said this every week for about 2 months now. Granted, it is rather annoying - it's summer and we're still getting rubbish potatoes, wizened carrots and massive smelly onions, just with the odd gnat-infested lettuce chucked in as a sign of 'summer' produce.
I know for a fact that not all organic produce is as crappy as this. We used to have an allotment, and the stuff we got out of there was 100 times better. It's just a theory, but we're almost certain they save the best produce for the market - everything was so fresh and crisp and enticing enough at their stall to make us sign up for the scheme in the first place.
That being said, we did get some utterly charming little broad beans this week, so maybe we'll hang on in there and see if it gets any better!
They were shelled by little hands (sibling no.4) and added to the minestrone.

Weirdly, I've never actually made this before, but I wasn't too worried since soup is one of the easiest things to cook.

I sauteed one large onion and three cloves of garlic and added two courgettes, a red pepper, two carrots and a handful of wholewheat spaghetti. On top of that went a whole load of water, one chicken and one mushroom stockcube, and a tin of tomatoes.
The ubiquitous squirt of ketchup and dash of soy (in my cooking at least!) also went into the pot.
Our purple basil is growing wonderfully, so a handful was finely chopped into lovely ribbons and added last of all. Yes, yes, I know - never chop basil, always tear. But to that I say CODSWALLOP.

I won't give a step-by-step recipe as it seems a bit condescending to be honest. Soup is lovely and forgiving because it is completely open to interpretation, so is pretty hard to get wrong.
Please forgive the photos, it looks rather awful but tasted fantastic - savoury and tomato-ey and fragrant with basil which was intensified with a little pesto and handful of freshly grated parmesan. Even the veg hater of the family managed a whole bowl! (And no, that's not me..)
I just wished we had an old hunk of parmesan rind to chuck in the pot, because it makes the broth lovely and silky and provides a beautiful savoury undertone.

I'll definitely be making more of this in the future. It's a fantastic way of using up odds and ends, tastes great and is exceptionally good for you.

Monday, 15 June 2009

A 'marbled' banana bread.

Found four bananas blackening quietly in the bottom of the fruit bowl today.
Attempted to make it a marble cake, failed spectacularly.

Chicken macaroni soup, revisited.

So, waaaaaay back (well, okay, only a month ago, but doesn't it feel a lot longer?) I promised to get a better shot of my chicken macaroni soup, since the last photo, frankly, sucked.
If you've read that post you'll know just how much I adore this. I mean, I will love it irrevocably until I die. True story.
Anyway, if you haven't eaten this before, I must implore you to do so. It's really easy to do and can be tailored to your own taste with ease.
(Clickety click on the link above to get the recipe.)

Friday, 12 June 2009

Tiramisu for a birthday dinner.

Sibling no.3 turned his first double-digit number yesterday.
As is family tradition, we are allowed to choose three courses for a birthday dinner.
He went for vietnamese spring rolls, followed by rendang, with tiramisu for dessert.
For some reason he didn't choose the crispy spring rolls (why? why would you forgeo something deep-fried?) and instead went for the fresh variety. I must admit, they taste totally amazing thanks to the great filling my mum makes.
I think it involves carrot, pork mince and some form of cabbage, as well as copious amounts of fresh grated ginger, a few cloves of garlic, red chilli, and a splash of nam pla (fish sauce). I made nuoc cham (a dipping sauce of lime juice, nam pla, sugar and red chilli) to go with them. Once constructed, they look gorgeous with the slightly translucent rice paper skin shining whitely against the plate. They were delicious with a few tiny purple basil leaves tucked inside too.

I was going to write about the rendang (a sort of curry dish popular in Malaysia. It's usually made with beef, and it's slowly cooked. Once all the liquid has evaporated, the curry paste is added and fried with the then tender meat). However, I realised it is highly un-photogenic. Like, even worse than stew . You can see what I mean by clicking here .

So we shall instead skip gaily onto dessert.
It's a bit weird to sing happy birthday whilst crowded round a tiramisu and sticking candles in it, but that's just the way we roll. Yeah.
This is the recipe I used.

The whole thing turned into quite a debacle.
I had already started making the sponge when I realised I had only 6 eggs - the recipe calls for something like 9.
Secondly, there was no sugar in the house apart from muscavado.
Thirdly, I managed to scramble my egg/sugar mixture when I left it on the heat and wandered off to do something else..

So I ended up making a few adjustments to the recipe.
I was meant to use 3 eggs + 3 yolks in the sponge, instead used only one extra yolk.
And, since I screwed up the egg mixture for the mascarpone layer, that ended up eggless.
With everyone else at work/school, I had to work out which bottle in the cupboard was rum. I naively thought it would actually say 'rum' on it (that's not too much to ask, is it?), so when I couldn't find any I instead sniffed my way through about 5 different drinks until I found the one that smelt like it would be good in this dessert. I still do not know what I put in there!
Luckily the muscavado worked - the soft dark sugar gave the dish an extra flavour not to be found in caster, and lent the mascarpone and cream a lovely colour.

Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool the way the eggs and sugar turned from this:

into this:

Or maybe that's just me, I'm very easily amused.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

I have a shameful secret..

My name is Sophie and I am a fussy eater.

I said it.

Alas, dear friends, it is true. I am and always have been very picky.
It's not that I don't try different foods - how can I not? I'm mixed race after all - but it just so happens that most of what I try I don't like.
I really, really hope I grow out of it, but to be honest I'm not holding my breath.
I mean, how can I write about food, photograph food, savour food, and love food when I don't like half of what I cook?
Remember those cute little spiced beef patties I made on Wednesday? Yeah, didn't eat them.
And the Italian beef stew that I waxed lyrical about? Didn't touch it.
Other things that make me ever so slightly green are:

-in fact, any seafood
-beef, bar the occasional burger or steak
-dried fruit and candied peel
-curries of any kind
-bread & butter pudding
-Middle Eastern spicing
-Indian spicing
-celery & celeriac
-pork (except bacon, duhh)
-lemongrass & lime leaves

Okay, let's stop there before you lose all faith and denounce me as a philistine and person of ill-repute, as this lady clearly does.

I thought I should own up before continuing with this BLOG OF LIES. I am so ashamed.
So next time you read about me fawning over some lovely fat, speckled sausaged that were delivered from the farm, you'll know I'm talking bs.
Oh dear, I really haven't thought this through..

How frankly atrocious of my tastebuds to betray me in this way!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Dan Leperd's 'simple milk loaf'.

As you can most certainly tell by now, 11:00pm is my favourite time to be baking.
The house is quiet and I'm always effortlessly calm.
Tonight I chose to do a plain white bread, and went with Dan Leperd's milk loaf because he is simply quite brilliant and his recipes are among the few that I trust.
The technique is really interesting - usually the wet ingredients are added to the dry, but in his you whisk together milk, yeast and golden syrup, and then add the flour and salt. To make things even weirder, you knead in the fat after forming the dough. Then there's also the fact that you knead it FOUR times (leave for 10 minutes, knead for 10 seconds, repeat).
Clearly, it was worth it - the raw dough looked absolutely gorgeous, and the finished product was outstanding.
So, it seems that trust remains unsullied.
This bread is truly delicious, and isn't at all leaden or tough like I feared homemade bread would be. It has a lovely dark crust and a pillow-soft, fluffy inside.
The only instruction I didn't quite get the point of was to split the dough in two before placing in the tin. Why? It looked a bit weird, kind of like a seam. Frankenstein's (bread) monster:

Sorry about the fuzziness, it was obviously rather dark so the shutter was really slow. I absolutely refuse to use flash - I hate the way the light looks harsh and flat. I did try out a flash diffuser a few times, and although there was a difference, it was only a slight one.

So, simple it is not.
Was it worth spending 3 hours of my life on?
100%, definitely, absolutely yes!

Hummus, pitta bread and spiced beef patties.

With the abundance of steak mince that arrived yesterday it made sense to make something with it tonight.
Since we had pizza yesterday it seemed a bit wrong to have pasta, which unfortuently ruled out the obvious and easy options of lasagne, bolognese and meatballs.
Instead the mince was turned into little patties to go with hummus and pitta bread - two things we eat often, so I was glad to have the oppertunity to make them from scratch. The meat was coarsely ground, which made it perfect for the job of making sure the finished product had lots of texture.
If you can't find sumac, it can be replaced with some lemon zest.

Serves 4
1kg steak mince
1 shallot
3 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
mustard seeds
1 egg

How to do it:
1. Finely chop the shallot, coriander, red chilli and garlic.
2. Lightly toast the mustard seeds in a dry pan.
3. In a big bowl combine the mince, shallot, coriander, garlic, chilli, mustard seeds, spices, salt, egg and breadcrumbs.
4. Shape into tiny burgers or 'sausages', kofta-style, and cook in the oven, a pan, or on the barbeque.

You can of course omit or add any flavourings you wish. These would also work with minced lamb.
Another variation would be using pork mince (with red chilli, coriander, garlic and ginger) and rolling them up in big lettuce leaves with a chilli, lime and nam pla dipping sauce on the side. Yum!
Go vegetarian - for a chickpea overload, make little falafels instead of the meat patties.

Hummus is very rewarding to make from scratch, because it requires only a few minutes of your time, costs pennies and is absurdly easy to do, but what you get out of it tastes fantastic. Remember the salt - chickpeas are a delicious but bland canvas and need to be seasoned well. This recipe is hummus at its most basic, and can therefore adapt to any additions you may choose to throw at it - black pepper, coriander, paprika, chilli...

garlic cloves
lemon juice
olive oil

How to do it:
It couldn't be simpler - go blender-happy and blitz the stuff into oblivion!
Well, okay, not quite. I blended the chickpeas, garlic, salt and tahini first for a bit and gradually added the lemon juice and olive oil. This ensures you get the texture you like best.
I didn't put any measurements down, because it's one of those things that does not require a recipe. You just blend away, and taste as you go along until you're happy with it.
I ended up using five cloves of garlic and the juice of 1 & 1/2 lemons, when I thought it would only come to about two cloves and half a lemon.
Point is, it's all down to personal taste so just go with it!

And lastly, onto the pittas. I used Jill Dupleix's recipe, which can be found here.
I'm assuming I rolled them too thickly, because they weren't slightly hollow as pittas should be. Also, I added some coriander to them to echo the coriander in the meat which is why you can see some weird dark green flecks in the dough.
They tasted really good though, and I would urge you to try making them - people are very impressed but they're so easy to do! I'll just have to remember to roll them thinner next time!

All in all, a very successful dinner. I felt all glowy and ethereal from cooking all day. I love being in the kitchen when it's quiet, just slowly and calmly working through everything.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Intense heat & the wonder that is online shopping.

True happiness would be if the myth about Scottish weather (always cold or snowing) was actually true. Even though I'm half SE Asian, I still can't stand the heat! Anything above 8°C is too hot for me to handle. True story. So imagine my immense displeasure when I read the thermometer today:

It's a little hard to read but basically it was THIRTY degrees celsius! I think that equates to around 86°F. Disgusting.

Luckily there were two deliveries to cheer me up - the first was a huge box of meat straight from a local farm. I think there were roughly 10 packets of this steak mince, and that only acounted for a third of the overall weight. Crazy.

The second was full of Italian deliciousness. As you can see, I had lots of fun demolishing the packaging to see what was inside.

First to be uncovered was fresh pasta, some of which was basil and some mushroom.

This is for sibling no.3's 10th birthday. He is completely enamoured with stuffed pasta. It's a possibility that he may be getting a pasta machine so he can make his own - for now though, the good bought stuff will have to suffice.

Next up was a tiny panettone. I show you this not because I especially enjoy it (dried fruit, specifically dried peel, makes me gag), but simply because it was so darn adorable:

Third, some delightfully retro (in design only!) stock cubes.

This is why I love my mum:

I've always wanted to try a '00' flour, just to see it lives up to the hype. It was 99p for 1kg, which isn't too bad but you probably wouldn't use it for everyday things like a roux.
I cannot wait to try my hand at some '00' dough.
Other items included a jar of pesto, and another of beautifully russet-red sundried tomato paste.
There was a large silver packet of yeast (which I'm slightly worried about because the whole thing has to be used within a month of opening), a bottle of wine*, marinated olives, buffalo mozzarella, pizza mozzarella (proper stuff, just dried slightly so it doesn't leak milky cheese juice everywhere upon cooking) a ball of pizza dough, and carnaroli rice for risotto.

I must say, I was sceptical about the ready-made dough, but tried it tonight and it was pretty fantastic. The ingredients were 00 flour, olive oil, water, sugar, salt and yeast, so it wasn't gross & overly-processed. It was shatteringly crisp and pretty much perfect. I still don't really get the point though, because you still have to roll it out which is the most labour-intensive part of pizza making anyway. Actually making the dough is the easiest part.

Most teenagers get excited over the prospect of an alcoholic beverage and a house party - I get excited over deli items. Hmm.

*Please don't ask me about it.. I can tell the difference between a bad wine and a good wine, but that's about the extent of my skill concerning fermented grape juice.